4:20 p.m. Friday, April 30
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Fais Do-Do Stage; www.nojazzfest.com
Elvis Perkins with MyNameIsJohnMichael
9 p.m. Saturday, May 1
One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneyedjacks.net
As showbiz names go, Elvis Perkins at best ranks third among Elvises — to rock legends and immovable fixtures Presley and Costello. He's probably still third among Perkinses — to rockabilly king Carl and actor and father Anthony, the latter of whom died in 1992 but should still be collecting royalty checks from the sales of see-through shower curtains.
Recalibrated with recent output weighted, however, and the hierarchy is less clear. The junior Elvis' second LP, Elvis Perkins in Dearland (XL) is one of 2009's buried treasures, a folk-pop jewel box brimming with exquisite, lingering melodies and delicate vignettes about the mysteries of love and death — Americana compositions the pensive, pastoral Costello of King of America might have been proud to call his own.
Perkins debuted in 2007 with Ash Wednesday, ostensibly a solo requiem for his mother, photographer Berry Berensen, who was a victim in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and died nearly nine years to the day after his father.
"I always say that Ash Wednesday is in fact more fictional than the manner in which it needed to be presented to the world in order to be comprehensible," says Perkins, 34. "So I perhaps see less of a difference in [the albums] themselves, seeing it all before it hits the biography press-release stage."
Musically, that first album now feels like a schematic for Dearland's future expansion, its lovely, skeletal refrains gaining flesh and life, Perkins says, onstage and in the Clubhouse, the Rhinebeck, N.Y., recording space in which Dearland was captured. "Like anything — a shirt or some jeans that you wear enough — they begin to wear a bit, and light begins to shine through in different ways, sometimes good, sometimes bad," he says. "They're constantly shifting in the hands. ... A lot of the arrangements must be credited to the band and I batting them around on tour for a long time and just coming up with a lot of stuff in the studio, throwing stuff in and working it out."
Perkins' voice has become a different animal, too, seemingly twisting and turning in his mouth, spitting out certain syllables and chewing on others. At its most ethereal, as on the ominous blues dirge "I'll Be Arriving," it echoes the Sacred Harp singers that Perkins has covered; on the platter's sweetest song, "I Heard Your Voice in Dresden," it's a stone-skipping duet of generational eccentrics Ian Anderson and Devendra Banhart.
This weekend, Perkins and his three Dearland bandmates perform these songs in two very different settings: Friday, from the Fais Do-Do Stage at Jazz Fest (4:20 p.m.); and Saturday, at One Eyed Jacks. The festival setting "can present challenges to the mortal sound that you're making," says Perkins, who expects each show to have its own identity — a rare treat for those who have fallen under Dearland's spell. "In a club, your amp seems so powerful, because it's got something to come back at you with. We'll probably take into consideration the festival spirit, and the weight that's on the viewer from being in the sun all day.
"We may save some of the potentially more languorous or slower numbers," he says, adding with a self-effacing laugh, "We may ditch those just to keep it moving."