Though the first Ball was held at long-defunct hipster hangout Nino's Steakhouse way back in 1987, and organized by resident singer/songwriter Chris Holiman (formerly of River Roses and 35 Summers), the event went stagnant for the next several years. In 1994, Holiman revived The Wooden Ball at Club Congress, and it's been rolling along nicely ever since, with the last two taking place at Plush, where this week's event will go down.
The Ball's original intent was to get some of the finest local talent to convene under one roof, for one night. In order to necessitate the number of performers on the bill, acts were asked to perform acoustically to expedite the change-over between sets. And though the format certainly works logistically, in recent years, the event has become better known for the opportunity to see a wide variety of musical talent show off their stuff without the bells and whistles that loud guitars and distortion pedals provide.
The events have also spawned a trio of compilation albums from Balls past: Could You Wood? (San Jacinto), which compiled highlights from the 1994 and '95 shows; Wood for Rainer (Epiphany), which included one song from each of 1996's performers, and served as a fund-raiser for the then-ailing, now-dearly missed local singer/songwriter/guitarist Rainer Ptacek; and the brand-new Ten Years Wood (Monsoon Recordings), which includes nine tracks from the last 10 Balls. Oddly, four of those tracks also appeared on Wood for Rainer, and three of the nine are songs by Rainer (including a cover of The Faces' "Ooh La La," that also features Billy Sedlmayr and John Venet, plus a previously unreleased and typically breathtaking take on "Last Fair Deal"). Among the new treats found on the disc are Calexico performing "Sonic Wind," from 2002; Chris Cacavas' gorgeous ".44 Magnum" and Howe Gelb's rolling "Creeper," both of which are rendered in piano-and-voice versions; and Dan Stuart turning out Green on Red's ode to vices, "Pills & Booze."
The disc serves as a reminder of the magic that can, and does, happen regularly at the Ball, and this year's lineup of performers should provide no exception to the rule; Slated to perform: Greyhound Soul, Fourkiller Flats, Nick Luca Trio, Topless Opry, Chris Holiman and the Downtown Saints, Maggie Golston, Camp Courageous, Truck, Jason Steed (with his band) and Al Perry. Bruce Halper will serve as emcee.
The Wooden Ball begins promptly at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Cover is $6. For more information, call 798-1298.
DRY RIVERDANCE: A product of the surprisingly vibrant old-time music scene--specifically that of traditional Irish music--here in the Old Pueblo, Round the House officially emerged as a fully formed band in 1999. Since then, the group--Dave Firestine (mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, guitar), Sharon Goldwasser (fiddle), Mike Smith (guitar) and Claire Jamieson Zucker (vocals, bodhran, feet)--has become a staple of the genre, winning the TAMMIES award in the Traditional/Ethnic category for the last two years, and releasing a pair of albums, the latest of which is 2003's self-released 'Til the Wee Hours.
If I hadn't known before listening to the disc that Round the House hails from Tucson, I probably would have mistaken the band as being from Ireland, so studied and precisely authentic is the music found here. While most of the musical offerings found on the CD are traditional dances and Irish folk songs (though there are some more contemporary tunes here, too), many follow the idea that there's no rule against updating an ancient ditty in tempo or arrangement. Thus, for example, the liner notes inform us that the group's version of "Stack of Barley" (paired here with a song called "P. Joe's"), while often sped up for dancing, is presented here at a more leisurely pace. 'Tis no sin, after all--just a continuation of a tradition of appropriating and re-shaping a song to fit one's needs.
Throughout 'Til the Wee Hours, the playing and singing are no less than astonishing. Of special note are Goldwasser's supple fiddle playing and Zucker's gorgeous, inflected voice, while Firestine is seemingly one of those guys who can pick up anything with strings on it and simply dazzle.
This week, as they have on a couple previous occasions, Round the House teams up with the award-winning Bracken School of Irish Dance for a joint performance at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 23, at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $13 in advance and $6 for kids, available at Antigone Books, Brew and Vine, CD City and Enchanted Earthworks, or online at www.dotucson.com. They'll be $14 at the door. For more info, call 297-9133.
GOOD PICK: Local bluegrass fans are, no doubt, familiar with guitarist Greg Morton, leader of his namesake band, Greg Morton and the Mortones, and a 35-year veteran of the genre. During the course of his career, Morton has performed as part of Buck White and the Down Home Folks, whose name was shortened to The Whites before they appeared in O Brother Where Art Thou?; won numerous prestigious awards for his picking, including TAMMIES awards for Acoustic Guitar in 2001 and 2002 (he was runner-up in 2003); and performed shows with the likes of John Hartford, The Dillards and Dan Crary.
While he recently recorded a CD, due out roughly in September, that will feature special guests Sam Bush, John Cowan, Roland White and Barbara Lamb, this week, he celebrates the release of an instrumental solo disc, appropriately titled Solo Guitar (self-released), which features a dozen spectacularly rendered traditional tunes, as well as covers of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and "Tango for a Sad Mood," written by Gary Paxton.
Greg Morton's release party for Solo Guitar, which will include appearances by a few special guests, begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 23, at Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St. For further details, call 745-9175.
OBSCURE STUFF: Our fair burg is well known for supporting music of just about every identifiable genre (as well as those yet to be invented), and following that anti-formula, no one else in town sounds anything quite like Musica Obscura.
The group has, over the years, morphed from leader Mike DiCicco's one-man electronica project to a fully functioning band using traditional instruments (aside from those electronic drums, anyway). This week, they drop Everything Ends (Drowning), their second slice of beautiful, ethereal drone-pop, with a CD release party on Thursday, Jan. 29, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Kicking the show off at 9 p.m. are special guests Lloyd Dobbler. Cover is three bucks. For further details, call 798-1298.
ON THE BANDWAGON: Compared to such disparate but kick-ass bands as The Pixies, Pavement, Weezer and XTC, and named after one of the smartest damn dudes on the planet, Dallas' Chomsky incorporates crunchy guitars, bubbly synths and hooks galore into one big indie-rock bouillabaisse that's so chunky and delicious you can eat it with a fork. They'll be at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St, on Wednesday, Jan. 28. Appetizers begin at 9 p.m., courtesy of Portland, Ore.'s System and Station. Four bucks is the going rate for this one. Questions? Punch up 622-8848.
In conjunction with the Tucson Jazz Society, clarinet virtuoso Kenny Davern will perform with the Jeff Haskell Trio this weekend for the Third Annual John Denman Memorial Concert. Denman was a beloved jazz and classical clarinetist who taught at the UA School of Music from 1976 to 1984, and was a bandmate, as well as fellow professor, of Haskell. (Haskell serves as director of Jazz Studies at the UA.) Davern, meanwhile, who has been recording for over a half-century, is regarded as one of the world's foremost jazz clarinetists, known for his ability to hit notes far above the normal register. The Third Annual John Denman Memorial Concert begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $25 for the general public, $20 for TJS members and $10 for students, and are available at the TJS Web site, www.tucsonjazz.org. For more info, call 903-1265.
Famous for spouting such highbrow bon mots as "Let's have a war, so you can go and die," and "New York's alright, if you like saxophones," beer-swilling L.A. punk vets Fear bring the chaos to City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24. Tickets for the all-ages show are available in advance for $10 at the venue and Zia Records, or online at calproductions.com. For more 411, call 733-6262.
And, finally, a quick reminder to all who participated in, or lent a hand to, the 2003 Great Cover-Up: Don't forget to head over to Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 7 p.m. tonight, Thursday, Jan. 22, for the check presentation and appreciation party. As added enticement, each band that attends will be treated to a free CD copy of their Cover-Up set. See you there.