Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub


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Paul Burch is out to enrich traditional country music, not revive it. Specifically, he's zoomed in on the brief period between Hank Williams and early rockabilly, injecting it with seemingly anomalous textures and colors--ranging from the cool vibraphone on "Willpower," from last year's Blue Notes (Merge), to the surprising sitar on "I Turned a Corner," from his previous album, Wire to Wire (Checkered Past). Though Burch is the longtime drummer for the Music City freak orchestra Lambchop, his solo work often forgoes percussion altogether--and when it does feature beats, they evoke the faint cardboard thwacks of early Elvis Presley records. His singing is strikingly low-key as well: he has a limited range, but he works every subtle gradation within its parameters. So when he strains into a falsetto on the Dylan-esque "Isolda," from Blue Notes, pleading "I want you so bad," it feels as if he's truly laying bare his soul. His latest album, Last of My Kind (Merge), is even more stripped-down than his usual stuff, but it's by special request: the Nashville novelist Tony Earley asked Burch to write a series of period-appropriate pieces to complement his best-seller Jim the Boy, set in North Carolina during the Depression. Burch took the concept a step further and wrote the songs as monologues by the book's characters. His band, the WPA Ballclub, features a rotating lineup of some of Nashville's best players, most reliably pedal-steel whiz Paul Niehaus; at the Hideout, Deanna Varagona (a member of Lambchop and a regular on Burch's records) will sing with the group and perform an opening set of her own music. Friday, May 18, 10 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia; 773-227-4433. Burch will also play a free set at 5:30 PM at Borders Books & Music, 150 N. State; 312-606-0750.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.

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