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Truth with Melody 

Thad Beckman, Kaydi Johnson, Mad Professor and facts about Carlos

Formerly local bluesman/songwriter Thad Beckman is one of many who made the move from Humboldt to Portland. In Thad's case, it was via Austin, Texas, and since he was born and raised in Portland it was a homecoming. Thad's back in Arcata for a Friday night show at a club he knows well, the Jambalaya, joined by globe-trotting drummer Danny Montgomery and relatively sedentary bassist Gary Davidson, both old friends and former bandmates (along with the proverbial unnamed "special guests"). The gig is a CD release party of sorts, since Thad comes bearing a new album titled, Me Talking to Me. Talking about what? I wondered.

"Oh, all kinds of interesting tales," said Beckman when I called him in Portland. He noted that you should not expect the same old blues. "It's a songwriter album," he emphasized. "It covers more territory. There's some county influence, a little blues influence, but it's not a blues album in any respect. There are ballads. There's a song about Hank Williams, a song about falling in love, of course there's some broken-hearted stuff. There's funky stuff, a rock tune, some slide guitar -- it's kind all over the map."

Hank Williams? "It's a song called 'Honky Tonks and Truths.' It's actually about me loving to listen to Hank Williams, talking about him a bit. For my money he's the best songwriter of the last century, at least one of the best. He told the truth with melody." A lofty goal -- we'll see if Thad does it himself.

Ask someone who's familiar with the work of Kaydi Johnson about what she does and they'll probably tell you she's a singer/songwriter, although they might add "poet," since she incorporates spoken word sections in songs like "Eddie" (often leading to Rickie Lee Jones comparisons). Kaydi's part of a makeshift online social network called "Six Sentences," where you're invited to describe yourself in, that's right, six sentences. She only uses four:

"About Me: I am a poet, novelist and singer/songwriter. I was a fiction editor for the Cortland Review. I hold an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. My third CD, Peasant of the Wreck, was released on Fifty Fifty Music, NYC, in June 2008."

Note that singer/songwriter comes third.

"Singer songwriter should be first -- that's what I do most -- but that's a writers' site," she explained when I asked about it. "Anyway, it all rolls together," she added. When you listen to Kaydi's songs with writing in mind, you'll see that many are like short sketches that could be worked into novels, and literary allusions abound.

First up in the photo section on Kaydi's website (www.kaydijohnsong.com) is a snap of Kaydi with David Crosby taken when she opened for his show at the Eureka Theater a while back. Crosby's guitarist on that gig was Jeff Pevar, who just happens to be playing with Kaydi this weekend for a pair of gigs at the Lost Whale Inn. (Coincidence?) They'll be joined by Jeff's partner Inger Jorgensen (an artist/singer who also happens to be an HSU alum) for an intimate house concert-type show. Kaydi will be back at the Lost Whale the following weekend (Feb. 6 and 7) with jazzy folkies Allison Scull and Victor Martin. In between, Thursday, Feb. 5, Kaydi plays solo at Mosgo's. Expect some new songs: She's been winning songwriting contests at various folk festivals and she's working on a solo album. "I play by myself all the time and I'm getting better on guitar," she says. "Simpler, with just vocals and guitar seems to be the way things are going -- plus when you're recording, it's cheaper."

Young Neil Fraser was dubbed Mad Professor by friends in school who were amazed at the electronic gadgets he created, mostly to mess with music, specifically for his own (British) version of dub music. So, you might ask, what exactly is dub? I put the question to the Prof during one of his local visits. "Dub is a music created out of Jamaica by King Tubbys around early ’70s," he explained. "Dub is like the first form of electronic music, where the engineer shapes and reshapes the sound you're listening to with special effects and sonic landscapes." Mad Professor fashions his sonic landscapes at the Red Fox Tavern Saturday, Jan. 31, with special guests Medaphoar and Kahlee along for the ride.

Zombie surfer James Harkins called to let me know he'll be playing Monday, Feb. 2, at Big Pete's with some cat who calls himself Bobby Cruickshank (not his real name). James promises "mellower zombie rock" without his usual thrashing guitar style, which he must forgo due to carpal tunnel issues. In the meantime (until his wrists get better) he's playing keys and looking for vintage synths. (Got one?) Also on the bill that night, the erudite, loquacious songwriter John Ludington.

Finally got to see the Harvey Milk biopic, Milk, this weekend, which got me listening to opera (a rare thing for me). If or when you see the flick, you'll find that the story is totally operatic, plus Harvey is an opera fan. Being a San Fran guy, it was the local opera he attended. Which brings me to the Eureka Chamber Music Series concert Friday at Calvary Lutheran in Eureka by the San Francisco Opera Center Singers, young singers who have thrilled local audiences again and again. You don't get all the costumes and sets, but the songs are the important part, right?

On the lighter side of opera, there's a concert called "Americans in Paris" Saturday at Humboldt Unitarian Fellowship in Bayside, with two performances, matinee and evening. This one is a revue of popular French songs presented by folks from the Humboldt Light Opera Company, a benefit for Annette Hull and Nancy Correll who hope to travel to Mer, France to perform in Musique a Beaumont. Along with the French music, Annette and Nancy will perform a four-hand piano version of Gershwin's "American in Paris."

Later on Saturday at the Alibi, you can hear some quite different music as local psyche/metal/garage rockers White Manna craft wild sonic landscapes along with those renowned instru-metalists thirtythreandathird.

I get slightly disconcerted when I go to someone's website and it takes over my browser, altering the size and starting a music player instantly. That's what happened when I went to www.carlosbertonatti.com, home base for Carlos Guillermo Salvador Bertonatti. Carlos (who sounds pretty good, kind of Jack Johnson-ish) and/or his web people offer "fun facts" about the songwriter, among them: "Carlos is an Aquarius. Carlos moved to Miami when he was 12. Carlos competed with the Argentina Ski Team. [Is he from there? I don't know.] Carlos became the pupil of a famous Venezuelan painter and spent months painting in the mountains with her. Carlos enjoys dancing. Carlos doesn't drink liquids with his meals. Carlos is very A.D.D! Carlos' favorite word is WHY! Carlos asks too many questions." Here's one more fact not included: Carlos is playing at Old Town Coffee and Chocolate on Wednesday, Feb. 4.

Here's a question for you: Where did Brooklyn alt. country/indie-pop stars Clem Snide get their name? You might ask them when CenterArts brings them to Humboldt Brews on April 9. Tix on sale now.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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