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Flight of the solo B

The first solo performance by Cindy Wilson was a surprise highlight of last year's Music Midtown festival. In a raw, emotional performance during the "Turner South Live" writers-in-the-round telecast, the effervescent singer/ songwriter, known internationally as a member of the quirky B-52's, proved she is much more than a wiggy, wiggly pop culture icon.

The Athens native admits she originally declined the invitation to perform, even though she was in the process of composing a number of songs. "I saw the first show they did with Amy [Ray] and Emily [Saliers] and the girl from Heart, and I thought, 'I'm not a singer/songwriter with a guitar,' you know. I didn't think I'd fit in."

But after a few rehearsals, Wilson realized the experience wasn't about being a folk singer. "It was just about the sharing. We were all just listening to the music," she says.

The "Turner South Live" panel included a diverse selection of musicians, including June Carter Cash, Don McLean and fellow Athens scene alumnus Mike Mills of R.E.M. Wilson offered a smoky, sensual version of the B-52's hit "Roam" and a touching tribute to her late brother, Ricky. She recalls that Carter was visibly moved by the performance: "She said, 'Honey, I've never heard of you, but I'm a-gonna be payin' attention now.' Can you see Johnny and June listening to the B-52's?"

Now, after 26 years as a B, Wilson says she is ready to fly on her own, without the party-zone camaraderie of her famous bandmates. "I'm not leaving the group or anything," she insists. "We're still going strong, still playing three or four times every month."

Collaborating with her musician/artist husband, Keith Bennett, in their home studio in north Atlanta, Wilson has written more than 20 songs in the past year. Her solo work differs greatly from the dance-party kitsch of the Schneider-led fluff machine. "This music is personal, and it's from me," she says. "In the B-52's, Keith [Strickland], Kate [Pierson], Fred [Schneider] and I write the songs. And in some ways, there's a formula. But this is away from that."

Fans can hear Wilson's new unreleased solo material at Eddie's Attic on Friday, which is also her birthday.

"I'm surprising myself with how I'm growing at age 45," Wilson says.

Schneider released his first solo album in 1985, and Pierson has collaborated with Iggy Pop and R.E.M., but family demands and an admitted reluctance to branch out kept Wilson's solo career at bay. And the singer is the first to admit the project is a work-in-progress. "We're growing," she says. "The first show we did was at a party, and it was like a baby horse trying to stand. Now we're about to gallop."

Backed by a five-piece band with Bennett on keyboards, Wilson exudes a worldly sensuality that her B's performances only hint at. Snaky, percussive rhythms wrap around her aching vocals, recalling sassy jazz divas and oozing Southern charm.

"It's time to get back to the Southern thing, and own up it," Wilson says. "I don't apologize for having a Southern accent. I can stretch those syllables as long as I want."

Cindy Wilson plays Eddie's Attic Fri., Feb. 28.