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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007 01:02 am

Harps and chords

D-Squared performs Wednesday at Trout Lily Café

D-Squared plays at the Trout Lily Café on Wednesday, Oct. 24, from 7:30-9 p.m.
Untitled Document I attended a folk-music conference in the last week of September in the Chicago area — Techny Towers in Northbrook, to be exact — called the Folk Alliance Midwest Region (or FARM) Gathering. The weekend event attracted around 100 musicians and several DJs, booking agents, promoters, presenters, and others. There were workshops on alternate guitar tunings and partial capos, house concerts and music festivals, creating Web sites, and promoting careers. The conference was highlighted by nightly performances by folk musicians of all flavors. We heard purveyors of traditional music known as “trads” — singer/songwriters by the dozen, one cowboy yodeler, and a few husband/wife duos. Some were famous in their circles, others desperate to get noticed, and a few just plain glad to be there rubbing elbows with fellow musicians trying to figure out how to make a living singing songs.
Of all the performers, though, one act stood out above the rest. Calling themselves D-Squared and hailing from Mayer, Ariz., a little village about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff, the players seemed to care more about their music than about promoting their shtick, which is rare at a conference designed for shameless self-promotion. One of the husband/wife teams, D-Squared is Don Charles and Deb Gessner, both songwriters of distinction and originality and gifted and talented instrumentalists. Charles mostly plays a capoed guitar in particular tunings but strums a mandola and banjo as well. Gessner plucks a full-size harp and plays the concertina and accordion, too. His voice is a well-worn baritone, with a hint of Iowa folk singer Greg Brown’s phrasing but not his persistent overearnestness. Her voice is angelic and reaching, matching the soft and fluttering tone of the harp with ease. Their voices blend but balance each other, creating a unique sound from song to song, both in harmony and apart. Not only do they write incredibly deep and provocative lyrical songs with familiar yet distinct melodies, but they also include instrumental pieces with striking tonal interplay, interpreting folk melodies and old songs with fresh originality. Did I mention that I really like these guys? I haven’t even gotten to the part about spending hours in conversation with the couple at the FARM Gathering, discussing philosophy, ranching, farming, water rights, and land management in the American West; dry heat vs. Midwestern humidity; and even some musical ideas. Later that week they came and spent the night at our house while traveling between gigs in Iowa and Indiana. That’s another fascinating aspect of the couple’s existence: They live on the road a good part of the year. Deb books tours — such as a recent run up through Wyoming and Montana, then over and down through the Northwest and California and back to Arizona — and stay at campgrounds when convenient, sleeping in their van. With Yippy the dog as their lone companion, these modern-day troubadours live as musical nomads, combining contemporary methods with age-old style. Suffice it to say, they are the real thing — out playing music because they love to, want to and need to and because they can. Honor them with a listen as they stop in Springfield for a show while passing back through this way from Ohio, heading to Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado before returning home to Arizona.

D-Squared ( performs at 7:30-9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, at Trout Lily CafО (218 S. Sixth St., 217-391-0101).   A donation of $10 is suggested.

Contact Tom Irwin at
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