In a live setting, Dave Pajo’s rotating-cast band, variously called M, Aerial M, and Papa M, has always been able to conjure shining moments of clarity: when the band played “Turn! Turn! Turn!” on a ’99 tour, they actually seemed to be levitating a few inches off the stage. Yet on records I’ve often detected an off-putting emotional distance, as if Pajo really wanted to commit to his playing but was just too shy to pop the question. But he found the stones somewhere before recording the new Whatever, Mortal (Drag City)–it’s nakedly spare and quietly intense…hell, it’s downright starry-eyed and laughing. Pajo’s lyrical changes to the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” (“I’m coming home to see my mother / I’m coming home no more to grieve / I’m coming home just over Jordan / I’m coming home to never leave”) don’t improve on the original on paper, but they do when he sings them in his surprisingly deep deadpan voice. His solemn tone also lends a necessary gravitas to this couplet from “Sorrow Reigns”: “There was something like a wall between us / That stopped your going down on my penis.” He and two of his cohorts, Will Oldham and Tara Jane O’Neil, all have a tendency to sprawl in languorous puddles across their overgrown front porches–but the chemistry among the three (and, on one song, former Slint drummer Britt Walford) gives every note a laserlike focus. For this show Pajo will play solo. Town and Country opens. Friday, January 25, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Natasha Thompson.