Drawn from the Hungarian word for "colorful," the Hindi phrase for roasting curry, and the Estonian word for "not full," Taarka is the banner under which violinist Enion Pelta, upright bassist Jason Flores, djembe player and percussionist Jarrod Kaplan, and mandolin player David Tiller combine Gypsy jazz, bluegrass, and freestyle funk. Imagine a collision of Django Reinhardt and David Grisman, presented under a canopy of four large candelabras and a constellation of colorful poppies, and you'll get the idea. Taarka performs on Wednesday, Jan. 14, at Jupiter in Berkeley at 8 p.m. Admission is free; call (510) 843-8277 or go to www.jupiterbeer.com/berkeley/. And on Thursday, Jan. 15, at the Boom Boom Room at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 673-8000 or go to www.boomboomblues.com.
Alabama Chicken, the third album by local singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Sean Hayes, moves through the body like a lazy river. Soft and warm, it opens with a head note, a simple melody played on acoustic guitar under the shimmering auspices of wind chimes and musical saw. The song, called "Moonrise," is built on a single lyric repeated again and again -- "The moon is on the rise/ The light is in her eyes." Ultimately, the seeming purity of the line is eroded and transformed by the effortless gravity of Hayes' voice and renewed with a parting kiss: "There is a white flower/ Against a red sky." Regardless of the words that float from Hayes' lips, his wistful tenor pulls the mind along dark roads and through mountain passes to murky pools choked with vanishing dreams and fading hearts. Even when singing about Bob Ross, the fortunetelling chicken who inspired this album, Hayes is never distant from his languid melancholy: "Possum trot/ Copper ring round/ And the dog needs something to eat/ Old Ned Barry in a Cadillac hearse/ Down a Birmingham street," he croons while Jolie Holland weaves an Appalachian widow's harmony behind his back. It's little wonder then that Alabama Chicken's second song, a soul-rending traditional called "Little Maggie," seems expressly composed for the man. "I'm going to the station with a suitcase in my hand/ I'm going to leave this country for a far-away land/ Go away go away young Maggie and do the best you can/ I will find me another woman, you can find you another man," he sings without affectation or wile as the banjo of Enzo Garcia creates a latticework on which to rest. By the time Hayes reaches the heart note of Alabama Chicken, "Two Big Eyes," a slow swirl of understated percussion, piano, and guitar that dangles from a phrase about shaking bones, you will have forgotten what dry land feels like. Content to treat Hayes' voice as salvation, you float down its dreamy current and are spilled out at the feet of "Rattlesnake Charm," which was remixed last year by local house DJ Mark Farina to much critical praise, and which is by contrast and compliment the weakest song in this collection. Sean Hayes celebrates his CD release on Sunday, Jan. 18, at Cafe Du Nord with Mark Growden's Electric Piñata headlining and Dan Cantrell & Jeffery Luck Lucas opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 861-5016 or go to www.cafedunord.com.