Comprising banjo player Dave Johnston, guitarist Adam Aijala, mandolinist Jeff Austin and stand-up bassist Ben Kaufmann, four twentysomethings who share a love of traditional bluegrass, the band has released two studio albums and two live ones since they joined forces in Nederland, Colorado at the end of 1998. (They're now based in Boulder.) While the studio albums--1999's Elevation and 2001's Town By Town--are both excellent straight bluegrass albums (think the late John Hartford, whom they are known to cover, fronting a slamgrass band, with trad high-lonesome harmonies), it's the two live efforts, Mountain Tracks: Vol. 1 (2001) and Vol. 2 (2002, all on Frog Pad) that truly allow them to stretch out and shine.
Vol. 2, for example, in addition to a handful of Jeff Austin originals, features some truly nifty and inspired covers. The Waylon and Willie classic "Good Hearted Woman" is dished up in a straight blugrass rendition that allows the players to show off their lightning-fast chops, while the aforementioned Hartford's "Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown" is recast as a reggae-meets-bluegrass ditty. And the Stones' Beggar's Banquet chestnut "No Expectations" is stretched to a quickly passing 10 minutes, so darn pretty that you'll barely miss Mick Taylor's exquisite slide playing from the original. If the live albums are any indication, Tucson audiences are in for a treat when the band performs this week.
Be sure to get there early to catch the Hacienda All-Stars. True to their name, the band features local luminaries Chris Gaffney and Teddy Morgan, along with the Paladins' Dave Gonzales, performing a mixture of country, Gulf Coast soul and Tex-Mex that could only happen in the Southwest.
Yonder Mountain String Band and the Hacienda All-Stars perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 3, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $12 at CD City and the Rialto box office, or by phone at 740-1000. They'll be $14 at the door. For more information, call 798-3333.
FOR WHOM THE BELLRAYS TOLL: With "garage rock" being the selling point for many an overhyped (and decidedly non-garage) band over the last couple years, it's a crime that the BellRays aren't huge by now.
A crack band that veers from clean, Motown-style arrangements to Stooges-era gritty noise (approximating what would have happened had those two divergent Detroit styles ever met up in the studio in the '60s), the BellRays are fronted by one of the most dynamic singers and performers working today. Lisa Kekaula is pure dirty soul, careening across the stage with seemingly boundless energy and a voice that lets you in on what would have happened if nature allowed Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin to have a kid. To misquote Cody Chesnutt, they would have named it Rock 'n' Soul.
The BellRays perform on Friday, April 4, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Tucson's Knockout Pills open the show at 9 p.m. Admission is $6. For further details call 622-8848.
GIRL POWER! Formed from the ashes of lauded '90s grrrl punk band Team Dretch, the Butchies add a little tenderness to their forebearer's formula, leaving room for power-pop riffs amongst the punk, soft-loud dynamics that have more in common with the Pixies than the more angular Sleater-Kinney (with whom they are inevitably compared), and sugar-smack vocals that can give way to a dramatic wail faster than you can say "Kathleen Hanna." Don't let the riot grrrl history fool you: the Butchies are more fun and listenable than 90 percent of the music that was ever released under that banner.
The Butchies travel from their home in Durham, N.C., to perform on Tuesday, April 8, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. The Fire Ants kick things off at 9 p.m. Admission is $6 and all ages are welcome. Questions? Call 884-0874.
BRASS TACKS: I have to plead ignorance regarding the bubbling-under Midwestern sub-genre of "brasshop," but after hearing Center: Level: Roar (2003, Ozone), the debut album from its most praised practitioners, Madison, Wisconsin's Youngblood Brass Band, I'm sold. And for once, I'll defer to the usually hyperbolic (but not in this case) press kit, and let them try to describe the indescribable: "Five horn players, two drummers, a sousaphonist and an MC run the gamut from raw New Orleans-inspired jams to straight-up-and-down hip-hop to Brazilian capoeira songs to classical chamber music slash spoken word experiments. The album is equal parts boom-bap, DIY punk aesthetics, next-level-music, technical virtuosity, radical politics and one hell of a party." Belee'dat.
