THREESOME: Brit Neil Halstead's local appearance this week should draw heavily from three different factions: those that were fans of his early '90s psyche-shoegazer outfit, Slowdive (see the current issue of Magnet magazine), those that fell for the western twang-with-atmosphere of his current band, Mojave 3, and those who buy everything that has Halstead's name on it, and thus, already own a copy of his solo debut, Sleeping on Roads, released in January on 4AD.

The solo record could be seen as a fairly natural progression in his canon. Where Mojave 3 stripped down the gauzy haze of Slowdive to minimalist ends, Sleeping goes it one further, embracing the quiet-as-new-loud aesthetic, even as it applies strings and horns a-plenty to the mix. The result, then, is a record hugely influenced by the work of Nick Drake--one unfamiliar with Halstead's previous oeuvre might dismiss it as sheer ripoff--and perhaps even Bert Jansch, sans the fancy fretwork. Sleeping on Roads, described in three words: wispy, delicate, and delicate.

L.A.'s Sid Hillman Quartet has shared a bill with Mojave 3 in the past, and it's no surprise that Halstead has tapped a solo Hillman to open his own U.S. solo dates. His quartet trades in the same lingering, ambient twang as M3, but with the distinction of the facts that Hillman actually is American, and that the band occasionally rocks out (relatively speaking).

Neil Halstead and Sid Hillman perform at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $8.

EMERGENCE: Tucson's Black Sun Ensemble is one of those bands that has never garnered due appreciation in its hometown, even as it has retained a rabid and loyal national and international cult following. The band's take on Barrett-era Floyd, sprinkled with liberal doses of Eastern scales and mysticism, and otherworldly jazz excursions, has wowed those exposed to its eclectic magic nearly universally-raves from Spin, Rolling Stone, etc. (Mudhoney's Mark Arm, a longtime fan, insisted that BSE open its last Tucson date at Club Congress.)

A few years back, San Jacinto Records owner (and former Sand Ruby and current Luminario) Rich Hopkins and Australian imprint Camera Obscura aided in resuscitating the band's career--the lapse due in large part to BSE honcho/singer/guitarist Jesus Acedo's previously well documented bouts with personal demons--by revamping and re-releasing the band's early works. And now, Black Sun Ensemble has finally fully emerged from its dormant status to release Hymn of the Master, the group's first new full-length album in eight years. While the lineup is different--the current roster includes Sun Zoom Spark members Eric Johnson and Otto Terrorist, Spectro's Brian Maloney, and John Paul Marchand--the record is a solid reminder why the band mattered in the first place.

Featuring far more vocals than previous works--Acedo's vocals can be off-putting at first, but will likely grow on you after a few listens--the songs on Hymn really groove, hypnotizing and head-bob-inducing at once. Trance-tastic beats and sax skronk are the name of the game here, but as always, it's Acedo's stupefying guitar work--imagine Hendrix and McLaughlin's love child--that dazzles.

Following its recent acclaimed South By Southwest showcase in Austin, the band celebrates the release of Hymn of the Master locally this week, with a CD release party.

Black Sun Ensemble, along with opener Caliche Con Carne, performs at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For more info give the friendly folks a call at 670-9202.

YANKEE COUNTRY BOYS: You'd never know from looking at, or listening to, Drunk Stuntmen, that the band hails from Massachusetts.

A pack of guys that look like Southern-fried rednecks (or, conversely, like Jesus) and play that variety of country-rock most commonly referred to as alt-country, the Stuntmen know full well what it takes to set itself apart from the glut of similar-minded Americana acts: it's the song, stupid, and Drunk Stuntmen has got 'em in spades.

Mixing a pop sensibility with its twang, the promo CD supplied to me (the band has released three LPs) sports a batch of songs that could easily stand on their own in a solo acoustic setting, but are only abetted by the full-band treatment they're given here. In other words, the lyrics are smart, the tunes are catchy, and you won't walk away disappointed.

Drunk Stuntmen arrive in Tucson in their new van (the old one burned to a crisp last month, in transit from one gig to another) on Friday, April 5, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Fourkiller Flats and Truckers on Speed round out the bill, which begins at 9 p.m. Questions? Call 798-1298.

NO SLOTH HERE: If you've never heard The Lazy Cowgirls, you have no idea what you've been missing out on. Formed in 1983, in Los Angeles, the band has stuck to its singular, unwavering vision for nearly two decades: rockin' you like a hurricane.

In a musical climate in which image is at least as important as substance, the Cowgirls, four middle-aged bald(ing) dudes defy all odds by rocking harder than just about any band half its age. Imagine if the Stones were still vital enough to make a difference in a post-Ramones world, and you're on the track to understanding what makes this band so special. There are elements of Chuck Berry, the Stooges, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Thunders, but no amount of dropped names can fully capture why the Cowgirls are so damn good, and so damn important. So let me try this tactic to get you to the band's local appearance this week: If my saying that the Lazy Cowgirls are one of the greatest American bands of the last 20 years that you've never heard doesn't get you there, then go see 'em so that once they break up and everyone starts declaring them as such, you can say you saw 'em when --

The Lazy Cowgirls, along with openers Al Perry and The 440s, perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 5, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. For more information call 622-3535.

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