MUSIC | Barbara Meyer hits ’em right between the eyes

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Ace singer-songwriter Barbara Meyer doesn’t do a lot of playing out. So, folk who made it to her late 2008 performances at e.p. atelier or the Simpson Shelter gave themselves early Christmas presents. Meyer’s one of those dynamite-every-time-out performers who give a hundred ten percent. And incredibly enough, she gets better and better each time around. I missed her at the Simpson Shelter, but I was right there, digging every minute of her appearance at e.p. atelier—until it started getting late, anyway, and I had to beat it on home to check on my daughter.

If you’re not familiar with her music, Meyer is a dyed-in-the-wool throwback to when rockabilly reigned. She sounds off with a wizened air, an earthy flourish as authentically bluegrass as moonshine whiskey and as truly rock ’n’ roll as dance music on a Saturday night—and she does it on an acoustic guitar with only basic backup. For the splendid album Barbara Meyer, she’s got bass, keyboard, and drums with a harmonica here and a washboard there, holding to a streamlined, hit-‘em-right-between-the-eyes presentation. At e.p. atelier, she had Stanely Kipper accompanying on percussion (he plays slammin’ timbales) and vocals (sings with smokey, raw-edged soul). They cooked up a storm, doing everything off Barbara Meyer, plus some.

The night led off with “Watering the Dead,” an upbeat, honey-dipped, you-know-what-kicking cut that ought to be mandatory programming on the radio. It’s laced with moody minor chords over which Meyer lays down a smooth, sardonic vocal. Kipper (who produced the album with Meyer and Minnesota Music Award winner Rich Mattson) weighed in by accentuating the backbeat with his customarily judicious, wholly effective style (that’s him, ladies and gentlemen, leading Afro-Cuban rockers New Primitives). From there the set was a freight train rolling non-stop. Highlights included the tongue-in-cheek “Icons,” with lyrics like “Mary in a bathtub, Jesus ‘round her neck, Buddha on the mantle, but she’s a nervous wreck”; the dead-on reality check “Does It Always Have To Be About You”; and the beautifully snide “One-Night Halfway Stand.” Plus, Kipper contributed a lead vocal on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (he does it on New Primitives, too). There was a fine cover of the Vogues’ chestnut “5 O’Clock World.” A potential plus was the teasing idea that New Primitives keyboard man Bruce Jackson would get up from the audience and sit in on piano, but it didn’t come to pass. If only for sentiment’s sake, it’d’ve been sweet to see the three former members of One World up there, doin’ it to it: wouldn’t surprise me if Jackson stayed in his seat so as not to endure yours truly nagging him to play “Bangkok Ellie” (tasty laid-back funk from New Primitives), which I am prone to do.

According to the set list, which I snatched up from Stan, I missed out on a rendition of “Santa Baby,” that material-minded gold-digger’s classic, with which I’m sure Barbara had a ball. Didn’t catch “Louisiana Shuffle” either, but that little gem is on the CD. Speaking of which, even if you did get everything you asked for this Christmas, make Barbara Meyer a belated gift to yourself. It’s a present you won’t so much as think about returning. And P.S.: Any time you get wind that this lady of song is throwing down someplace, do yourself a favor and be there.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.