The Youngblood Brass Band performs at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, April 4, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Admission is a mere $4. For more info call 798-1298.
ROCK THE VAUDEVILLE: The Clash were always one of the few bands that I missed out on seeing the first time around and always hoped would get back together for a reunion tour. Yeah, I know what you're saying: Look what happened when the Sex Pistols did it. But the Clash always had way more integrity than the Pistols anyway, and I would have gladly forked over the cash to see Joe, Mick and Paul share a stage. Sadly, with Joe in that garage in the sky, that will never happen.
A bit of salve for the wounds, then, comes this week in the form of a local tribute to the band from Garageland. Hip-hop funksters Mankind, slop-country jokesters the Hillwilliams, and rockabilly slicksters Last Call Brawlers will team up to play their favorite songs by the greatest punk band ever.
The Tribute to the Clash goes down at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. For more information give 'em a ring at 622-3535.
ON THE BANDWAGON: Following their collaboration as Dntel, Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Figurine's Jimmy Tamborello have again teamed up as the Postal Service, so-named because the project was completed long-distance. The pair's debut album, Give Up (2003, Sub Pop), exploits the contrast between Tamborello's cool, clean electronica and synth-pop, and Gibbard's earthy, sensitive-boy lyrics and vocals.
The Postal Service performs on Saturday, April 5, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Critically lauded experimental hip-hopper Cex opens the show at 9 p.m. Admission is $7, and all ages are welcome. Call 884-0874 for more info.
Despite the rift between the Anticon and Def Jux underground hip-hop camps, with his emo-centric lyrics, Anticon's Sole is best likened to the Def Jux-associated Atmosphere. But where Atmosphere's Slug is more prone to rap about girls who break his heart, Sole is more political, likening a job to "nothing but free pens and long distance calls." And true to the Anticon collective's m.o., Sole's newest album, Selling Live Water (2003, Anticon) is murky, quirky, and a bit unsettling.
Sole performs on Wednesday, April 9, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Grand Buffet opens at 9 p.m. Tickets for this all-ages show are $7 for those 21 and over, $9 for those under 21. Call 622-8848 for more info.
Veteran local singer/songwriter Bob Einweck celebrates the release of his fifth full-length album, Soon (2003, One Bun), a winning, homespun collection of rootsy country-folk tunes, with a free performance this weekend. Einweck will perform with his studio band at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 6, at Frog and Firkin, 874 E. University Blvd. For further details call 623-7507.
The 18th Annual Tucson Folk Festival, set for May 3 and 4 and featuring headliner Richie Havens, is just around the corner, which, of course, means it's time for the Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association's annual spring fundraiser. The all-day event features, in order of appearance: Linda Lou Reed & the Desert Drifters, with Mike Begala, Tim Barrett, and Barry Schade; 4 Corners, which features Stone Ponies founder Bob Kimmel and Stefan George; the Greg Morton Trio; folk-a-billy combo Ice-Nine; and the Cajun and Zydeco sounds of Yo' Beaux. As always, there'll be plenty of food available and you can BYOB.
The festivities run from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 6, at the Girl Scout Hacienda, 3101 N. Sabino Canyon Road, where the Catalinas act as backdrop for the stage. Admission is $6 for TKMA members, $8 for the general public, and free for new TKMA members. For more information call 319-8599.
Multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven, best known for his sideman status to the likes of David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and loads of others, brings his Joe Craven Trio to town this week for a pair of shows at the intimate Cushing Street Cafe and Bar, 198 W. Cushing St. The trio will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 11, and Saturday, April 12, with advance tickets available for $15 at Antigone Books, CD City, and the venue, or online at www.dotucson.com. They'll be $18 at the door. For more information call 297-9133.