Paul Burch | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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Paul Burch plays drums in the ungainly Nashville pop band Lambchop, which is often reductively categorized as alternative country, but it's as the leader of the hard-country quintet WPA Ballclub and on his own that he's made his greatest contributions to the Music City's C & W roots revival. His most recent release, which isn't terribly recent, is Last of My Kind (Merge), an ambitious solo disc on which he adapts a series of scenes from Tony Earley's novel Jim the Boy; throughout, Burch's guitar strums and forceful harmonica invoke the one-step dance cadences and gospel-tinged music of the white rural south. There's a fatalist undercurrent here, but unlike some latter-day roots revisionists Burch doesn't pour on the noir--his melodies are jaunty and his voice sounds optimistic, even as he allows threatening shadows to gather in the background. On "Up on the Mountain," his sweet vibrato is well suited to the naive and hopeful country-boy narrator, but the tough realism of his lyrics ("Up on the mountain my papa's so mean / They say his name like a blasphemy") roils the joyful surface. "Mama Shoo'd the Blackbirds" starts out as an ode to family and childhood, but soon the youthful protagonist contemplates pegging a bird with a slingshot to "see what it looks like when it falls / So I know how to fall," and mama ends up shooing the blackbirds because "they're singin' too sweet for the pain in this world." And on the shuffling "Harvey Hartsell's Farm," a plantation owner slaughters all of his animals to pay off gambling debts. Burch's characters tell their tales with offhanded ease and then simply go on with their lives, but his tunes hint at the existential dread that lurks beneath that old country stoicism. Saturday, March 1, 10 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.

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

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