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IT'S A MAD ETC. WORLD: A couple months ago we were chowing down on some carne asada tacos at Martin's, when a new version of an old favorite began playing over the restaurant's stereo. It was Tears for Fears' "Mad World," which we've always had a soft spot for, recast as a gorgeously haunting piano ballad. Curious, we asked who was performing it and were told it came from a solo album by one of the members of the Church. Later that night we tried to get a few more specifics, but hours of Internet research later, we were befuddled: We couldn't find anything about this mysterious cover version. Then a friend told us she had heard the song while watching the rabbit-gone-bad indie flick Donnie Darko, and our fresh lead led us to the name Gary Jules.

Jules, it seems, was never in the Church, but instead is an L.A.-based singer/songwriter who first released an album, Greetings from the Side, on A&M in 1998, just before the label was sold. The album, as did so many others during the major label consolidations of the last several years, got lost in the shuffle and received no promotion. Meanwhile, Jules licked his wounds and finished up an English degree at UCLA.

He reemerged in 2001 with a new self-released album, Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets, which contains the elusive "Mad World," and which has critics stumbling over their words in effusive praise--the Washington Post called the album "a transfixing, evocative cycle of songs that are somehow sunny and sad at the same time -- at once dreamy and heatbreaking."

But since we still haven't heard a lick of Jules' music beyond "Mad World" (Snakeoil is available only from his Web site, www.garyjules.com), we'll be anxiously checking him out this week when he performs at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, October 29. Questions? Give 'em a ring at 798-1298.


OPTIMIST'S CLUB: The ever-prolific Rich Hopkins and Luminarios emerge with a fresh new release this week and the requisite CD release party to celebrate it.

Ka-Ju-Tah (San Jacinto) features Sidewinders/Sand Rubies vet Hopkins' patented desert-rock guitar squall in spades, but that's just the beginning. In keeping with Hopkins' humanitarian efforts via Casa Maria soup kitchen, the album reflects Hopkins' optimism and sense of moral duty. Opener "Red, White and Blue" features a shout-out to Casa Maria's operator, Brian Flagg, both in the song's lyrics and by virtue of Flagg's brief spoken intro to the song, which itself finds Hopkins asking, in a voice that sounds eerily like Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo, "Have you ever wondered why you're afraid to look into the eyes / of a man who asks for a dime? / Hey, he just might be the man who pulled the trigger for you / in 1969."

It's more optimistic than it sounds, and that optimism extends itself to the next track, the mid-tempo acoustic-guitar-based feel-good tune "Shine," which sounds a bit like a children's song for grownups as it intones, "If you're gonna love let it shine / from your head down through your spine / Come on, baby, let it shine."

Elsewhere, the backward-looking "Touch U Girl" benefits form Hopkins' torrential guitar playing, a Farfisa, and some '60s-inspired vocal harmonies; whimsical stomper "Credits Roll" features a guest vocal appearance by Steve Wynn; and "San Felipe Blues" is a straightforward rocker that castigates narrow-minded rich folk. Aside from a few clumsy lyrics here and there--the heavy-handed, obvious message of "Card Board Box (Living in the U.S.A.)" comes to mind--chalk up another winner for Hopkins and company.

Rich Hopkins and Luminarios celebrate the release of Ka-Ju-Tah on Saturday, October 25 at Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St. The evening kicks off at 8 p.m. with opening sets from El Paso's the Texicans and Dutsi Spoon. For further details call 745-9175.


MAN OF STEEL: Maybe it's because a lot of people still haven't been exposed to him, even though he's been cranking out kick-ass albums for a decade now, but, in addition to boasting a distinctively alluring voice, Junior Brown is a criminally underrated guitarist.

He began his career as a neo-traditionalist, rockin' country performer, toting his self-designed "guit-steel"--a combination electric guitar and steel guitar that stays stationary on its own stand while he plays it--from town to town, but lately has expanded his palette to include elements of everything from surf music and ragtime to jazz and world beat.

If you like music--that's it; no missing qualifiers--check out Junior Brown when he performs at 8 p.m. Friday, October 24 at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Advance tickets are available for $16.50 at the club and all Zia locations, online at www.calproductions.com and by phone at 1-800-514-ETIX. They'll be $18 on the day of the show. Call 733-6262 for further details.


ALWAYS ROOM FOR CELLO: Club Congress is getting all highbrow on our asses this week, with cello, cello, and more cello.

In addition to the performance by classical cellist Matt Haimovitz (see article this section), they're also bringing to town Rasputina, a trio of New York-based women who strap themselves into corsets and saw away at their respective cellos. The group was founded in the early '90s by singer/songwriter Melora Creager, who, in addition to having a really cool name, played cello on Nirvana's final tour. Once written off as mere novelty, the ladies have been at it long enough to have blossomed into a neo goth chamber-pop combo--with a surprising sense of humor, given their M.O. --whose sound is positively unique.

And, if their current press photo is any indication, the ladies have adopted a fourth member--a dude, even! If you ask us, it might be worth the price of admission just to see what sort of ridiculous Victorian-era garb he's forced to wear onstage.

Rasputina hits Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, October 24. Molehill Orkestrah opens at 9 p.m. Admission is $10 for those 21+, $13 for anyone 18-20. Call 622-8848 for more details.


SCHOOL OF ROCK: Florida's Yellowcard might just be another in the endless stream of fungible, anthemic pop-punk bands, but we'll give 'em props for two reasons. First off, they've got a violinist, which might make them the Dave Matthews Band of anthemic pop-punkers, but at least it provides a semblance of difference between them and their peers. Secondly, the band always tries to perform at a local high school when their tour hits a town, which is either just plain nice or the most inspired marketing gimmick we've heard about in a while. This time around, on Friday, October 24, the band will confer a lunchtime show on the students of Flowing Wells High, before taking to the stage of the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., later that night for paying customers. Acceptance and Saosin open the show at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $12 at the Rialto box office and Bookman's. For more info call 798-3333.


ON THE BANDWAGON: Portland, Ore. quartet Bronwyn harks back to the age when indie labels Teen Beat and K were churning out albums of charmingly simplistic songs performed by kids with off-key voices who were still learning how to play their instruments. The differences Bronwyn brings to the table are male/female vocal interplay, the occasional integration of cello, and that the members actually know how to play their instruments (though, on occasion, you might not know it).

Bronwyn performs on Sunday, October 26 at the Red Room at Grill, 100 E. Congress St. For more information call 623-7621.

It's probably no accident that the Spiders' name makes reference to both Ziggy Stardust's backing band and Alice Cooper's original band. The Texas foursome combines the riffery of '70s bands like Aerosmith and Cooper himself with the glam-pop of '70s bands like T-Rex and Ziggy himself. Add a touch of Mudhoney's sickness and you're only halfway to realizing the charms of the band's latest album, Glitzkrieg (2003, Acetate).

The Spiders hit the stage of Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., on Sunday, October 26. False Promise and Last Laugh serve opening duties at around 9 p.m. Call 622-3535 for further details.

TAMMIES winner for the last two years in the Traditional/Ethnic category, Tucson's Round the House recently released 'Till the Wee Hours, its second album of traditional Irish jigs and reels. Catch 'em playing songs from that album and more, when they perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 24 at Montgomery's Irish Pub, 9155 E. Tanque Verde Road. Call 749-2299 for further 411.

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