Saturday, April 06, 2013

Dawn Oberg's "Rye"

My friend, Dallas artist Frank Campagna, recently remarked on the way Carole King's songs gave lots of us Y-chromosome owner-operators our first insight into the way women think-feel, and I've recently been thinking about the way Joni Mitchell's "Song for Sharon" captures the way the dreams we're sold when we're young continue to resonate and seduce us, even after we've twigged that they're bullshit. So I was primed when the link to San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Dawn Oberg's brisk and bracing third album, Rye, hit my inbox.

Oberg is a self-described "46-year-old high-maintenance hussy," currently undertaking her first-ever tour of these United States in support of Rye. (The tour diary on her website is a hoot.) She'll visit Austin's Carousel Lounge on April 25th for an early -- 6:30pm! -- show.

If you're leery of singer-songwriters, fear not: there's no confessional morass of heart-on-sleeve emotion here. Rather, Oberg adopts the persona of a literate person -- the kind that uses "one" as a personal pronoun -- surviving life in the city with only her wit to sustain her. Her lyrics are well observed and evocative, whether she's describing the space she shares with the memory of a departed lover ("The Girl Who Sleeps With Books") or the way the taste of whiskey brings back memories of a relationship (the title track), or reaching out to an unsuccessful suicide ("Reconstruction"). My personal fave is the brief "Gentleman and a Scholar," which skewers a certain stripe of pretentious dude perfectly:

He knows the works of Fats Waller, and can play you recordings of them
He likes to read Thucydides but doesn’t mock stupidities
He’s probably read Euripides as well
But he’s really not the type to read and tell.

Oberg's been compared to Aimee Mann, but I wouldn't wish that kind of cultish semi-obscurity on anyone (unless she can find someone like Paul Thomas Anderson to write a whole movie around her music, the way Anderson did with Mann in Magnolia). Her melodies have a tidiness that resonates to these feedback-scorched ears the way the early John Cale's did. But it's her words that will catch your ear when you least expect it, and keep you coming back for more.


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