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Burns, baby, Burns

Many music fans remember the Squalls from the golden age of the '80s Athens scene. The group's wildly popular danceable pop was a friendly oasis of whimsical wordplay and carefully crafted pop. "In the early '80s," says Squalls frontman Bob Hay, "downtown was deserted — if you wanted to have some fun, you had to make it."

In 1998, Hay read a story in Smithsonian magazine about Scottish poet Robert Burns. "The article mentioned that he had written or revised hundreds of songs," says Hay. Intrigued, Hay went to the university library, checked out several books on Burns, and learned a few of Burns' songs. But he didn't share them with his musical peers. "I suspected the songs were a little too weird for them, what with the Scots dialect and all," he laughs. But when he presented a solo show of Burns' music two years ago, "they were all surprised." Soon his jam buds wanted to play the songs, too.

Now Hay and the Jolly Beggars — featuring Ken Starratt and Diana Torell of the original Squalls, and friends Dave Dowless and Bill David — have released Toils Obscure, a full album of Burns' tunes. "He's really helped me reconcile myself to my life," Hay says. "Here's this guy whose life was full of difficulties. He struggled to support his family and ended up dying at the age of 37, yet he could write poems and songs that celebrated life and expressed his feelings so frankly. It just made me realize that I don't have it so bad, after all."

Bob Hay and the Jolly Beggars play Thurs., Nov. 4, 8 p.m., at Meehan's Ale House, 11130 State Bridge Road, Alpharetta. $5. For more info, call 770-475-2468 or visit www.meehansalehouse.com.