HILARIOUSLY HEARTBREAKING: Aside from the fact that I wouldn't mind nailing her, snaggletooth and all, I never much cared for Alaskan yodeler-turned-folksinger-turned-scantily-clad-pop-singer Jewel. But I will cop to the fact that I sorta liked "You Were Meant for Me," off her 1995 debut album, Pieces of You, the first 50 times I heard it, and there's a reason for that.

The song was co-written by a guy named Steve Poltz (as was "Adrian," from the same album), who discovered Ms. Kilcher by inviting her onstage to do a song at one of his coffeehouse gigs in his then-hometown of San Diego. (They later dated, lucky bastard.) Tucson audiences might remember Poltz for the rollicking gigs he played in the mid-to-late '90s at Club Congress with his band at the time, the Rugburns. The 'Burns specialized in ultra-catchy rootsy pop songs anchored by Poltz's songwriting, which was filled with the humorous observations of an astute eye, but underpinned by an almost unnerving pathos--laughing to keep from crying, if you will.

The members of the Rugburns eventually went their separate ways, and Poltz returned in 1998, when his critically acclaimed debut solo album, One Left Shoe, was released on Mercury. When the album failed to sell a bazillion copies, Mercury fumbled around and kept Poltz locked in a contract they had no intention of fulfilling. During this time, Poltz recorded a series of songs that he left as outgoing messages on his answering machine, which he later released on his own. The 56 songs on Answering Machine--with titles like "Ken Follett Stole My Wallet" and "Dog Doo Blues #48"--found a cult fan base that included Neil Young. (When Poltz later met Young at the buffet table at a wedding reception, in typical fashion, he didn't mention that he was the guy behind Answering Machine, but instead commented, "Wow, these quesadillas taste great. The tortillas taste real homemade-y." Young scrammed in a flash.)

Poltz hits Tucson this week in support of his second solo endeavor, Chinese Vacation, released last year on his own 98 Pounder imprint (named for his high school wrestling weight).

Steve Poltz performs in the cozy confines of The Red Room at Grill, 100 E. Congress St., at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 11. The show is open to those 21-and-over only, and cover is $10. For more information, call 623-7621.

TWANG TANGO: Thanks to Mark Insley, Wednesday nights at Vaudeville Cabaret just got a lot twangier.

The celebrated local roots-rocker last week began a weekly series of gigs dubbed Arizona's Most Wanted, a celebration of outlaw country music in which Insley performs along with some of his well-known visiting friends. The first night of his residency kicked off in style, with a set from Houston's Jesse Dayton, and this week's guest, on Wednesday, Feb. 11, is The Trophy Husbands' Kevin Daly. Future performers include border-country singer/songwriter Chris Gaffney (Feb. 18) and country-rockabilly critics' darling Rosie Flores (Feb. 25). No matter what Wednesday you choose to stop by, it should provide the perfect soundtrack for Vaudeville's famous beer-and-a-shot-o'-well-whiskey special.

Arizona's Most Wanted starts at 9 p.m. each Wednesday night. Vaudeville Cabaret is located at 110 E. Congress St., and you can reach them at 622-3535.

BUCKEROO! Singer/songwriter extraordinaire Richard Buckner returns to town this week, still supporting 2002's Impasse (Overcoat), his first album of original material in four years, and its companion EP, Impasse-ette. Unlike his early, spare acoustic albums, the two-fer continued in the vein of his more recent albums, with ambitious arrangements that incorporate strings, synths and vibes. While Buckner's huge voice and downtrodden songwriting persona always make for an engaging live performance, his most recent local appearance, last June, was his best we've ever seen, as he switched seamlessly from his trusty acoustic to feedback-bleeding electric with a heretofore unseen finesse.

Opening for Buckner is Phoenix-area sextet Rum Tenor, who recorded their just-released debut album, Song for Charlie and the Girls Who Took His Picture (Bleak House Recordings), at Tucson's WaveLab Studios. Though the album features no less than 24 instruments and a host of guest musicians (including Tucsonans Craig Schumacher, who recorded the album, and Nick Luca), the restrained ebb and swell of the arrangements brings to mind Lambchop, another band with an unwieldy number of musicians that shares a knowledge of when to drop out of a song at a particular time. Musically, Rum Tenor reminds of a more country-influenced Calexico, as they easily fall under the banner of desert noir. And, also like Calexico, a good number of the songs on Song for Charlie are instrumentals that are cinematic in scope, musical interpretations of the vast desert landscape that are perfect for a late-night solo road trip. Gorgeously haunting, Song for Charlie is a mighty auspicious debut.

Richard Buckner and Rum Tenor perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 6, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $8. For further details, call 622-8848.

AFTER MIDNIGHT: Though their oh-so-clever name pays homage to The Kinks, Dallas' The Deathray Davies share more in common with neo-psychedelic California drone-pop bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. (Yeah, I know, the latter is actually from Portland, but you get the picture.)

The band's fourth album, Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory (2003, Glurp), showcases the organ-abetted, fuzzed-out pop tunes they're known for, but with less of a garagey feel than previous releases. (Reaction to the garage-rock phenomenon that's like, so last year, perhaps?) Whatever the reason, it serves them well, as the songs on Midnight incorporate a wide variety of instruments--e.g., xylophone, trumpet, strings, saw--that expand the sound to great effect. And unlike the bulk of similar-sounding bands, the Deathrays aren't averse to a bit of sardonic humor, as evidenced by the ridiculously infectious stomp of "The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower" ("I've got an opinion on everything/You'll fall in love with me unless you hear me sing/Down at the Barley on a Sunday/I think I'm a star/Don't go to the bar") and the rhythmically taut "How to Win at Roulette," whose lyrics, in full, are: "Red!/Red!/Black!/Red!/How much do I have now?/How much do we need?/Black!Black!Red!/Black!/How much do I have now?/How much do we need?"

The Deathray Davies perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Thursday, Feb. 12. Say Hi to Your Mom opens at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $6. Get more 411 by calling 798-1298.

ON THE BANDWAGON: Originally an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane created by members Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady back in 1969, Hot Tuna broke up, then re-formed, in the 1980s. Since then, they've released a string of albums bought only by regular readers of Relix magazine, though their tours have been far more successful. The band appears at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Friday, Feb. 6. Jack Casady & Box Set open at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $22 at the Rialto's box office and Bookman's, or by phone at 740-1000. For more info, call 798-3333.

One-hit wonders Alien Ant Farm (and that hit was a Michael Jackson cover, mind you) will be making their second local appearance next week, but it's openers Skeleton Key we're most excited about. The innovative New York art-rock combo features the usual guitar, drums and bass, but with the added curiosity of a percussionist that plays just about anything that sounds cool when he beats on it. Over the course of two full-lengths and two EPs, the band has escaped the usual pretension of other bands with a similar aesthetic by actually writing memorable tunes that are alternately noisy and funky. Catch Alien Ant Farm, Skeleton Key, and Wagner when they perform at The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave., on Thursday, Feb. 12. Advance tickets are available for $12 through Ticketmaster at 321-1000. For more info, call 629-9211.

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