Willy DeVille is an ace songwriter out of time. In the late 70s and early 80s he fronted Mink DeVille, a tough-as-nails New York outfit that made music that harked back to rock ‘n’ roll’s roots: Phil Spector-ish vignettes of urban romance and no-nonsense, streetwise rock ‘n’ roll with a strong R & B current. This pairing may sound familiar; it was also favored by a guy from the other side of the Hudson named Bruce. To his credit, DeVille never trafficked in Springsteen’s heroic posturing or grandiose dramatics, but his gritty, vaguely oily persona was just a little too unglamorous to win a large following. DeVille’s subsequent solo career has been largely unrecognized, his weakest work (like 1987’s Mark Knopfler-produced Miracle) unfocused and clumsy. But his new record, Backstreets of Desire, is first-rate. In the course of 13 songs, DeVille successfully essays Spector again, along with New Orleans piano boogie, Caribbean work songs, punchy guitar rock, Cajun dance music, and a pounding, piano-driven version of Bob Seger’s “Come to Papa.” His song structures can be stiff, his gypsy croon often verges on mannered, and the campy mariachi version of “Hey Joe” is just a mistake, but that’s just nit-picking: in the end the romantic fervor with which DeVille invests himself in his material carries the day, and these disparate genres come together as further proof of his way with classic song forms. Friday, 8 and 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rocky Schenk.