Greetings, all you Soundbites worshipers out there. I'm your substitute this week. Your usual Soundbites correspondent, Stephen Seigel, is enjoying the sights and sounds (OK, mostly the sounds) of the one and only South By Southwest Music and Media festival in Austin, Texas (home of the big W, don't fergget). So, until he stumbles back to town with informative reports and grandiose tales of some of the country's best acts, sit back and enjoy my ramblings and no one will get hurt.

So, what's going on in our beloved town this week, you ask? Well, for starters:

COUNTRY CRUNCH: Kirk Rundstrom, singer-guitarist and songwriter for thrash-metal Scroat Belly and for bluegrass punksters Split Lip Rayfield (both on the beloved Bloodshot Records), will bring his own band to 7 Black Cats on Thursday, March 21, in support of his new and first solo record Blue China. As his promo packet states, "[I]n addition to Kirk's by-now trademark deft acoustic picking, bruising hard-rock power, and twisted songwriter's vision, Blue China is peppered with elements and echoes of Middle Eastern music." And, in the tradition of The Who's Tommy and Mike Watt's Contemplating the Engine Room, Rundstrom and band (fellow Split Lip-er Eric Mardis and Mike West, both on various stringed instruments, and Myshkin on fem-vox) perform the new record in its entirety. That's beginning to end, for those of you keeping score at home. Go down and support these guys for a measly $5. Headlining the show are the Damnations. Call 7 Black Cats for more info at 670-9202.

LEGEND IN OUR MIDST: Next up for bid is a show that everyone should go see (and you got two chances this week, you lazy bums). Haji Ahkba has done time in so many amazing jazz groups, its downright staggering. His early years saw him playing with none other (there's a lot of "none others" on his résumé so I'll just write it once) than the Sun Ra Arkestra for several years and tours. He then moved on to play with the Godfather of Soul (that's James Brown) in the early 1980s, where he was a featured touring musician over the course of five years. During this time, he became an integral member of the Jazz Culture Theatre in Philadelphia, where he served as a mentor to young musicians.

Dissatisfied with the jazz scene in the United States, Ahkba ditched our sands in 1988 (as have countless other jazz greats over the years) to hang in Europe and play for the Queen and stuff (OK, probably not). While there, he just happened to bump into none other (damn, did it again) than Van Morrison at an after-hours club in London. This, of course, led to a lengthy recording and touring relationship between the two from 1989-1997. Most notable is the Live In San Francisco double-CD set that also features two other guys; I think their names are Junior Wells and John Lee Hooker. Heard of 'em?

When he wasn't busy with Mr. Morrison, Ahkba did time with Maceo Parker in the JB All-Stars in 1989 (when James Brown was in jail) as well as with Lou Donaldson in the New York City Jazz Mobile.

Having moved back to the states in 1997, and to Tucson at the end of 2001, to be closer to his family (who lives here in Southern Arizona) and has begun performing live at the Hotel Congress every Thursday and Friday night until Bob Barker goes gray again (indefinitely, that is). For more info, contact Curtis McCrary at the Hotel Congress. He can be reached at 622-8848. Oh, and get this, appearances by the Haji Ahkba Ensemble are always FREE! So don't say I never did anything for you.

DON'T GET TOO CLOSE: Despite having fired talented harpsmen Vince Meghrouni, the amazing Los Angeles band Slowrider still deserves a plug. Fusing jazz, funk, blues and rock into a cohesive whole that will kick your ass if you get to close to the stage (not that you shouldn't, mind you), Slowrider has gained fans in our burg from shows this past year at the Solar Culture and the Rialto (where it opened up for Ozomatli). All who attended those shows came away shaking their heads in wonder. Yes, you too can be amazed when you head down to the Club Congress this Friday, March 22, to get your musical ass-whoopin'. Local band Mankind opens. Tickets are only $10, and well worth it. Contact the Hotel Congress at 622-8848 for more info, not that you need any more.

