Henry says the tragically truthful and self-destructive visage of the comedian shaped and "cannibalized" every other song on Scar, even the one that his sister-in-law Madonna turned into a Top 10 hit, "Don't Tell Me" (which appears here in its original form, a wistful tango, and with its original title, "Stop"). To Henry, Pryor is one of the "contentious, frail, timeless" figures burdened by the truth he must reflect and deliver, like Buster Keaton, Flannery O'Connor, Buckminster Fuller, and the characters Henry gives voice to in his songs. Interestingly, Henry rarely exposes his own life. Unlike so many of today's "sensitive" songwriters, he does not believe diary entries make songs; instead, his tunes rise like good fiction, with a pulse and trajectory of their own -- even if, this time, they are directed by a singularly tragic comic. Even the song Henry wrote about the process of songwriting finds a bittersweet foil in the form of Edgar Bergen, the famed ventriloquist who similarly found his art taking on a life of its own. However, unlike Henry's earlier work, in which instrumentation merely propped up his lyrics, Scar allows music -- bluesy, dreamy, sultry, and bold -- to say what he cannot. Which, given the caliber of musicians at his disposal, is considerable. Joe Henry performs on Wednesday, Aug. 8, at Bimbo's 365 Club with For Stars opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18; call 474-0365.
What do 20 accordions at the bottom of the sea indicate? A good start! If this joke cracks you up, you are clearly unfamiliar with the exquisite diversity (and, yes, humor) of my favorite instrument, which has emerged, over the last 2,000 years, on almost every continent -- as the bayan in Russia, the trekspill in Norway, and the fisarmonica in Italy. Smythe's Accordion Center would like to dispel your sour-lipped ignorance; two days of nonstop accordion music ought to do the trick. Smythe's Accordion Festival features virtuosos Alex Yaskin and Ricky Rakim, the Tex-Mex combo Los Boss Chicanos, the accordion/theremin duo Queen Macha, the campy pop classics of Sch'mrndlicious, the one-rabbit concertina act Bunnyphonic, the art-rock outfit Sexfresh, the new-music ensemble Left Coast Improv Group, the accordion/bass duo Duckmandu, and the highly gifted Mark Growden. Smythe's Accordion Festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11-12, at 21 Grand in Oakland at 4 p.m. Tickets are $6-10; call (510) 444-7263.