By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
1. The Sport Model
This four-piece Tempe band evokes all the mid-'60s hyperactivity of British power-pop with enough '90s crunch to avoid sounding like a retro anachronism. The members inked a deal with locally based indie NMG Records last October, and they're putting together tracks for a full-length release later this year.
2. Les Payne Product
A guitar-drums duo which combines slacker-funk grooves with a surreal, off-kilter sense of humor and an unmistakable appreciation for show-biz razzle-dazzle. Its recently released, self-titled, six-song EP on Aviator Records captures the band in all its lovably bizarro splendor.
3. Jesus Chrysler Supercar
These guys nicely fill the void between punky alt-rock attitude and old-school hard-rock brawn, amply demonstrated on their 1997 album Latterday Speedway. Theirs is also one of the few bands on the planet able to cover Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" without sacrificing its dignity.
4. The Jennys
This band changes names and lineups like Jerry Lewis discards socks, but whether you like the members better as a trio or in their current incarnation as a quartet, whether you call them The Jennys or still refer to them by their old moniker, Spinning Jenny, you can't escape the sharp songwriting ability of band leader Stephen Easterling. The brainy pop of the band's second album, last year's Dandelion, drew a rave in Amplifier magazine, an assessment backed up by the devoted Jennyheads who pack Long Wong's and sing along with Easterling's every word.
5. Vic Masters
Formerly known as "The Morose One," this Valley Renaissance man recently rechristened himself "The Lively One" (or Mr. Gitty-Up Go, if you're nasty), and his newly sunny disposition has worked wonders for his career. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, critic, graphic artist and karaoke Zen master, Masters might be as close as we'll ever come to knowing what kind of offspring might have resulted from an unholy union of Elvis Costello and Joey Heatherton.
6. Seven Storey Mountain
This quartet specializes in spare, propulsive punky rhythms and the finely honed guitar latticework of Lance Lammers and Jesse Everhart. Lammers and Everhart formed the band four years ago, but the band has changed shape several times since then, enduring a couple of traumatic departures from Lammers and the addition of singer-bassist Aaron Wendt. With Lammers now back in place, and Wendt adding vocal muscle, this band has put together a strong new CD and hit a new peak onstage.
1. Big Nick and the Gila Monsters
This veteran band has been a pillar of the Phoenix blues scene for years. The Gila Monsters veer between straight-ahead 12-bar blues and brassy, uptown swing. Holding their eclectic sound together is some of the tastiest--and most tasteful--lead-guitar work around.
2. Big Pete Pearson
The godfather of Valley blues, this ultracharismatic, walking history of the form will soon hang up his six-string and pack up his belongings for Maine after holding court in Phoenix for three decades. His gritty authenticity and larger-than-life persona will be sorely missed.
3. Hans Olson
One of the creators of a local blues scene since his arrival in Phoenix in 1969, Olson is a harmonica wizard who specializes in haunting, understated folk blues. Olson is a journeyman in the best possible sense, honestly plying a trade for modest rewards, and invaluably enhancing the development of Phoenix blues.
4. Henry "Mojo" Thompson
An unsung figure in Phoenix music history, Thompson sang with the legendary late-'50s doo-wop group The Tads. After years of inactivity, Thompson has returned to the local music scene, playing bass and fronting a brassy, uptown rhythm-and-blues band that's sneaking up on Valley audiences.
5. Sistah Blue
This quintet stands out not only because it's the Valley's only all-female blues act, but also because its highly danceable modern blues is uniquely compelling. Any fools who would question its authenticity or command of the idiom need only see harp player Rochelle Raya cut loose on a solo.
1. Cousins of the Wize
One of the rising stars on the local scene, this band stacks psychedelic, jazz-based grooves beneath the smooth rapping of front man, and former Brothers Grim leader, Pie Gomez. The members' nomadic musicianship and experimental tendencies are explained by bassist Steve Faulkner, who says, "If we end up having to be in any one musical category, then we want to create a new category."
2. Know Qwestion
Two aspiring rappers join forces with a visionary producer and the result is what this hip-hop collective likes to call "revolutionary rhymes, evolutionary beats." Their long-awaited debut album Eclipse answers all questions as to their creative mettle.
3. Underground Empire
True to its name, this group has been building an underground base, using spare beats to augment gritty, hard-core urban tales like "Late Night Hype" and "Shadow of Death."
1. The Revenants
Until recently this group was known as the Suicide Kings, and that name suggests the regal sense of desperation behind this music. For years, front man Bruce Connole battled his own demons while leading some of the Valley's smartest rock bands, but with The Revenants, he's found the perfect mouthpiece for his sad, self-effacing tales about how lonely it is at the bottom.
2. The Cartwheels
This band fell into place inadvertently, as local pop musicians--including Vic Masters keyboardist Jim Speros on barrelhouse piano--tried a honky-tonk one-off before deciding that they really liked this stuff. This band's beginning to make some noise with its expert songcraft, including the rocking "One Dozen Roses."