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Minnesota songwriting at its finest: Willie Wisely, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Dylan Hicks at the Turf Club

Willie Wisely. Photo by Taylor Schultz.
Willie Wisely. Photo by Taylor Schultz.

There are plenty of different types of shows.

Some are about spectacle. Some are about the visceral energy of the artists. Some are about simply getting the crowd to dance, or to better enjoy the drugs.

Few focus mainly on quality songwriting, and not many of those types of shows are successful. You need the right crowd, great songwriters, and a sound system that can pick up on subtlety and nuance.

Willie Wisely. Photo by Taylor Schultz.
Willie Wisely. Photo by Taylor Schultz.

The triple bill of Willie Wisely, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Dylan Hicks at the Turf Club was one of the rare shows that pulled this off.

The fun beauty of Dylan Hicks and Turn! Turn! Turn!

The night started with the melodic baroque pop of Dylan Hicks.

More than just a great local songwriter, he’s also written two books and essays that have appeared in the New York Times and Slate (among others). His songs, unsurprisingly, have the wit and intelligence of a literary type.

It’d be easy to miscategorize Turn! Turn! Turn! as the latest project of Honeydogs founder Adam Levy. That’s only 1/3 of the story, though.

The band also includes two equally talented songwriters, Savannah Smith and Barb Brynstad. Big-voiced Smith released her debut album of lush pop/rock last year. Brynstad, a veteran of a number of Twin Cities bands, adds in more folk and Americana elements.

Levy, Smith, and Brynstad each sang their own material, in addition to a handful of well-chosen covers. Their chemistry was especially apparent in their well-crafted harmonies, while the band behind them (Jason Shannon on keys, Josh Kaplan on drums, and Toni Lindgren on guitar) filled in the sound admirably.

Surprisingly, it was their first full band show. There were no hiccups, and lead guitarist Toni Lindgren was especially fantastic. Her licks and solos featured shades of old school country, folk, surf rock, psychedelia, and more. I’ve rarely seen a guitar player that seems more “at one” with their instrument. She hit every groove perfectly.

Willie Wisely is something of an undervalued Minnesota legend.

His time on the Minnesota music scene began in 1986 and has been going strong ever since. He has produced albums by comedian Andy Dick and Foster the People’s Mark Foster, among others. He was also Head of Promotions at First Ave for six years.

His songwriting is a melodic, engaging, power pop-tinged combination of pop and rock. Face the Sun, his most recent album, was one of last year’s best.

Wisely’s stage presence is reckless and super high energy, but also soulful. This was especially apparent on his latest single, “No Surprise,” and the title track from Face the Sun.

Willie Wisely. Photo by Taylor Schultz.
Willie Wisely. Photo by Taylor Schultz.

He had some fun stories, which isn’t surprising considering his varied background in the Minnesota music scene. One was about playing a show with the Jayhawks’ Mark Olson at the Viking Bar, at which Olson was impressed with Wisely’s choices of covers. Another related working with late, legendary local producer Ed Ackerson.

In the middle of the show, Wisely called up Adam Levy to sing with him. To my delight as a hardcore Beatle fan, they tore through deep cut “It Won’t Be Long,” with Wisely interjecting the “yeah” backing vocals with pure joy.

It isn’t always easy to have a successful show that focuses on great, subtle songwriting.

Wisely, Hicks, and Turn! Turn! Turn! made it seem easy.

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.

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