Dawn Oberg Brings Her Devastating Wit and Catchy Piano Songs to NYC
Dawn Oberg‘s most clever album title is Horticulture Wars (although You Drank My Backwash isn’t bad either). Her songs are published by Blossom Theory Music. The San Francisco-based chamber pop songwriter never met a pun she could resist, sings them in a cool jazz-informed alto and plays a mean piano, drawing equally on gospel and classic soul music. You could call her the missing link between Aimee Mann and Randy Newman, but her songs are warmer than Mann’s, and where Mann’s muse is opiates, Oberg’s is booze. And Oberg doesn’t fall back on music biz insider snark like Newman does. Her current tour with soul-inspired acoustic songwriter Karlyn DeSteno brings the two to Freddy’s at 7 PM on June 14, where they’re each playing a set, and the the small room at the Rockwood on June 15 at 6 where they’ll share about 45 minutes onstage. As you might imagine, Oberg is even funnier live than she is on record.
Her previous album, Rye, made the top 50 albums of 2013 here; if the list was ranked numerically, it’s fair to say that the wryly titled release would have been among the year’s half-dozen best. Oberg’s new one, Bring – streaming online – is just as tuneful, eclectic and irresistibly witty. The opening track, Caitlin & Fire, is a jauntily marching tribute to a rugged individualist whose “career in conflagration” began when she was expelled from school for setting a locker ablaze. But, “You will not hear her complain about the price of channeling those tongues of flame.”
A cool slide from Mark Corradetti’s bass kicks off the title cut, a study in artistic intentions: Oberg’s desire is to “rip a new one in the Angel of Death,” to write songs with the power to pull someone down off the ledge. Roger Rocha’s lingering, buzzy guitars and drummer Billy Mason’s hard-hitting soul-clap beat drive the anxious Incantation, while Martini Geometry is Oberg at her Dorothy Parker best, contemplating the dangers of overdoing it:
πr2 ÷ 3X the distance to the rim
Gives you the exact measure of misery
If you should disrecpect the substances therein…
When you waken, bloody marys with bacon
Won’t ameliorate your pain
And it’s all because of that inverted cone that you are taken
To the place where you’ve forsaken the cylindrical domain
Likewise, Bartender sends a fond, gospel-infused shout-out to someone who’s “psychic about my bourbon and my rye and scotch needs…a partner in crime in the killing of my time.” Gwen, another character study, salutes a multi-instrumentalist pal “who writes the best songs you never heard.” And Alia offers a fond tribute to a redheaded friend whose mom “manages never to harsh our buzz” and can “throw back bourbon like a Bukowski muse or a character from a novel by Harry Crews.”
The album’s most harrowing track, Mile Rock Man, takes its inspiration from when Oberg, out on a run along the perimeter of San Francisco Bay, ran across the body of a suicide who’d shot himself in the head. The final track is the devastatingly amusing, spot-on, ragtime-flavored Republican Jesus, who’s down with the Koch Brothers and Halliburton – and if you’re melanin-challenged and rich, you can be down with him too. In 2015, we need more songs like this and more artists as fearless and entertaining as Dawn Oberg.