Musica. Mocha Maiden. Uncorked Wine Bar.We Gallery. They aren’t so much separate entities as they are an interconnected labyrinth of shining hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and the warm glow of low-watt light. Tonight, the crowd is an Akron microcosm: some so young it’s still strange and exciting to be out on a Monday night, some old enough to remember Devo playing JB’s. What unifies them is their need to experience something real, something emotionally tactile in an all-too-synthesized world. They find what they’re looking for. She’s sitting atop a stool in Uncorked, a midnight-haired wood sprite flat-out owning her guitar, singing songs about women who do wrong and the men who weren’t man enough to take it, songs about love that ends hard and bad but that’s okay because it wasn’t always that way. If these rooms are the body of Akron’s re-burgeoning art and music scene, and if these people are the blood, Rachel Roberts is the heart. She finishes a song. “Did you write that?” a man asks over the applause. “I did.” “That was beautiful,” he says, a note of wonder in his voice. There is no fourth wall, no invisible barrier separating Roberts from audience. They’re all in on this thing together, and Roberts wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s recently back from a business trip to Chicago that went particularly well — she did some recording, filmed a video, participated in a few productive meetings. She can’t really go into all of the details, but after years spent pounding pavement and paying dues, things are really starting to happen. Still, she’s happy to be home and playing for a home crowd. “I feel a web of comfort here that you can’t get anywhere else,” she said. To her, Akron is “the place that I love and the people I love.” Outside, the night is entombed in a fresh, quiet snow. Inside, the way cream permeates a mug of coffee, Roberts’s voice affects the room on a molecular level. The audience is a mix of intimates, fans and those looking to confirm what word-of-mouth has told them, and she’s more comfortable singing her secrets to them than most people are sitting in their own living rooms. There are two different Rachel Robertses: the stripped-down, acoustic singer/songwriter and the whiskey-and-wink frontwoman for her retro rock and blues-tinged band, The Stache. Rounded out by a dynamic Ryan Beke on guitar, stalwart Joe Golden on bass and the platinum-blonde firecracker Ann Lillis on drums, when asked what happens when the well-oiled foursome plays together, Roberts responds, “We’re gonna rock your face off.” But tonight it’s the bare-bones singer/songwriter. Just her, her guitar and a voice that oscillates from soaring to soul-crushing, from heartbrokenly sultry to ghostly melisma. It’s difficult to trace the threads back to any one source. Joni Mitchell. Tori Amos. Lucinda Williams. A little Roy Orbison. Parents who were classically trained opera singers. A deep appreciation for the ongoing legacy of the powerhouse female vocalist cut with classic America raconteur. It’s all in there, but really, it’s all her own. She’s wearing thigh-tight green corduroys, black riding boots and a smile that’s as disarming as it is devilish. She asks her audience what they would like to hear next. They ask for the tune “More” and they get it — but not before she tells the story of the song’s origins. She was at a friend’s wedding, and, on a dare slurred by a drunk stranger, proceeded to write a song on the spot. “More” was conceived at a wedding, and, as she plays, it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate place for it. A wedding — maybe the wedding you would have had with the one that got away. “More” gets under your skin. It gives your heart the good kind of hurt. It also, she points out, happens to be one of the few songs she did not write in solitude. “It’s difficult for me to write music in front of people,” she says. “I need time alone every single day. A silence, a prayer, a meditation is a part of having music come through.” So much of what makes a good performance in any medium is seduction. The performer and the audience need each other, but the seduction is ultimately meaningless if there’s nothing true in the performance. “All of the music is a piece of me,” Roberts says. And to find these pieces that she will eventually surrender on stage, she retreats alone to a place no one gets to see, not even those who know her best. Somewhere in this tension between public sacrifice and creativity in solitude, Roberts finds what makes her whole. “It comes from something I can’t control,” she says. “I sit with my guitar and listen for a pretty noise.” Beyond that, “it would be like comparing how a bird knows how to sing. How a flower knows how to come out of the ground.” “Well, I see you up on the stage, and I see you do your thing,” she sings. She’s moved on to “A Drink in the City”, a song about how the real person can never match up to that person you love up on stage. “Baby, I think you can do anything.” Feeding off of her abundant energy, doing their part in the seduction, her audience is sometimes enthralled by her presence, other times engaged with whoever’s around, laughing and chatting with an ease the grind of daily life buries under obligation. Either way, from start to finish, Roberts and her songs inspire every person in attendance to embody their better natures. “They’re trying to find something outside of themselves that makes them not at fault,” says Roberts on the rejuvenating properties of not just her music, but music in general. And watching how performing for this crowd of intimates rejuvenates her, perhaps she too is looking for a degree of absolution. As impossible as it is to miss how much she loves every second of what she’s doing, it’s even less possible to forget that her blooming success is going to carry her into larger rooms, before larger crowds and farther away from nights like this and her “web of comfort”. The hole left in Akron when that happens will be the larger world’s gain. And Roberts will enter that larger world — she, in fact, already has — with a hole in her heart the size of a city that will always be home. But that comes later. Tonight, for now, she’s still our little secret. And we hold onto that feeling with everything we’ve got.