Given a superficial listening, Frank Tedesso's songs all sort of sound the same, with similar chord changes and melodic contours. But if you pay close attention to his words, you'll hear the kind of genuine talent that's rare in this day of overhyped poetasters. Tedesso writes his songs with his brain switched on--he knows how to mix tenderness with dirt, to balance every glimpse of "the blue in the baby's eyes" with a domestic argument that "gets ended with a butcher knife." One listens to this stuff with a shock of recognition, hearing the voices of folks who are driven by fear and weakness to live with people they really don't like that much, and who trudge through life one crisis at a time only to suddenly find themselves standing at the threshold of old age with nothing but a fistful of regrets. Tedesso makes poetry out of the tragedy by crawling right up the ass of it. He crafts stories of very few wasted strokes and even demonstrates a surprising ability to revive the shock value of certain cuss words. He also seems to understand that even though life is pointless and stupid, it can still be beautiful ("God made this mess and it makes me happy"). Tedesso used to live in Chicago--where he played out all too infrequently--and is now based in New York. His new CD, Songs From Einstein's Violin, not only contains several strange and amazing compositions (including "LBJ at the Matinee," a sympathetic glimpse of Lyndon Johnson in his wistful old age) but also reveals that Tedesso's singing voice, which was unusual to begin with, has grown both more eccentric and more "honest." Which is to say his yawning groans are not the empty mannerisms of an actor, but rather the focused effort of a guy digging into a song with a sharpened screwdriver. Saturday, 3 PM, Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan; 573-0564.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Frank Tedesso.