"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.
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.
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.
Surfin' U.S.A.: For those who pay allegiance to the weirded-out and trashed-up surf-rock scene and the likes of the Witchdoctors, Finks, and Go-Nuts, 1999 was a sad year -- it marked the final performance of the much-beloved Bomboras.
Now, three members of the neo-surf instrumentalist combo have reemerged as part of the legendary Invisible Men, those veterans of the 1950s horror flick-inspired surf-rock madness. The Invisible Men have returned to the road and studio after a three-year hiatus. Although it's long out of print, Boobie Prize Records' seven-inch Boots, Bikes, Bikinis is a minor masterpiece, and the group has just released its first long player, Who's Sorry Now?, on Blood Red Records.
The Invisible Men are scheduled to perform on Saturday, September 16, at the Lucky Dragon in Tempe, with the Peeps and Thee Oh No's. Fair warning, though: The Lucky Dragon has moved from its longtime University Avenue digs. The restaurant/venue's new location is 3316 South McClintock in Tempe. Although the Invisible Men show is an all-ages affair, the Dragon will be serving alcohol and Chinese food (what else?) until 1 a.m.
On a tangential note, local promoters have confirmed that Boston's mighty Real Kids -- one of the truly great pop-punk bands of the late '70s -- has confirmed an October 19 Valley appearance at the Emerald Lounge. The Emerald recently renovated its interior to include a larger stage space for its growing live-music calendar. Keep watching for further details on the show.
Oooooo Canada: Unless you've been in a media blackout for the past month, you know that KTVK-TV (Channel 3) reporter Claudia DiFolco has become something of a local sensation, gracing virtually every Valley publication (short of the one we really want to see her in, Playtime). She was even featured in this column briefly for her involvement in the infamous Ghetto Cowgirl "finger" incident, which aired live on NewShow.
But now DiFolco, apparently drunk on her newfound fame, has gone too far. She has questioned the integrity and veracity of an irreproachable journalistic institution -- yours truly.
In a September Java magazine interview conducted by editor Robert Sentinery (and, by the way, it's great to see Bob finally dealing with matters that have nothing to do with his own personal grooming or hygiene; if we could only get the Rep's Laurie Notaro to follow suit), DiFolco accuses Bash & Pop of incorrectly characterizing her as a music "critic." Responding to Sentinery's query about the challenge of covering local bands, DiFolco said, "When I don't like the music, I still respect the artist. I wasn't hired to be a music critic. That's another thing Bob Mehr from New Times got wrong."
This statement is simply ridiculous. We would never claim DiFolco to be a music critic. That would, by implication, mean we thought her talents included thought developed without the aid of a TelePrompTer, a laughable notion.
We simply suggested that for the public good, the NewShow's resident NewsTart should tone down her hyperbolic intros of mediocre bands, so the next time some misguided viewer goes to see a mook-fest-on-wheels like Souls of Present Grace, they won't expect the second coming of the Beatles.
Still, her offhand comment rankled. Gradually, our annoyance began to fester. Bent on revenge, we began doing a little research on DiFolco. First, we read Brian Smith's New Times cover piece on the glib chronicler of nightlife. Smith's portrait of DiFolco as a humble, chaste, well-educated gal who speaks 23 languages, inspires hordes of prepubescent fans and works at homeless shelters in between visits to the tanning salon didn't sway us, however. Yet, only a few paragraphs into the story, we found the dirt we were looking for.
It turns out DiFolco isn't even American, but rather -- dum, dum, dum -- a Canadian!
Neil Young and Kids in the Hall notwithstanding, Canada has been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in the history of the entertainment industry: Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Kiefer Sutherland, Celine Dion, Jason Priestley, Glass Tiger, Shannon Tweed, Barenaked Ladies, Brendan Fraser -- the list seems endless.
But Canadians are a crafty bunch. They know Americans' self-images are a reflection of television, films and music. Though the "fur backs" might never be able to conquer us militarily, they could still gain their victory through an invasion of a different kind.
It was clear now: DiFolco's meteoric rise to the heights of Valley celeb is just another attempt on the part of the nefarious Canucks to infiltrate and pervert our culture. Think about it -- she's cleverly disguised as an Italian.
Under our unified conspiracy theory, every city would get its own hot-ass Canadian news babe; soon, little girls across the country would want to act and dress just like them. There'd be leopard-print parkas in Orlando!
Then, like dominoes, the rest of our cultural pillars would begin to fall. We'd adopt the metric system; DeGrassi Junior High would replace Friends as "Must-See TV"; health care would be socialized; our bacon would change; the image of William Shatner would reside next to that of Thomas Jefferson on Mount Rushmore; ice fishing would be the latest rage; we'd all begin saying "aboot."
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If the idea of such a future is as appalling to you as it is to us, then let's take a stand together. In a move of patriotic activism, Bash & Pop has decided to set up a lobby to have Claudia DiFolco exiled back to her homeland. But we can't do it alone; we need your help. If you pledge just $25 to the "Deport DiFolco Fund," you'll receive a handsome "Claudia, Go Home, Eh?" bumper sticker, a very tight-fitting belly shirt, a monthly newsletter updating our progress and, most important, the satisfaction of knowing you've played a part in helping our country remain free from the clutches of these northern barbarians. (Though the "Deport DiFolco Fund" is a nonprofit political organization, please make your checks payable directly to me, Bob Mehr.)
Ask yourselves as Americans: How many more Howie Mandels must we suffer, how many more Alanis Morissettes must we endure, how many more Paul Shaffers must plague our airwaves before we, as a people, say enough is enough? Remember, our forefathers fought and died so we wouldn't have to live under the boot heel of people like Alan Thicke.
Thank you. And God bless America.