MOO ROCKThe locals of gHosT cOw (their choice in caps, not mine) are well aware that their name would lead one to believe that they're a country band--or at least a desert-rock one. To wit, an excerpt from the band's one-sheet: "'We're a band that has a quirky, country-music-sounding name and a bit off-center approach to our songs, but we're really just a rock band,' (singer, songwriter, and guitarist David) Hall says. 'I remember the first time we played with Al Perry at Plush; after our set, Al comes up to me and said, Wow, you guys are a rock band!'"
As the band's debut CD, Vistas (Surface of the Sun), demonstrates, gHosT cOw are, indeed, a rock band, one influenced by '60s rock, particularly of the garage and psychedelic varieties. Check out, for example, "Not About Me," a vintage organ-drenched blazer that recalls the '80s paisley underground bands of Los Angeles, particularly the Dream Syndicate. "Nothing Happens," which opens the album, is a rave-up steeped in '60s-era tropes like Farfisa organ, surf-style background vocals, jangly guitar and handclaps, and includes one of the best single-line summaries of Tucson ever: "Where muddled dreams are driven by the heat into space."
Whether it's the work of the band or of Jim Waters--who produced, engineered and mixed the album--I don't know, but there are little flourishes here and there that save certain songs from being also-rans. Case in point is "Release," which, at 4 1/2 minutes, is the longest song on Vistas and may have gotten lost among some of the other tunes if it weren't for the vibraphone that sucks you into paying closer attention. Once you're tuned in, though, it's difficult to resist its eerie charms, which are contrasted with cheerful backing "doot-doo"s. Likewise, "Smiley" grabs you with its Bo Diddley beat and blues harp, and some almost-jazzy piano-playing draws you into the Dave Prival-penned "Ringtone" and the quirky "We Got Something." Judging from Vistas, gHosT cOw have got something, indeed.
gHosT cOw celebrate the release of Vistas by performing at The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave., on Friday, May 9. Little Sisters of the Poor and Greyhound Soul will also perform. Admission is $5. For further details, call 623-3200.
THE FLEETING POWER OF LOVEBrett Dennen is a California-born 20-something who is unique among the current crop of radio-friendly singer-songwriters for being both visually and vocally androgynous. He arrives in town this week still riding high off the success of his second album, 2006's So Much More (Dualtone), which has spawned hits such as "Darlin' Do Not Fear," "She's Mine" and the current single, "Ain't No Reason."
What Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is" was to the Reagan years, "Ain't No Reason" is for the Dubya ones: a blanket proclamation of what's wrong in society, where our leaders have gone wrong, and where we're in a desperate state of ennui and helplessness. Hornsby's premise was that just because things have always been rotten, just because the poor guy is still poor (and probably always will be), that's no reason to sit by and accept it. Hornsby catalogued societal ills, then shrugged it off with what passed for a call to action in the Reagan years: "That's just the way it is," was followed by, "Oh, but don't you believe that."
In "Ain't No Reason," Dennen starts with Hornsby's premise: "There ain't no reason things are this way / It's how they always been and they intend to stay / I can't explain why we live this way / We do it every day." But where there was a hint of apathetic dismissiveness in Hornsby's use of only one line to clarify his agenda, at least Dennen's got a solution--albeit one that dates back at least as far as man walking on two legs.
After his own cataloguing of the Bush-inflicted societal ills ("Preachers on the podium speakin' of saints / Prophets on the sidewalk beggin' for change ... people walk around pushing back their debts / wearing paychecks like necklaces and bracelets"), comes Dennen's big reveal: "Love will come set me free," he sings in that slightly raspy, gender-neutral voice. Maybe it's because he repeats the line more often than Hornsby did his, but Dennen actually sounds convincing, like maybe love really is all it takes to get us through these days of war, recession, the health-care crisis, peak oil, etc., etc., etc. Then the song is over, and you realize, wait ... love? Really?! And the cynicism returns.
But for those 3 1/2 minutes, you believe that the solution really might just be as simple as love. And, really, isn't that what a song is supposed to do?
Brett Dennen shares a bill with Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins at 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 11, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Tickets for the all-ages show are $16 in advance, available at the venue's box office, rialtotheatre.com or by calling 740-1000. Use the same number for questions.
GUITAR GODMoris Tepper, whose CV as a guitarist is one of the most impressive, like, ever, has played sideman to the likes of Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Frank Black, Robyn Hitchcock and PJ Harvey. He's also released four solo albums, which I've described before as "at once challenging and pleasing to the ear: swampy ballads and off-kilter square dances, quiet interludes abruptly interrupted by burps of noise, and back again, with his leathery voice guiding the audience on a whirlwind tour of absurd tall tales amidst the cacophony." The newest of those albums, Stingray in the Heart, was released last month.
Moris Tepper performs at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Saturday, May 10. Golden Boots and Metal open the all-ages show at 8 p.m. Admission is $7. Call 884-0874 for more info.
A HUMBLE REFERENCEIn one of the most humble e-mails I've ever received, Ian Williams of local band The Runaway Five wrote to give me a heads-up on a show his group is playing this week with Santa Fe's D Numbers. He stressed that he wanted all the attention to go to D Numbers, saying that the band "deserves more attention than they currently get," and that "this is in no way a ploy to get my band mentioned." He provided a link to D Numbers' MySpace page so I could hear how great they were myself, but unfortunately, for some reason, I can't seem to squeeze any music from it. Hopefully you can, but if you can't, just know that Ian says you should go to this show. Mata Leao start things off at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 11, at Dry River Collective, 740 N. Main Ave. The show is all-ages, and you can learn more by heading to dryriver.org.