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Martin Devaney (Tuesday, June 14th, 2005, Peavey Plaza Tunes @ Noon)
Martin Devaney performs at Tunes @ Noon on Peavey Plaza with Jake Hyer - Photo by David Rachac (click for full size)

By David Rachac

In spite of seeing nearly all of the Eclectone-affiliated acts in the past two years, I had never really seen label head Martin Devaney play at a time when I was paying full attention, which is as inexcusable as it is unexplainable – Devaney plays some of the purest pop in town, and is one of the genuine good guys of the local music scene.

Determined to right this horrible oversight, I popped down to Peavey Plaza to catch his Tunes @ Noon show last Tuesday. It had been raining on and off all morning, which probably encouraged much of the Minneapolis work force to eat at their desks that day. Which is a shame, because they missed an opportunity to see one of Minnesota’s most prolific young singer/songwriters.

Devaney took the stage with only Jake Hyer (Get Up Johns) providing accompaniment on violin, mandolin and background vocals. Pointedly changing musical genres throughout his career, Devaney has moved from the jazz-funk hip-hop group Heiruspecs to the Dylan-esque folk of 2002’s Somebody Somewhere through the jangly pop of 2004’s La Mancha, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Devaney is pushing his envelope again, recasting his songs in a simpler and quieter light.

Although it isn’t unfair to reference a certain favorite native son when talking about Devaney’s music, I think a lot of the Dylan comparisons come from the similar unorthodox concepts of phrasing and – how should I put this? – vocal tuning the two share. Devaney might not knock you over with his singing on a CD, but in a live setting, his voice has a warmth and grit that pulls you in and won’t let go.

Starting off the afternoon with “Drought”, from the upcoming CD, Devaney and Hyer quickly ran through three songs from the excellent La Mancha album, “Theme For An Anonymous Waitress”, “Is That You?” and “Outside Looking In”, with Hyer laying down sweet violin solos for each of them. Later on, Hyer played mandolin on a couple of songs, adjusting his microphone on the fly when he realized that he did not have a set-up for his mandolin in place. In this duo set-up, Hyer is a really great foil, providing solidly unwavering background vocals and uplifting violin fills and solos to mesh with Devaney and his heart-on-his sleeve approach. By breaking the songs down to the core elements of acoustic guitar, violin and sometimes harmonica, you really understand the depth of Devaney’s songwriting talent. Even the power-pop songs, like “Nobody Writes Letters Any More”, benefit from downshifting into a slower, more acoustic gear.

There was a slight lull in the middle of the show, when Devaney strung together a couple of slow songs, including “Spotlight On You,” the only song from 2003’s September. But things quickly picked back up with poppy versions of “Landlord’s Daughter” and “Steal Your Girl”. Devaney and Hyer ended with two new songs, following an old song of Devaney’s called “Mile 113” with a haunting, lonesome violin solo that coincided beautifully with the lyrics. Overall, it was a different show than I expected, but it was a fascinating view of an artist making new paths as he follows his inspiration.

Martin Devaney will be playing at Bryant Lake Bowl with special guest Ela on Saturday, June 25.

Set List
Theme For An Anonymous Waitress
Is That You?
Outside Looking In
Flowers On The Doorstep
Nobody Writes Letters Any More
Spotlight On You
Landlord’s Daughter
Steal Your Girl
Mile 113
Five Day Affair
Blessing And The Blame