Chick Magnates

Powerful performances from The Weaker Sex

"Novel" is a word rarely used to describe bands in the Valley music scene. And while, strictly speaking, The Weaker Sex is not a "novelty act," it boasts a membership that's already raising curious eyebrows around town.

Led by longtime local rockabilly kitten Ruth Wilson, The Weaker Sex is an all-girl group (a rarity in itself) playing authentic roots music (another rarity) with stellar results.

The band, which debuted last month, is quickly -- and we're talking in the course of three shows -- gaining a white-hot reputation. Much of that is due to the participation of veterans like Wilson, vocalist/fiddler Heather Rae Johnson -- who fronts her own hillbilly troupe, the Moonshine Boys -- and singer Erica Cluff. The three women form a front line which, even in its infancy, has flashed the kind of appeal and drawing power that the retro-roots community has long craved.

Big wheel a-rollin': The Weaker Sex, from left, Erica Cluff, Heather Rae Johnson, Tessa Chapparone, Ruth Wilson and Krissy Packard.
H.D. Duke
Big wheel a-rollin': The Weaker Sex, from left, Erica Cluff, Heather Rae Johnson, Tessa Chapparone, Ruth Wilson and Krissy Packard.
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it: Bash & Pop aims to send uppity Canuck DiFolco packing.
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it: Bash & Pop aims to send uppity Canuck DiFolco packing.

The rest of the outfit includes a couple of relative novices: guitarist Krissy Packard, and Tessa Chapparone, the daughter of Bruce Connole, who is Wilson's friend and former bandmate. (Cluff shares a Connole connection as well -- she is the Revenants singer's former girlfriend.)

Wilson followed her departure from Connole's bluegrass side band, the Pearl Chuckers, earlier this year with a series of short-lived endeavors, including Blue Ruin and an ill-fated pairing with Tucson swing combo Kings of Pleasure. She's optimistic about the early response The Weaker Sex has received; the fevered whooping and hollering of the packed and mostly male crowd at its most recent gig was especially telling.

After only a couple shows and with a pair of ingénues in its midst, the band is a touch unpolished musically. However, its live act leaves nothing to be desired as far as showmanship or precision. From the matching country-gal outfits to its onstage setup to its repartee with the crowd, the band is a calculated and unqualified hit. Wilson admits that the presentation is further along than the group's sound, but she believes the latter is progressing quickly.

As one might expect, the band sticks close to the country genre, playing a mixed set of strum-and-twang originals ("El Ropa," "Lyin'" and "Invitation") and standards like "I Fall to Pieces," "You Ain't Woman Enough" and a gender-bending take of "Good Hearted Woman."

The group has already begun recording, having completed a two-song demo that effectively showcases its exquisite three-part harmonies.

The Weaker Sex takes the stage twice this week; first on Thursday, September 14, at Long Wong's in Tempe, opening for Heather Rae and the Moonshine Boys, and then on Saturday, September 16, sharing a bill with Grave Danger at Nita's Hideaway, also in Tempe. Showtimes for both are 9 p.m.

Sun Rise:Tireless local blues/roots icon Hans Olson has a new project. Olson -- who celebrated his 30th year performing in the Valley last fall -- and J. Paul Duplantis have formed Sun Club Records (named after the lamented Tempe nightspot Olson once owned). The new venture means that Olson's former label, Blond Sun Records, which has released the bulk of the bluesman's material since the mid-'70s, will cease to operate.

The first effort from the fledgling Sun Club imprint is The Best of Hans Olson Volume 1, a compilation spanning some 27 years of the singer's career that collects a handful of out-of-print gems. The disc includes 18 originals, plus a duet with Brownie McGhee on the late guitarist's own "Come On If You're Coming."

Especially intriguing are a number of older, long-forgotten tracks. They include "You Wish" from Olson's 1981 EP The Aspen Tapes, featuring sideman-to-the-stars Al Kooper on organ; a soulful live reading of "Arizona (What Are You Doing Tonight?)" from 1977, recorded at Tempe's Lil' Abner; and the house-rockin' "When I Get the Blues," which boasts guitar work from Brit twang master Albert Lee.

Olson will celebrate the release of Best of Vol. 1. with a performance party this Saturday, September 17, at the Arizona Roadhouse in Tempe. Showtime is 8 p.m. There is no cover. The record can be purchased at the show, or online at the company's Web site, www.sunclubrecords.com.

Joey, Baby! Nationally renowned jazz organist (and Scottsdale resident) Joey DeFrancesco makes a rare local appearance this Monday, September 18, at the Rhythm Room. The just-announced date will feature two 75-minute sets from DeFrancesco and his backing trio. The show begins at 8 p.m.

DeFrancesco, who helped revive the jazz organ in the late '80s and early '90s with his masterful Columbia platters, All of Me and Where Were You?, continued to push the form recently with Goodfellas(Concord Jazz), a collection of Italian songs filtered through swing and funk.

DeFrancesco's latest effort finds him moving away from Mafia-inspired grooves and instead paired up with his greatest musical inspiration, Hammond B-3 master Jimmy Smith.

The duo's newly issued Incredible! is just that. The disc is a live meeting of the genre's two giants recorded at the 1999 San Francisco Jazz Festival. Released on Concord in June, the album was greeted by reviews hailing it as one of the best soul-jazz experiences of the past decade.

DeFrancesco returns to Phoenix after months spent blazing the national and international summer jazz-festival circuits. After the Rhythm Room gig, he returns to a road schedule that will take him to the Midwest, plus a series of New York dates with six-stringer Pat Martino.

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