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ORGANIC LOVE

Ron Sexsmith has no desire to get it on with Morrissey, and he's heard the jokes before, thankyouverymuch. Rather, he's a Canadian singer-songwriter who counts Elvis Costello, John Hiatt and Paul McCartney among his fans. In other words, he's a singer-songwriter's singer-songwriter.

But that's not to say his songs can't be enjoyed by those who have never picked up a guitar. While, over the course of his career, his lyrically simple-but-literate songs have been placed in a variety of production scenarios, his latest release, Retriever (2004, Nettwerk America), couldn't sound more organic, the settings matching the songs perfectly. Sexsmith has, it would seem, fallen in love, and these romantic songs reflect it.

The relatively compositionally complex "How on Earth" is an uncloying celebration of feeling lucky to have found the perfect Someone: "Dreams come true in heaven all the time / Baby how on Earth / did we happen upon this love divine / Baby how on Earth / did we find us / down here where people get hurt." Elsewhere, "Whatever It Takes" could be a lost Wings song; the bouncy "Happiness" sounds like a collaboration between Paul McCartney and Nick Lowe; and "Hard Bargain" reminds of a time when Jackson Browne was still making a name for himself as a songwriter instead of churning out pap like "Lawyers in Love." Retriever would make a fine starting point for the uninitiated, and Sexsmith fans will be pleased to hear that the album ranks among his best.

After parting ways with RCA, acclaimed singer-songwriter David Mead finds himself as not only Sexsmith's tourmate but his labelmate as well, with the release of Indiana (2004). The album is a collection of hushed, gentle tunes a few shades darker than Sexsmith's and nearly as accomplished, occasionally recalling what Nick Drake might have sounded like if he'd grown up in Nashville and didn't finger-pick his guitar strings.

Ron Sexsmith and David Mead perform at 10 p.m. Friday, June 4, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Admission is $10. For further details, call 798-1298.


BOBBY KIMMEL LIVE

If Tucson's folky 4 Corners remind you a bit of Linda Ronstadt's first band, The Stone Poneys, well, there's a reason for that: The two groups share a member in bassist Bobby Kimmel.

After residing in Los Angeles for many years, founding the world-famous venue McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica following the Poneys' breakup (as well as playing bass for Geoff Muldaur and the legendary Doc Watson), Kimmel moved back to Tucson in search of future bandmates. When his longtime musical compadre, singer Jo Wilkinson, followed him here from L.A., half of the picture was complete. After seeing Stefan George and Lavinia White's set at the 2002 Tucson Folk Festival, the recently relocated duo approached the already established duo about forming a band--and 4 Corners was born. This week, the group will hold a release party to celebrate their eponymous debut CD, recorded mostly live with Craig Schumacher at his Wavelab Studio.

Featuring the stellar guitar and dobro playing of George and Kimmel's fine work on the stand-up bass (and occasionally the guitar) as the only musical backing, all four members lend their vocal talent, and the four-part harmonies fill out the sound nicely. (Wilkinson, George and Kimmel also wrote or co-wrote 11 of the album's 12 tracks, with a cover of the Ry Cooter/John Hiatt/Jim Dickinson collaboration "Across the Borderline" closing the disc.) High points include George's haunting character study, "Barbara Jane," whose "childhood dreams refuse to go to bed"; Wilkinson, whose tasty vibrato and tone recall Ronstadt's, turns in a gorgeous vocal performance on her own composition, "Give Us Time" (and, for that matter, throughout the album, providing smooth contrast to George's grit); and Kimmel's no slouch in the vocal department, either, his breakup ballad "Maybe It's Time" sounding like one of John Hartford's more tender moments.

4 Corners' CD release show begins at 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 5, at Cushing Street Bar & Grill, 198 W. Cushing St. For more info, call 622-7984.


PUBLIC SPANKING

Fans of the Asylum Street Spankers (and frankly, those who haven't seen or heard 'em yet) will be shocked to hear that their favorite Austin Luddites are now--gasp!--using a microphone or two when they perform live. And, speaking of the musical collective's jaw-dropping live shows, the Spankers have just released both a live album, Mercurial (Spanks-A-Lot), and a live DVD, Sideshow Fez.

Mercurial was recorded with no overdubs of any kind and is a performance of songs, mostly covers, that the Spankers have performed live for years, but that never found their way onto an album. As is apt for a band whose sound stems from the vaudeville-inspired jazz of the '20s and '30s, but often covers modern-day subject matter, the songs covered on Mercurial have origins in places both traditional and unexpected; in addition to songs made famous by the likes of Sophie Tucker, Bessie Smith and Taj Mahal, the album features the Spankers' unique takes on tunes by The B-52s, the Beastie Boys and Black Flag.

The Spankers are one of those rare bands that you can place before any audience--no matter age, musical taste or anything else--and they'll wow 'em every time. If you've never had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and head to Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 9. Admission is $10. Questions? Call 622-8848.


STEVE MAKES A CONFESSION

Yeah, I know they're essentially a watery, middle-of-the-road version of more authentic Southern rock bands, but I'll still cop to owning a copy of 38 Special's Flashback: The Best of ... , which contains pretty much any song of theirs you'll need to sate that occasional guilty pleasure.

I know what you're thinking: Did a respected music critic (wishful thinking, OK?) just admit that he actually throws fucking 38 Special on his turntable in his spare time? For pleasure? As an answer, consider their string of '70s and '80s hits--"Rockin' into the Night," "Wild-Eyed Southern Boys," "Fantasy Girl," "Caught Up in You," "Hold on Loosely"--and tell me that when you happen upon one of them on the classic rock station, you don't crank it up and sing along with ol' Donnie Van Zant at high volume: "Hold on loose-lay, and don't let go-oh-oh!" See? Deep down we're all 38 Special fans, aren't we?

38 Special performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Advance tickets are available for $25 at the venue, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 321-1000. They'll be $30 on the day of the show. For more information, call 733-6262.


IN TRIBUTE

The mystical, musical magic that is Tucson's Black Sun Ensemble can be heard live this week in a performance they're dedicating to the memory of Chicago Music Store owners Joe and Phil Levkowitz, both of whom passed away recently. In a letter sent to us by Black Sun frontman Jesus Acedo, he writes: "Joe was the hot instant sale salesman, and Phil was the man behind the counter taking your money and checking your account balance. I have fond memories of them both since I had been dealing with them since the Peter Frampton summer of 1976 to the present. May they rest in peace ... I really cried when I heard of Joe and Phil's passing away, both. This gig will be in loving memory of them ..."

Amen. Our condolences go out to their families.

The Black Sun Ensemble show will also include poetry readings by Acedo. It begins at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, at Club La Nuit, 310 E. Congress St.

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