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THE WOODEN BALL

CLUB CONGRESS

Friday, Jan. 8, and Saturday, Jan. 9

The Wooden Ball, an annual charity event organized by longtime Tucson musician Chris Holiman, featured 17 (mostly) local bands playing (mostly) acoustic sets during two nights at a bustling Club Congress.

The Wooden Ball is typically a casual affair; the volume of the music is at a level where you can both think and talk to people. Holiman started things off Friday night with a spirited country-blues set. Space Over Desert featured the soulful harmonies of Michael Serpe and the ball-gown-clad Vannessa Lundon, as well as intricate guitar work by the incomparable and modest Jeremy Michael Cashman. They provided what should be the soundtrack to walking Tucson's city streets late at night.

Gabriel Sullivan, the raspy-voiced crooner taking the local music scene by storm with his new CD, By the Dirt, performed rootsy lullabies courtesy of an all-star lineup consisting of Arthur Vint, Sean Rogers, Chris Black and others. The Sand Rubies stood out as the surprise of the evening. Normally a very guitar-heavy band, this stripped-down acoustic version helped the vocals of bass player Ken Andree and lead singer David Slutes sound better than ever.

Saturday night opened with the delicate vibrato of folk-country artist Betsy. Next, Lydian Ali (from Umbrella Bird) and his band seemed to be out of sync. The music had a whimsical flair, and Ali's vocals came across understated and flat, which was too bad, considering how great harmonizing vocalist Andrea Lauritzen sounded.

Austin's sweet-sounding Charlie Faye, the only out-of-towner on the bill, will be in Tucson for a month. She'll be playing several gigs and seems to have already made some great connections, as she shared the stage with the dashing and deft Courtney Robbins. Next up was Namoli Brennet, who never disappoints. Her songwriting gets to the heart of what it means to be a person with a guitar attempting to convey something personal and meaningful to an audience.

Young Mothers are a band to watch, and their strong suit is definitely their unplugged set. Lead singer/songwriter Zach Toporek has a killer range and is eerily wise beyond his years. To tie it up, Seashell Radio and Greyhound Soul knocked it out of the park.

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