SWEET RELEASE: Fall is traditionally one of two times per year--the other being spring--that record labels flood the market with new releases, hoping to cash in on the upcoming holiday season. And for whatever reason, local releases seem to follow that same trend. Thus, two local acts are celebrating their respective new albums this week with CD release parties.

With her new disc, Up in the Sky (Solar Sail), singer/songwriter Annie Hawkins solidifies her standing as musical chameleon. Following her initial releases, a pair of albums that were clearly influenced by Ani Difranco's acoustic funk, Hawkins went electric on 2000's Sex Master, a considerably louder and more aggressive album than anyone expected from the erstwhile neo folkie. But that was a full three years ago, and her fans were left wondering what ever happened to ol' Annie.

The short answer is the domesticity that followed the birth of her child. But those fans need wonder no longer, as Hawkins releases Up in the Sky this week, easily her strongest effort to date.

Hawkins turned to Stuart Kupers--her baby's daddy and a former member of Machines of Loving Grace--for production and performing duties, and the result is a 12-track album that truly shines. The songs are Hawkins' most consistent batch to date, chock full of infectious melodies couched in slick--but not too slick--arrangements that utilize keyboard and drum programming to achieve that electronica-lite sound that's both ubiquitous on adult contemporary radio and usually downright offensive to intelligent music consumers. Not only is it not offensive here, but it serves to elevate the songs to an entirely different level.

Highlights on Sky include "Everybody Wants" (one of four songs co-written with Kupers), whose verses echo the vocal tone and phrasing of 99.9 Degrees F. -era Suzanne Vega, before blossoming into a radio-ready chorus; the title track, which somewhat miraculously transforms itself from cloyingly sing-songy to catchy-as-the-clap after a few spins; and a pair of ballads, "China Goods" and "Lights On," that are gorgeous in their simplicity.

Annie Hawkins celebrates the release of Up in the Sky with a performance on Saturday, Oct. 11, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Opening at 9:30 p.m. are Tom Walbank and another act to be announced. Cover is $3.

Also this week, guitar-pop trio the Deludes release the full-length follow-up to last year's excellent self-titled debut EP. Unfortunately, we were unable to get our hands on a copy before press time, but we wanted to give you the lowdown on the CD release party just the same. They'll also perform at Plush, on Thursday, Oct. 9, along with openers the Bunko Squad, who take the stage around 9:30 p.m. Admission is $3, and you can call 798-1298 for additional information on both shows.

FULL NELSON: Most of my rock crushes have, at one time or another, released a turdbomb that turned me off. One of the few still standing is Carla Bozulich, a fact made all the more remarkable due to her pervasively risky musical nature. Bozulich began her professional music career as frontwoman for sex-obsessed industrial groove merchants Ethyl Meatplow, before forming the dark, country 'n' more ensemble the Geraldine Fibbers (one of the most mind-blowingly great live bands I've ever witnessed). Following that band's breakup, she and her significant other, Nels Cline, a dazzlingly virtuosic guitarist who Jazz Times once famously dubbed "the world's most dangerous guitarist," teamed up for the largely improvisational project Scarnella.

Given her adventurous background, then, it should come as no surprise that Bozulich's new album is a song-by-song re-creation of Willie Nelson's 1975 country milestone, Red Headed Stranger (2003, DiCristina Stairbuilders). With help from Cline and other contributors (including Nelson himself, who plays guitar on three tracks and sings on two), Bozulich remains largely faithful to the original, but adds subtle textures that provide an eerie wide-screen ambiance. Her performance of the album, in its entirety, earlier this year at Solar Culture, was--like the album itself--stunningly gorgeous, and she's back in town this week to spoon-feed us another heady dose.

Carla Bozulich appears with openers the Nels Cline Casio Conspiracy (a project formed around a keyboard Cline picked up at downtown's Chicago Store on a previous visit) and Two Foot Yard, at 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is $7. For further details, call 622-8848.

TURNING JAPANESE: It seems rather amazing to think about now, but during the punk/grunge explosion that (sorta) went down in the early '90s, Shonen Knife once released albums on both Capitol and Virgin, based mostly on the fact that the members of Nirvana, Sonic Youth and other similar tastemakers of the time were vocal in their admiration of them. Though, with hindsight, it's easy to recognize that the band, an all-female Japanese punky pop trio that sang songs about their pop cultural obsessions in heavily accented broken English, would never find the crossover success that the aforementioned labels were (literally) banking on, it's also still hard to resist the faux naïf charm that won them a rabid cult fanbase to begin with.

