Douglas Jenkins honed his cellistic chops at the UO music school, and he’s returning with his band for a holiday party. Though it’s only two years old, Portland Cello Project has has recorded two splendid CDs, toured the country and soared to national recognition for its ingenious arrangements of everything from Bach to Zep, Abba to Metallica, Britney to Justin Timberlake, Arvo Part to Heitor Villa Lobos, Beethoven to Salt n Pepa to … well, you get the picture. PCP shows might include anything from old TV themes to guest appearances by Portland indie faves such as Laura Gibson and Weinland’s Adam Shearer. Such collaborations have given the multi-cello ensemble a unique place in Oregon’s pop music scene. It’s hard to believe that cellos can sound so persuasive in so many contexts, thanks to Jenkins’ skilled arrangements, and even harder to imagine a cello ensemble as party band. But that’s exactly what they’ll be this weekend when they’re joined by Matt Sheehy, Portland’s Baby Ketten Karaoke night organizers and danceable cello music “from tango to Timberlake to Talking Heads,” Jenkins says. Portland Cello Project’s Holiday Spectacular Show happens at 8 pm Saturday, Dec. 12, at Cozmic Pizza. $10. — Brett Campbell
Music By Guys Who Read Too Much
The Dimes are a group of highly literate and historically minded musicians who sing pretty harmonies and strum and pluck their strings gently, creating an intricately layered sound that brings to mind the airborne mellowness of Simon & Garfunkel and the softly rippling melancholy of Belle & Sebastian. The Portland band’s debut album, The Silent Generation, was inspired in part by a stack of Depression-era newspapers read by singer-songwriter Johnny Clay. The Dimes’ sophomore effort, the recently released The King Can Drink the Harbour Dry, is no less ambitious: It takes on the embattled history of Boston, and we’re not talking the Celtics and Red Sox. With song titles like “Walden & the Willow Tree” and “Ballad of Winslow Homer,” the album addresses nothing short of the political and social foundations of our inchoate democracy (including the Tea Party of lore the Republicans are currently vulgarizing and perverting).
Clay’s narratives are extremely literal-minded — he drops names, dates and events without a hint of irony — and at times the straightforward storytelling smacks of a pedantic lesson set to a revamped “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Yet there is no doubting the passion and intelligence behind the cycle of songs. And beyond the social studies aspect of the content, the music itself is superbly composed and executed with expert precision. The cumulative effect of such artistic focus is impressive, if a bit academic. The Dimes, along with Cabinessence and Justin King, celebrate their CD release at 9:30 pm Friday, Dec. 11, at Sam Bond’s. 21+. $5. — Rick Levin
The ads suggest that the holidays are all about scoring more stuff, but the real spirit of the season is giving, and each year, Kudana Marimba offers Eugene the opportunity to give something back to the place where so many of the sounds we groove to — not to mention the human race itself — originated. This year’s benefit concert includes the world fusion hip hop of MC Marv Ellis’s Platform quartet, Won Ton Nara (“We Are One” in the West African Susu language), directed by Ballets Africains member Aseny Yansane, and of course the pulsating marimba ensemble itself, whose upbeat Zimbabwean dance tunes are an instant gateway drug to dancing. The concert, which includes a silent auction and info tables, benefits Ancient Ways (Nhimbe and Jangano programs that assist impoverished rural Zimbabweans), Tariro (which protects Zimbabwean orphan girls), MBIRA (a non-profit organization providing promotion and financial support to 150 traditional musicians and instrument makers throughout Zimbabwe) and Friends of Kenya Schools and Wildlife. Kudana’s eighth annual benefit for Zimbabwe is at 7 pm Friday, December 11, at Cozmic Pizza. $8-$20. — Brett Campbell
This past August, when unusually gloomy weather threatened to wash out the spirits of the Northwest World Reggae Festival in Marcola, a succession of artists parted the skies with their music and messages — and the sunshine flowed.
