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Campo Bravo

The Red Room at Grill, Sunday, Jan. 9

Mere hours after pulling off Interstate 10 from a two-week tour of the West Coast, Mark Matos brought his guitar to downtown's only 24-7 diner for a little welcome hominess. Matos, who is Campo Bravo whether he's performing alone or with a full, charged backup band, was accompanied on this night only by his trusty acoustic and a collection of songs that can be tailored to suit any mood. It was late on a chilly Sunday night; Grill was nearly desolate, and the music provided an appropriate soundtrack for the handful of diners, drinkers and smokers haunting The Red Room.

Performing mostly what one assumes are brand new songs--as opposed to those found on Campo Bravo's recent album, Electric Jumping Horses (2004, Fort Braverly)--nearly every song was rendered in lonesome ballad form, which seemed to perfectly suit the environs.

Matos is a fine songwriter who largely dwells on big, simple truths, and though his voice isn't traditionally pretty, it conveys the sadness essential to his songs. He even seems to have picked up a few vocal tics from other, similar singers by whom he's obviously been influenced: His opening murder ballad evoked Will Oldham's cracked tones; his upper register on another was a dead ringer for Neil Young; and he occasionally held an unexpected consonant a la Howe Gelb ("enter" becomes "enterrr").

Highlights were many, and included the humorous "Mrs. Robison," which was prefaced by a lengthy introduction explaining its origins (the titular character is his former neighbor in California, a buzz-killing Mormon woman who always broke up his band practices because they were too loud; part of the song's lyrics are "fun is for atheists and Catholics, guitar players and alcoholic writers"); a take on "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," performed so slowly and prettily that it made one wonder why Waylon didn't perform it that way to begin with; and a gorgeous version of "Greatest Story," Electric Jumping Horses' heartbreaking standout track whose key lines are: "There are things that we'll remember, there are things we'll move right past / You may be my greatest lover, but you will not be my last."

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