Opera isn’t normally thought of as a path to success in the world of jazz and blues, but it’s the route (with some detours) that Marina Crouse took to become one of the most notable rising talents  on the San Francisco/Bay Area music scene. Her  early classical training is reflected in her powerful vocal  style, and that excitement drives Crouse’s debut album  Never Too  Soon, which balances blues tradition with contemporary urban funk. Crouse’s volcanic voice echoes the emotional power of  such classic R&B divas as  Etta James,  Koko Taylor and  Big Maybelle.

A fourth-generation Chicana blessed with a big, expressive voice early in life, Crouse originally trained for a career in  opera, but never really felt at home with the restrictions and formality of the opera world. After an extended hiatus from  performing, Crouse—by now a full-time Spanish professor at Diablo Valley College and the single mom of two  teenagers—returned to performing in 2014.

Since then, she’s emerged as one of San Francisco’s finest blues singers, exploring the classic material she loves and  wowing local club audiences in the process. Backed by a handpicked group of some of the Bay Area’s finest players,  Crouse also ventures into jazz material and Spanish tunes. But the blues remains her base and her main inspiration, and  now that she’s back in action, she has no intention of  stopping.

Never Too Soon finds Crouse applying her distinctive talents to a wide  range of material from such diverse sources as  Bobby Bland,  Syl Johnson,  Little Milton and  Los Panchos, as well as Spanish-language readings of  Bob Dylan’s  “The  Times They Are A-Changin’” and  War’s  “Cisco Kid,” the latter with Crouse’s new lyrics referencing the  proposed  Mexican border wall and featuring  Little Village Foundation labelmate and blues harmonica sensation  Aki Kumar.  Never  Too Soon also features a guest appearance by labelmates  Mariachi Mestizo, who underline Crouse’s fondness for Spanish  boleros. Whatever the material, Crouse’s expressive, mellifluous voice consistently cuts deep.

“When I sing,” she says, “I feel like I break myself  open and let something come out. I’m reaching out to people and I hope  that they can feel what I’m sending out. And when they do, that to me is better than anything else.”