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Tucson sounds

Spring listening party: Localism begins in your earbuds

In the Before Times, March and April were when touring bands would begin to make their spring treks to and through Tucson and Phoenix en route to whatever major festivals they were scheduled for and the various tour dates they’d booked along the way.

And while fewer bands seem to be touring this year and fewer venues are available to book, it appears that unlike the first couple years of the pandemic era, 2022 will have a festival season indeed. 

Your friendly local music scribe will have more to say on that subject in the coming weeks, but for now it only means one thing. Local bands are debuting new music. Some in anticipation of launching their own spring mini-tours, others wanting to make connections with bands passing through and some just because they’ve been sitting on their new tracks for months and March is always a good time to put out a record. 

And your humble columnist, freshly awakened from hibernation and slightly bored of listening to the usual Bowie tracks and streaming radio, is more than ready to listen to ALL of it. So bring it on, local bands. It’s time for another listening party.

Freezing Hands - 'It Was A Good Run'

The Freezing Hands are and always have been one of the best-kept secrets in the Midtown Island Studios industrial complex. But unlike their more gig-happy peers around town, they sure do take their time to make an album. Then again, it's usually worth the wait and laden with tiny subliminal tributes to the dozens of records the band listened to over countless hours sipping beers on the back porch at Midtown Island Studios before at long last committing these songs to tape.

Case in point, the band's latest release "It Was A Good Run." Opening track "Too Good For Too Long" channels some serious Cars/Elliot Eastman vibes before the whole endeavor makes a sharp West Coast turn with echoes of the Nerves/the Knack/the Quick and similar gems of early '80s L.A. power-pop tempered by some Cheap Trick and Big Star, a healthy level of Townshend/Moon inspiration, some Kinks and baroque-era Stones, a little Shangri Las and more than the occasional dose of Beach Boys harmonic reverie throughout the rest of the proceedings.

Add some tasty pop guitar hooks and Travis Spillers' unmatchable gift for penning perfectly snide, perfectly catchy lyrics and you're in for a damn good listen that sounds nothing like any of the influences I've just mentioned but is somehow the distillation of all of that and more. Kinda like a 20 year cask of Scotch in an oak barrel or a good San Francisco sourdough. But a hell of a lot louder.

Hank Topless - 'Thank Your Dirty Stars'

Tucson's original outlaw country troubadour is proudly back at it, with his usual wit and hellfire plus a little added verve and venom courtesy of a couple of years of committed sobriety and the off-the-rails cow-punk energy of backing band the Dead Horseman and expert production by Jim Waters of Waterworks Studio. While Hank's last couple of releases have been somewhat reverential to his country and rockabilly forebears, there's a little more edge and smiling snarl to this album in the best of ways. Hank and crew have always been the perfect accompaniment for lamenting your failures and the loves and friends and places you've lost, but this album is a soundtrack for gloriously burning bridges and forging new paths and realizing you deserved better the whole damn time.

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The Southern Arizona house-party youth band explosion of just a couple years ago was dealt a heavy blow by the pandemic, especially as many of the bands' members were also leaving the safety of high school rebellion for awkward adulthood.

While more than a few of those bands haven't survived the transition, some going out with a bang and some with a whisper, a few have stalwartly soldiered on. Those few include Annie Jump Cannon, a young band known for its energetic, performances at many a DIY show in the Before Times. The band's third album "Flourishing Apart" is a solid effort, still influenced by the lofi power-punk sound and confessional lyrics that many of its DIY peers have come to embrace. But there are also traces of nuanced rock and roll maturity, such as the Nada Surf-esque spoken word rant paired with improv jamming on "Eternal Friend" or the quiet, waltz-like ode to young slacker romance of the "Lilac In February" and the Bright Eyes style slow-fast-slow lament "Strawberry Fiona." Also, album closer "Buy A Star-Crossed Lovers Mug" includes what I'm pretty sure is a kazoo solo. And, honestly, how can you argue with a rock and roll kazoo solo?

Weekend Lovers - 'Father Figure’ (Remix)

Ok, this release isn’t a full album and it technically isn’t even a new single, having been the centerpiece of 2020’s “I Love U In Real Life.” But Marta DeLeon and crew continue what they excel at with this track, namely mining the idealized 1980s/90s pop landscape of their imagination and transforming it into something new and inspired for you to dance to. In the tradition of dance floor singles of yore, the Lovers and their label mates Slow Wave transform their original sexy soulful cover track into a certified, synth-powered bop that will wake up the dullest of parties and get everyone on their feet, even if the party’s just another Zoom happy hour.

