Since the mid-2000s, Dessa has been known as a rapper and poet, the first lady of Minneapolis' Doomtree hip-hop collective. But with this year's "Castor, The Twin" she's made a dramatic turn, adding live instrumentation and a jazzy tone to 10 previously recorded songs and one new piece.
The impetus was some shows that Dessa (real name Margret [cq] Wander) performed with a live trio to promote 2010's "A Badly Broken Code." "I like the idea of really reinventing a song for live performance," she explains. "I think it was an interest in performing without a net, where all of the sounds were generated in front of an audience. There was no click track, no backing track to prevent total disaster -- or to disallow a big change on the fly.
"So I like the idea that if we're playing in a small room that has an intimate, cabaret feel, we can change our sound to match that room. And we can change the dynamics of the songs in really big ways. That's very appealing to me."
Big changes often engender big reactions, of course, and Dessa says she "had already started writing my defense as soon as ('Castor...') came out" to explain her stylistic move to fans.
"I knew how I was going to defend myself from everybody going, 'Oh, man, what the hell is this? I came for a rap show and I ended up with a symphony. This sucks!' " Dessa, who's already started working on a new studio album for 2012, says with a laugh. "I'm sure there are people who feel that way, but lucky enough they haven't said too much.
"I think music listeners get too little credit sometimes. Popular knowledge would have you believe that they're fickle and they'll jump ship at the drop of a hat, but I'm not seeing that. I'm continually surprised about how much leeway they'll give you, but I'm grateful for it, too."
Dessa and Dixon's Girl perform Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Call 313-833-9700 or visit www.majesticdetroit.com.
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