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Alt-Country Contradiction

Derek Lee Bronston’s sad songs, happy words.

His voice has the raspy, rough edges of blues musician knee-deep in heartache. His music, an alt-country roots rock, creates an introspective and melancholy atmosphere.

Yet listen to Derek Lee Bronston’s words on his recently released album “Empty River.” Many of them are about love, devotion and appreciation; lyrics that contrast the instrumental mood his bluesy country songs effectively set. “They’re all kinda positive songs that sound sad, as opposed to someone like Elliott Smith who sings everything happy when it’s all sad,” said Bronston. “I think that’s why I like country music. I like that heartfelt, sad-song kind of thing. And that music is perfect for that.”

Bronston, who is scheduled to appear in a solo show at 219 Restaurant (219 King Street, 703-549-1141) on Monday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., had bounced around several musical genres during his career as a touring guitarist and singer/songwriter. After leaving his native Detroit for New York City, he began working in the jazz scene, followed by a turn to rock with a band called The Hush. “It was a pretty, crazy weird band with two female vocalists and I wrote the music, primarily,” he recalled. That trend continued with a punk outfit called The Great Shakes.

Bronston’s solo debut, “Empty River,” was by all accounts a happy accident. He and producer Dennis Martin, an old professional acquaintance, started recording a few acoustic experiments on a whim; soon, they discovered they had an album’s-worth of material. “I didn’t have this plan and then ‘boom,’ here’s this record,” said Bronston.

“EMPTY RIVER,” which was released on Jan. 17, has made some headway onto roots radio playlists in the U.S. and Europe.

“I have to say that out of all the various things I’ve done through the years, this has been the most well-received thing,” said Bronston.

As for his live shows — he’s also scheduled for the Wonderland Ballroom (1101 Kenyon Street NW) in D.C. on Feb. 18 — Bronston just wants to connect with his audience. “Lucinda Williams sings a lot of sad songs, and I don’t feel bummed out [hearing them performed]. Whatever the songs are like, the audience is getting something emotionally from you,” he said. “I just try to do my thing, and be honest. I take the audience into account, but I’m not pretending — it’s going to reflect my state of mind.”