The Superstition Band's refusal to bow down before the altar of Top 40 hasn't hurt its critical acclaim. The band had been together just over a year when the Arizona Country Music Association voted it Band of the Year for 1995. Also, Snow received the Female Vocalist of the Year award, co-leader Richard Marx was named best male singer and pedal-steel guitarist Rob Hale took top honors in the instrumentalist category (Hale also plays harmonica, Hammond organ and dobro).

Songs to listen for include the catchy cheatin'-heart number "The Truth Is" and "Radio Queen," a lively two-stepper that spotlights the Superstition Band's lush harmony vocals.--Marsha Mardock

Best Etc.
Kongo Shock
There are many ways to get a band started. For Kongo Shock, it was as easy as the spin of a bottle.

This Phoenix-based ska band came together three years ago as an outlet for some local musicians looking to jam in an informal setting. "We'd all get together and go out to the desert to drink beer and play," explains guitarist Bob Noxious. "Before leaving, we'd spin something. Whatever direction it pointed was where we'd go. And we'd just keep going until we found a secluded place to play."

The music of the band that morphed from those impromptu confabs is an update of old-time ska, the jumpy, older relative of reggae. Mr. Noxious, along with fellow Shockers Dave Neal (trumpet and vocal), Shorty Huerta (trombone), Bart Applewhite (bass and percussion) and Jimmy Boom (drums), cranks out derivative but engaging dance music fueled by a casual, almost chaotic ambiance. That sense of impending, good-time anarchy is especially evident on the band's self-produced CD Dick Triple Flip, which was released last year.

Kongo Shock has plans for a Rocky Mountain tour through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah later this spring, and then a major summer swing up the West Coast.

At least that's the plan. Who knows where it'll wind up if things spin a different direction?--Ted Simons

Polliwog
Polliwog the amphibian is tiny. Polliwog the band is not. With a flush horn section and four to six other instruments (depending on who shows up), this musical collective sports funk-derivative, heavy-groove dance music that can be relaxing or invigorating--depending on the listener's mood. Those with a penchant for undulating like a wild child will not be left at the altar, but the sit-and-nod crowd is covered as well.

Guitarist Travis "skinnier than a praying mantis and worth his weight in dynamite" Brinster formed the core of this band two years ago with percussionist Dan Williams and sultry lead singer Tiffany Sullivan.

Polliwog took the name for its new CD, More Soul Than a Rabbit Factory, from one of Chico Chism's irrepressible onstage non sequiturs. According to Brinster, the band poured every last ounce of its energy, and money, into the ten-song collection. "All the sacrifices you could possibly imagine, we made," he says. "But it's worth it to capture that full a sound."--K. Denino

Suite No. 3
"The life of our music is all the different sounds and different peoples we have," says Suite No. 3 guitarist Medi. "That's our mark--the influence of so many cultures." Here's the breakdown: Medi, the guitarist, is Iranian. The keyboard player is Russian, the percussionist is German, and the bassist and drummer are American Heinz 57. And that's just the core group--Suite No. 3 also plays with a rotating pool of rappers, singers and horn players. Trying to nail down this band's sound is like trying to stuff a peacock in a pigeonhole. Acid jazz, hip-hop and ethnic folk are obvious influences, along with rock and funk.

Whatever it is, the Suite No. 3 sound was good enough for the Dallas Cowboys (or at least their entertainment director), who hired the band to play the team's Super Bowl victory party at the Buttes. Reba McEntire was in the house, but evidently she wasn't up for jamming. Just as well.--K. Denino

Dave Cook and Intensity
Bandleader and self-taught drummer Dave Cook has been the Pied Percussionist of traditional jazz in Phoenix for more than 35 years. Cook is currently at the helm of three ensembles--the 15-piece Atlantis Big Band; a Chicago-style quintet called Intensity; and the New Vanguard, a straightahead bebop five-piece. Each band takes a different path to the same destination--the smoky, late-night world of jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

"We try to do tunes by the great masters," says Cook. "And also tunes by underacknowledged composers. The music we play is analogous to a bridge. You must cross over this bridge if you are to have an awareness and understanding of what real jazz is about."

And what real jazz is about, says Cook, has little to do with guitar distortion. "Let me put it this way. A friend of mine says fusion is a misnomer, because they didn't put the 'con' in front of it. What we play is traditional, classical, mainstream jazz."--Marsha Mardock

Dr. Bombay
This contemporary jazz sextet takes its name from a character on the '60s sitcom Bewitched. True to form, the band concocts a potent instrumental brew of jazz laced with R&B, rock and Latin.

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