GET DOWN: If you're over the whole emo thing (that is, if you're "post-emo"), but still dig melodic hooks and downright beautiful sounds (that's right, I ain't afraid to say the "B" word now and then), Engine Down, from Richmond, Va., just may be your thang. Openers Manifold have that "old-friends-who-used-to-be-in-a-band-but-start-a-new-band" thing going. So get your small-T-shirt-wearin', black-hair-dye-usin' and Army-satchel-bag-carryin' self down to the Solar Culture this Saturday, March 23, and see what all the fuss is about. Cover is a mere $5. Call Steve Eye at the Solar Culture, 884-0874, for more details.

ONE TWO, ONE TWO: San Francisco's Anticon Collective focuses on experimental and fringe collaborations with a premium on hip hop, and they've been putting out some pretty interesting stuff of late. cLOUDDEAD, a project that features the likes of various MCs (Dose One, Why and Odd Nosdam, to name a few), is definitely fringe, experimental hip hop at its finest. The group finds its way to Tucson this Monday, March 25, at Solar Culture. Expect the above with some spoken-word performances woven in for good measure. More info on these guys can be found at With cLOUDDEAD (and all the way from merry old England) is Hood. Also dabbling in the experimental, but with a focus on atmospheric pop, Hood should be a great appetizer for the evening's experience. Five dollars will get you past Mark at the door. Call 884-0874 for more info.

RING IT IN: Kadane Brothers Matt and Bubba used to be in slow-core favorites Bedhead, but it seems they may have gotten a little bored. So, they enlisted buddy Chris Brokaw (who did time in both Come and Pullman on guitar, as well as on drums for Codeine) to play drums, former Bedhead co-guitarist Peter Schmidt and a couple other friends to round out a new band they like to call The New Year. Their new record, Newness Ends (on Touch and Go Records) finds the two brothers throwing out the slow, mellow pop of their former band and going for frenzied bursts of rocking, catchy guitars. Fans of their work in Bedhead shouldn't fret, though. Their songwriting (introspective and contemplative) and vocal deliveries (deliberate melodies) are still intact, just with a different mission. So come help these guys ring in their new band (and pay $5 to see 'em do it) at the Solar Culture this Tuesday, March 26. Openers Seaworthy and new local band the Solace Brothers (hey, more brothers!) will help to make it all worth your while. Call 884-0874 for more info.

HOWE IT'S GOIN': What can be said that hasn't already been said about Giant Sand? If you ain't familiar with Howe Gelb's work in Giant Sand, OP8 or his solo stuff, you just aren't paying attention. For the last 20-odd years, Gelb has been writing and recording trademark songs that, for the uninitiated, sound like Neil Young's if he lived in the barrio. (Or maybe not.) Most of the time he's backed up by a couple guys you've also probably heard of (John Convertino and Joey Burns, of Calexico fame).

Giant Sand's latest release Cover Magazine (Thrill Jockey) is comprised of nearly all cover songs (get it?), including those originally by the likes of X, Marty Robbins, Black Sabbath and others, but given the gen-u-wine Giant Sand treatment. It also features guest vocals by none other (you thought I was over that whole thing, huh?) Polly Jean Harvey as well as Neko Case.

Unlike most GS shows, which are performed by a trio, this week's performance will feature a hot seven-piece lineup. Joining the three mainstays are an ex-member of Poi Dog Pondering and three girls from some French band. Head down to the Solar Culture this Wednesday, March 27, to find out just what band that is and also to see Giant Sand. Cover is $10. Call Steve Eye at the Solar Culture, 884-0874, for more juicy details.

LOVE AND WAGES: Finally this week, described as "gritty, raw and intellectual roots rock" and hailed by some as the new Lyle Lovett (I didn't say it, mind you), Nathan Hamilton throws a CD release party this Wednesday, March 27, at Plush for his new CD All for Love and Wages. The show starts at 10:30, and, at press time, I have no idea how much dough you'll have to throw down. But I'm sure if you call the good folks down at Plush, 798-1298, they'll tell you.

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