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The Hum by Bob Doran

Aug. 12, 2004

Photo and heading -- David Byrne

SUMMER MAY HAVE ANOTHER MONTH TO GO, BUT summer vacation is over, at least for HSU's students, and that means the music scene should be shifting into a higher gear after a couple of slow months. First off, CenterArts starts its new season Wednesday, Aug. 18, and it starts with a bang: David Byrne [photo above] in the Van Duzer with the Tosca Strings, the group that played with him on his latest album, a fine affair titled Grown Backwards.

Now I know some of you are wondering, who is David Byrne? I know this because I just called the office to be sure the event was in the calendar, and that was the response I got. Of course the recent grad had heard of the Talking Heads, the band Byrne started in the mid-'70s with fellow students from the Rhode Island School of Design. The Heads created intellectually challenging music and played it in clubs like CBGB's during the punk era. Byrne, who always seemed to have some side project going (a sonic collage, a soundtrack, music for a ballet, and so on), eventually lit out on his own.

Despite the title, Grown Backwards shows Byrne moving ever forward, creating lush soundscapes as settings for more intellectually challenging songs with a couple of reworkings of operatic arias thrown in for good measure -- thus the Tosca Strings, an all-women, Austin-based, Kronos-esque quartet. I have to admit, I did not recognize the songs as opera as such until I read about them. (I don't usually care for opera.) Byrne has a way of pulling in sounds and rhythms from all over the world, even from other eras, incorporating them into an amalgam that is a new music for the 21st century, cosmopolitan, thought provoking -- and with a beat you can dance to. What else could you ask?

Another sign that the students are returning (like swallows to Capistrano) is the fact that Muddy Waters is rolling with music again beginning Tuesday, Aug. 17, with alt. string music by the recently resurrected ThaMuseMeant. A sampler of some of their new songs just came in the mail, and I was particularly taken with a tune called "Protest Song" that suggests "it's hard to write a protest song." The lyrics are biting, but it's the music that makes it work, moving from a dirge-like beginning into music that manages to sound angry, yet beautiful. As an added bonus, the band is on tour with folksinger Leslie Helpert, a fine songsmith in her own right, with a breathy voice that reminds me of Rickie Lee Jones, maybe because it has that hint of sass.

At Six Rivers Brewing that night, a relatively new band, Left of Seven, plays one of its first public shows. Quite by accident, I heard the band practicing what seemed to be stretched out funk jams and I'd have to say, it sounded pretty good.

Folk fans have a hard choice Wednesday, Aug. 18, with Muddy Waters resuming the old Humboldt Folklife bluegrass jam, while across town at Humboldt Brews, Gary Franklin hosts a KHUM Back Porch show with SoHum-based, Irish-tinged singer/songwriter Calleaghn Kinnamon and friends. When I saw her at the Folklife Fest, her "friends" were all from local Gypsy jazzers Cuckoo's Nest, who also play Friday and Saturday out on the Larrupin' Patio.

Our local folk/groove-meisters Kulica are back from a long tour for a busy weekend playing Friday at Rumours; Saturday at the Playroom, then opening for the Nevilles on Sunday at the Eureka Theater. BTW, the Eureka thing is another one of those shows where you can win exciting prizes if you donate non-perishable food for the local food bank.

The 330 Club has back-to-back shows Friday and Saturday. Garage blues rockers The Ravens open for Santa Cruz punks Depth Charge Revolt on Aug. 13, followed on Aug. 14 by a hot three band mix-up including psychedelic garage music by The Great Salvation, and dark, neo-New Wavers the Walking Bicycles fronted by guitarist Julius Moriarty and his vocalist/wife, Jocelyn Summers, with bassist Jeromy Lord and a drummer who goes by the name Johnny Rejection (although I'm told he bears a strong resemblance to DJ Red). Headliners The Waxwings are another band from the currently trendy Detroit rock scene, but they are a far cry from the White Stripes (and I don't mean that as a dig at either band), playing music that reminds me of the Stones circa Exile, when they were hanging around with alt. country prophet Gram Parsons.

I'll admit it, after three days at Reggae, I'm dead tired, and I've had enough reggae to last me for a while (at least until the DVD release at Benbow Sept. 2, with all the Marley boys plus Toots). But for those who must have more right away, the excellent local band Kala Kenyatte and the Sounds of Truth plays at Humboldt Brews Saturday, Aug. 14. And, coming up next Thursday, Aug. 19, at Six Rivers Brewery, Reggae Angels are up from the Bay Area with Fenton Wardle out front singing praise songs for Jah. Still feelin' irie? Be there.

Down in SoHum at the Garberville Theater Thursday, Aug. 19, Backwoods Jazz Association and People Productions present the ever innovative jazz guitar sounds of Charlie Hunter, playing in a trio format with saxophonist John Ellis (a very talented dude), and drummer Derrek Phillips. Of course calling it a trio is not quite accurate. Sure there's only three guys, but Charlie makes his guitar sound like an organ and a guitar while pumping out funky bass lines. Get tix now -- the theater is not all that big.

Bob Doran



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