by INLANDER & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hat a strange world the contemporary folk singer finds himself in. He has nowhere to hide. Not in the imprecise pickup of an analog recording, not in the forgiving warmth -- the pop and hiss -- of vinyl. No, it's just a dude, his words and his voice, clarion clear and digitally present for all to hear. That's true of all artists, of course, but with folkies words are of dire importance and the voice, well, it often ain't so pretty.
Portland's JON ITKIN seems to relish this. Cut from varying parts Guthrie, Cash and Marty Robbins, Itkin lets his plain, single-octave howl belt, holding flat, sparse notes for half measures, lingering on story elements he'd like you to hold on to. He'll occasionally beef it up with reverb, but his voice is most often left ungussied, accompanied with some pedal steel or a chugging honky-tonk rhythm, communicating weather-beaten truths with uncommon agility and craft.
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN
Jon Itkin with the Zac Fairbanks Blues Band, Greg Beumer and Jared Dunn at Empyrean on Thursday, June 14 at 8 pm. $4. Call 838-9819.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & f all you miss about TOTO are "the rains down in Africa," that's fine. Despite dropping 13 records and selling nigh on 33 million copies, Toto VI, the album that birthed "Africa," "Rosanna" and three other biggish hits was the band's popular and critical apex. It was an artistic tipping point -- after sloughing off the robot-like precision of their former lives as studio musicians and before the inertia (touring, ego, family, side projects) pulling at them (indeed, most big bands of the period) turned the band into a revolving door of musicians.
And what a dizzying tipping point it was. Those crazy synths! That Africanesque percussion! Bobby Kimball's voice, alternating between android and he-banshee! The whole thing's fantastically decadent. In all, the album used 21(!) musicians, underscoring the absurd lengths bands like Toto went to achieve those opulent fusions of rock, electro and orchestra. Indicative of the band at its best, and representative of an age, for better or worse.
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN
Toto at Big Easy on Monday, June 18 at 7 pm. $25. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & H & lt;/span & e's smooth, all right. It's in the strings. Velvety trumpeter CHRIS BOTTI has been a leader on albums since 1995, but his big break arrived late in 2004 when Oprah embraced him just after the release of When I Fall in Love, which "tapped into the record-buying public's desire for classic romantic jazz sounds." Enfolding his noteworthy technique in aural blankets of lush, luxuriant violin choirs, Botti exemplifies smooth jazz. That's because when Botti (an Oregon native, by the way) moved to New York in the 1980s, he decided that he didn't want to be a hard-bop jazz musician like Bud Powell; instead, he wanted to imitate Miles Davis' sparing use of notes amid Gil Evans orchestrations. His dreamy trumpet mellows out the standards; a little marketing savvy doesn't hurt, either. Film raver Rex Reed, in fact, has called the blond Botti with the tousled hair "the sexiest trumpeter since Chet Baker."
-- MICHAEL BOWEN
Chris Botti at the INB Center on Wednesday, June 20, at 8 pm. $38-$48. Call 325-SEAT.