NEW YORK — When she opened for Cyndi Lauper on tour, singer-songwriter Keri Noble picked up business acumen, not fashion tips, from the kooky pop chanteuse. “I’d tiptoe past her room — you don’t want to bother the star,” Noble, 26, says from her home in Minneapolis. “And she’d say, ‘Keri, come in here.’ She wanted to know what the label was doing to support me.”

Lauper’s not the only one watching out for Noble, whose album, “Fearless,” comes out today. Much of the buzz surrounding her debut, a pop-rock, piano-driven mix, comes from the team behind it, namely renowned music veteran Arif Mardin, who also produced Norah Jones’ blockbuster, “Come Away With Me.”

This story first appeared in the March 9, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But where Jones is sweet and mellow, Noble is raspy and soulful, sounding like Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan all rolled into one. On one song, she purrs about her first crush; on another she refuses to be someone’s “trophy.”

“Most of the songs are autobiographical and an account of my life up to this point,” she says. “And really, for the album, you just want the songs that suck the least.”

Though she now counts Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin as influences, Noble grew up unaware of them, singing at the Detroit-area church where her father serves as pastor. “There wasn’t much room in my family for secular music until I was in high school,” she explains. Six years ago, Noble began putting song lyrics to music, and started to play in local cafes and bars. “My first gig was at a coffee shop called The Bean Machine,” she recalls. “I said to the owner, ‘I have friends — they’ll come, they’ll drink coffee.’”

After achieving local fame with three Detroit Music Award nominations, she moved to Minneapolis, which she describes as “a great artistic town.” “I wasn’t thinking about getting signed, I just wanted to get better,” she says. And even though she does have a major label behind her, Noble plans to stick with her low-key approach.

“When I’m in Minneapolis, I can just write and have a regular life. It’s a little more normal than being in New York and having cars pick you up,” she says. “I’d rather just take a cab and do it myself.”

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