A trip through ‘Oblique Americana’
Genre-bending 77 El Deora parks at Angelica’s tonight

Thursday , Aug .30, 2012 By Samantha Weigel

Originally posted in The Daily Journal of San Mateo

The El Deora was a custom aftermarket
variant of the Cadillac Eldorado in the 1970s. An extravagant boat of a vehicle, the once-luxurious land sharks are typically trashed specimens of patina — a perfect namesake for the Maurice Tani’s genre-bending musical representation of “Oblique Americana.”

Tani, 58, the fuel behind the 77 El Deora band, draws from this “hideous Frankenstein of a ride,” lending itself to everything from good ol’ honky-tonk rock to poetic romance.

The East Bay and San Francisco are the band’s usual stomping grounds, but 77 El Deora will be making their Peninsula debut at Angelica’s Bell Theatre tonight in Redwood City.

Tani has played in everything from a 1960s R&B tribute band to his current group started in 2004. Regardless of various definitions, singing and art are “functions of tension and release,” Tani said.

Tani has performed throughout the United States and in other countries. His bandmates and group names have changed throughout the years, and he met Jenn Courtney, 44, the penetrating voice behind the 77 El Deora, during a brief interlude when the two played in the band Hillside Wranglers.

In hearing Courtney’s sultry voice, marginally higher than his own, Tani recognized they made a commanding duet. In search of artistic satisfaction, he took his new muse and wrote about a fictional character now portrayed by Courtney, Tani said.

Courtney has been singing in rock bands since the 1980s. Her musical taste is eclectic, which drew her to the group, she said. “He and I have an amazing chemistry since day one, our voices come together really well,” said Courtney.

The comically witty song “I just dodged a bullet” from their 2011 CD “The Crown and the Crow’s Confession,” is a light-hearted banter full of cheesy breakup lines in which Tani and Courtney are heard in a humorous sparring of the sexes, said Tani.

This type of comedy is central to Tani’s professed “trailer park operetta” fragment of 77 El Deora’s range. After all, it’s always better to have people laugh with you, than at you, Tani said. Still, Tani noted a sincere and sophisticated meaning in the band’s songs which explore deeper into base ideas of love and life, more concerned with, he said, “human relationships, and what makes those things kick.” The variant resonance of lyric, sound and venue lift 77 El Deora to a unique breed of music. This transformative style adjusts to their audience. “Rarely do we get to do a show that is comprehensive of all the different forms of music we play,” Tani said.

Tonight’s performance will highlight the lighter, more sensual style in which Tani hopes to engage the audience. He likes to create music “on a level that relates to [listeners]. [I’m] trying to reframe the human experiences we all have,” he said. In place of a usual fiddle player, Randy Craig will be on the piano. “Rocking may occur, but it will be a more refined rock,” he said.

This Labor Day weekend, the fiddle will be thrown back into play at El Rio in San Francisco as 77 El Deora will be playing on, Tani said, “Full rock band mode, as loud and as bashy as we can get.”

Regardless of venue and style, the heart wrenchingly funny country design paired with lyrical stories remains constant for Tani. Unlike verses from alternate music genres where there is little, if no actual story progression, Tani thrives off what he refers to as a lyrical song device. Each verse progresses and tells you a little more about the character. “Information you couldn’t glean the meaning of off the bat,” he said. “You have to get all the way through the song before you can get to what the writer really meant.”

Hillbilly Noir. Bashy. Original. Intelligent. California Country. Electric. Honky Tonk. Twangy. Oblique Americana.