Perhaps you've heard the old saw about how a great drummer can make any band better. Janet Bean, who grew up in Florida and Kentucky but has lived in Chicago for 20 years, is no slouch behind the kit, but she manages to pull off the same trick with her voice. Her soprano is the spoonful of sugar that's made the rougher voices of her singing partners Catherine Irwin and Rick Rizzo go down easily; Bean uses deft phrasing and her exquisite vibrato to underscore the cruel and poignant plot twists in Freakwater's doom-laden country and the desperate yearning that drives the incendiary rock of Eleventh Dream Day. But even the greatest team players can fall on their faces when they step out on their own--have you played that Keith Moon solo record lately? Bean takes no pratfalls on her solo debut, Dragging Wonder Lake (Thrill Jockey), a commanding song cycle in which her originals dissect an expired relationship against a backdrop of violence and cosmic caprice supplied by covers of Neil Young's "Soldier" and Randy Newman's "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)." She belts out her rue on "All Fools Day" as convincingly as she conveys sorrow and compassion for a misguided lover on "The Purple Heart." And those team instincts serve her well in leading a band that puts musicians from the country side of the fence like steel guitarist Jon Spiegel together with seasoned improvisers like keyboardist Jim Baker and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm; by giving them a bit of slack but not too much, she finds solid, fertile ground between straightforward lyricism and crumbling dissonance. Friday, August 22, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.