Local music carries a stigma. "Local" conjures up visions of being trapped without a seat in a crowded bar with pushy waitresses and a bad band. Inevitably, such bands feel compelled to release album-length examples of what they can and, mostly, cannot do.

Local-music compilations try to solve that problem by piling up short, two-song bursts from a palette of local bands. Besides being a digestible sampler, local comps serve as valuable A&R snapshots to heave at record labels, management companies and the other officialdom of the music business. Not long enough to annoy yet not so brief as to be forgettable, compilations are a good way to efficiently cover a lot of musical ground.

Unfortunately, because of a couple of common pitfalls, few compilations become essential albums. For starters, most compilation producers allow the artists to select their own material. Bad idea. Self-criticism, particularly when it comes to "art," is difficult. Beyond that, some comps have sound problems. Many are assembled in the time-honored, low-budget, send-us-the-tape style. That means songs recorded in different studios, at different levels, by different engineers end up on one tape. Consistent-sounding they ain't.

Three new local comps solve these problems in different ways.

Various Artists
Studio Z Live
(Indio)

As local comps go, Studio Z Live is a better mousetrap. The recorded legacy of KZON deejay Mary McCann's local-music show of the same name, this album's 15 cuts were recorded in the same studio by the same engineer--the superb Clarke Rigsby. The sound quality is clear and consistent throughout. Best of all, everything here was recorded live to two-track, with no overdubbing or fixing. Like the old days of live television, mistakes and miracles mix.

What comes out of this disc, however, is the sound of 15 local acts doing themselves proud. Not surprisingly, the bands that play the most live shows ended up sounding the best. Club hogs like Rocket 88s, Hans Olson, Dead Hot Workshop and Spinning Jenny rip through their respective cuts with gusto. The musical variety here is impressive--everything from standard forms like blues, jazz and rock to between-the-cracks stuff like the breezy solo guitar and vocals of Joe Myers' "Jade" or the bloated, new-age jazz of Kevin Stoller's "Cry From the Depths." Nothing here rocks too hard.

With the help of a few musician friends, McCann herself gets into the act with a spoken word/music piece, "Saxophone Solo," a tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Most surprising cuts: "Razor's Edge," a convincing stab at a Robert Cray groove by the now-defunct reggae ensemble Morning Star; and "Swinging Shepherd Blues," by Duane Eddy compadre Al Casey. Some of the money raised by sales of this CD will go to St. Mary's Food Bank.

Various Artists
55 Miles From Mexico: The Tucson Arizona Sampler
(Houses in Motion)

Does Tucson really have a more vital music scene--in terms of creativity, not venues--than the Valley? It's a question that may never be answered. While we have the Meat Puppets and the Gin Blossoms to hold up, the Old Pueblo has a much older Giant Sand/Green on Red legacy to point to. In the end, it's probably a draw.

Lately, though, there are signs that Tucson music is getting stronger again. As snaphots of a scene go, the Sand Rubies' Rich Hopkins' latest project, 55 Miles From Mexico, is the best-sounding and best-looking single-city compilation I've latched onto in a long time. The key is Hopkins' implacable hand at the controls. The song choices, sound quality and even the graphics here are all on the mark. And, no, the Sand Rubies are not on this disc.

The list of who is, though, is outstanding. Tucson's long-standing history as the cradle of git-along cowpunk gets its due courtesy of former Naked Prey front mongrel Van Christian, whose "The Mouse That Roared" sounds like a country honk outtake from the Stones' Exile on Main Street sessions.

Other stylistic touchstones include muscular Brit-pop by Brilliant Fools (Responsible"), Amerindie guitarisms by Jefferson Keenan's always-superb Phantom Limbs (I Forget"), high-plains folk-rock by Stefan George (Line of Duty") and farfisa psychedelia by the Overcoat and its Jim Morrisonesque vocalist Tim Gassen.

The album's quieter moments work well. Caitlin Von Schmidt's "Every Heart Has a Doorknob," the Mean Reds' "Square Junction Fix" and Sand Rubies' David Slutes' "Salamander Man" all have their subtle charms.

A couple of cuts here even wallow in what's become a new Tucson subgenre--gutbucket, grease n' go cowbilly. Both Al Perry's harmonica-and-fuzz "Louisiana Blues" and Gila Bend's peppy, "Hot Rod Lincoln" knockoff, "Big Blue Ford," are boozin' and cruisin' sonic sonnets par excellence.

Various Artists
Ticked
(Big Tick)

Any songwriter worth his weight in minor chords will tell you that titles are a critical part of any composition. Take the wonderfully evocative, not to mention appetizing, "An Old Eyeball in a Quart Jar of Snot" by the Sun City Girls. Who cares what the song sounds like? With a title like that, you know it's essential.

That mind-altering listening experience is enough by itself to make Ticked worth having. But there's also real, listenable music here, as well.

The brain child of two members of Valley punk band Beats the Hell Out of Me, this collection of Beats' favorite groups is evenly split between bands from the Valley and Southern California. The two opening tunes on the album, "Painfully" and "I Can Tell," both by the Beats boys--who've just signed with Metal Blade Records--set the tone for much of what's to come. Kerosene 454, 100 Iced Animals, On Eleven and Spine all work in the same loud, punk-grunge mode, although in a less-accomplished and less-interesting way than the Beats. While none of these other bands is horrible, none is readily distinguishable from each other.

It's not too surprising that this disc's pair of standout tunes comes from Greg Sage-produced G-Whiz. Although this band's music has edges and volume, its brand of power pop definitely leans toward the tuneful end of the guitar-rock spectrum. The tune "Thrust" is this disc's best number.

Ticked also has the built-in marketing angle of being a collectible. Sun City Girl fans--a bizarre breed if there ever was one--will have to have it. Although their bodies now reside in Seattle rather than the Valley, the Gals' musical mentalities continue to orbit from beyond the asteroid belt. On their two exquisitely titled selections, "Sleazy Nashville" and the aforementioned ode de snot, these fiddling, noodling, art-rock denizens display the twangy side to their psychosis. While "Sleazy" has an actual sort of tune to cling to, "Eyeball" is more a phlegm-gurgling, free-association rant about eyeballs, grandpas and epiphanies like, "I am marooned in tomato juice." As with all SCG edifices, rational analysis of what you're hearing is impossible. It's best just to lay back, turn on the Lava Light and pray no one is reading your thoughts.

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