Kathy McCarty | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Dead Dog's Eyeball: Songs of Daniel Johnston (Bar/None), Kathy McCarty's terrific solo debut, is more than just the finest testament to date of the Austin odd-ball's songwriting ability. It also gives one of America's most uniquely talented singer-songwriters an extra feather in her cap for interpretive abilities. During her decade with Austin's art-pop rockers Glass Eye--whose sound was a twisted amalgam of pop hooks, Richard Thompson-esque folk rock, raised-eyebrow melodrama, and overtly strange song structures--McCarty juxtaposed her affecting vocals against bassist and coleader Brian Beattie's layers of weirdness, creating an immaculate tension. Following Glass Eye's unceremonious dissolution---after a blown major-label deal---McCarty set out to make Daniel Johnston's songs palatable to a larger audience without abandoning their singular spirit. Johnston suffers from mental illness, and his tunes, most clearly modeled after his heroes the Beatles, are rife with images associated with a troubled mind--monkeys, ghosts, dreams, etc. His landmark early recordings (his disappointing Atlantic debut Fun was released last fall) are extremely lo-fi, sometimes to the point of inaudibility, and his piercing, cracking voice can distract all but the most committed listeners. Accentuating Johnston's melodic gifts while maintaining the unsettling undercurrent of his performances, McCarty and producer Beattie have placed 18 of his tunes in a wide variety of settings: there's the brilliant Patsy Cline take on "Desperate Man Blues," the psychotic throb of "Sorry Entertainer" ("I'm a loner, I'm a sorry entertainer"), the beer-drinking vitriol of "Hate Song," the southern-fried rock of "Wild West Virginia" ("Though I don't like John Denver, I always will remember those rolling hills"), and the acoustic beauty of "Living Life" to name a few. Amid the current spate of gratuitous tribute albums, here's one that works. Although McCarty will probably perform some of her strong original material, the Johnston stuff should comprise a large portion of the concert. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Chris Walters.

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