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Tom Heinl
WITH OR WITHOUT ME
(Leisure King)
Stars graphics

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Tom Heinl might be the best country-novelty songwriter of the past 10 years. He has a polished, hardwood-paneling baritone that makes you think of George Jones and Buck Owens and beige slacks, not to mention a backing band who pull off an imitation of the late-í60s/early-í70s countrypolitan sound thatís as indistinguishable from the originals as the house bands at Desco and Daptone are to the same eraís funk. Heinl combines down-home surrealism and classicism like a cross between Tom Waits and Tom T. Hall, and heís drop-dead funny, too, in that distinctly country, laughing-to-keep-from-crying kinda way.

Capsule descriptions of his songs make them sound like tragedies. On "Three Way," a man asks his wife for an extra partner in bed and finds himself left out in the cold. A drunken trip to a late-night fast-food joint turns into a queasy existential journey. A man burns to death when his Christmas tree catches fire ó on Valentineís Day. Not all of Heinlís songs are punch-line-funny: the opening dead-mother/drunk-daddy song "Mama" is textbook satire, being perhaps the most perfect example of the thing itís parodying. Which is what makes With or Without Me more than novelty: itís like a weird, warped form of adulation, big enough to include those who love country and those who hate it.

(Tom Heinl opens for the Decemberists this Saturday, March 27, at T.T. the Bearís Place, 10 Brookline Street in Central Square; call 617-492-BEAR.)

BY CARLY CARIOLI


Issue Date: March 26 - April 1, 2004
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