Last fall, Tim Huggins of Newtonville Books and Jen Trynin, who’s moved on from her solo career to play a more low-key role as the guitarist in the band Loveless, teamed up to bring a mix of words and music to the Kendall Café for a month and a half of Tuesdays. Dubbed "Earfull," their creation built at least a temporary bridge between music and writing, and it launched what appears to be an ongoing concern now that "Earfull 2" is under way. If the line-up for the second of this series’s six nights a week ago Tuesday was any indication, they’re having no trouble attracting top-notch talents from both sides of the "Earfull" equation.
The show began with a reading by writer Peter Guralnick. Although he’s best known for his definitive two-volume biography of Elvis Presley — Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love — Guralnick focused on some of the other great musical loves of his life. His first selection, "Little Boy Blue," was a wonderful essay on the legendary bluesman Bobby "Blue" Bland that captured the parlance of the singer and his cronies. Then he moved on to a more beat-inflected cadence for a collaborative piece written with Doc Pomus, "Starting Off," which recalls the singer’s introduction to the blues. He finished with "The QT’s Are in the House," which reveals Sam Cooke’s first gospel group to be more akin to a street gang than a religious ensemble.
The first musical performer on the bill, Jed Parish, is best known for fronting the Gravel Pit. But like Guralnick, he revealed another side of his musical make-up at the Kendall, performing tunes from a yet-to-be-released solo album titled 21st Century American. Parish, who began the set playing some rootsy guitar, broke out his keyboard for a gorgeous reading of the Ray Charles classic "Come Back Baby." And as if to support the notion that the "Earfull" musicians can meet writers at least halfway across the bridge, the evening’s other singer/songwriter, Dennis Brennan, showed himself acutely aware of Guralnick’s literary legacy as he shifted gears between a traditional country waltz and more rocking rural rave-ups, including the Naomi Neville standard "Fortune Teller."
If that left the show’s second author feeling a bit like the odd man out, well, that’s a role Tom Perrotta’s comfortable with. Reading selections from his recent Joe College, the author of the big-screen adaptation Election had the crowd roaring with his tales of high-school bullies and of finally realizing that even though he was a white middle-class kid who detested disco, it was okay to dance. His deadpan delivery of the lyrics to Rick James’s "Super Freak" and his description of himself surrendering to the energy of an Ivy League dance were a welcome reminder that in spite of its literary leanings, "Earfull" can also be a lot of fun. The series continues this Tuesday, March 26, with authors Frederick Reiken and Marc Nesbitt (see page 12 for Amy Finch’s review of his new Gigantic) and unplugged performances by Fountains of Wayne and Jen Trynin; it runs through April 9.