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BEST SONGWRITER Minneapolis 2003 - Mike Gunther

"Our little town is no Jerusalem," hisses Mike Gunther on Every Dream That's Dropped and Died (Heart of a Champion). And the way the words scratch his tongue like a dusky swig of paper-bagged whiskey, you aren't sure whether the line is a warning or an exaltation of all bad things to come. After all, this is a guy whose idea of a holy city is a place where truck-stop Romeos cower in their backseats, fortunetellers see lost men in their crystal balls, and God carries a shotgun in his overcoat. But even as Gunther's apocalyptic audio novellas recall the foreboding lyricism of Nick Cave's "(I'll Love You) Til the End of the World" or Tom Waits's "Down, Down, Down," you get the sense that his downturned mouth sometimes speaks the surreal and sadistic humor of Nabokov or T. Coraghessan Boyle. On the twangy Americana track "Heart Hearted," Gunther's voice changes from the Saturday-night drunk of previous songs to a Sunday-morning church camp leader, crooning sweetly about the one who cut up his body into deli-sliced pieces. "I know that you want me, 'cuz I go well with a beer," he insists hopefully. Leave it to the darkly punchy songsmith to find a bright side to dismemberment: If your life ain't a bowl of cherries, just serve yourself some flesh chunks in a dish. Only thing is, unless you're gonna swallow that logic whole, you'd better hope your bite is as sharp as Gunther's.

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