TWANG TIMES TWO: Fans of alt-country will face a pretty dire dilemma this week, as two excellent bands will compete for your attention at two different clubs on the same night.

Three songs on The Sadies' Bloodshot Records debut, Tremendous Efforts (2001), are covers, and the disparity of the sources speaks volumes about what makes the band so great: "Wearin' That Loved On Look," made famous by Elvis Presley; The Gun Club's "Mother of Earth;" and the Goffin-King chestnut, "I Wasn't Born to Follow," which The Byrds covered for the Easy Rider soundtrack. In other words, these well-dressed Canucks can tackle about anything and put their indelible stamp on it.

And just as Calexico is so good at what they do that they've been rallied innumerable times as rhythm-section-for-hire, The Sadies have also been called into action to aid and abet recordings by the likes of the Pernice Brothers, Neko Case, Andre Williams, and Jad Fair.

The band's last local appearance, in July 2001, was as much a gritty backwoods tent revival as it was a country-rock show, and at least one convert standing next to me proclaimed it to be "the best show (he'd) seen in a long time."

The Sadies, along with Caliche Con Carne and Libre de Grasa, perform at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $5. Call 622-8848 for more info.

Alt-country revivalists Uncle Tupelo are often cited as largely influential on nearly every current singer-songwriter or band with even the slightest twang. While that may or may not be true, the thing people seem to forget about UT is that its first two albums, No Depression and Still Feel Gone, are at least as informed by punk rock as they are by country traditions. Before Tupelo came along, they called it cowpunk (think Rank and File, Jason and the Scorchers, etc.), and the members of Portland, Ore., band Richmond Fontaine obviously remember.

Along with the fact that RF's singer, Willie Vlauten, sounds uncannily like UT's Jay Farrar, Richmond Fontaine, like Uncle Tupelo, understands the power that a weepy ballad can have sandwiched between slices of drawled punk energy.

Richmond Fontaine performs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For further details, call 670-9202.

ROUSE IN DA HOUSE: "I hate to be the guy that says, 'I put a lot of soul into this one,' but it's my favorite one so far. I'm proud of it." So says Nashville-based singer/songwriter Josh Rouse of his third album for Slow River/Rykodisc, Under Cold Blue Stars.

Who can blame him? With his recent inclusion on reliable UK music rag Uncut's annual compilation CD of the best Americana music of the year, as well as on noted music-phile Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky soundtrack, Rouse's star is certainly rising quickly, and with good reason. Backed by a full band, which includes former Ben Folds Five drummer Darren Jessee and jack-of-all-instruments Pat Sansone, Rouse's songs are craftily written snapshots of, alternately, love's labor and an innocent Midwestern upbringing (Rouse grew up in Nebraska), little jewels mounted to provocative and evocative settings. Don't let the singer-songwriter tag scare you away; Rouse is better suited to those who appreciate Freedy Johnston than James Taylor.

Josh Rouse appears at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. For further details call 798-1298.

QUIET SPLENDOR: There's an oft-told story that when Chapel Hill, N.C., band The Kingsbury Manx released its eponymous debut album back in 2000 (on Overcoat Records), it was so darn good the local music cognoscenti didn't believe it was actually the band's work. Critics everywhere applauded, the band went on to put out the nearly-as-good Let You Down (Overcoat) last year, and high-profile tours with Stephen Malkmus and our own Calexico didn't hurt either. Before long, the band was the buzz of the day, and this week you get to witness why. Incorporating the droniness of Yo La Tengo, the quiet-but-dense instrumentation of, oh, let's say Lambchop, and the breeziness of Simon & Garfunkel, The Kingsbury Manx masters subtlety and quiet splendor.

The Kingsbury Manx performs, along with La Cerca and the De Ludes, at 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 17, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $5. For more info call 622-8848.

GETTIN' LOOPY: San Francisco's 20 Minute Loop, described by as a freak-pop act, is creepy in the best way.

First there's the lyrics. Let's sample from "Jubilation," the opening track on the co-ed five-piece's latest LP, Decline of Day (2001, Fortune Records): "A torn up napkin, uneaten meat/A bloody steak knife, bunions cut off the feet/A crippled Arab, face in the street/Searching the asphalt for her missing teeth." Like I said, creepy, huh? Then there's the sound, which is nearly indescribable. The creepiness manifests itself in the same way the Pixies can scare you, but the only real sonic consistency is the complexity of the arrangements (which utilize flute, xylophone, samples and a '70s-era toy synthesizer known as the Optigan, along with the standard guitar/drums/bass configuration), rather than a particular genre. Quirky, creepy, spooky, kooky: welcome to 20 Minute Loop's world.

20 Minute Loop performs with Merrick at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $5, and all ages are welcome. For more information call 884-0874.

KAMIKAZE ROCK: Minnesota's Tora! Tora! Torrance! combines the intensity and brains of bands like At The Drive In with the occasional math-rock structure and snotty-ass vocals a la the Buzzcocks, to arrive at a pummeling art-rock vibe on its latest album, Get Into It (2001, The Militia Group/Revelation). The band has a reputation for being a ferocious live act, and those who dug last week's Gunfighter show should find much to like at this one.

Tora! Tora! Torrance! performs, along with Albuquerque's Persona Projector and Tucson's The Ficas, at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Vaudeville, 110 E. Congress St. Questions? Call 622-3535 for answers.

GOOD FOLKS: Multi-instrumentalist Katie MacLeod returns to town this week following her highly rated performance at last year's Tucson Folk Festival. The Utah resident's voice is often compared to that of Nancy Griffith, though with a bit more gravity, and MacLeod is considered by many to be one of the most underrated singer-songwriters in contemporary folk today.

Katie MacLeod, along with local Irish band, Trim the Velvet, performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, 525 S. Fifth Ave. Advance tickets are available for $8 ($7 for members of TKMA, TFTM, or KXCI) at the Folk Shop, Guitars, Etc., and Antigone Books. They'll be $2 more at the door. For more info call 544-0401.

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN': Imagine a slightly-more-earnest John Hartford, with the same sense of humor and similarly serious picking skills--on both banjo and guitar--and a touch of musical irreverence in the form of, say, a Jew's harp here and there, and you're on your way to understanding the homespun charm of Wyoming's Jalan Crossland, who'll be pickin' and grinnin' his way through a pair of shows this week with a band in tow, featuring Crawdaddy-O drummer Jimmy Carr. As evidenced on his disc, Poorboy Shanty (Boom Chicken Rekkerds), Crossland earned his 1997 National Fingerstyle Championship, but it's the way he so convincingly echoes mountain music of yore that makes him so appealing. Recommended.

Jalan Crossland appears at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14, at the Red Room at the Grill, 100 E. Congress St. (623-7621); and, along with Tucson's Alana Sweetwater, at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. (622-3535).

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