J a n u a r y   2 0 0 2

Aural Report

Embracing the roots of 20th Century music
Dylan-Thomas Vance is chronologically challenged
by Kurt Dahlke

ow – the rain we've been told we really need has arrived. It slashes at our faces as we forge up the sidewalk toward the grace of hot chocolate and merlot at Portland's Empire Room.

An acceptable level of warmth, the solarized filigree-painted walls, jovial conversations and soon, the rich smell of garlic, grab us by the lapels, pulling us in, seating us. Dim lights, black-on-deep-turquoise paper menu – impossible to read! Or am I getting old?

Dylan-Thomas Vance: prog-rock to country blues.

Nevertheless, after months of searching we've tracked down Dylan-Thomas Vance, late of the Sweet Honey Dijon Bad Ass Jazz Quartet, the Groove Revelation and Tao Jones.

And we're curious as to what Vance is doing musically these days.

His development has gone backward from prog-rock to country blues. Backward chronologically, that is. For him, embracing the roots of 20th Century music is a step forward.

"I see my evolution as a natural progression, moving from an analytical left-brained approach to an emotional and spiritual approach," he says. "This approach has made my relationship with music so much more personally meaningful than it was before, and also seems to touch others in a more personal way."

The others at the Empire are more intent on personally having loud conversations, which is not so great for Vance's at-times subdued work.

But eventually they leave and the music takes center stage. Dylan mixes pre-war standards with his own compositions. The lyrical differences are striking, as they should be, but Vance's considerable skills and unique lap-slide/tone-bar guitar-playing style suffuse the songs with deeper continuity.

The Hawaiian roots of slide-guitar playing are much evident in Vance's set; lots of loose drooping, lazily melting notes evoke thoughts of breeze-filled hot days.

"To me, the slide on guitar strings sounds like a chorus of voices," he says.

He's right. And while those voices sing his thumb keeps a steady beat on the low e-string. Vance himself unaffectedly sings the words of Robert Johnson (among others) or his own rainy/young Northwesterner musings.

Much of Vance's talent lies in the instrumental passages and solos of these songs. A strong but not obvious jazz influence melds with bluegrass, creating some dynamic – quick chord changes with notes sometimes popping like water drops on a hot greased griddle.

He plays for his supper, ordering some garlic-heavy pasta from behind his mic, and plays slow, peaceful, quiet songs. The passion in Vance's thoughtful intent shines through the meditative feeling. He wants the music to be heard, he says, and would quit a well-paying job, tour endlessly, put all normal life decisions on the line, play shows for one person … put personal relationships through extraordinary stress to get it out there.

Those are the minimum requirements, so Vance is going to be busy. But the sweet music his muse makes him play is worth seeking out now, even in the Oregon rain.

Catch Dylan-Thomas Vance in Portland:
• Thursday, Jan. 10, Rock Creek Tavern, 8-11 p.m.
• Saturday, Jan 12, Boones Treasury, 8-11 p.m. (w/band)
• Wednesdays, Snake & Weasel, 6-8 p.m. (w/Acoustic Noodle House)
• Wednesdays, the Empire Room, 8:30-11 p.m.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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