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One Jerk's Opinion: The 2008 Beaner's songwriter competition (ONLINE EXCLUSIVE)

If you're a Beaner's regular, the changing of the seasons isn't marked by the trees' pretty colors; it's marked by the annual concert series One Week Live. And, for the past five years, Jason Wussow has been setting aside one night of this jam-pa...

If you're a Beaner's regular, the changing of the seasons isn't marked by the trees' pretty colors; it's marked by the annual concert series One Week Live. And, for the past five years, Jason Wussow has been setting aside one night of this jam-packed series (which honors his coffee shop's "birthdays") for a songwriters competition.

This time around, I had the honor of serving as one of its judges. I was joined by Chris Garett, a bona fide Duluth music fan, and three representatives of the Twin Ports' busy radio market: KUWS's resident superstar DJ, Walt Dizzo, and Tim Roubik and Maija Morton, with The Bridge and KUMD, respectively.

I wanted to recap the night (it was held last Wednesday) because, as you might imagine, there was a lot of "undiscovered" talent up there on that stage. While each performer was only allotted two songs, it was obvious that there was a lot of memorable, heart-felt music being made up there. That said, it'd be a plain shame if you didn't know who these performers are and what kind of music they peddle. (In the issue of fairness, I have provided -- wherever available -- links to the artists' Web sites. You know, so you don't just have to take my/one jerk's word for it.)

  • It's never easy to be first in any sort of competition, and that goes double for fledgling (and admittedly nervous) hometown songwriters. That said, I wouldn't dismiss Ralston because of these two awkward numbers. As optimistic as his MySpace greeting is, I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot from this upstart in the coming years: "I really don't intend on leaving my hometown. If my music ever does 'make it,' I have all the inspiration I need right here: an amazing girlfriend, a beautiful city with abnormal weather conditions, a decent-paying job and wonderful friends ... and besides, I can record from the comfort of my own home." YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/dustinralston
  • Like fellow competitor Greg Tiburzi (see below), it's no secret that I'm a fan of this talented local songwriter, so I'll just lift some lines from my review of "Swamp Dog" (and urge you to read the rest of the album review -- see link at left): Southern's music is a by-the-books example of "the Duluth sound," as it's is chock full of earthy, non-aggressive melodies, blatant local references and folksy instrumentation. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/billysouthernmusic
  • Despite his unfortunate surname -- and S----- Beatles jokes from "Wayne's World" notwithstanding... -- this Beaner's employee sure turned some heads with his two-song "mini set." It sounded like he wrote all of his songs for an alternative rock band, like Incubus (or something less insulting), so it'd be nice to hear them in their perceived natural setting.
  • Without her band, the Fish Heads, to lean on, Monson said she felt a little naked. To this, the night's quirky (but 85 percent entertaining) emcee suggested she should try writing naked so the transition would be easier. Big laughs were had by all, but that wasn't the case when she played: her two selections were terrifically sad. Actually, like Brenda Weiler's album "End the Rain," they were almost the definition of melancholy. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.bigfishtunes.com/fishheads.html
  • The night's sole hip-hop performer, Jason Robuk (aka Mechanic of the Super Group) seemed a bit out of place. As far as his rhymes are concerned, I'd place this Badly Drawn Boy lookalike's skills at the same level as Brougham's Luke Sick circa "7th Grade." No better, no worse. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/seedsofvietnam
  • I was pleasantly surprised by St. Paul's George Kaplan, who was playing one of his first solo outings. His mature, Bob-Dylan-fronting-the-Dropkick-Murphys voice made him seem at least 10 years older. Even when he flubbed his lines from time to time, he kept the show rolling right on track. Hopefully he'll be coming back to the area someday soon. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/georgekaplan2
  • The Tico Three, nรฉ Israel "Mo" Malachi, is one hell of a performer. While I quickly lost interest with his second selection, a self-indulgent display of "furious fretwork" if I ever did see one, its predecessor was quite a different story. Like a twisted concoction of Neil Young's songwriting and Buckethead's ability to back up himself, it was utterly inspiring. Here's hoping he balances out his Mike McCready-leaning tendencies and opts for a less-flamboyant performance style. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/theticothree
  • My pick for the night's best "find." I know others have warmed to the magical presence of Anderson's somewhat-quirky batch of songs, but I hadn't had the pleasure until Wednesday night. For the uninitiated, Anderson is all at once evocative of Radiohead, Brian Wilson and Nerf Herder (though not nearly as irreverent). Definitely one to watch. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/drewanderson
  • While I have nothing against Steph's most visible musical outlet, the Brushstrokes, her solo stuff just didn't do it for me. True, she is an extraordinary performer -- her songs filled Beaner's -- but the lyrics of "Linger" and "Naked" made me feel ... awkward. Saying "I really don't hate men" was a nice gesture, but I still felt like there was a party going on onstage that only half of the audience was invited to. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/thebrushstrokes
  • My first thought about this Alexandria musician's performance: "If he's not in the Alrights already, he needs to call them up ASAP." It sounded as if he was directly involved in the "Meeting of the St. Louis County League of Volunteer Astronauts: Excerpts from the Keynote Address" EP's songwriting process. Good stuff, but a little too poppy for most, I reckon. Still, he proved popular with the judges: second place! (Confidential to M.B.: I know I must've looked awfully rude eating a "Naughty Bird" during your set -- especially after you had just made a crack about the people who come to your place of employment's open mic night and mow down on wings -- but A) those sandwiches are utterly delicious and B) it had been nine-plus hours since I'd had anything to eat. I was starving. So lay off!) YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/mjdurl
  • Oh boy, here goes another "compliment sandwich": (+) Cloquet's Emily Jayne is a polished performer, whose songs are as radio-ready as they come. (-) However, they just happen to fall under the umbrella of adult contemporary -- which, if you know me at all, is pretty much the last thing I'd ever want to be listening to. (+) She seems to have a winning personality, though, seeing as all of her friends in attendance helped her land the coveted People's Choice award for the night. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/demonsthatbite
  • Don't listen to John Derke when he says, "I make noise." With a voice evocative of both Live's Ed Kowalczyk and the Standard's Tim Putnam, there was no way this performer was going to lose any points from this judge. YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/johnderke
  • Old Knifey and the Cutthroats' Adam Depre is a solid songwriter and performer, and, better still, he has a sense of humor: After playing the stunningly authentic "Ain't Never Tried Blues," he said his second song, a C&W-soaked ode to whiskey, cigarettes and country music, was "about a girl." YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/oldknifeyandthecutthroats
  • As was the case with Billy Southern, it's no secret that I'm a big fan of third-place winner Greg Tiburzi's work, so I'll leave you with a line from my review of his album "In a Blue Haze" (and urge you to read the full review -- see attached story): "This guy is good ... real good." YOU BE THE JUDGE: www.myspace.com/gregtiburzi
  • Talk about versatility. Isakson's solo acoustic adventures sounded nothing like the reggae-leaning grooves of his regular group, Max Dakota & Modern Life. While I wasn't blown away by his performance -- I didn't really hear anything fresh or "unexpected" -- he did have the highest overall score amongst the judges. Not bad, especially considering that he was a last-minute addition after scheduled contestant Seth Doud (of Off the Mike Mark) failed to show up.
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