Fans of Robyn Hitchcock. Fans of the Beautiful South. They're out there, and they're a special breed. These are folks who appreciate the potential for pop-music-as-short-story. Hitchcock wrote "Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl" and revealed more about male-female understanding than The Rules ever could. The Beautiful South wrote "Don't Marry Her" and evoked a marital ennui that was harsher than a Cheever story and funnier, too ("When your socks smell of angels / But your life smells of brie / Don't marry her, fuck me").
So gather round, Hitchcock and Beautiful South fans: witticism yoked to sincere musicality is not a Brits-only thing anymore. Let me introduce you to Martin Dory and his newest CD, The Vanishing Act. One doesn't want to make too much of song titles, but when Dory sings "Song for Tom Brokaw," one gets the sense he really means it. "Who keeps me up at night?" he asks on "Brokaw," "who keeps me up at night -- you."
Despite an aural signature that is squarely oriented in Classic Americana instrumentation including guitar, harmonica, pedal steel, and even some gentle "sha-la-la" backing vocals, Dory's musical attitude is distinctly English in its self-effacement. He's the anti-Ryan Adams. On the dreamy, beautiful "Continents," he sings, "Thirty minutes longer isn't much / You can save the laundry for next month... The continents move slowly / So can we." This is a singer who kicks off his album with the phrase "Take back that comment -- I need another try." He's not exactly brimming with self-importance.
And isn't that a relief? Hip hop isn't the only musical mini-world filled with fat-headed attention addicts. Emo is probably even worse, because that's where "I'm so sad and pathetic" means "LOVE ME or I'll do something very bad (to myself)." Ugh. Since when did sensitive come to mean certifiable? Luckily, Martin Dory doesn't go there. Do people still believe that artistic talent equals mental instability? Dory puts that idea to rest. He sounds... like a nice guy. A sweet guy. A sweet voice, anyway.
Now here's the sad part. You got yer very own Anti-Ryan right here in San Francisco to enjoy any old time you want... for just a few days more. That's right: Martin Dory is leaving the Bay Area. He's moving to... Nashville! Isn't it romantic? For him and Nashville, anyway. After calling SF his HQ for at least the past decade, Dory is packing up his accordion and heading Down South. God knows they need him there. But California will miss him.
So here's your chance to see Martin Dory's big farewell concert at his old stomping ground: Thursday, Dec. 14th 8:30 PM at The Red Devil Lounge (1695 Polk Street). No doubt Dory will perform hits old and new. If he's taking requests, ask for "Continents" and an oldie but goodie, "My Car Won't Start."
Robyn Hitchcock used to do a little parlor trick at his shows. Instead of requests for songs from his repertoire, he would take one-word song suggestions and make up a ditty on the spot. Once, at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, I saw Hitchcock riff on "Julian Cope" for almost ten minutes. I have a feeling Dory could pull off something similar; he has the same unpredictable creativity, the same love of the unknown, and the same talent for turning the mundane into something beautiful. As he sings on The Vanishing Act's "Cora," "I'm just trying to be / What I make believe."
Nashville's gain is San Francisco's loss. Drown your sorrows this Thursday night at the Red Devil Lounge.