Love songs gone right
by Stephanie Kadel-Taras
"Love doesn't always have to go wrong, but it's a lot easier to write about it when it does." This little bit of songwriter's truth was shared on-stage by Khalid Hanifi somewhere between "The Bloom Is off the Rose" and "Love Song 37" two of many lovesick numbers he's written over the years.
Whatever difficulties he may have had with romance, Hanifi's musical talent continues to bloom. He's been performing his original pop tunes locally since the 1980s, when he emerged as co-leader of Map of the World, a highly respected local band that landed a national recording contract. In recent years he and dependable local bass player Oni Werth teamed up with other musicians to gig as the Maypops. In 2000 they released Spirits of Agnew, an easygoing CD with one engaging pop track after another. This isn't Top 40 pop, however. Hanifi is reminiscent of Elvis Costello and Lou Reed, with smart, dark, tight sounds that quickly get under your skin.
Now performing under his own name, Hanifi is still writing new numbers, while he and Werth continue to draw from the Maypops repertoire. What makes this latest incarnation even stronger is the addition of genius guitarist George Bedard and his longtime drummer, Richard Dishman (who has been drumming so long that one of his bands once opened for Cream).
After years as Ann Arbor's premier rockabilly guitarist, Bedard does good pop music the way the rest of us do breathing. In a recent show with Hanifi, he accentuated each tune with a perfectly chosen and always different guitar solo, demonstrating equal facility with rockin' fingerpicking, twangy surfer sounds, and bluesy slide guitar.
Hanifi's tunes easily allow for such variety, even as they are all similarly slow paced and comfortably accessible. He has an uncanny gift for melodic intervals that ring true to the ear. And he knows when to repeat these lines to grab and keep your attention. At the same time,
he doesn't rely on any standardized pop-song construction. Most tunes include a significant change of tempo and style partway through, and few songs offer a definitive chorus. Hanifi's clear and pretty vocals hit high notes better than lows, reminding me of a young Paul McCartney. His voice blends well with Werth's on occasional harmony.
Lyrically, Hanifi's songs quietly demand repeated listening. Many of his best lyrics are showcased by the musical line itself, but you may still appreciate the rhymes and sentiments in lines like "I dream without you of you without me / And you seem kind of happy," or "I forget, did you better me / Did I swallow you or did you swallow me," or "I might fall tomorrow / It's a bull market on sorrow."
Khalid Hanifi and his band are at the Del Rio Tuesday, September 16.
[Originally published in September, 2003.]