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David Dondero Takes Requests and Makes A Few of His Own If You're Listening...

David Dondero plays it like he means it...Photo by Robert Celli
It seems like every generation post the baby boomers have been obsessed with coronating some singer-songwriter as the "New Dylan".  Bob Dylan himself was working off a time-honored folk tradition that was one part Woody Guthrie, one part Hank Williams, and one part Robert Johnson.  The traveling troubadour tumble-weeding into town armed with a guitar case and a weary suspect of the world they inhabited, is as American as abandoned steel towns and fascist policing.  More often than not these minstrels go unheralded, championed by a few who are lucky enough to have been in their orbit.  Former San Franciscan, David Dondero, returned to the city he called home for an intimate show at the Hemlock Tavern.  Dondero is a gifted singer-songwriter who NPR's All Things Considered labeled in 2006 as one of the, "best living songwriters" alongside Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Tom Waits.  Still, I would bet most reading this have never heard of him.  That is a shame.  Dondero combines heartfelt convictions and wry humor in service of songs that deal with finding love, navigating the music business, politics, and the human condition.  His earnest approach to songwriting and performing avoids the preachy or self-righteous trappings of many who inhabit the genre.
The cold, hard streets of SF's Tenderloin...Photo by Robert Celli
The forty or so in attendance at the Hemlock last Friday night were treated to a little over an hour of music that inspired thought, laughter, and perhaps most importantly empathy with those who quietly live their lives in the world just outside the club's doors.  The atmosphere was like being at a house party, with people shouting out songs they wanted to hear, while consciously being aware that the performer they were watching was their discovery, their "Dylan".  Dondero is on tour in support of his latest release "# Zero with a Bullet" but drew songs from his entire catalogue.  Live, he has a humility and commitment to the material that draws the audience into the stories and worlds contained in his compositions.  Like many folk-based songwriters he works off a familiar musical template but inflects each number with nuanced flourishes that distinguish each arrangement from the other.  He is an excellent guitar player delivering songs that normally feature a full band on the recorded version with plenty of sonic overtones and resonance.  I left his show feeling like I was somehow more enlightened than when I entered the tiny back room club.  There was a camaraderie that was unspoken, hanging in the air we were all sharing.  As I walked out the doors of the club, through the throng of hipsters and onto Polk Street joining the parade of the downtrodden and lives hard-lived, I saw the neon lights through a new set of eyes.  They were eyes that belonged to "Lone Rose".  She was a character, a person, in one of David Dondero's songs.  That is why he is special.  Below are two songs that I captured live and unedited with my trusty FlipCam.

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