Setting the clouds in motion, Queen Omega kindled the festival harmony with her calypso style and raw reggae cuts. The Trinidad singer was the much-anticipated feature act for Friday’s all-female powerhouse lineup. Her side influences in soca, soul and dancehall genres add to a distinct Queen Omega sound.
She wowed the crowd by matching her empowering meanings to her melodies, getting even deeper with a spirited performance of harmonizing with Afro-Caribbean group Zili Musik.
Eugene residents have another chance to catch Queen Omega at the WOW Hall, with a king of Barbados reggae music, David Kirton.
Kirton recently won a bundle of Barbados Music Awards, including best song, best video and reggae artist of the year. He’s also been trotting the globe, exposing listeners to his brand of self-made reggae that blends in pop and soul styles.
Queen Omega, David Kirton and I-chéle and the Circle of Light play the Conscious Productions 10th anniversary show at 9:30 pm Friday, Dec. 11, at the WOW Hall. $15 adv., $20 door. Expect nothing less than reggae royalty. — Sachie Yorck
Life of an American Man
A recent Village Voice article describes Chuck Prophet’s new CD, ¡Let Freedom Ring!, as “a Born in the U.S.A. for our time.” Life really hasn’t changed so much for the average person over the 25 years since the release of Bruce Springsteen’s ode to the American dream. Prophet’s thematic new album takes the anxiety and nostalgia of living that Springsteen triumphantly elucidates, and updates it. He even titles one song “American Man” and paints an aching picture of corporate America and commercialism.
Prophet is sweet but never saccharine even when talking about a man facing the end of his life or lost loves, as on “What Can a Mother Do,” which features sentimental vocal harmonies and a lovely fiddle performance by Sara Watkins (ex-Nickel Creek). The title track is a bitingly sarcastic, uptempo bash on the stock market crash, with the lyrics: “Let there be darkness / Let there be light as the hawk cripples the dove” and “Let there be markets / Let ’em run wild as the sisters of mercy just laugh.”
Prophet has said that the record is a collection of “political songs for non-political people.” He’s a musician, not a politician, and he just happens to have a knack for electrifying the folk narratives, the anger and fear, of people who feel let down — by governments, churches, friends, lovers — and don’t understand why. But perhaps what makes this so appealing, and redolent of Springsteen, is not just the music but the determination to persevere that underlies it all. Chuck Prophet plays at 9:30 pm Saturday, Dec. 12, at Sam Bond’s. 21+. $15. — Vanessa Salvia
Not Grynch, but Grouch
If our culture ever evolves to consider hip hop synonymous with the holidays, it’ll happen because of The Grouch, one of the most well-known members of L.A.-based crew the Living Legends. He came by his name recognition honestly; the guy tours all the time, especially on the West Coast. And part of that rigorous touring schedule is “How the Grouch Stole Christmas,” a show that’s become as much of a holiday tradition for some hip hop heads as the film from which the tour’s name was derived — but better, because the Grouch won’t come down your chimney and steal your presents. Instead, anyone who brings a new toy to the show for Toys for Tots gets a “free gift” from The Grouch, and there’s a good chance it’ll be a copy of his latest nine-song album, Three Eyes Off the Time, which drops Dec. 8. You’ll definitely want to show up early enough to catch The Prime, a new project featuring Luckyiam (also of the Living Legends) and Sapient (of Portland crew Sandpeople). Their first EP, One Uppers, is a collection of head-nodders; you aknow, the kind of shit you should really bump in your car, in your headphones or anywhere you can actually pay attention to what these dudes are saying. “Nerd rappers won’t like this / Gangsta rappers won’t like this / Indie rockers won’t like this / This is for the heads,” they say on “All Star Crushfest.” Probably untrue, but the message is clear: We’re making the music we wanna make, and if you don’t like it, it’s because you’re not smart enough to get it. Point taken. The Grouch and The Prime perform with Mistah FAB, Fashawn ‘n Exile and DJ Fresh at 9 pm Monday, Dec. 14, at the WOW Hall. $15 adv., $18 door. — Sara Brickner