by Stephanie Kadel-Taras
Don't let the name fool you (even though that last syllable is pronounced with a long A). Todd Deatherage is not goth or heavy metal or punk. This young singer, songwriter, and electric guitarist, recently transplanted to Ann Arbor, is a pop-rock chameleon whose wide-ranging sound allows multiple interpretations of his original songs.
Maybe his different homes, including Dallas and New York, account for his eclectic repertoire. And he is surely evolving after more than six years of writing and recording. But it is the versatility of his compositions, from cowboy dance tune to smoky ballad to radioworthy pop single, that gives him the flexibility to evolve.
At a recent Blind Pig show with his spare local lineup bassist Nick White and the incomparable veteran drummer Stuart Tucker Deatherage offered up straight-ahead midwestern bar rock with simple but serious guitar solos. His vocal control in every song was striking, as was his unexpected falsetto line-endings, reminiscent of local legend Frank Allison. Every number was a Deatherage original except for a credible Hank Williams send-up with some awesome yodeling.
Despite that choice of cover, I came away wondering why Deatherage's work has been described as country-rock. Then I listened to his 2001 release Dream upon a Fallen Star, which opens with the same number he used to open his bar set. On the CD, "Man of Me" (as in "Ain't that man of me?") features pedal steel and fiddle and immediately whisks you off to Todd's Texas honky-tonk roots. The next tune, "Desperate," calls out for dancing in cowboy boots to an extra-fast rhythm line behind a slower melody.
Deatherage carries that style through much of the record, but he also throws in a Latin groove in "Over You" (with a haunting falsetto chorus) and a rockabilly crowd pleaser called "She's Leaving Me." He also tries a swanky lounge number, "Lose Myself," complete with sax and trombone, but he doesn't have the pipes to pull
Just as I thought I was figuring him out, I cued up his highly produced 2006 self-titled EP (made in England), and I was amazed to discover a power pop performer whose more complex compositions carry polished layers of sound similar to Sting or Elvis Costello. The lyrics are also dependable pop sentiments like "Am I gonna linger on, after all our days our gone? Will I still be in your head, after final words are said?"
Deatherage's lanky good looks he's like a sweeter Pete Townsend should bolster his pop presence. But he is almost too relaxed on stage, hardly seeming to notice when he's playing a cool guitar riff. Maybe he just feels supremely calm and confident with Stu Tucker's smooth percussion. But it's a performing style that risks coming off as reserved and even a little bored.
Maybe that's where the goth comes in. With this much good material to share, Todd Deatherage has something to get excited about. And so do those who hear him.
Todd Deatherage is at the Elbow Room on Saturday, December 1, and at TC's Speakeasy on Friday, December 14.
[Review published December 2007]