But most of all, she's just doing her own thing. And come to think of it, maybe that's what Chilltown (as Jersey City is sometimes known) is all about.
Vorontsova has just released her debut CD, From St. Petersburg With Love. The disc features 23 tracks, all written and performed by Vorontsova - and all in Russian.
She thinks of herself as a singer-songwriter, performing poetry with music.
"I've been writing poetry since a very young age," Vorontsova says.
All of the songs on her album originally took shape as poems, some of them written when she was as young as 15.
Julia Vorontsova moved to the United States at the age of 17, more or less on her own. Her family was planning a move to Portugal, and rather than joining them in a country where she couldn't speak the language and she knew nothing of the culture, she chose to move in with her step-aunt in Rockland County, N.Y. (Vorontsova's stepfather is a New Yorker, and the family had spent many Christmas holidays in New York over the years.)
With only one year remaining in high school, Vorontsova decided to finish up in New York, rather than Portugal - partly because she wanted to explore the possibility of attending college in the United States.
And the singer-songwriter is now a sophomore at Baruch College in Manhattan, studying communications and creative writing.
Russian arts community
Vorontsova moved to Jersey City in February 2003, a few months after a Russian friend invited her to a Thanksgiving dinner at 111 First St. - the arts building that's the center of a thriving community of Russian artists. At last October's Studio Tour, she met Mark Dagley of Abaton Book Company at the Jersey City Museum. Not long after, they began working together, and Abaton, based in Jersey City, released her CD.
"She's actually singing poetry," Dagley says, "and putting a melody to it. Her work reads like poetry - not song lyrics."
Vorontsova's first live performance took place in December at the Waterbug Hotel in downtown Jersey City. So how did the audience respond to the Russian folk songs?
"I always try to explain a little bit about the song," Vorontsova says. And many of her listeners really seem to get it.
One member of the audience approached her after a show to tell Vorontsova that the songs are so expressive that she doesn't need to explain them.
"At my first show, there was an American woman who had tears in her eyes," Vorontsova marvels.
The folk singer's distinctive sets have been capturing attention throughout the area. Vorontsova has performed at clubs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey - including a recent gig at Maxwell's. She was also profiled in last week's issue of Time Out New York. One of her songs is featured on the WFMU benefit CD Tunes on Toxic Terrain.
Vorontsova has begun writing songs in English, and plans to record her next CD in her adopted language. So far, she has five songs in English, but she's only performed one live once or twice. As a songwriter, she still has reservations about her grasp of the language.
"The songs that I have in English are coming from the heart," Vorontsova says. "But what I don't like - in my eyes they seem a little more simplistic. I don't have a deep, deep phonetic feeling of the language. I can't feel the subtleties."
But based on her introspection and concern, the future sounds promising.
When: Sunday, June 20, and Sunday, June 27, both at 9 p.m.
Where: Pianos Upstairs Lounge, 158 Ludlow St., Manhattan's Lower East Side
Here is an excerpt - translated from the original Russian - from a song on Julia Vorontsova's debut CD, From St. Petersburg With Love. The disc is available at www.amazon.com and www.abatonbookcompany.com.
Cities and Countries
He changes cities, he changes countries.
He means "Forever" when says: "Farewell!"
The woman in the hut once asked him to stay,
But since then so much water has flown away.
Here is a piece of land. Here is his shelter.
He once knew what was meant by the word "home."
But today it has been four years
Since no one called him by his real name.
Longer than any feeling
Is the cold of a night in March.
He can't recall all the times he's been hurt.
He can't count up all of his losses,
And he is still just so, so young.