Virgil Shaw

Still Falling

Considering that I was never particularly taken with the Bay Area combo Dieselhed -- not a bad lot, mind you, but a tad too jokey for this writer -- the sophomore release from ex-Hed Virgil Shaw comes as a surprising delight. Still Falling sounds like a great lost recording session between Van Morrison and the Band circa 1972, while never coming across as a self-conscious pastiche of the best (or worst) aspects of those icons.


With Tim Easton and Firecracker

Sunday, March 23, at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $8


Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Missouri), S.F.

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Shaw has a reedy, comforting voice with a slight drawl and a trace of yowl -- almost a cross between Morrison and the Band's Levon Helm. His gently plain-spoken delivery is made to order for his mournful and dryly humorous descriptions of life's vagaries and dead ends (note this verse from "Owner Operator": "And what about me, look where I am/ It's like I'm sitting here, in Missouri/ And just to think I learned most everything I needed to know/ In the Navy"). Shaw's tunes feature cinematically vivid, masterfully orchestrated guitars, vibes, and brass, highlighting undertones of Southern gospel, Stephen Foster-ish marches, and Randy Newman's piano balladry. This stray Hed has great taste (and nerve) in covers, too, taking on the Terry Allen/David Byrne collaboration "Wilderness of This World" and Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home" -- both of which sound as if they were written for Shaw. While Still Fallingmay not leap out and dazzle you, the album does grow more affecting and elegant with each listen.

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