Words Ring True: "In Their Own Words" Series Again Lights Up Bearsville Theater

If you like your music in safe, self-contained bubbles, untainted by worldly turmoil, David Baerwald's sophomore solo disk, Triage, is not for you. Veering off from the California-smooth, almost Eagle-ish techniques of his last album, Bedtime Stories, Baerwald's new release, takes an unblinking look, with biting humor and searing anger, at What We Have Become. The stark, kinetic production, political focus and no-punches-pulled attitude of Triage, especially of the earlier songs, following an effort still pulsing with its own elevated level of social and political devotions, is a surprise but not a shock. "There's so much dancing around issues," said Baerwald in Bearsville last Sunday night, "that, ultimately, we become very good dancers...and very good liars."

Looking as thin and intense as actor James Woods, Baerwald led off the 'In Their Own Words' singer-songwriter program at Bearsville Theater with a mildly poisonous lullaby from the new record called "A Bitter Tree." The format then shifted us to an introductory song from Kansas-born Bar/None recording artist, Freedy Johnston, whose 1992 album Can You Fly was notably successful on several fronts and on to Lisa Germano. Best-known for her fiddle and mandolin work behind John Mellencamp, Lisa's second solo effort Happiness is due in June. Johnny Clegg, of Johannesburg, stateside promoting his fourth album with Savuka, Heat, Dust & Dreams anchored the team.

The evening's host and moderator, Randy Milroy of WDST, then circled back, re-engaging each artist to prompt conversation and trigger the night's grabbag repertoire with his own notions of interest. The blend of qualities each performer, all solid and versatile musicians primed for the challenge, brought to the round table made the very idea of the event delicious and exciting. With room for spontaneity, lots of talk and humor, the progression evolved as vastly entertaining in a form far from the usual fare of musical sets and recitals. Off of the pop pedestal, it's a humanly rewarding experience to discover our artists' other dimensions up close and loose- not as idols trapped in caged arrangements and audience-identified "hits" but fully alive as bright and interesting people.

The soft and mesmerizing voice of Lisa Germano, developed in a little Indiana town near Notre Dame, delivers her unobtrusively intelligent messages with coy dark humor and firm bite. She's an artist not possessed of "great pipes" but her music doesn't require it. Germano draws you into an intimate clutch which whispers sloping secrets to your inner ear. At the end of the song, you step away utterly charmed.

"I was putting a demo together for myself to see what I can do that isn't with someone else," Germano said of the tapes which became her first release when she started writing her own songs and went solo about 3 years ago with On the Way Down From Moon Palace. "Because after 2 tours with John (Mellencamp) and a tour with Simple Mind, I still didn't have a job. So, you might as well find out what you can do on your own. If it's bad then you find out and if it's not then you move on.

"I've always written little ditties but I've never finished anything, I think because when you're finished- you're making a statement- it's done. That's why I write a lot about being a victim of yourself. People keep themselves at a certain level because of their fears. They get angry about it or they hold it in or they get very upset and I think they get sick. I was kind of sick until I started to get it out and just go 'Hey, you know, if people don't like you- that's alright. If you're going to be a victim of yourself, you're the one that suffers. I write about a lot of that stuff."

If there was a disappointment in the night, it was that Germano never got around to her fiddle. Johnston, who spent 2 years producing his third album, enlisted the embellishment of particular musicians for selected spots, including Marshall Crenshaw- who left the audience on request to supply lead guitar on one of Freedy's numbers.

Clegg, a White South African who grew up with a fondness for Zulu tribal music (and even speaks a Zulu dialect), produces simple, grasping melodies and lyrical tones which startlingly defy the Apartheid cultural divisions of his homeland. Capitol Records, Clegg's label, describes his output as a "Zulu-English-Celtic-Rock mixture." Okay. But, it's rhythmically and joyfully enveloping stuff, whatever you call it and Clegg's persona, upon scrutiny, is so free of pervading American tensions that it forces you to recognize their existence. It's not an accent but a vibe that announces the artist's remove from that invisible national wiring- something you only notice in it's absence.

Throwing such a diverse group of musical strangers together into a team is a rotisserie (spelling? Mic, how do rotisserie baseball buffs spell their thing?) sport that chances spectacular miscalculation. According to Kathy Williams, a promoter for Capitol Records in Los Angeles, a mixture of 2 "political-type" artists (Baerwald & Clegg) with 2 not-so political figured in the formula.

The tour started Thursday in Virginia. By it's 4th date, in Bearsville, a bond was already forming which spawned considerable cross-humor and musical interplay as Baerwald picked up a bass for a Johnston tune, Lisa joined the chorus on a Clegg song and so on. When Baerwald rebelled a bit against the host's "boxing" of selections, the others, in the spirit of keeping their options loose in an organic, breathing showcase designed to change each night in response to mediator and locale, gently in turn followed suit. Offstage, their individual praise for the others was unforced. But, of course, the tour is still in honeymoon stages.

After the show, Milroy felt warmed up. Rifling through his notes, he said "Now I'm ready to do it again- because I know them better. But, of course, it's a different host in each city."

- Gary Alexander -30-

[Gary, the following appeared after your name. I don't know if these are notes to be discarded or are meant to be part of the article.]

Baerwald's talents impressed most deeply in a genuinely impressive group. The stained-with-world-involvement line-up of his Triage album [which sports the announcement: "This record is dedicated to dean acheson, paul nitze, john j. mccloy, john foster dulles, allen dulles, henry kissinger, james baker III, and george bush in the sincere hope that there is a God and that He is vengeful beyond all comprehension" features an ruder, rawer approach than we've heard from him before. Also more musically indulgent. Baerwald sings less here, a disappointment only because of his already noted capabilities. The studied deliveries are replaced by a poetry of consciousness we have seen from other non-rap artists recently (such as Jeff Wilkerson), sounding sometimes like

beatniks hallucinated into the 90's and bending a bit perhaps to pop musical trend without cowtowing it. Baerwald's poetry, always crisp, b

On "They Got No Shotgun Hydrahead Octopus Blues- which would have been Danny Casolaro's favorite tune- a jagged, harder-edged rock emerges. "I Am Nobody" a talkin' blues-rock has Baerwald sounding sometimes like John Hammond singing Tom Brokaw's script or vamps from the place Mick Jagger should have gone to-

The second side eases into a gentler sound but the stark realities do not fade until damnation is poisoned by rainbows, lightening toward hope at the end, toward the redeeming values of love