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BLENDED: In case you haven't seen it by now, be sure to at least browse a copy of the May issue of Blender magazine at your nearest Safeway. The issue ranks the "20 Most Rock & Roll Towns in the U.S.A," and sandwiched between No. 17 (Knoxville, Tenn.) and No. 19 (Grand Rapids, Mich.) lies Tucson.

Oddly, according to the mag, some of the things that make us "rock & roll," are Mi Nidito restaurant and the El Casino Ballroom, which is mislabeled as the "El Camino" (not to mention the props given Doo Rag, who broke up some years back). Other mentions go to Rainbow Guitars (but not Chicago Store), the Francisco Studios practice spaces on East Pennington (but no mention of its anchor tenant, WaveLab Studios), Plush, Club Congress, KXCI, and artists like Teddy Morgan, Calexico, Giant Sand, Chris Holiman, Bob Log III, Love Mound, and Al Perry and the Cattle. Oh, and the Jons, whose photo caption calls them the "Tons."

Still, while there may be some glaring omissions and some bad information, it's nice for Tucson to be recognized. (At least they didn't stick Phoenix on there.) Chant it with me, won't you? "We're No. 18! We're No. 18!"


SPANKING GOOD TIME: If you've never witnessed Austin's Asylum Street Spankers live on one of their many stops through town, you get another chance this week. The outfit, a loose conglomeration of ragtag pickers and strummers, combine every sort of Americana music under the sun--folk, bluegrass, jazz, blues, rock, etc.--and marry it to a subversive sensibility along the lines of their beloved Bill Hicks. Last time through, fans were treated to a German rap song, a cover of the B-52s' "Dance This Mess Around," and a bevy of Spankers originals, including songs from Spanker Madness (2001, Spanks-a-Lot), their ode to all consumable vices, as well as tracks from their strongest and most recent album, last year's My Favorite Record. (So named, according to singer Wammo, in order to have fans call radio stations and request "my favorite record.") Additionally, the hilarious between-song banter--rehearsed, but seemingly off-the-cuff--is enough to warrant admission. If you don't enjoy a Spankers show, you're dead.

The Asylum Street Spankers set up shop at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 9, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $10. For more information call 622-8848.


TRUE BRIT: One of Great Britain's most obscure legends, folk-rocker Richard Thompson, returns to Tucson this week, following a sold-out performance at the Berger Center in late 2000. The singer/songwriter/guitarist is in the fourth decade of his career, which can reasonably be broken down into three stages: the Fairport Convention years ('68-'71); the Richard and Linda Thompson years ('73-'82), which included his most acclaimed album, Shoot Out the Lights, a document of the then-married couple's crumbling relationship; and the solo years ('83-present), which have seen him nominated for two Grammys (oddly, one of which was in the category of Best Alternative Music Album--ahh, those well-educated Grammy voters). Following a dozen years on Capitol Records, which didn't renew his contract when it came up, Thompson has just released The Old Kit Bag, on indie Cooking Vinyl, and it's been getting raves across the board.

Richard Thompson performs on Tuesday, May 13, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Lynn Miles opens the show at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $25 at Hear's Music, the Rialto box office, and all Zia Record Exchange locations, or online at www.rialtotheatre.com. For more info call 798-3333.


FEAR AND TREMBLING: Like Wesley Willis, Daniel Johnston is a psychologically troubled outsider artist who tends to polarize listeners. Unlike Willis, though, Johnston actually has talent. His early, home-recorded albums have become the stuff of legend, influencing the likes of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Yo La Tengo, who once backed Johnston on a version of his best-known song, "Speeding Motorcycle." (Another version, by Mary Lou Lord, was used on a TV commercial for Target last year.) Those early records--cassette tapes, if you want to get technical--were widely praised for their purity on every level: The guileless Johnston warbled over a chord organ about his yearning for love and sang odes to his hero, Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Some of those early recordings are slated for re-release, but in the meantime Johnston has issued a new album, Fear Yourself (2003, Gammon), which features arrangements and production from Sparklehorse mastermind Mark Linkous. For those used to hearing Johnston's early work, the juxtaposition is jarring; while not as meticulously crafted as a Sparklehorse record, Linkous nevertheless supplies Johnston with arrangements that include pedal steel, vibes, horns, mellotron, glockenspiel, and theramin, as well as the usual guitars, bass, and drums. The result, then, is a bit like your slow cousin doing his damnedest to create The Soft Bulletin Part II. It's certainly not for everyone, but for those with a soft spot for outsider performers like Johnston, it's an interesting, sometimes heartbreaking experiment.

Daniel Johnston performs on Wednesday, May 14, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Panty Lions open the show at 9 p.m. Admission is $9. For further details call 622-8848.


CHILL OUT: Comprising singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Tanzillo, stand-up bassist/singer Bill "Slim" Rost, and harmonica player Richard Mayers, Tucson trio Ice-9 celebrates the release of their brand-new album with a gig this week. Recorded with Craig Schumaker at WaveLab Studios, Time Out is pure bare-bones, traditional country, with mere guitar, bass, harmonica and vocals the only sounds you'll hear, save the bass and drums on the live version of "Over the Rainbow" (yes, that one). Tanzillo has a lonesome croon reminiscent of Hank Williams or Dwight Yoakam that suitably fits the Bo Diddley beat of stomper "Cruel Dance" as well as it does a ballad like "Innocence" or the singer/songwriter-ly "The Things I Do for Me."

Ice-9 performs at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 9, at the La Cocina/Old Town Artisans courtyard, 201 N. Court.


TRIPLE THREAT: Though they haven't released an album in a couple years, expect a huge crowd gathered for the Thrice show at Skrappys this week. Combining punk, hardcore, emo, and even a touch of metal, the band's last album, 2001's The Illusion of Safety (Sub City) has won legions of devotees that'll tell you that Thrice are at the top of their genre.

Thrice performs alongside openers the Bled and Death on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 12, at Skrappys, 201 E. Broadway. Advance tickets are available for $10 at CD City. For more info call 358-4287 or log onto www.skrappys.com.

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