True story: One night a few weeks ago I was perusing my collection of seven-inches (that's vinyl singles, bub) and came across a band I hadn't listened to in a year or so. The band was Varnaline, a favorite of mine from a few years back, and I spent the rest of the night listening to its recorded output, wondering exactly what had happened to it after its record company, Zero Hour, had gone belly-up.
The question was answered the very next night after I bought a copy of the new No Depression; there was a lengthy article touting a new Varnaline album, Songs in a Northern Key, as the band's best. It seems that Steve Earle was a Varnaline fan, too, and he rescued the band from its label woes by releasing the new disc on his E-Squared imprint (a division of Artemis Records). After finally getting my hands on a copy of Songs, I can attest that it sounds just like all the other Varnaline records I own, and that is a good thing.
The band is led by Anders Parker, who writes the songs, sings 'em, and plays guitar on them. The formula is basically this: The acoustic songs are gentle and delicate, if slightly rough-hewn, while the rockers are deceptively dense in contrast, accentuated by an ever-present layer of fuzz over the top of it all. But the real focus of both varieties is the gorgeous melodies Parker writes, which already seem etched in the mind as they unfold before you. Parker has been compared to Neil Young in the past, but that's only because there's really no one else to compare him to.
Tucson audiences have become familiar with singer/songwriter Richard Buckner from his extended visits to town over the last several years. Buckner is still touring on the strength of one of last year's most interestingly ambitious albums, Hill (Overcoat), recorded in Tucson at Wavelab, and featuring Calexico as accompanists. Because he's widely acknowledged as one of Americana's most gifted lyricists, many questioned why Buckner would work with existing material--as opposed to writing his own--which is exactly what he did on that album. Hill takes The Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters' book of poems focusing on a variety of dead townsfolk in the fictional Illinois town of Spoon River and the way their lives were interwoven, and sets several of the tales to music. The album is comprised of one long track (that is, no ability to cue individual songs), which weaves seamlessly from tale to tale, with short instrumental interludes separating some of the songs. The result is sublime, a melancholic song cycle well suited to Buckner's voice, which recalls a huskier and more emotive Randy Travis, and the world-weary melodies he's written suit the tone of the material to a tee.
Richard Buckner and Anders Parker of Varnaline perform at 9 p.m. on Sunday, September 9 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $8. For more information call 884-0874.
DÉZSA VIEW: I was fortunate enough to accompany The Zsa Zsas on their trek to New York City this summer to tape an episode of the VH1 game show, Cover Wars. Thus, I was witness to the travesty of injustice that occurred on that fateful day.
In case you missed the episode, the band competed against two others, a trainwreck of a band from Las Vegas called Venus NV and Dog Voices, a pack of New Jersey mooks whose idea of humor was to have a gopher plushie on stage with them (ha ha, get it?). All I can say is this, folks: The fix was in and it was in big. Our beloved Eastern European heroes were put through the wringer by not only big-haired, harebrained "celebrity" judge Sebastian Bach, but by the mysteriously anonymous "man in the booth" who was the judge for the third and final round.
I don't want to spoil it completely because you'll get the chance to witness the events unfold for yourself when the band replays the broadcast as part of its extravaganza performance this week. The show will also feature a piñata bash, a Sebastian Bach look-alike contest, a free victory toast, and a very special surprise guest (whose last name may or may not rhyme with "cock"). Oh yeah, and the ZZs will be playing a slew of cover tunes for your listening (dis)pleasure, too.
Witness the mayhem as The Zsa Zsas, along with special guests Bebe and Serge, set up shop at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 7 at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $8 at Zia Records, and you can call 798-3333 for further details.
PETAL TO THE METAL: After recently relocating to Tucson via Albuquerque, guitarist David Rose has just self-released a new CD titled The Journey. The disc features nine original Rose instrumentals that showcase the guitarist's ability to meander from dreamy soundscapes to percussive, not so much tapping as smacking. Half of it's interesting stuff (most often the quieter songs), while the other half sounds like a tape from the collection of your guitarist friend who catalogs everything he/she records.
David Rose performs at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 7 at Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St. Tickets cost $10 at the door, $8 for students and seniors. For more information log onto www. daveguitar.com.
EATING CROWE: After their last Tucson outing, at the Rialto, it's a wonder that soulful rockers The Black Crowes have decided to put Tucson on their tour itinerary this time around. For those who weren't there, some genius in the crowd hurled a beer bottle at Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, who proceeded to chew the guy out and threaten that if it happened again, the band was gone. Apparently the jackass just had to see what would happen for himself and proceeded to zing another bottle at the morbidly pale and skinny one. Guess what? Robinson, after locating the guy who threw it, went right up to him and proceeded to bash the guy's skull in with his mic stand before making good on his promise to bring the show to a grinding halt. (By the way, the show, leading up to the incident, was darn good indeed.)
Last time I checked the UA was still a dry campus, so Robinson and Co. should be pleased with their choice of venue this time around as The Black Crowes, with special guests Beachwood Sparks, perform at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 12 at Centennial Hall. Advance tickets are available at the Centennial Hall Box Office, by phone at 621-3341, or online at uapresents.arizona.edu.
SPANKIN' GOOD TIME: If you've never checked out Austin's Asylum Street Spankers, you get another chance to do so this week. The all-acoustic ensemble, which uses no amplification of any kind, is a ragtag assortment of players and singers of all ages, shapes and sizes, united by their love of vaudeville-on-the-front-porch humor, an ability to play the hell out of virtually anything rootsy, and a serious lack of backbone when it comes to their choice of vices (their last album, Reefer Madness, was a heartfelt ode to moonshine and the devil's weed).
Asylum Street Spankers perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, September 7 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $10, and you can direct all calls to 884-0874.
LIVE FROM ORACLE? According to a cryptic press release received by Soundbites, local psych-rockers Black Sun Ensemble will be performing a show this week at "the Temple of Apollo at Delphi." Your guess is as good as mine what the hell that means, but we'll all have a chance to listen in for free as the show is broadcast live from 9 to 10 p.m. on Monday, September 10 on KXCI-FM 91.3. Bandleader Prince Master Blaster, aka Jesus Acedo, has also just completed a volume of poetry titled The Lycian, available for $3 at Toxic Ranch Records. The band's next album, Hymn of the Master, should be released by Australian label Camera Obscura any day now.
NAKED APE: Featuring former members of now-defunct San Francisco groove-theater combo Idiot Flesh, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum retains that band's sense of artfulness while incorporating a sense of soft-loud dynamics pushed to the furthest extreme. Wandering from minimalist, quiet passages to explosions of sound not for the faint of heart, the band can be downright terrifying in its live juxtapositions.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum performs with Tucson noiseniks Cortex Bomb at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, September 11 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Cover is $5, and that number again is 884-0874.