You know those old, reliable restaurants that you love going to, but you always wind up trying some hot new place instead? The same goes for local musical talents. We take our stars for granted. We shouldn't. So we're shining a light on a half-dozen acts who perform fairly regularly around town -- and sometimes the nation and world, too. We made a point of catching up on each of them recently, and fell in love all over again.
Back story: After growing up in a jazz-loving household in Hibbing, she earned a degree in speech communication at the University of Minnesota, studied dance and then started singing in Twin Cities jazz clubs in the 1980s. She soon joined forces with pianist/arranger Sanford Moore's Moore by Four and they've worked in various combinations ever since -- at jazz clubs, local theaters and festivals from Stockholm to Tokyo.
Main hangs: Jungle Theater (April 10), Dakota Jazz Club.
Latest album: "Little Did I Dream: Songs of Dave Frishberg" (2006).
What you get: She's quintessentially Minnesotan -- a sublime mixture of ice and fire. Her seductively dusky voice melts her instinctive Scandinavian demeanor. She is remarkably versatile and determinedly adventurous, whether reimagining Beatles songs, doing gypsy jazz or performing with the likes of Garrison Keillor or the Toronto Symphony. It's not surprising that she's been recognized by the Smithsonian, National Public Radio and the McKnight Foundation.
Says who: "She is the consummate musician," says frequent co-singer Ginger Commodore. "After so many years with Moore by Four, we joke with her that she can't go back to her Lutheran church shouting 'Amen, hallelujah' in the middle of the service. They just might not understand."
Back story: One of the great perseverance stories in the local hip-hop scene. Terrell Woods' troubled childhood found him in foster care and stealing food and clothes while his mom suffered through addictions. He's now a social worker by day, which partly explains why it took so long to put out his first full-length album. He also has been busy performing with near-sister Desdamona in Ill Chemistry, and he used to flow with his late pal Eyedea in Face Candy.
Main hangs: Cause, Triple Rock, Cabooze, block parties.
Latest album: "Worth the Wait," issued last month.
What you get: Skills. This dude exudes them. His flow as a rapper ranges from rapid-fire freestyling to slower, heavier rhymes that you'll feel like a full-volume bass drum. His talent as a songwriter and producer finds him crafting songs with giant, sometimes zany beats and lyrics that poke at you without any finger-wagging. And to top it off, his beatboxing abilities are legendary. That mouth of his might be the best drummer in town.
Says who: "He's been doing it longer than most of us, but he's still very progressive and always finding room to grow," says Slug of Atmosphere. "He knows all the different schools of hip-hop, and he has lasted through all the different waves. I wish he would put out more music, because that would probably help him get the attention he deserves."DAVINA AND THE VAGABONDS
Back story: Singer/pianist Davina Sowers met Lamont Cranston bassist Michael Carvale in Key West, Fla., followed him back to Minneapolis in 2005 and formed the Vagabonds, who play everywhere from a Twins spring game in Florida to a blues fest in Romania.
Main hangs: Lee's Liquor Lounge (April 15), Dakota Jazz Club (April 29-30), Red Stag Supperclub.
Latest album: "Black Cloud," due in late April.
Website: Davinaandthevagabonds. com
What you get: An irresistible force and lovable character who comes on like the daughter of Leon Redbone and Minnie the Moocher. Davina not only sings with slurred, sassy slyness but pounds the piano with barrelhouse authority and whips her brassy, swinging New Orleans-flavored combo into the perfect blend of musicality and entertainment. She's very generous about giving the Vagabonds, especially trumpeter Dan Eikmeier and trombonist Darren Sterud, time to shine.
Says who: "Kind of like the house band, if there was a brothel in heaven," says Kevin Bowe, Minneapolis singer/songwriter/producer.
THE RANK STRANGERS
Back story: Arriving in the early-'90s wake of Soul Asylum and the Replacements, Michigan native Mike Wisti thought Minneapolis was the natural place to start his crafty garage-rock band. "Then the White Stripes and Detroit sort of blew up, but whatever," he quipped. His trio has enjoyed a stable lineup of late with bassist Davin Odegaard and drummer Shaun Davis. Wisti also has become a go-to engineer/producer at his Albatross Studio for locals ranging from the Goondas to Lucy Michelle & the Velvet Lapelles to Hüsker Dü legend Grant Hart.
Main hangs: Turf Club (March 31), Hexagon Bar, Hell's Kitchen, Cause.
Latest album: 2009's "Tücke Des Objekts, Die," with a new one in the works.
What you get: Wisti & Co.'s nine albums probably would have been music-blogger favorites if music blogs had been around for most of them. Their live sets are like small-scale Guided by Voices shows, with a canon of catchy but punchy songs worth geeking out over, many featuring obtuse titles and razor-wry lyrics ("Carry on Snakes," "The Christians Are Coming").
Says who: "The topics Mike writes about are very intelligent and not very obvious, and his arrangements also cover a lot of uncharted territory," says Grant Hart. "They sort of seem like the eternal underground band. They've been blessed by not having a large amount of popularity. It means they can keep evolving."
Back story: A child classical protégé in Cuba, Herrera worked his way to musical director at the Tropicana nightclub in Havana and then lead pianist/music director of the jazz ensemble Cubanismo, with whom he toured the world. Since moving to Minnesota in 2001, he has continued to work the globe, playing with the Afro-Cuban All-Stars as well as his own combo.
Main hang: Dakota Jazz Club (April 22-23).
Latest album: "Live at the Dakota Vol. 2" (2006)
What you get: Herrera reminds us that the piano is a percussion instrument. He is as fast as lightning and as powerful as thunder -- without ever sacrificing his marvelous musicality. While he leans heavily on Afro-Cuban jazz, he has an immense musical vocabulary, from various classical and Latin styles to R&B and Disney pop. He exhibits a sense of playfulness and always seems in tune with his top-notch sidemen. He also brings out his 20-year-old singing daughter, Mirdalys, for a detour into dramatic Latin supperclub fare.
Says who: "He has phenomenal technique. Truly amazing," says Gordy Knudtson, drummer for Steve Miller Band and formerly with Herrera. "You kind of become used to it, but when you listen to other piano players, all of a sudden you can hear that their execution is not quite as clean as you used to think it was."
Back story: A native of Austin, Minn., this 43-year-old acoustic blues/folk wizard knows hard times, having grown up in the shadow of the Hormel strike and later working in homeless shelters. A student of Harry Smith's folk-music anthology, he cut his teeth a decade ago in clubs on Minneapolis' West Bank. Nowadays, he lives in Duluth but drives the Interstate 35 corridor almost weekly.
Main hangs: Turf Club (April 17), 331 Club and Fitger's in Duluth (Wednesday).
Latest album: "Too Much Liquor, Not Enough Gasoline" (compilation).
What you get: Parr's soulful acoustic picking and slide-guitar work -- played with foot-stomping intensity -- would be enough to make him a local hero, but it's his songwriting talent that bowls over listeners. Nobody does a murder ballad like Charlie Parr (not anymore, anyway). Delivered in a warbly, wounded voice, his songs often have a novel's worth of imagery and character. Their sound is of another era, but timeless. And they will haunt you.
Says who: "Charlie is a conduit straight to the hearts of the downtrodden, forgotten, gritty souls of America. He goes right to their center and brings us the message," says Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles.
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