Now that even folkies seem to prefer an ironic pose, Bill Staines's resolute earnestness can look downright perverse. The singer and multi-instrumentalist chose "The Happy Wanderer," one of the most thoroughly flogged warhorses in the English-language folk canon, as the title tune for a 1993 collection of children's songs, and his latest CD, October's Hill (Red House), includes the singsongy hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and Rod McKuen's laborious "Love's Been Good to Me." But Staines's artistry rescues him from terminal preciousness: his voice has a gravelly bite that infuses even the prettiest melodies with longing and a sense of hard-won redemption, and his original lyrics offer gentle wisdom and shrewd worldliness. He enriches the lilting theme of "Dear Friend" with occasional descents into a melancholy minor key, and the wafting, churchy melody of "When I Hear the Music Play," rich with joy and nostalgia, gives vitality to his delicate words ("I will listen for the sounds of children / For they shall play when we are gone"). Staines's genteel piano style sometimes has a whiff of the drawing room about it, but airy instrumentals like his Celtic-styled "An Afternoon at Cohan's" shake off that solemnity. And though his guitar work is unadorned, it's rhythmically sure, with a subtle harmonic complexity that brings texture and depth to even the most elemental strumming. Saturday, 7 PM, Unitarian Church of Evanston, 1330 Ridge, Evanston; 847-475-6165.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Irene Young.