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RIP: AL CASEY AND JASON MASHBURN

For a number of reasons, it's been a rough week here at the Soundbites desk.

First, we received word from Al Perry that Arizona guitar legend Al Casey passed away. Casey, who is best known for his work alongside Lee Hazlewood and Duane Eddy, also appeared as a session guitarist on recordings by the Beach Boys, Eddy Arnold and Frank Sinatra. Perry wrote in an e-mail, "Al Casey was one of the all-time Arizona music greats, and along with Duane Eddy and Don Cole, a pioneer of the world-famous Phoenix twang guitar sound. He moved to L.A. and played on so many hit records, I doubt even he would have been able to remember them all. Later, he returned to Phoenix, where he taught guitar at Ziggies music shop right up until the end. Along with the loss of Link Wray and Buck Owens, it's been a sad year."

Then, just as we were going to press, things hit a little closer to home. We learned that Jason "Blood" Mashburn, singer for Tucson psychobilly band Demon City Wreckers, passed away early in the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 19, due to a blood infection that was a result of a battery of medical problems that had him in the hospital for months. It's a tragic loss, both for the music community and personally. We'd like to extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends. Our hearts are heavy, to put it mildly. We won't forget you, brother.


WARD REDUX

Well, it's a bit tough to go on and tell you about all the great shows coming to town this week after that, but that's why you came here, right? OK, here goes.

Portland, Ore.-based singer, guitarist and songwriter M. Ward seems to just get better and better with each new release. Following a stint in the California trio Rodriguez, Ward moved to Chicago for a year and began playing solo, making four-track recordings of his songs. After settling in Portland, he went into a 16-track studio to record fleshed-out versions of the songs he had written, for posterity's sake and to pass along to friends. One of those friends was Grandaddy's Jason Lytle, a buddy from the days when Grandaddy and Rodriguez shared bills, who in turn passed a copy on to Howe Gelb. When Gelb heard it, he was immediately struck by Ward's timeless sound, and told the Weekly a few years ago that he heard "that elusive and undeniable it" in the recordings. Gelb contacted Ward and eventually released Ward's debut album, Duet for Guitars #2, on his Ow Om label. From there, things really started taking off.

Ward's last few albums have been released by Merge, and while fans seem to favor certain albums more than others (my favorite is 2003's Transfiguration of Vincent), everyone seems to agree that his latest, Post-War, which came out this summer, is probably his best yet. Ward's songs are lyrically laconic, but each line is loaded with meaning, and his fingerpicking style on the guitar is largely influenced by the late John Fahey. (Ward produced a recent tribute album to Fahey.) But Post-War represents a step in a slightly different direction, as it tends to rock a bit more than his past releases. Still, it has that dusty, ramshackle feel that the rest of his work does--the timeless quality that Gelb spotted years ago.

Ward's set was one of the highlights of this summer's TapeOpCon showcase at Hotel Congress, and this week, he returns to headline a gig at the larger Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. He'll be there on Monday, Sept. 25, along with the spellbinding openers Lonna Kelley and The Broken Hearted Lovers, who begin at 8 p.m. Tickets for the all-ages show are $14 in advance, available at the venue's box office, online at rialtotheatre.com or by phone at 740-1000 (call the same number for more information). Admission will be $16 at the door.


MUSIC BY THE LOT

The Tucson Downtown Alliance kicks off its downtown event season this weekend with a free show featuring six local bands, under the banner Downtown Saturdays. In descending order of appearance, the event will include performances from Camp Courageous (11 p.m.), their first performance in six months after adding a new singer; wildly talented new kids on the block The Crowd (10 p.m.; see this week's "Live" for more on them); quirk-pop trio The Solace Brothers (9 p.m.); Tex-Mex-meets-gypsy music combo The Carnivaleros (8 p.m.); female-fronted soulful, jazzy pop outfit TRYST (7 p.m.); and Mini Machine, a smaller version of all-over-the-map classic rockers the Wayback Machine (6 p.m.).

The event, which takes place on Saturday, Sept. 23, is open to all ages, and will also include street performers, food, arts and crafts vendors, and a beer garden for those of legal drinking age. It all happens at the empty lot on Congress Street between Scott and Stone avenues. For further details, head to downtowntucson.org or call 884-5980.


FORTY BUCKS FEELS GOOD!

You'll be forgiven for doing a double-take when you read that grunge-era Seattle-ites Alice in Chains are coming to town this week. After all, the band's singer, Layne Staley, died of an overdose more than four years ago. The surviving members--Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez and Sean Kinney--have recruited William DuVall to growl the band's songs in Staley's stead.

In an interview with Reuters, Cantrell said, "If you were looking at how to really capitalize on this experience and really make dough and make it a profitable thing, a band might, you know, come out with a singer, have a record ready and all that. But that's not where we're coming from with this thing. We're coming from the place of, 'It feels good, and we're having a good time, so we'd like people to be a part of that.' ... We're not trying to replace Layne. ... We want to play these songs one more time, and if it seems like the right thing to do, it'll happen. I don't know how long it will go or where it will take us. It's kind of a tribute to Layne and our fans, the people who love these songs."

That might be fine and good, but if they're not looking at how to "really make dough and make it a profitable thing," then why are tickets priced at $40?

Hurt opens the all-ages show at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $40 at the venue's box office, online at rialtotheatre.com or by calling 740-1000. They'll be the same price at the door.


ON THE BANDWAGON

The bluesy, soulful wail of singer Beth Ditto is the real draw behind The Gossip's brand of garagey rock--and a serious draw it is. If you've never seen them perform live, do yourself a favor and head to Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Tuesday, Sept. 26, where they'll be playing along with openers Mika Miko and Swan Island. It all kicks off at 9:30 p.m., and admission is $8. For more info, call 798-1298.

Lush guitar-pop masters Guster head into town this week in support of their new album, Ganging Up on the Sun (Reprise), and bring with them the equally alluring Nada Surf, who recovered gracefully from the one-hit wonder tag (that hit was "Popular") with their last two albums, both critically lauded. The all-ages show begins at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tix are $25.50, available at the venue's box office, online at rialtotheatre.com or by calling 740-1000.

As is common this time of year, we've run out of time and space, so be sure to check out our club listings for more worthwhile shows.

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