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Fourkiller Flats

Che's Lounge, Saturday, April 22

Che's Lounge--essentially a neighborhood watering hole that just happens to sit in the heart of the Fourth Avenue district, and which features free live music every Saturday night--is a slightly troublesome live venue. Most of its patrons go there for the friendly atmosphere, cheap drinks and speedy service, not to see live music. This makes it tough for the bands, which are often regarded as mere background music, a live jukebox that sets a tone for the evening, and not much more.

Last Saturday, that task fell upon Fourkiller Flats, a country-rock band that was once regarded as one of Tucson's most promising acts, before inexplicably disintegrating a few years ago. They've finally officially regrouped; they've been playing out with some regularity, and have even written a handful of new songs. A cursory look around Che's during their performance said everything: Even those in the back of the room seemed to be there specifically to see them. They're as beloved as they ever were, with good reason.

As a unit, these five guys simply click. Individually, they're all talented players--especially noteworthy is lead guitarist Neal Bonser, whose playing can seem both dense and understated at the same time--but it's hard to imagine any of them finding a better vehicle than this one. Still, there would be no Fourkiller Flats without singer, guitarist and primary songwriter Jim Cox, who was born to play this type of music, from his nicotine-gravied voice to his grasp of the memes of the genre--and perhaps best of all, his ability to write memorable songs.

The Flats stuck mostly to tried-and-true favorites, but a funny thing happened during the band's hiatus: What were once fine songs have been transformed into timeless classics. "The Cat Song" is a goofy take on the typical country breakup song ("You can take the cat, and I'll take the sofa / You can take the records you bought for me, they don't sound the same") that now sounds as comfortably familiar as a family member's laugh. In the wrong hands, "National Vacation" could be a mere overlong power ballad, but these guys make it a gorgeous slow-builder that culminates in an explosive solo by Bonser. It's a plea for what the title suggests that doubles as a love song, and I dare you not to get a lump in your throat when Cox comes to the line, "I love you the most."

Here's hoping they're back for good this time.

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