B&E: Pink Martini & Blaine Larsen

Breaking & Entering: A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Pink Martini and Blaine Larsen.

Profiling acts breaking at radio and/or retail and entering Billboard's charts.

SHAKIN' AND STIRRING: Seven years after its debut, Pink Martini is back with an energetic blend of classical, Afro-Cuban dance and soaring epic-like scores. Its latest Heinz effort, "Hang On Little Tomato," earned the 12-piece mini-orchestra its first appearance on The Billboard 200 last week at No. 153. The set also bowed at No. 8 on the Top Heatseekers list and No. 13 on the Top Independent Albums tally.

Inspired by a 1964 advertisement for Hunt's Ketchup, the title track is accompanied by an international menu of French, Italian, Japanese, Croatian and Spanish melodies. The collection revamps the Japanese track, "Kikuchiyo to Mohshimasu" with slide guitarist Hiroshi Wada, and Italian theater and television star Alba Clemente is also enlisted for "Una Notte a Napoli."

The musical ambassadorship started in 1994, when Harvard theater grad and singer/songwriter China Forbes teamed with classically trained pianist Thomas Lauderdale. Over several years, Pink Martini became a collection of trombone, trumpet, violin, vibes, drums and Brazilian folkloric percussion.

The group got its start playing political fundraisers and eventually toured Europe after debuting at the Cannes Film Festival. Dates for 1997's debut "Sympathique" - also released on the group's own Heinz label -- found the group in concert halls and intimate lounges.

"Sympathique" sold 218,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and landed the group a gig with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in 2000 and a co-bill with Sergio Mendes and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2002.

Beyond a pair of Nov. 7 shows at the intimate New York club Fez, Pink Martini will perform New Year's Eve at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and with the Seattle, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Bismarck-Mandan and Austin symphonies through May 2005.

Artist site: www.pinkmartini.com

LarsenA DIFFERENT SORT OF YOUNG COUNTRY: Rather than the usual good time rollicking of country ingénues, 18-year-old Blaine Larsen tackles teen suicide with "How Did You Get That Lonely." He's also the youngest artist this year to appear on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks list, where at No. 51 this week, the song is the chart's Hot Shot Debut.

The first track from Larsen's BNA Records debut album, "Off to Join the World," "How Did You Get That Lonely" was co-written by Nashville songwriters and album collaborators Rory Lee Feek and Jamie Teachener about a friend of Rory's daughter.

Larsen co-wrote six of the 10-track set, which was produced by Feek and writer Tim Johnson. "The Best Man" tells his own story of an absentee father and the man who eventually adopted him.

Though the singer built bird houses to buy his first guitar at 13 and spent hours teaching himself the George Strait catalogue, Larsen planned to join the Air Force and become a commercial pilot after his high school days of performing at local Buckley, Wash. sports events and weddings.

Larsen's high flying career took a detour, however, as the gigs led to a recording session in Nashville and eventually a winning audition with RLG chairman Joe Galante.

Other tracks include "The Man He'll Never Be" -- which was recorded with Larsen playing every instrument in a shed behind his parent's home -- and "In My High School," written with Feek during his junior year in high school.

Artist: www.blainelarsen.com
Label: www.bnarecords.com