the roots of 20th Century music
Vance is chronologically challenged
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?
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
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
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
Wednesdays, the Empire Room, 8:30-11 p.m.