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Bret Hart's artistic spectrum runs wide
by Scott McLennan for Worcester Telegram and Gazette

    Bret Hart is a guerrilla-style operator looking to stage a coup for the arts.
    Armed with an eclectic array of sound and vision pieces that he unleashes on the knowing and unknowing alike, Hart is relentless in expressing himself, but refreshing in the subject matter he addresses.  He's as much a Renaissance man as guerrilla artist.
    Hart is often seen at open microphone nights in area clubs, dishing out multi-textured tunes with lyrics that pop with a poet's playfulness.  He records with all manner of musician.  He collaborates with other avant-folkies, those inspired by the likes of Michael Hurley and Robert Wyatt.  He plays in loud rock bands.  He participates in spoken-word performances.  He makes cartoon strips, diagrams, and posters, and he claims he can create billboards if the call arises.
    It's all done under the banner of HipWorks, which is dedicated to banging out and hacking away a course off the beaten path.
    "I see art as therapeutic and healthful," Hart said in a recent interview.  He had with him a cassette of songs called "Maximum Love Vibes"; carried around a bound collection of pictures and thoughts he hopes to publish before the end of the year; and offered several strips of a Zen-like comic to anyone willing to run them.
    The printed matter falls under the title "Runs With Scissors," which also happens to be the name of the electric band Hart fronts when he wants to shelve his more organic style of music.
    Asked if there is a common thread besides authorship running through all this, Hart laughed and  said: "I've been told I rewrite the same song again and again."
    He said people say he writes "happy songs...I don't rant so much as offer solutions to problems."
    In the broadest sense, Hart's songs and drawings encourage people to get past, beyond, or around whatever obstacles life plops down in front of them.  That is, when he's not delving into a surrealist pool of flexible imagery/
    His approach to life-affirming philosophy is grittier than what's conventionally seen on corporate motivational posters, but no less inspirational.
    "It's patently folk music, but I won't do sea shanties, Irish reels, or quaint songs about diners in Iowa.  That's not what I do," he said.
    Hart began performing music when he was 18, back in 1977.  He started in rock 'n' roll bands, but also coursed through Portugese folk bands, New Age ensembles and, well, you name it.
    Living in Korea for four years also shaped Hart's artistic sensibilities before he arrived in Fitchburg at the dawn of the 90's.  Hart moved to Worcester a few months ago and still maintains a studio in an old Fitchburg mill, as well as HipWorks at 157 Highland Street.
    Hart recently received a grant from the Worcester Cultural Commission to produce three 30 minute cassettes.  Each recording will focus on a different aspect of the region's musical pulse, be it musicians who live around here; studios and engineers situated here; or songs inspired by being here.
    Hart is a busy musician, with an open-mic feature spot scheduled for 9 tonight at the Espresso Bar (70 James Street).  He's got a big show Saturday at the Java Hut (1073 Main Street) with a band called the Wormtown Rounders.  The Rounders consist of Bob Jordan on 12-string guitar, Greg Sullivan on slide guitar and percussion, Pete Zolli on brush snare drum, and Steve Blake on banjo and bass.  The show begins at about 9 p.m. and will consist of "BretSongs" and cover songs with which each member of the ensemble is familiar.
    "The Rounders thing is fun and improvisational," said Hart.  Which really seems like an appropriate description of all of the above.