Following the departure of longtime bassist Michie Nakatani in the late '90s, sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano recently entered their third decade carrying the Shonen Knife torch. The tour that brings them to town this week is their first American venture in more than five years.

Shonen Knife perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Monday, Oct. 13. Stay at Home Bomb, fronted by Alice Bag, open at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $18. (Ouch!) Call 798-1298 with questions.

AHOY, MATEY: Ah, to be young, good-looking, in love and touring in an indie-pop band. Just ask singer/keyboardist Kori Gardner and her husband, singer/drummer Jason Hammel, aka Mates of State. That they convey their charmed life through guitar-less, harmony-laden, compellingly bouncy, unabashed pop songs that inspire ear-to-ear grins, instead of making you want to slap them, is a small miracle. The duo has just released their third album, Team Boo, on Polyvinyl, and fans of Papas Fritas and their ilk will eat it up.

They'll headline a triple-bill extravaganza that also includes New York laptop-pop duo I Am the World Trade Center and the Thermals, whose critically lauded Sub Pop debut, More Parts Per Million, recalls the '90s heyday of lo-fi indie rock.

Mates of State, I Am the World Trade Center, and the Thermals perform an all-ages show at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 12, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $10 for those 21 and over, $12 for those under 21. Call 622-8848 with questions.

THIS SHOW IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE LETTER "M": In keeping with the multiple-moniker rule of all Drag City artists, David Pajo has recorded under the names M, Aerial M, M Is the Thirteenth Letter, and most often, Papa M. Just in case you haven't been poring over the pages of your Indie Rock 101 textbooks, Pajo was once a founding member of two of the most influential bands in indie-dom: Slint and Tortoise, the latter of which pretty much single-handedly inspired critics to invent the term "post-rock." In addition to his "M" projects, he was most recently a member of Billy Corgan's short-lived supergroup Zwan, which he quit last month, fueling the band's breakup.

Pajo visits town this week in the guise of Papa M, his vehicle for gorgeously spare, downtrodden and lyrical folk songs. While we're not sure of the entire band lineup (or if he's even touring with a full band), we do know that he'll bring with him his former Zwan bandmate, Paz Lenchantin, who also plays bass for A Perfect Circle.

Papa M performs on Monday, Oct. 13, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Opening at 9 p.m. is Chicago's Entrance. Admission to the all-ages show is $7. For additional info, call 884-0874.

ON THE BANDWAGON: Say it loud: Wu Tang ain't nuthing ta fuck wit'! Hip-hop fans need no introduction to Raekwon, so we just thought we'd mention that he'll be performing a rare club gig this week, on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Opening at 9 p.m. are Def Jux rapper C-Rayz Walz, Ice Water and Tucson's own Influence. The show is open to anyone 18 and older, with tickets running $12 for those 21 and over, $15 for those 18 to 20. Questions? That number again is 622-8848.

Speaking of hip-hop, those with a taste for things a little further underground would do well to check out Themselves this week. Comprising the dexterous flow of MC Doseone (cLOUDDEAD) and producer Jel, who's worked with DJ Krush, Atmosphere and Sole, the project is one of the consistently strongest acts of the Anticon collective.

Themselves perform on Tuesday, Oct. 14, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Opening the show at 9 p.m. is 2 Gun Mojo. Admission to the all-ages show is $7. For further details call 884-0874.

Denver's DeVotchKa, who recorded their second and most recent album, Una Volta (2003, Cicero), in Tucson at WaveLab, return to town this week to perform for their considerable local following. While the band's debut, Supermelodrama (2002), encompassed a panoply of world music styles played more convincingly than one would expect from a pack of Rocky Mountain-dwelling white guys, Una Volta leans more toward the Anglophiliac pop of Radiohead, albeit sans the claustrophobic electronica.

DeVotchKa perform on Sunday, Oct. 12, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. The Nick Luca Trio opens at around 9:30 p.m. For more info, call 622-3535.

When critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Cory Branan--who's been compared to the likes of Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst and John Prine--performed this summer at Club Congress, there was only a handful of people in the room, but every single one of them left raving about his songwriting smarts. He's giving us another chance to find out what all the hubbub is about this week, when he performs a special early, free show at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Call 622-3535 with questions.


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