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Music for People: Listener, July 5 at Fireworks PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 01 July 2009 14:17

Dan SmithThe Listener engenders confusion.

Is it Listener, or the Listener Project? Yes. But not anymore.

The albums Whispermoon (2003) and Ozark Empire (2005) sure sound like hip-hop, but their creator prefers the term "talk music." "What we do is not hip hop," said Dan Smith, the Arkansas-based performer who is the Listener.

So in advance of the Listener's July 5 show at Fireworks in Moline, let's clear a few things up.

Listener and Listener Project are one and the same, with the original idea that the added "Project" would be used for the band incarnation, with the other reserved for Smith solo. This only served to befuddle people, so now it's just Listener. Except for the Web site ( And the separate MySpace pages.

The rap question speaks to a shift that happened in Listener's music following Ozark Empire. Prior to that, Smith said, Listener was very much hip-hop. But Smith tired of the genre's constraints and constant self-reference, and he said he didn't want to be pigeonholed. "We make music for people," he said. "We don't want to just play for hip-hop fans."

Download Embed Embed this video on your site Interview with Dan Smith

The change to "talk music" isn't merely semantic. Last year's Return to Struggleville features many of he same songs as Ozark Empire, but outside of the lyrics, they've been transformed. (You can compare the different versions in the "downloads" section of Listener's site.) Smith was a pretty good rapper to my ear, but the Struggleville versions reveal a certain level of fakery and posing in the rap. The newer versions are indisputably more authentic, with Smith's speaking/shouting over natural and simple but thoughtfully diverse musical backdrops. "It's Time for Drastic Measures ... ," for example, shows that Listener hasn't abandoned a hip-hop style, but it's casual, low-key, heartfelt, and unforced rapping.

Download Embed Embed this video on your site Listener - "It's Time for Drastic Measures, They're Not Taking You Seriously"

His descriptions might sound unappealing -- "Sometimes we'll just have acoustic guitar and a trumpet and a xylophone and I'll just be saying poetry and words over that." -- and "talk music" might be an inelegant description, but those words are as accurate as anything else.

Download Embed Embed this video on your site Listener - "The Music That the Angels Do"

The move from hip-hop coincided with the Listener Tour of Homes, which stretched from fall 2005 through spring 2007 and covered both North America and Europe. Smith said that he enjoyed house shows so much -- a break from the rap scene -- that he began booking them almost exclusively for that 18-month period. He called them "intimate, touching shows.": "There's no stage. There's no pretension. The audience is right there in front of your face. ... You kind of have to tell the truth and be honest, and kind of show yourself, and through that, I think the audience got moved in a way."

The Listener will perform on Sunday, July 5, at Fireworks Coffeehouse (2139 16th Street in Moline). The show starts at 6 p.m., and the bill also includes Spoken Nerd, Fienex, and the Beat Boxcar Children.

For more information on the Listener, visit or

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