Back to Tyrone Wells Tyrone Wells performs songs of the heart and conscience

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times arts critic

If there was more justice in the world, you could turn on the radio and hear the balmy Tyrone Wells ballad, "Sea Breeze" several times a day.

Or make that "What Are We Fighting For?," a rocking broadside that questions the state of the world.

Wells has three discs out (two indies, and the excellent new "Hold On" on Universal Republic). But for now the gifted Washington-state native will have to settle for packing the Crocodile Cafe and similar venues around the country, and hearing his audience sing along on the irresistible "Sea Breeze" — an Internet fave.

On Wednesday night, L.A.-based Wells headlined a crowded Crocodile bill of talented young troubadours.

Lanky, bald and exuding positive vibes, Wells uncorked a spacious, expressive voice with a dexterous falsetto that never faltered. His singing dominates his strumming acoustic numbers, and more rollicking electric tunes backed by piercing, Jeff Beck-style electric guitar, bass and drums.

Like many of his peers, Wells is clearly influenced by Stevie Wonder. And the best of his own songs are strong-hooked winners.

To slashing, thunderous electric chords, "What Are We Fighting For?" offers a furious counterpoint to John Mayer's more sedate "Waiting on the World to Change."

"People get ready / There's somethin' in the air," sings Wells, nodding to Vietnam War-era tunes by Curtis Mayfield and Stephen Sills.

Rocking hard, Wells goes on to decry "silent indifference" and "hunger for vengeance." He urges resistance to "violence and hatred" while asking, "What are waiting for?"

Along with what could be an anthem for the Iraq war generation, Wells has sweet and catchy love songs in his arsenal ("Baby Don't Change," "Until You Are Here").

To the crowd's roaring approval, he also performed a well-sung Bill Withers cover (the ageless "Ain't No Sunshine"), and a terrific, multigeneration R&B medley linking tunes by Wonder, Michael Jackson and Mary K. Blige.

Ernie Halter, another ingratiating singer-songwriter who deserves more airplay, shared the bill with tour partner Wells. Halter has a terrific voice, with a soul tug in it. And the original love songs (jubilant and disappointed) in his acoustic set, like the swinging "Whisper" and infectious "Look At Me Now," happily bring to mind the young Billy Joel.

Misha Berson: