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Concert Preview: Aaron Lee Tasjan

Grant Walters Grant Walters Concert Preview: Aaron Lee Tasjan
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The Columbus native will play one of a few of his full-band, headlining shows of the year at Rumba Cafe this week to mark the release of his excellent new album, "Silver Tears"

Roots rocker Aaron Lee Tasjan’s just-released major label debut, Silver Tears (New West Records), is a beautifully crafted piece of Americana worthy of the tremendous praise it’s already received from multiple industry outlets. Tasjan’s voice is accessible and earnest, adrift in a haunting current of acoustic and slide guitars and an appropriately restrained rhythm section. Album opener, “Hard Life”, bears some (complimentary) similarities to The Band’s staple “Cripple Creek”, while the easy-feeling “Memphis Rain” could have been a standard in Glen Campbell’s early catalog. Other standout tracks like “Refugee Blues”, “Ready to Die”, and the lovely, melodic “Where the Road Begins and Ends” show his versatility – and agility – as a tunesmith.

Certainly those who will catch Tasjan on his current tour supporting industry heavyweights Lydia Loveless and The Felice Brothers, will be treated to a swath of these gorgeous new arrangements; Columbus fans will be able to join him on November 1st at Rumba Cafe in SoHud – a venue that favors artist-audience intimacy. It will be one of just a handful of appearances this year where Tasjan will headline with his full band in tow.

Though now based in East Nashville, Tasjan was born and raised in New Albany – and carries a few memories to which a lot of Columbus kids could relate: “Mainly just going to Used Kids or Magnolia Thunderpussy every day after school and buying a lot of records to play on my car speakers with the windows rolled down at the Kroger parking lot,” he reminisces. Both of his parents were amateur musicians and enthusiasts, which opened the proverbial door open for Tasjan to pick up and learn the guitar before he was a teenager. “With my Dad’s music, he introduced me to the Count Basie Orchestra who had Freddy Green on guitar. His rhythm playing was a huge influence. He also took me several times to hear James Brown sing which is what made me want to perform. The main two ones I got from my Mom was The Beatles and Dylan. I’ve always been fascinated by the commonalities in British and American music and seeing how those two things can fit together.”

Even more prodigious than his being a self-taught guitarist was the fact that he began composing music immediately; and since, Tasjan has considered himself to be a songwriter first and foremost. “I wrote a song on the guitar the first day I had it. I didn’t even know any chords. I recorded it on a tape recorder and sent my friend the cassette. So songwriting was in fact the very first thing I ever did with a guitar.”

Tasjan would eventually leave Columbus for New York in the mid-2000s, lending his guitar skills to esteemed outfits such like the New York Dolls, Semi Precious Weapons, Everest, Alberta Cross, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ and the Madison Square Gardeners. His move to solo work later in the decade was, according to him, somewhat a process of elimination. “No one wanted to start a band where I played rhythm guitar and wrote the songs but didn’t sing them”, he mused. “So I guess I decided to sing them…and now here we are.”

Silver Tears is nearly a decade-long evolution of Tasjan’s artistry – which is more genre-less than it is well defined. If there’s a thread of country melancholy or blues whimsy that ties the record together, it’s not by intentional design. “I just write what moves me. I don’t put any thought into genre or anything. There’s too much precedent on ‘having a sound’ these days. I think artists serve their endeavors most favorably when they’re not worried about anything like what genre they fit.”

When I pressed him a bit further on the current state of country music specifically and whether or not he believed there was a need for adjustment toward a more organic foundation, he bristled. “I don’t really consider country music. I like it a lot but I don’t know a ton about it other than a few singers like Willie or Kristofferson or Bobby Bare or something. I’d rather have a joint than think about why some guy in an office building somewhere decided which terrible Toby Keith song gets played into the ground on a radio station I’ll never listen to.”

It’s probably easier to agree that Tasjan’s musical approach is humanistic, and there are messages of comfort and solidarity that are meant to talk to people who are contending with the challenges of a complicated world. Still, he insists those connections are more abstract than they are planned: “I don’t think you can just go out there and embrace humanity or whatever. It’s more of a hope or an aspiration. I have zero control over how the songs affect people and I’m fine with that.”

Aaron Lee Tasjan will perform with special guest Lilly Hiatt on Tuesday, November 1, at Rumba Cafe in SoHud, 2507 Summit Street. Tickets are $10 (under 21 pays an additional $2 at the door) and are available via TicketWeb. More information about the artist, including links to purchase his new album, Silver Tears, can be found on his website.

Looking for more live music events in Columbus? CLICK HERE to visit our events calendar!

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