Shara Worden shines as My Brightest Diamond

In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, the recipe for making good music is complicated. First, combine some great lyrics and melodies for people to sing (or scream) along to. Add some good musicians to give the music some personality and emotion. Sprinkle some cool grooves to get people dancing. Stir to perfection.

My Brightest Diamond’s performance at the Andy Warhol Museum last Wednesday was a creative mix of these three ingredients (musicianship, songwriting ability, and rhythmic creativity). My Brightest Diamond, a.k.a. Shara Worden, is an adorable, five-foot-nothing Brooklynite who studied vocal performance at the renowned University of North Texas. The kick start to her professional musical career, however, came from something far less academic; she was a touring member of indie-folk star Sufjan Stevens’s band. (On paper, she was the “cheerleading captain of the Illinoisemakers.”) After touring with Stevens, Worden began working vigorously on her first solo album, Bring Me The Workhorse, which was released in 2006 to widespread critical acclaim. Worden released a remix CD of the album earlier this year, featuring DJs and electronic musicians re-imagining her work.

Now Worden has gigs all over the world, and it’s no surprise; her music is a tactful combination of her classical background and the more exuberant sounds of Brooklyn, and it’s still easily accessible to fans of both styles. (Don’t worry; Worden won’t be the cause of an “Opera-Rock” category on iTunes.) Worden has a fabulously rich voice, over which she maintains surprising control. Wednesday night’s opening number, “Golden Star,” was teeming with life. Instead of diva-like belting or rock-star-like yelps, Worden was focused more on her lyrics and melodies than on unadulterated ferocity. Over the pounding of drums, bass, and her own guitar, she sang, “Tonight, we rejoice like stars.” The tiny auditorium in the Warhol pounded just as hard as the music, providing an energetic breeding ground for the packed audience to dance and chant along.

It’s tough to think, though, that a classically trained voice, a rock groove, and glitzy lyrics would match. But in My Brightest Diamond, there’s such a high level of musical craft that the three components integrate seamlessly. A big part of this musical success comes from the fantastic backing band, featuring Nathan Lithko on bass and Brian Wolfe on drums. Workhorse features strings that harken back to Worden’s classical days, but her live show was stripped down to this three-piece group, bringing out her grimier rock tendencies. During the show, Lithko’s lines were simple, but rock-solid, which left plenty of room for Wolfe to explore both intricate polyrhythms and more subtle beats with mallets. On “Something of an End,” the show’s highlight, musicianship, melody, and production collided in beautiful chaos. Worden rolled her “l”s like a Spaniard as she cried, “Heaven and hell come crashing.” Underneath, Lithko’s bass line is pumping, and Wolfe’s beat slams like a metal Pog.

If it means endorsing artists like My Brightest Diamond, then go ahead, iTunes — make that “Opera-Rock” category. This is music worth endorsing.