Springsteen of the Southwest

Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers show love for Northern Mexico through their music

To listeners outside the American Southwest, the title of Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers's fourth album, ¡Americano!, might sound like little more than an overzealous order at Starbucks. Which probably doesn't much concern Clyne and the members of his Mesa-based band, as the album is designed to appeal largely to left-leaning Anglo rock fans near the U.S.-Mexico border region.

While the Peacemakers rumble convincingly through their spaghetti-Western-meets-power-pop fusion, Clyne's new songs evince a fascination with gringo poets, musicians and outlaws who aimlessly roam back and forth across the border.

A fan favorite in the Old Pueblo, Clyne and the Peacemakers will play their first Tucson gig of the year Saturday night at the Rialto Theatre. The group is touring to promote ¡Americano!, recently released on EmmaJava Recordings.

The gritty themes on ¡Americano! occasionally call to mind the aural version of one of those sepia-toned photos in which modern folks dress up in Old West garb. But as often as they seem like a costume, Clyne's tunes courageously explore subjects surrounding the condition of being a stranger in a strange land--an American expat south of the border.

Clyne and Co. draw from storyteller influences such as Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle. Country influences, a little Caribbean lilt and some maximum-R&B-style rave-ups are thrown in to spice things up.

Sure, alt-rock listeners in Tucson are familiar with such influences, growing up over the years with such artists as Chris Burroughs and the Sidewinders/Sand Rubies, and even Tempe's Gin Blossoms. But that familiar sound probably helped the Peacemakers build a strong local following during the last few years of gigging in Tucson clubs.

In case you didn't know, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers rose from the ashes of The Refreshments, a rockin' combo that flirted with national fame back in the 1990s. Clyne and drummer P.H. Naifeh are both veterans of that group, which also won no small amount of notoriety for penning and playing the theme to the animated TV show, King of the Hill.

After major-label record company shenanigans accelerated The Refreshments sell-by date, Clyne started a new band, and the singer-guitarist has become a something of a dusty bard of the Southwest. The other Peacemakers are lead guitarist Steve Larson (formerly of Dead Hot Workshop) and bassist Nick Scropos, a recent addition who has replaced Danny White (who held down the bottom during the recording of ¡Americano!).

With songs such as the title track (a metaphor for American imperialism and guilt), the outlaw-country of "Switchblade," the antiwar anthem "God Gave Me a Gun," the shuffling "Mexican Moonshine" and an encounter with a Mexican beach vendor, "Your Name on a Grain of Rice," Clyne is able to use the picturesque imagery of Northern Mexico as a vehicle for social and personal statements.

Clyne succinctly explained his love and reverence for our southern neighbor last week in an article in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Mexico is the landscape of the heart."

And, hyping the Peacemakers' recent performances in the New York City area, the New Jersey Star-Ledger said, "Roger Clyne is the Springsteen of the Southwest."

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