BEATS A 30-SECOND MAN ANY DAY: Chicago's 90 Day Men come to us recommended by former Red Switch guitarist and current Bay Area resident Andrew Skikne, who always did have great taste in envelope-pushing indie rock.

As for the Men themselves, on their latest release, To Everybody (2002, Southern), they deal in odd time signatures, oddly not-annoying bloated song lengths, and a penchant for writing catchy songs despite the fact they don't trade in the verse-chorus-verse ball and chain. It all adds up to a Talk Talk-esque, autumnal mood with gorgeously skittish drums, a healthy heaping of sad piano, Brian Case's powerful whisper of a voice, and some of the most bizarre--but effective--harmonies you'll ever hear (on album opener "I've Got Designs on You"). Bonus points awarded for the Smiths references in "A National Car Crash": "I Feel like Strangeways Here We Come again/I feel like re-evaluate/She might have said yes if I asked her to/God, Morrissey is such a bitch/But, well, at least he's right." To Everybody is one of the best albums you didn't hear this year. Belee'dat.

90 Day Men perform on Saturday, December 14, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Grand Buffet and Sex Fatale open the show at 9 p.m. Cover is $6, and all ages are welcome. For further details call 884-0874.

HERSHEY'S SWEET: As a guy who used to shoe horses, Andy Hersey writes what he knows and knows about what he writes. What he might not have known was that one of his former clients might lead to the release of his second album of songs as a country singer/songwriter.

When Hersey worked on Doc Clyne's family ranch, Doc's son, head Peacemaker Roger Clyne, became one of his biggest fans. Released this week, Hersey's second album, Companero Blanco, appears on Clyne's Emma Java imprint, and Clyne makes several musical contributions to it, in addition to dueting with Hersey on "If These Walls Could Talk."

The songs on Companero Blanco reveal Hersey to be part of the dying breed of cowboy songwriters who specialize in narratives true to their native land--in this case, Hersey's native Southwest, as well as more universal affairs of the heart, with Hersey easily tossing off lines like "A friend of a friend is how they met/She heard he was a Romeo looking for a Juliet/She never cared for Shakespeare until their eyes met."

And lest you have visions of Roy Rogers or Gene Autry recast for the 21st century (though the comparisons may be an apt compliment), at the same time, Hersey's songs deserve better than to be ghettoized to cowboy poetry festivals and the like; these are fully formed, accessible country songs that trump just about anything being played on commercial "country" radio these days.

Andy Hersey celebrates the release of Companero Blanco by playing at 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 14, at Backstage, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Admission is $5. Call 327-2214 for ticket information.

STRAIGHT OUTTA DENVER: Denver's DeVotchKa has become a Tucson favorite based on two previous local appearances. Their last was a free show at Club Congress in July, to cover a week's lodging at the hotel, during which they visited Wave Lab Studios to record the follow-up to their debut album, 2001's SuperMelodrama (Dago). While the band is currently schlepping the disc around to labels, looking for a deal, they sent me an advance copy that finds the band in absolutely top form, offering further evidence that the folks over at Wave Lab can do no wrong.

While the new recording still retains the world-music-as-played-by-a-bunch-of-Americans eclecticism we've come to expect from DeVotchKa, it also branches out into Radiohead-esque Brit-pop, albeit performed more organically than what you'll find on Kid A. Rather than smacking of jumping someone else's train, the latter-style tracks demonstrate a band that feels comfortable doing whatever the hell it wants, a band that doesn't feel like it has to play every kind of music it can, merely to prove it can. Oh, and they'll blow you away live, too.

DeVotchKa performs on Friday, December 13, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. The Hypno-Twists open the show at 9:30 p.m. For more info call 798-1298.

HELPING HAND: A handful of locals are banding together to aid an ailing friend in need this week. The organizers of the benefit tell me that even if you don't know Gabby Rios, chances that he's prepared a meal you've eaten at The Cup, Grill, or Cushing Street are high. Several weeks ago Rios was taking a morning bike ride through downtown, when he was hit by a car, an incident that left him with a concussion, in a coma, and with a "smashed face." Luckily, Rios counts among his friends members of several local bands, among them Mankind, the Pork Torta, and Winelord, all of which will perform tonight, with DJ ButtaFly spinning the funk in between bands.

The Benefit for Gabby Rios kicks off at 9 p.m. on Thursday, December 12, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Admission is a $5 donation ("or more if you can spare it"), all of which goes towards Rios' bills. For more information call 622-3535.

DEVILISH: If Joan Jett ever started performing regularly in a Vegas casino of yore, she might morph into something along the lines of Devil Doll frontwoman Colleen Duffy. On its debut, Queen of Pain (2002, Lucky Bluebird), the Los Angeles band imagines what Betty Page might have sounded like (had she actually sung) fronting a smoky speakeasy jazz-blues combo, in a post-Courtney world.

Devil Doll performs on Saturday, December 14, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Last Call Brawlers open the show at 9:30 p.m. Need more info? Call 798-1298, my friend.

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