Dan Penn | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Dan Penn 

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DAN PENN

It's hard to get beyond Dan Penn's reputation as a songwriter: a key component of the Memphis-soul hit factory Muscle Shoals and its predecessor, Fame, Penn penned (with the likes of Chips Moman and Spooner Oldham) some of the most enduring soul classics of all time, including "It Tears Me Up" (Percy Sledge), "I'm Your Puppet" (James and Bobby Purify), "Do Right Woman Do Right Man" (Aretha Franklin), and perhaps the greatest Memphis-soul tune of all time, "The Dark End of the Street" (James Carr). As detailed in Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music, however, he was quite a singer as well, leading a 60s band called the Pallbearers and recording a hard-to-find 1973 solo album, Nobody's Fool. According to Moman, the singers who interpreted Penn's songs delivered the remarkable performances they did because the songwriter first demonstrated the tunes with his own versions. A 1991 duo performance with keyboardist Oldham at New York's Bottom Line inspired 1994's superb Do Right Man (Sire), Penn's only other album, on which he delivers restrained but searing renditions of his best-known work brilliantly supported by a reconstructed Muscle Shoals band. His Saturday afternoon set with Oldham is the most exciting booking of this year's Blues Festival; he'll also participate in the tribute to Stax legend Rufus Thomas later that day and reconvene with Oldham in a rare club performance the following evening. Saturday, 3:15 PM, Front Porch Stage, and 7:50 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Chicago Blues Festival, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 312-744-3315. Sunday, 8:30 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo by David Gahr.

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