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Singer/songwriter David Dondero's music career gotten the attention of many, including NPR and Conor Oberst's Team Love label.
Singer/songwriter David Dondero's music career gotten the attention of many, including NPR and Conor Oberst's Team Love label.
Dondero mostly performs solo now, occasionally joining forces with friends for full-band shows.
Dondero mostly performs solo now, occasionally joining forces with friends for full-band shows.

Blood-and-sweat songwriting: David Dondero's tales of life

Singer/songwriter David Dondero doesn't claim to have the keys to staying sane in the music business. But over the past several decades his musical skin has toughened and grown as he's ventured out around the country and experienced a wide range of highs and lows. It's bled into the very fabric of his personality and that in turn has come out in song. He's a man wise on the roller coaster that life can be and has an uncanny ability to uncover and unearth the sinking lows and soaring highs of the human condition. His narratives tell stories made with the blood and sweat of growing up in America.

Dondero started his journey in Duluth, Minn., but at the early age of 7 he started what has turned out to be a frequent move around the country. He grew up in Illinois and New Jersey, moved to the Carolinas for his college days, and afterwards got a really big taste of the country through Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, California and Alaska.

In between that, Dondero has continued to find his footing as an active touring musician through bands like punk outfit Sunbrain and as a solo musician. Sometimes his experiences with labels or bands haven't always been pleasant, but for the most part they have acted as stepping stones in helping him grow his craft. He's gotten the attention of many, including NPR and Conor Oberst's Team Love label. While album sales might be less than desirable, Dondero has kept his sights high with determination to write songs that mean a lot to him and others.

OnMilwaukee.com talked via email with the singer prior to his performance Wednesday at the Cactus Club (Blessed Feathers and Greatest Lakes are openers) to discuss his songwriting and his many ventures as singer, guitarist and drummer.

OnMilwaukee.com: With your writing and lyrics you really seem to hone into the things that make up life, twisting words in clever ways and sometimes using humor. Could you talk about the process and your relation with the song as it comes together? Has it …

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My Morning Jacket soars to new musical heights in the "Space Odyssey"-like atmosphere of the Riverside.
My Morning Jacket soars to new musical heights in the "Space Odyssey"-like atmosphere of the Riverside. (Photo: CJ Foeckler)

My Morning Jacket takes Thursday's crowd on a musical odyssey

In the middle of his band's two-and-a-half hour set at the Riverside Theater Thursday night, My Morning Jacket's Jim James took a moment to express his passion of playing the venue - but with an added intergalactic twist.

"It reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey," James told the crowd about the theater, explaining that the theater's features reminded him of the room at the end of the world in the movie.

While that may seem far-fetched, My Morning Jacket has always kept their sights high, soaring ever higher into the music hemisphere with their sound, creating a live show that's been hailed as one of the best today. Playing in front of a screen with a giant metallic robot-like eye from their recent album, "Circuital," the band used that inspiration as they bounced from song to song forming an epic odyssey into their musical world.

A good portion of that odyssey was sharing the aforementioned album, in addition to fan favorites like "Worldless Chorus" and deeper cuts. With a sound that pulls from psychedelia, roots-rock and jam-band, among a range of other things, the band presented an ever-shifting soundscape through the night with faster past pumpers and the slower and more intimate songs. It jumps to a new level when added with Jim James hypnotic and harmony-drenched tenor and his ability to be a energetic force as a front man.

The set began with the aptly titled "Victory Dance," which escalated into fiery guitars and some victory dancing from James. "Circuital" followed suit and "Worldless Chorus" found James playful doing a stage slide. Many of the band's songs lend nicely to jamming on, like "Off the Record" escalating into a sea of flashing lights and passionate playing by everyone in the band.

The band also has a knack for catchy, sometimes anthem-like, songs like "Gideon," "First Light" (which featured some fantastic saxophone playing), "Holdin' Onto Black Metal" and "One Big Holiday," which certainly got the crowd fired up and feeding off the band's head…

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Damien Jurado performing at The Mad Planet.
Damien Jurado performing at The Mad Planet.

Reliving an unbelievable musical year

As 2010 comes to a close, it's impossible not to think about the unbelievable
musical year I've had. There were so many great releases on the local and national levels and plenty of concert opportunities that there were few moments that I wasn't getting consumed by music.

I put together a list of my favorite albums from this year, although the rankings are pretty general as many hold equal worth for me. In addition, I decided to put together a list of some of my best concert experiences. I'm sure I probably missed some albums and incredibly with all the concerts I did get to there were still ones I wished I had gotten to.

Among the memories, I won't soon forget getting to Summerfest 10 days and 10 nights or getting the privilege of meeting (and interviewing) a number of these bands. I thought last year was a pretty great year but this year has it beat by miles.

Best albums of 2010

  1. Delta Spirit -- History From Below / The Waits Room EP
  2. Blitzen Trapper -- Destroyer of the Void
  3. Dr. Dog -- Shame, Shame
  4. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers -- Mojo
  5. Mark Olson (of The Jayhawks) -- Many Colored Kite
  6. The Morning Benders -- Echo
  7. Samantha Crain -- You (Understood)
  8. AM -- Future Sons and Daughters
  9. Junip -- Fields
  10. Damien Jurado -- Saint Bartlett
  11. Strand of Oaks -- Pope Killdragon
  12. Black Keys -- Brothers
  13. Phosphorescent -- Here's to Taking It Easy
  14. Sharon Van Etten -- Epic
  15. Nathaniel Rateliff -- In Memory of Loss
  16. Juniper Tar -- Howl Street EP
  17. Conrad Plymouth EP
  18. Fistful of Mercy -- As I Call You Down
  19. Midlake -- The Courage of Others
  20. The New Pornographers -- Together
  21. Frontier Rockus -- Deadmalls and Nightfalls
  22. The Mynabirds -- What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
  23. Avi Buffalo
  24. Black Mountain -- Wilderness Heart
  25. Jaill -- That's How We Burn
  26. Backyard Tire Fire -- Good to Be
  27. Drive-by Truckers -- The Big to Do
  28. Maps & Atlases -- Perch Patchwork
  29. Tallest Man on Earth -- The Wild Hunt / Sometimes the Blues is a Passing Bird EP
  30. JT & the Clouds -- Caledonia
  31. Local …
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