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Burt Bacharach, Black Authors on Tour, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joe Thompson, Joan Didion, WIT

Top events for Feb. 22-March 1 

In pop patriarchs

Attempting to put a positive spin on BURT BACHARACH's 2005 solo album, At This Time, is as hard as listening to it, and that's saying a lot: At This Time is perhaps the most overbearingly tepid record released by an established artist last year, full of missed opportunities on collaborations with brilliant people like Dr. Dre, Rufus Wainwright and Elvis Costello. It is choked by lyrics (penned by Bacharach for the first time) like "Who are these people that keep telling us lies? / And how did these people get control of our lives?" set to Delilah-After-Dark-doomed arrangements of Cinemax sax and blasé beats. But, still, Bacharach--who has written more hits-cum-standards than almost any other songwriter in pop music history and who is totally on the cover of the best Oasis album--is worthy of a lot of love. Let's hope the N.C. Symphony (and a portion of its crowd, the surface of Raleigh's elite crust, which scoffed at Randy Newman and his god damned profanity) treats him right. He plays three times this weekend at MEYMANDI HALL: Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. See www.ncsymphony.org for tickets ($27-40).--Grayson Currin

In spreading the word

Ten African-American writers from across the Southeast will gather at the HAYTI HERITAGE CENTER for the BLACK AUTHORS ON TOUR event this Saturday, Feb. 25. They represent the literary spectrum: JAKI SHELTON GREEN is an award-winning poet. Indy columnist CARL KENNEY wrote the romance novel Preacha' Man. EMILY GUNTER writes about spiritual enlightenment. They'll be joined by historian and jazz announcer LARRY THOMAS, poet KIM ARRINGTON and others who will read from their works and lead workshops and discussions. The program starts at 2 p.m. and is free. For more information, call 683-1709 or log onto www.hayti.org.

In austere, aural outreach

About the name: LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO is a three-piece derivation. Ladysmith is the hometown of founder Joseph Shabalala, who, in 1964, had a literal dream in which he heard the harmonies and the formula that transformed him into South Africa's chief musical emissary. "Black" comes from the black oxen, the strongest animal on Zululand's farm. "Mambazo" refers to an African ax, symbolic of the group's ability to win singing competitions by chopping the competition. The name couldn't be more apropos: These cultural ambassadors sang with gentle fervor about apartheid and revolution. Still led by Joseph Shabalala and five others who share his last name, LBM continues to proselytize in exquisite harmony: 2006's Long Walk to Freedom includes guests from Emmylou Harris and Taj Mahal to Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela. LBM comes to Durham's CAROLINA THEATRE for two shows: Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $22-26. --Grayson Currin

In traditional sounds

Long before reaching his teens, Mebane's JOE THOMPSON learned to play the fiddle at his father's feet, later going on to play square dances--or, as they were known in the black communities, frolics--with his cousin Odell. That this musical apprenticeship took place over 80 years ago is worth noting and honoring. Now jump ahead to the next century: About a year ago, young fiddler Justin Robinson sought out the elder statesman for some listen-and-learn of his own, and Robinson was soon joined by his CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS stringbandmates Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons. When Joe Thompson and the Carolina Chocolate Drops share a stage--as they will when the Triangle Folk Music Society brings them together for a concert on Saturday, Feb. 25 at the DURHAM FRIENDS MEETINGHOUSE--it's the sound of preservation, education and, above all else, celebration. The music starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $12. --Rick Cornell

In mortal combat

At the start of WIT, Dr. Vivian Bearing is the unquestioned master of life and death--at least as they appear in the Holy Sonnets of John Donne. Then a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer forces the imposing professor to get acquainted with both on different--and more immediate--terms. In Margaret Edson's elegant, moving, 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the doctor finally comes out from behind elevated mind games to face not only illness and suffering but her own humanity. Here, director Haskell Fitz-Simons defangs Mary Rowland's otherwise impressive lead performance: Her Dr. Bearing is about as intimidating as a neighbor pouring us a second cup of coffee. But the impact of the central point remains unchanged in this production: Even metaphysical brilliance excuses none of us from the ultimate final exam. Wit remains at Raleigh Little Theatre through Feb. 26. Call 821-3111 for tickets. --Byron Woods

In magical reading

Novelist and nonfiction writer JOAN DIDION's The Year of Magical Thinkingis about the point when her whole life changed. Her daughter was in a coma when her husband suffered a heart attack that ended his life. Didion used these experiences to write a National Book Award-winning memoir, successfully turning real life into real literature. She will touch on intimacy, grief and denial at MEMORIAL HALL at UNC-Chapel Hill at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28. For more information, call 962-4283. --Caroline Monday

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