VOICE LESSONSWhen I first put Joanna Newsome's new CD, The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004, Drag City), into my stereo and hit play, I thought for sure it was on the wrong speed. Then I realized CD players don't have speeds and that mine must be on the fritz. But just as I was about to take the disc out and re-insert it, just to make sure that my player was actually broken, something happened: I realized that it was my ears that were broken, not the player.
Think about the first time you heard a singer with a completely unorthodox voice, say Billie Holiday (or, for that matter, Carol Channing), and the adjustment that your ears had to make before you could appreciate it. Such is the case with Newsome, whose voice is so girlish it makes Juliana Hatfield sound like Donnatella Versace (and occasionally reminds of--and this is no slam--a non-tone-deaf Alfalfa from The Little Rascals/Our Gang). Add to that well-crafted, poetic lyrics far too complex to emerge from such a voice (imagine a 10-year-old girl referencing Camus) and the fact that the only accompaniment for those lyrics, sung by that voice, is a concert grand harp, and you've got an artist so unique that it's utterly startling.
Joanna Newsome performs at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Sunday, April 4. Leila Lopez opens at 9 p.m. Admission to the all-ages show is $6. For more info, call 884-0874.
THREE TO GET READYSpringtime is traditionally a busy season for local acts to release new CDs, and this week, three Tucson acts do just that.
The parallels between Winelord and The Pork Torta--both reside on Bloat Records, that home-schooled bastion of musical misfit weirdos; both feature lyrics that are so intentionally stupid they're hilarious--are no accident: The Torta's Lucas Moseley produced Winelord's self-titled debut CD, and it shows. But where The Torta trades in danceable funk-rock, Winelord prefers danceable, metallic garage-rock. Musically, it certainly ain't reinventing the wheel, but it's good times nonetheless--and the times get even gooder after scanning the included lyric sheet. How many albums have you heard recently that pay homage to Sir Mix-A-Lot while discussing such highbrow topics as pot-bellied boyfriends, sex, underground drug tunnels, sex, clam dip, sex, plushies ("Bunny Suit"), drinkin', sex, druggin', sex, and rock-star cigars (whatever the hell that is)? Personal fave lyric: "She gives it, you take it / She shakes it, you bake it / You mow grass, she kicks ass / She's first class, you bus pass--Sun Tran motherfucker!"
Winelord celebrates its new CD with a release party at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 2 at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Your host for the evening is Bebe McPhereson, and The Pork Torta and Bob Log III will also perform. Cover is five bucks. Call 622-8848 with those itchy, burning questions. If you miss the show, pick up a Winelord CD at Toxic Ranch or Rocco's Little Chicago.
On his new album, Yeah Yeah Yeah, singer/songwriter Kevin Pakulis couldn't sound any more different than the New York City band he (probably doesn't even know he) references. Instead, he favors homespun tales of the trials and pleasures of being an everyman: the border patrol officer who lets a group of border crossers pass; multi-generational families dancing at the county fair; a simple guy coping with an Arizona summer (the title track, which includes the horrendous-on-paper lyrics "Outside of Tucson / Got my groove on / In the shadow of the Rincons ... It's hot here / Hot as hell here / Swamp cooler and a cold beer / I ain't sayin' we got it made / But we're gettin' there," yet still manages to emerge as one of the highlights of the CD. YYY benefits from generous, if relatively slick, production by Pakulis and Duncan Stitt, who also contributes keyboards, percussion and harmonies, never letting the rootsy arrangements get in the way of Pakulis' tales. If Tom Petty was from the Sonoran Desert instead of the Florida Everglades, he might sound something like this.
Kevin Pakulis holds a CD release party on Saturday, April 3 at Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave. The Carnivaleros open at 8:30 p.m. For further details, call 690-0991 or log onto www.kevinpakulis.com.
And finally, though we hadn't received a copy of the CD at press time, we wanted to alert you to the fact that The Ballad of Johnny Glenn will be performing at a release party for their new disc this week as well. Glenn and co. will perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Thursday, April 1 (that's tonight, folks), following an opening set by Clif Taylor and preceding a closing one from Sugarbush. Admission is $3, and the evening kicks off at 9:30 p.m. Questions? Call 798-1298.
NOSTALGIC NEILYeah, I know you think Neil Sedaka is a dork, if you think of him at all. But you're only partially right. He's written some truly amazing--if rather cheesy--songs. If you worked in the Brill Building, you had to. It's where your next sandwich was coming from. You had no choice.
The legacy of the Brill Building is astounding. In a single block in New York City in the late 1950s and early '60s, songwriters, usually in teams of two or three, would do their job, cranking out song after song of Tin Pan Alley-meets-pop/rock confections, while the singers (and studio musicians) would do theirs. A full list of songs produced on that block, in that era, would completely blow your mind.
Sedaka, then, who wrote with his partner, Howard Greenfield, was one of the few Brill songwriters who performed his own compositions. Even in their day, songs like "Calendar Girl," "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," "Oh! Carol," and "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen" were some of the more innocent-themed to emerge from the building, but today, they're downright quaint, reminders of a bygone era when your schoolboy crushes didn't sport navel rings.
Once the British Invasion hit these shores, the hits stopped rolling in for Sedaka, though in the '70s, he scaled the charts with "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," "Bad Blood," a duet with Elton John (Sedaka was then recording for John's short-lived Rocket Records), and, with Greenfield, co-wrote "Love Will Keep Us Together" for the Captain and Tennille. His catalog of hits, though, has assured him a lifetime of nostalgia tours.
See Neil Sedaka perform the hits at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7, at The Diamond Center at Desert Diamond Casino, Interstate 19 and Pima Mine Road. Advance tickets for the all-ages show start at $27, and are available at the casino's box office or by calling 393-2799 or 866-DDC-WINS. For more information, call the latter number or log onto www.desertdiamondcasino.com/ Entertainment.
ON THE BANDWAGONA trio of worthwhile indie bands take to the stage of Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Wednesday, April 7. Headliners the Starlight Mints dodged early comparisons to The Flaming Lips with their most recent effort, last year's eclectic Built on Squares (Gammon); middle-slotters Dressy Bessy specialize in ebullient, feel-good bubblegum pop and are even better live than on their always-charming records; and openers The Deathray Davies, while paying homage to The Kinks with their name, actually sport a neo-psych California drone-pop sound. Things get underway at 9:30 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $8 at the venue, all Ticketmaster locations, www.ticketmaster.com, or by calling 321-1000. They'll be $10 on the day of the show. For more info call 798-1298.
Seventies-obsessed stoner-rockers Nebula make their annual trek to these parts this week, as well. If nature allowed Iggy Pop and Ozzy Osbourne to conceive a love child, it would emerge (from God knows where) sounding a little something like this, earplugs in place. Catch 'em along with the equally heavy locals Great American Tragedy at 9:30 p.m. next Thursday, April 8, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Cover is $8. That number again is 798-1298.