Critic's Choice

Virgil Shaw, who opens for Angels of Light on Tuesday, December 11, at the 15th Street Tavern, is what you might call an unsung singer-songwriter. He's not exactly well-known for his work with Dieselhed, a first-rate California roots band that's still striving to reach Wilco-like cult status after twelve years on the road, and last year's Quad Cities, Shaw's solo debut on the Future Farmer imprint, failed to make him a household name despite its consistent excellence. Recorded with Dieselhed cohort Danny Heifetz and sidemen plucked from acts such as Mommyheads and Pell Mell, the disc puts quirky instrumentation (a Chinese trumpet, a saw), spare but smart arrangements, and Shaw's emotion-laden drawl at the service of songs that are as atmospheric as the open prairie. Although Shaw's lyrics can be surreal (a character in the moody "Twisted Layer" builds dollhouses just to burn them down), the details they include speak volumes. Witness "Volvo," whose title vehicle is infinitely more interesting because it's "primer gray." Shaw is reportedly working on a followup to Quad Cities, and if his luck holds, it won't be a smash, either. But for an unsung singer-songwriter, ol' Virgil sure can sing.


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