Tucson Rock City

Yin and yang compilations released this week keep it local.

There was a time, not so long ago, that Tucson's nightlife denizens could be overheard complaining that there wasn't much to do here, that there wasn't much of a music scene. But these days, if you ask those same scenesters, chances are you'll get a much different response. To those of us who have been around for a while, and have witnessed several cycles of the ebb and flow of quantity and quality of talent in our local musical pool, right now seems pretty damn good.

In the last year or so, scores of local bands and musicians have seemingly come out of the woodwork to flaunt their impressive wares. And unlike before, this time around there are actually people in the venues supporting them, not to mention the support of the venues themselves.

Likewise, the current local musical crop is finally getting some due recorded representation this week, as a pair of local compilations that touts opposite sides of the same coin are released.

Community radio station KXCI-FM 91.3 has long supported local music by including local artists in its regular playlist, as well as featuring live performances on its "Live at Five" segments of The Home Stretch, the drive-time program that airs weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. And, best of all, the station is home to Locals Only, a two-hour show that airs an hour of pre-recorded local acts and an hour-long segment that features a live performance and interview with one local act from 8 to 10 p.m. Monday nights.

Last January, KXCI built a small recording studio in the second floor of its office and studio on South Fourth Avenue. Dubbed Studio 2A, the facility has full recording capability, which has been used to document just about every act, local and national, that has passed through its walls this year. The station has begun releasing a series of compilation CDs of performances by national and local acts that have performed in the studio. The first disc in the series, Live From Studio 2A--Vol. 1, featured live performances by mostly national acts, like The Shins, Leo Kottke, and Cracker, with a few well-known locals--Calexico with Mariachi Luz de Luna, Howe Gelb, and Phoenix's Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers--tossed in the mix.

For its second release, the station chose to highlight local acts, on a 17-track CD (distilled from over 70 direct-to-disc performances) titled Locals Only: Live From Studio 2A--Volume 2, which will be released at the end of the week. And while Locals Only and The Home Stretch both feature a diverse range of performers, from folkies to punks, the new disc features a highly enjoyable, if relatively quiet, batch of tunes from local artists.

"We tried to represent some different genres," says Don Jennings, who is in his fifth year of hosting Locals Only. "Latino Solido and Ted Ramirez give it a little bit of a latin flavor, there's some blues represented. But I think it kind of leans in the (direction of) Americana/roots-rock, overall."

"On this compilation, there's some stuff that rocks a little bit, but the harder stuff doesn't really fit," says Duncan Hudson, the station's music director and engineer. "The idea with this one was to make it kind of like the Music Mix (a show that airs daily on KXCI, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), so it could be any genre, but it's based toward a little more adult audience."

Not everything made the cut this round, according to Jennings. "I think we may get the opportunity in subsequent CDs to showcase more of the rock scene, but for the first local one it's geared mostly towards, I guess you can call it the mainstream KXCI listener, though that's a little bit of an oxymoron," he says. "But we're featuring a lot of artists that they already know, or artists they would like."

To that end, the disc is relatively split between vets and newcomers, says Jennings. "There's a lot of KXCI mainstays on there--The Conrads, Teddy Morgan, The Mollys--but at the same time we have a lot of newer artists--David Huckfelt and Dustin Busch and Crystal Dawn Bryant. These are people who, around town, haven't had that much exposure yet, but I think a lot of the KXCI audience would really appreciate their music." In addition to the aforementioned artists, the disc also includes performances from Mark Insley, The Beating, The Lester Brothers, Greyhound Soul, John Coinman, Al Perry, Chris Burroughs, Stefan George, Lisa Otey with Mr. Boogie Woogie, Sweetwater Drive, and Phoenix's The Trophy Husbands.

PERHAPS A LITTLE MORE representative of the younger, louder wave of bands that perform regularly at local bars and clubs--particularly those in the downtown/Fourth Avenue area--is Stunning Tonto Records Presents Vol. 1, which focuses squarely on Tucson bands that tend to follow the indie ethos of DIY. As such, the Stunning Tonto label itself was formed a couple years ago by the members of Chango Malo, who decided their own CDs would look a little more professional if they had a label name on them. Since then, Stunning Tonto has also released discs by locals Manifold and scratchingthesurface.

The idea for the compilation came from the belief that, in the words of Chango Malo drummer Jericho Davidson, "We have an awesome fucking scene right now, and nobody realizes it. Somebody needs to document what's going on at the moment, right now."

At the time, the band's members were frustrated by recent local compilations that didn't seem to represent the bands they went to see regularly. "I wanted to put out one for all the bands that I know and I like," says Davidson. Or at least those who, as Chango Malo guitarist/keyboardist Ian Philabaum puts it, "had decent recordings."

Each of the bands on the comp were responsible for delivering disc-ready tracks, though Chango Malo dished some cash to a couple bands to speed the recording and compiling process.

A true labor of love, the compilation was funded by the credit cards of two of the band's members, as well as a loan from KXCI's Don Jennings, a measure of just how interconnected and supportive participants of the current local scene are.

"A long time ago they were doing a pledge drive at KXCI, and I didn't have a job but I had some extra money, so I donated to KXCI," Davidson says. "(Don) said 'Oh man, you don't have a job and you're still doing this?' I told him I had no problem supporting something I believe in.

"When Don gave me the check, I said, 'You know, you don't have to do this; we'll find a way.' And he said, 'I have no problem supporting something I believe in.'"

As far as the style dictum for the disc, the only hard-fast rule was instated by Philabaum: No desert rock. So while the bulk of bands present opt for some variation of modern rock--everything from complex pop-punk (Good Talk Russ) and hardcore (Gat*Rot) to classic rock-inspired riff-boogie (Love Mound) and indie pop (The Retainers, Ladies and Gentlemen)--there's also a bit of hip-hop (Mankind), a rockabilly tune (Last Call Brawlers) and even a singer/songwriter ballad (Gabriel Palacios). The disc is rounded out by contributions from Red Switch, Lloyd Dobbler, Manifold, scratchingthesurface, Great American Tragedy, The Beating (the only band to appear on both compilations), Truck and, of course, Chango Malo. Overall, the excellent disc is as good a document as anything one could realistically hope for to represent the Tucson rock scene right now, aside from a handful of worthy bands that were left off for one reason or another.

Additionally, all 16 bands on Stunning Tonto Presents Vol. 1 will be performing over two nights this week at Club Congress, to celebrate the CD release.