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Pop Music Reviews : Echoes of Arlo in Bittersweet Jules Shear

Wearing a colorful vest over a blue T-shirt, his wavy dark hair framing his hound-dog expression, singer-songwriter Jules Shear looked a bit like a young, thin Arlo Guthrie as he gave a rare solo performance on Friday at McCabe’s. An appropriate resemblance: In this setting Shear’s writing revealed some of the same Bob Dylan influences of young Guthrie, especially in the staccato meters and dense, evocative imagery.

But enough of that nostalgia. Shear’s songs have always dealt with their own bittersweet brand of nostalgia, never more touchingly than in their near-nakedness Friday, and no less vividly on the selections from his upcoming acoustic album, “The Third Party,” than on numbers pulled from as far back as his late-'70s band, Jules & the Polar Bears.

In his songs, memories, like his surprising melodies, twist and turn in unexpected ways through recollections of lost loves, times and places, and McCabe’s intimacy gave an extra measure of sweetness to Shear’s high, fragile voice. So strong is his catalogue that he didn’t even bother with his best-known compositions, “All Through the Night” and “If She Knew What She Wants,” hits for Cyndi Lauper and the Bangles, respectively. And for good measure, he even told a story about returning home to Pittsburgh that was every bit as funny as “Alice’s Restaurant.”


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