Marianne Dissard - 'Won't You Please?'

If it seems like this column devotes a lot of space to once and future Tucson chanteuse Marianne Dissard, it’s simply because our semi-homegrown Bohemian nomad keeps making so much music, no matter where in the world she lands. And even from far-flung locales such as Paris and the south of England, the sultry Franco-American songstress shares the spotlight with a rotating cast of Tucson regulars. This time around, the sound takes a detour from the pop and rock and folk material that Dissard has been dabbling in of late, opting instead for dark and sultry jazz with a bit of gonzo flair. Imagine a decadent Parisian cabaret vocalist perfecting her craft in some Nick Cave-penned vision of Weimar Germany while fronting a band led by Django Reinhardt, ambient saw playing and the type of New Orleans jazz combo that always plays the best funerals.

Collaborators on the EP including Matt Mitchell, Marco Rosano, Beth Goodfellow and resident sand giant Thoger Lund. The resulting beautiful chaos assembled with care Midtown Island's Matt Rendon.

Best consumed with a cup of strong coffee, a basket of pastries and the finest edibles you can get your hands on on a lazy Sunday morning after staying up all night with your rock and roll friends.

Watercolor - 'Time and Space'

If you've been following my writing for long, you probably know about my "Dave Grohl" rule. If you're really incredible at something (like, say, playing drums in Nirvana) why go and screw it up by being a moderately talented, if likeable, arena pop frontman guy?

Mad respect to the late, great Taylor Hawkins for having had the balls to play drums in the band of a world-class drummer and all, but in spite of the individual talents of each respective Foo, I never did fall in love with Foo Fighters as a band. Their output always sounded to me like a group of nice guys having a fun studio jam session on a break from their "real" bands. The playing was high caliber and not really flawed in any way, but to me their songs never seemed to have any of the passion and gravitas of Nirvana, the Germs, etc.

The reason that I bring this up is that for a long time I used to hold the opinion that in a world where good, naturally talented, completely feral energetic drumming is a rare commodity, those that can do it should stick to it and if they want to write and sing, they should take a cue from Sheila E., Phil Collins and Anderson.Pak and sing from behind a kit. 

The problem with this kind of thinking, of course, is that it's directly against everything I stand for as an evangelist for DIY musicianship, punk rock ethos and eliminating pointless musical gatekeeping. So, with that in mind, screw my Dave Grohl rule. Unless you're Dave Grohl, in which case, I'm sorry for your loss, but also, please stop making boring songs with too many guitar players. You can do better, sir! But if you're not Dave Grohl, there's no shame in embracing the Mike Nesmith/Mike Watts rule of just trying out new, weird shit whenever the muse may strike. 

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Luckily, while my friends in Watercolor like me well enough, they're among the least likely to take my musical suggestions to heart and my infamous Grohl grousing did not dissuade former How to Build A Rocketship, Ghostlodge and Kicking Leaves drummer John Matzek from picking up a guitar, stepping behind the mic and recording this collection of smart, catchy, slightly psych-infused pop with some help from an assorted cast of friends, family and the occasional horn contribution from the most musical urban farm fowl in town. A current bandmate of Matzek, La Cerca's Andrew Gardener, sprinkles a fine mist of neo New Wave psychedelic fairy dust over it all and the Wizard of Waterworks (Jim Waters) makes it all sound pretty.

Where's the local listings?

Your friendly local music evangelist will soon be back to compiling her signature choice list of local music listings for those amongst you who are going stir crazy in the lonely late pandemic wastelands. 

In the meantime, check out the calendars for local venues like Che's Lounge, Saint Charles Tavern, Club Congress, 191 Toole, Rialto Theatre, Thunder Canyon Brewery, Tap & Bottle, MotoSonora Brewing Company and Sky Bar, among others. There will definitely be something worth your while this week!

Be safe, mask up, and stay home if there's a chance you might be sick. And for goodness sake, tip your bands and bartenders — it's lean times out there for live musicians!

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courtesy John Matzek via Facebook

Watercolor's Andrew Gardner and John Matzek model Covid-era band couture

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