Listening Post

SWEET RELIEF: Remember Eddie Kendricks' silky falsetto flights on the Temptations' "Just My Imagination"? It's a prime slice of Americana, but Fred Onovwerosuoke knows more: Its roots are 100 percent African.

"We do that back home a lot" he says. Onovwerosuoke founded and directs the St. Louis African Chorus and, as a native of West Africa, he should know: "It (goes) way, way back. It's remained with the South Africans, especially in the style Ladysmith Black Mambazo sings." This is just one of the many "secrets" the chorus knows. They just released their first CD, containing live performances recorded at the Sheldon in 1997 and '98, and a close listen reveals more of the authentic African music that has powerfully influenced American music.

Devoid of the choir's visual performance aspects, the CD's music can feel a bit inaccessible at first. The singers don't use the electric bass and guitar found in today's Afro-pop, preferring instead the organic beauty of a mostly a cappella sound. That ordinary yet beautiful quality especially comes through in the track "Blima Yo," a Congo lullaby. The spirited, bouncy piece sounds little like the Western concept of a lullaby, but if one recalls the familiar "Angels Watchin' Over Me" the relationship becomes clear.

"It's the same concept" Onovwerosuoke explains. "'Blima Yo' says, 'The spirits are here, watching over you.' It gives the sense of a big protection around the child. In the African setting you hardly hear the lady singing to a child without some sort of rhythm. Back home, if the child does not get that rhythm, he's not going to sleep."

A Zulu and Xhosa suite opens the recording with songs that soar, loud and triumphant, in the traditional call-and-response pattern found in most African music. "Those songs have been very popular with our audiences," says Onovwerosuoke. "Together they tell a story, so you can't do one without the other."

The St. Louis African Chorus is conducting auditions through June. "I would love to see more men in the chorus," Onovwerosuoke says. His special wish is for a man who can imitate women using a falsetto voice. "We really need that ... if we can find the man." (LK)

HARP ATTACK: The annual Union Station Concert Series, which is sponsored by the RFT, kicks off on Friday, June 4, behind Union Station with a performance by harmonica player Delbert McClinton. Even if you're not familiar with him, no doubt you've been affected by his music; he's one of those stealth performers whose work is respected by musicians and who has a hardcore fan base but rarely cuts through to mainstream consciousness. To wit: You know the harmonica melody on the Beatles' "Love Me Do"? John Lennon played it, but he was given lessons by McClinton when a band with whom he was performing toured with the Beatles in '62. A curious bit of trivia, sure, and not necessarily one to build a career on. From those beginnings, though, McClinton drifted through the '60s, penning songs that were later recorded by Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm. In the '70s, he wrote a No. 1 hit for Emmylou Harris, "Two More Bottles of Wine," and wrote a song, "B-Movie Boxcar Blues," that the Blues Brothers included on one of their records. He's performed with Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, the Allman Brothers, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt (with whom he won a Grammy for their duet "Good Man, Good Woman), B.B. King, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, and on and on and on.

You wanna see a man play a harmonica? Delbert McClinton's where it's at. Blues guitarist Monte Montgomery opens. More of the series' concerts will be announced in the near future. (RR)

QUICKIE-RELEASE NEWS: Tom Wood, the perennial Slammie winner for Best Folk Artist, is holding a swank fundraiser to help him release his second CD, The Road, the Hungry, and the Wild. It's a great idea: He's coupling the benefit with a wine-tasting of Mount Pleasant wines. Get drunk on good wine and help the songwriter generate funds for his CD. He'll be performing songs from the release and schmoozing with the audience. The event takes place at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 16, at the Park Avenue Gallery, 1905 Park Ave. in Lafayette Square. A $20 donation is requested.

It's been out for a couple of months now, and though you can't buy a copy, you can hear it when you're at the Way Out Club on Cherokee: The Fran-Tics' Way Out Club Jukebox CD is exactly what it purports to be: a CD recorded to put into the Way Out Club's fantastic jukebox -- the jukebox that houses more locally generated CDs than any other in town. The Fran-Tics are two bands: Fran and the Tics, and this is a split CD. Both groups specialize in quickie songs, and the thing is a blast, mainly because of its complete lack of pretension and its irreverent, playful tone. Fran's much more jokey than the Tics, with absurdist country-hick vocals and a raucous energy, but what seals the songs in place are Erin Gulley's sweet harmonies underneath, harmonies that seem blind to the slobbery singing above. The Tics' "I Like You a Little Bit" is one of the catchiest, most engaging pop songs I've heard all year, national or local. "I like you a little bit," sings Marcia Pandolfi. "I like you, but not that much." The best rock songs consist of only three chords and a bridge, and the Tics found the exact right ones. If you wanna hear it, all you gotta do is punch it in on the jukebox. There's also an ode to Robyn Hitchcock (I think) called "Song for Robyn," in which Padolfi screams, "You're the best guy in the world!"

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