SEX SELLS: The review CDs publicists and record companies send the press often include a gimmicky swag item intended to distinguish them from the others in the "To Be Reviewed" stack. I've received everything from matchbooks to candy bars to handcuffs, and most of the time the accompanying item has absolutely nothing to do with the CD it's promoting. So when I received the new CD from the Annie Hawkins Band, along with an extensive press kit that included a condom, my first reaction was to roll my eyes. But wait, not so fast -- it seems that the title of the disc is Sex Master, so at least the promotion makes sense. As I read the materials, I discovered the band's upcoming CD release party this weekend is doubling as a fundraiser for the Glenn Sabel Memorial Project, a non-profit organization providing HIV/STD risk-reduction information to populations not served by existing publicly funded programs. Not only does it all make sense, but the band deserves a big "Right on!"

However, even the best intentions don't matter if the music sucks, and I'm happy to report that that is not the case here.

If you thought Annie and band were just goofin' when they played uncharacteristically hard sets at the last two Great Cover-Ups (Jane's Addiction and Led Zeppelin, respectively), then you've got a little catching up to do. While Sex Master won't disappoint longtime Annie Hawkins Band fans, it certainly ups the ante for those who couldn't initially get past the Ani Difranco comparisons, adding a harder, funkier, and decidedly more electric edge to the basic recipe on tracks like "Not By Yourself," "Impulsive," "One Night Stand" and "Where Is The Love?" (The new sound could be the result of adding a fourth member, Chris Porro, to the former trio of Hawkins, Davie Murray and Brandon Gonzales.) Another standout is the lounge-jazz-meets-roots-rock feel of "Hang Out Like A Ghost." The only real weak link here is the band's misguided cover of the aforementioned Led Zep's "Whole Lotta Love." But there are 12 tracks, and getting 11 out of 12 right ain't bad.

Catch the Annie Hawkins Band's release party at 9 p.m. Friday, April 7, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Opening the show is local acoustic duo Hector On Stilts, who have just released their debut CD, pretty please (now available at most area record stores), and Phoenix's Nuclear 19. Admission is $5, and you can call the club at 622-8848 for more info.

FLUFF 'N' STUFF: There's another CD release party this weekend, this one for local Americana fans. After two years of hard work, The Fluffingtons commemorate their self-titled debut with a gig at Boondocks Lounge. The band, which includes guitarist/vocalist Danny Krieger -- recently inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame -- guitarist Richie Cavanaugh, bassist Steve Grams and drummer Ralph Gilmore, recorded the album in a converted garage on borrowed equipment, and the resulting rough-hewn quality is one of the disc's charms. It has the intimate feel of an impromptu late-night jam session that breaks out at a party full of good friends who remember to keep the levels down so the neighbors aren't disturbed. Call it mellow country blues for the 2 a.m. hour.

Celebrate the release of The Fluffingtons at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at Boondocks, 3306 N. First Ave. Admission is five bucks. Call 690-0991 for more details.

GIANTS OF ROCK: As the past couple of years have been a bit of a respite for the band, hometown Giant Sand shows have become increasingly rare. And now, with the release of the excellent Chore of Enchantment, the band's new high-profile release on indie Thrill Jockey (act now and you can test the waters by downloading two free tracks from not to mention Calexico's upcoming The Hot Rail, on Quarterstick, the next several months are sure to see our heroes out on the road, doing what they do best. This weekend Giant Sand teams up for a night with Chicago labelmates Brokeback, a.k.a. Tortoise/Eleventh Dream Day bassist Doug McCombs and his revolving crew of co-conspirators, who create airy, wandering dub/jazz soundscapes that will keep you tuned, not bored. Their latest release is last year's Field Recordings From the Cook County Water Table (Thrill Jockey).

Giant Sand and Brokeback take the stage of Solar Culture, that wonderful art/performance space at 31 E. Toole Ave., at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 8. Seven dollars gets you in the door, and 884-0874 is the number to call for additional information.

EASY STREET: If you've never seen Austin's Asylum Street Spankers live, you have no idea what you've been missing. How many bands can you name that kick so much ass, they don't even need amplifiers? Only one, of course, and that's the motley crew of "punks, hillbillies, gypsy swingers, blues shouters, singing actors and performance artists" that comprises the Spankers, who delve into every genre of music that even remotely falls under the umbrella of Americana.

Oddly enough then, it was a trip to Amsterdam that inspired the new album, Spanker Madness (Spanks-a-Lot Records), a heartfelt concept album whose theme is drugs. Drugs of all sort, though the focus is decidedly on pot, and amazingly the songs are so damn good and stylistically varied throughout that the concept -- which in lesser hands would likely turn cloyingly gimmicky after a couple of tunes -- never gets in the way of a really great album. Plus, anyone who name-checks the late, great comedian Bill Hicks scores bonus points to boot.

Get thee to the Asylum Street Spankers hootenanny -- part of the first leg of their "Hemp For Victory Tour 2000" -- at 8 p.m. Friday, April 7, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $10 at CD Depot, Hear's Music, Zip's University, Guitars, Etc., and Congress Street Store. Call 798-3333 for more info.

DADDY'S DAY: Finally, a quick reminder that the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy show, rescheduled from December 18, is finally going down at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $21 (plus service charges) through Dillards at 1-800-638-4235. They'll be $23 (plus service charges) at the door. For further details call 798-3333. To read more about the band, visit the TW online archives for "Voodoo Gurus" (December 16) at

GIVE US LIBERTY, OR...: One of the best local bands I've "discovered" in recent weeks is Liberty School, a self-described "bossa-lounge hillbilly band" that includes bassist David Tracy ("ex-child porn star"), drummer Steve Nelson (an auto racing enthusiast), guitarist Mike Bagesse (favorite book: Martha Stewart's Clean Living), and "singer" Chad Barton. Barton decidedly rants more than he sings; rants stream-of-consciousness spoken wordstuffs that work against a backdrop of sinisterly sneaky grooves both dark and danceable. It'll only cost you a few bucks to catch them at 9 p.m. Friday, April 7, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. Opener Fez joins them for the evening, and you can direct all inquiries to 670-9202.