ROOT FORCE: While it has always been somewhat so, Tucson as of late seems to have become a roots-rockin' mecca, due largely to Troy Olsen's ongoing, keep-'em-guessing Hillbilly Hayride every Wednesday night at Plush, guest-hosted in recent weeks by Teddy Morgan. It's brought out the likes of Al Perry, Creosote, Gila Bend, Chris Burroughs and members of Fourkiller Flats for unannounced performances, as well as throwing tribute shows to Hank Williams and Gram Parsons. It's quickly become one of the most reliable club nights in town.

And lest we forget, the Maverick--"King of Clubs"--at 4702 E. 22nd St., has retained its charm over the years. Vince Moreno & Sundown is the house band these days, and there's kountraoke (my word--get it? country + karaoke = kountraoke!!--not theirs) every Monday night. Give 'em a call at 748-0456.

In addition, this week also sees three fine (alt) country shows headlined by touring bands drift through our burg. In addition to the Handsome Family's stop (see article), we'll also be privy to performances from The Dolly Ranchers and The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash.

Taos, N.M.'s The Dolly Ranchers, who self-released their excellent debut, Ten O'Clock Bird, last year, have expanded from trio to quartet since they last visited us in February. The ladies distill some mighty powerful porch-twang, with Marisa Anderson's deft and speedy fingerpicking, and Sarah-Jane Moody's Maria McKee-by-way-of-Ani Difranco vocals being the most distinctive standouts. Along the way there's also real purty harp-blowin', a bit of yodelin' and some well-written narratives about road trips, getting drunk and broken hearts, not necessarily in that order. The sophomore release is eagerly awaited, at least by one guy living in Tucson.

The Dolly Ranchers, along with openers Buko & Tita and Golden Boots, perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, January 4 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $5. For additional information call 884-0874.

San Diego's The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, meanwhile, mine barroom honky-tonk for all it's worth, incorporating every country cliché possible without adding anything new to the mix. It's not crap, to be sure; the Sons are enjoyable enough. It's just rather pedestrian stuff. If anything, the band provides a quick lesson in the value of an attention-grabbing name (if only the music could do the same): They're guaranteed to be the most average band to ever share the stage with the likes of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash perform at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 5 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. For more info call 798-1298.

FIRE SALE: You might remember Matt Pike from his previous band, bowel-rumbling sludgefuckers Sleep, which once released an album comprised of one 60-minute song. His new outfit is High on Fire, whose material has (slightly) quicker tempos and (slightly) shorter songs, with titles like "Master of Fists," while still managing to remain heavy as an anvil (the menacing growls sure don't hurt). The band's last release was The Art of Self Defense, released on Frank Kozik's Man's Ruin label about a year ago--shortly before the imprint went under. Reportedly, the band is set to unleash another dosage of doom on a new, hopefully more financially secure label. In the meantime, it'll be bringing the noise to town this week.

Sorry, the bong's gotta stay at home.

High on Fire, with Great American Tragedy and Winelord, play at 9 p.m. on Sunday, January 6 at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is $5. For more info call 622-8848.

JAZZ ME: Steve Hahn's nom de promotion, Zeitgeist, your leader in Tucson jazz shows, has added a last-minute gig to its roster to kick off the new year. The performance will team celebrated local players with visiting natives to pay tribute to the music of the late trumpeter Booker Little, and his better-known friend, alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist and flutist (or is that flautist?) Eric Dolphy. Trombonist Alex Heitlinger has arranged their compositions to be played by a sextet that, in addition to Heitlinger, includes guitarist Matt Mitchell, trumpeter Matt Holman, saxophonist and flutist Greg Armstrong, drummer Pete Swan and a free-agent bassist to be named later.

It all goes down at 8 p.m. on Thursday, January 3 at the Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone Ave. Admission is $5 at the door. For further details call 622-0192.

GOOD DEED: A quick follow-up to October's Musicians Rock for America, organized by Jeannie Miller as a response to the terrorist acts of September 11. The event, which gathered 20 bands at a dozen venues across town, was designed to raise money for a single family victimized by the tragedy. The family of Mark Schwartz, an EMT who perished while tending to victims when the first tower collapsed, will receive a total of $5,576.75, which represents money collected at the doors of the participating clubs, as well as checks written directly from club owners. Thanks to all for participating, and especially to Jeannie for virtually single-handedly organizing the event.