The only thing that prevented Entrance's resplendent Prayer of Death (Tee Pee) from being one of my top picks for 2007 was that it came out in 2006. Lately, when I want music to overwhelm me I reach for Prayer of Death. Alas, it wasn't always so with Entrance, the nom de plume of Baltimore-born Guy Blakeslee. I first saw him perform in a dingy college basement sometime after the release of his 2003 debut, The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken by Storm (Tiger Style). He played with a drummer, and while the two summoned an impressive racket, Entrance's blown-out blues felt too much in the shadow of the ascendant White Stripes.
Four years later, the White Stripes are a parody, while Entrance has moved on to Los Angeles and sounds more and more visionary. He's hardly the first to try to harness the invocatory power of early death-letter blues associated with the likes of Charley Patton, Son House, and Skip James with a Dionysian surge of electricity, but rarely has abandon felt so reposeful as on Prayer of Death. Arrangements for slide guitar ("Grim Reaper Blues"), violin ("Silence on a Crowded Train"), and sitar ("Requiem for Sandy Bull") roll and tumble, but Prayer of Death's power finally rests with Blakeslee's fearless vocals, which tirelessly weave sandpaper scratch, banshee wail, and larynx-bursting vibrato. The lyrics read as so many death wishes until you realize Blakeslee has composed a suite about the revelatory power of song, specifically its ability to wrest life from a void. The boldness of the endeavor is further revealed in the fact that this is the first Entrance album without a cover song though the title track's skeletal gospel will have you double-checking the track listing of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (Smithsonian Folkways, 1952) to be sure.
Watching Entrance unleash his killer power trio at the otherwise lackluster Source Family show at the Cafe du Nord a couple of months ago, I couldn't help wondering why his project hasn't received more plaudits. Perhaps it's simply the result of East Coast critics all too eager to pull the retro trigger. Entrance isn't the only one at this special Great American performance who deserves better than the implicitly denigrative "freak folk" tag. Kyle Field finally checks back in from the endless summer for a slow stroll through his Little Wings songbook, and Nevada City's Mariee Sioux can't lose with her majestic verses. Throw in Vetiver's Andy Cabic on DJ duties, and you've got a bill that's some kind of dream team.
THE ENTRANCE BAND
With Mariee Sioux, Little Wings, Lee Bob Watson, and DJ Andy Cabic
Jan. 10, 8 p.m., $16
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell, SF