Colbie Caillat and Company Ride a New Wave of Mellow Music

Colbie Caillat has a confession: She does not consider herself a neurotic person.

Some might assume that any post-adolescent singer/songwriter with introspective leanings would harbor an at least occasionally tortured soul. But Caillat, 23, a blonde with a sweet, sunny smile, would beg to differ -- as would anyone who checked out her breakthrough hit, Bubbly, or most of the other tunes on her debut album, 2007's "Coco."

"The songs are optimistic and bright," Caillat says in her dressing room before a recent concert. "I grew up in Southern California and Hawaii. The lifestyle was laid back, and I listened to mellow, positive music, like Bob Marley and Jack Johnson. So I think that's all inside me. I'm happy, and that gets expressed in my music."

Caillat and Johnson, 33, himself a native of Hawaii who went to college in California, are among the most prominent members of a new wave of troubadours luring fans of all ages into a peaceful, easy feeling.

The So-Cal scene of the '70s, when artists such as the Eagles, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt enjoyed some of their biggest hits, is one reference point. So is the Lilith Fair era of the '90s, when folk-based, mainly female artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Jewel and Paula Cole thrived at radio.

But more recent trends -- from pre-millennial bubblegum pop to the production-driven hip-hop and rock of later years -- favor flashier fare. The success of key exceptions such as John Mayer and Norah Jones may have helped launch other artists favored by the adult-alternative format. Still, guys and gals who sing softly and carry a guitar (or sit at a piano) have been considered long shots for commercial airplay.

That matters less as fans reach beyond radio in their search for new music. The advent of new media and marketing opportunities has provided these musicians with additional forums, from websites to TV shows to ad campaigns, that accommodate their gently infectious sound.

Though Caillat's father, Ken, produced Fleetwood Mac, Caillat's rise in the music industry was facilitated most directly by MySpace. She put some of her songs up about two years ago, and "after about six months, I had thousands of friends and fans, all adding my music to their pages," she says. "Because of that, I got a record deal."

Los Angeles-based MariƩ Digby, 25, recorded an album for Hollywood Records in 2006, but in the following months "heard nothing about a release date or tour or music video, and I started to get a little nervous." Taking a friend's advice, she posted a few homemade videos on YouTube, including a cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella" that promptly became an online smash. The label took notice: Her album, "Unfold," was released last April.

Television also has been a boon to many of these acts. After "Umbrella's" online triumph, Digby "got an e-mail from someone saying he was the music supervisor for The Hills. I thought, 'Yeah, right,' but what do you know -- he put five of my songs in the show."

Another L.A. singer, Meiko, 26, whose self-titled independent album climbed the iTunes chart after tracks were heard on Grey's Anatomy, has signed with MySpace Records/DGC, which will release a remixed version of the set in September. "It seems like these TV shows don't even want the big names," she says. "The aspect of discovery is more important, so they're willing to take a chance on small-potato artists."

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