FOLKS REMEMBER EUGENE singer/songwriter/bingo host Tom Heinl for his absurdly funny song lyrics, the pages on his website featuring his fifth-grade journal, and his endearing recording innovation known as "Stereoke," which, on his album, With or Without Me, features songs that "are repeated in their original vocal-free format so YOU AT HOME CAN SING ALONG." His goofy ditties include tales like the highly literal "Christmas Tree on Fire," about a man whose Christmas tree catches on fire and burns him up too. In concert, he's been known to sing "Stereoke" to his own prerecorded songs and wear fake beards.

And yet, with slide guitars a-firing and a deep, velvety croon somewhere between Kristofferson and Cash, Heinl is more than just a musical comedian. His tracks beautifully re-create a laidback honky-tonk sound, but are far more complex than mere "parodies." Yes, the lyrics send up traditional country with narratives about IHOP and pitifully misfired threesomes, but there's also a dark melancholy in them that belies Heinl's humor and self-deprecation. Opening track "Mama" takes a kid's point of view, singing to his mother up in heaven about how drunk his daddy's been since she died; and even the surreally funny "Christmas Tree" concludes with the words, "Now the flames are all around me/and it's bound to take my life/but that might be a whole lot better/than having to face the wife."

This week, Heinl plays at the Doug Fir's Sunday afternoon barbecue, a weekly event he will continue to appear at throughout the summer. Ever modest about his ability, he turned down an interview for this story, claiming he didn't have "something new going on." But I didn't want to wait. It occurred to me recently that Heinl is even better than what he advertises himself as. Now, there are chances for you to realize that too, and I thought you should know about them.