It's become a tradition around here. Every week, on Monday -- the worst of all days -- we bring you our Top Five Must-See Shows in Phoenix this week. You know, to help make it all bearable. Dig in, kiddos.
Alice Wallace calls her music folk more than country per se, but it's an approach where the boundaries can happily blur, in a background where Carole King and Crystal Gayle were always kissing cousins from the get-go. And after all, any album like Wallace's 2012 disc Sweet Madness that ends with a song called "A Little Yodel," which not only features that but is an explanation about how she learned to yodel in the first place, has got a high-and-lonesome background in there somewhere.
Both country and folk music as such are theoretically about tradition, but in reality are about what kind of traditions are used where; when so much of what's on the bill at a place like Stagecoach could be called classic rock or hair metal or adult contemporary in any other guise, the genre names means less than the overall sounds. Wallace and her backing band shift as the album goes, whether song for song or within a tune, in a sometimes genteel approach that's as much '90s singer/songwriter mode as country or folk roots -- a song like the title track seems like it could have been an adult album alternative hit up there with Sarah McLachlan or Shawn Colvin in another life.
There's a bit of tougher sass at plenty of points as well -- "Tell Me Something" benefits not only from that but some nice '60s R & B organ from guest Mike Malone, "That Was Me" starts off calm but gets sharper and more dramatic as verses build into choruses, "Baby I Do" and "Strange Town" takes a turn around low-key jazz and swing that Lyle Lovett could approve of -- and throughout Wallace happily revels in a voice that plays around with styles but always just plain sounds pretty good. So it's a traditional album, Sweet Madness, but one that uses a variety of traditions instead of just one and does so in engaging fashion. --Ned Raggett
In today's world of band breakups and makeups, getting together musically with your family members may be one way of ensuring your band stays strong. Such is the case with unsigned Philadelphia-bred Dinner and a Suit, a trio that's recently relocated to Nashville, where they recorded their sophomore album, Since Our Departure.
"We've really been best friends since we were born," says singer Jonathan Capeci, 24. "You know everything about every person in the band. You could get in fights and they could be like, 'Well, you pooped your pants in second grade,' but for the most part it's great."
The tight-knit vibe within the band, made up of three cousins, has paid off -- Dinner and a a Suit has heard its music played on MTV's The Real World and Jersey Shore before teen magazines came calling for interviews. Strong, emotive tracks about everything from friends' experiences to past loves keep listeners captivated, with pop rock hooks that are perfect for everything from live stages to reality television backdrops.
Sure, the guys all still have day jobs back home, working as servers and valets, but music is their passion, and the band currently embarked on their longest touring jaunt, a three-month expedition.
"We don't really care if we're signed or independent. We want everyone around us to be as passionate about the music as we are," Capeci says. "We've gotten offers before, and none of them have been right. We want to wait to find someone who really wants to work with us and be involved."
Decide for yourself whether they're worthy of national label attention when they play live in the Valley this week. --Nicki Escudero
Once again, it's a sort of apprenticeship with Woody Guthrie that's drawn Billy Bragg into a new realm. Thirty years since his debut, the seven-song Life's a Riot with Spy Vs Spy, Bragg is back with a new album, Tooth & Nail, out on Cooking Vinyl. Bragg calls the album an extension of the Mermaid Avenue project that paired him with Wilco to write and record music for song lyrics pulled from the vast archive Guthrie left behind.
"I do feel that this record has some connection with Mermaid Avenue and the songs I recorded with Wilco," says Bragg, taking a phone call in his Austin hotel room while relaxing before SXSW performances and a tour that will bring him to Phoenix for the first time.
"Woody Guthrie opened up a new door for me that I had never really been through. This record explores that roots music past what Mermaid Avenue also explored." Bragg recorded Tooth & Nail at producer Joe Henry's California studio, making good on a long-sought collaboration and a friendly dare.
"In 2011, I was thinking about how to approach this, and I thought I should give him a ring and take him up on his dare that [someone] could make a record in five days. I wasn't convinced of that," Bragg says. "I booked the dates and I put the money down and I came away with an amazing record. To come away with a great-sounding album; that really, to me, was beyond my dreams. He proved himself right, Joe did." -- Eric Swedlund
As this popular Internet meme so adeptly illustrates, there is a big difference between what a touring band actually does, and what society and the band members' mothers and lovers think that they do.
Some members of society may be even more prone to projecting fantasies onto a band named Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band. No doubt, they are living the fun life, right? Right.
Also, though, they are working their asses off. "There is a little bit of a myth that being in a band on tour has all this glamor to it," says saxophonist Greg Hollowell. In reality, says Hollowell and the meme, the band spends lots of time doing stuff other than playing music, which is the activity that keeps their personal wheels rolling down the road.
"I can definitely speak for everybody," Hollowell continued, "when I say that we really love performing, playing music. We love interacting in that way with each other and our audiences."
Funk musicians make an especially friendly offering as they perform. There is something inherent to that particular style of music that wants everybody it touches to loosen up, let go, and have fun. There is something healing about that.
"People have stress in their lives," says Hollowell, "I have stress in my life. It's cool to just get together and let loose. You know, that kind of thing." -- Travis Newbill
Nineties nostalgia -- with its flannel shirts, giant Gameboys, and crunchy guitars -- is upon us. The next "remember the days" wave will undoubtedly be for the late '90s/early 2000s, when nu-metal first took hold of the radio dial (it's held on ever since). So consider Coal Chamber, Sevendust, and Lacuna Coil's upcoming gig at Marquee Theatre to not only provide a "party like it's 1999" fix, but also something fresh for both old and new metal fans.
For almost 20 years, these three bands have reached various plateaus of success, and this tour is an ideal way to introduce younger fans of Sevendust's catchy, melodic, rock-driven sound to Coal Chamber's heavy downtuned guitars, noisy textures, and punk intensity. And, of course, the latter's older fans can easily take to Milan, Italy's Lacuna Coil, who've spun together gothic style, such influences as Beethoven and Meshuggah, and contrasting dual female and male harmonies since 1994.
"I haven't seen some of the Coal Chamber guys in 12 years," says Sevendust guitarist John Connolly. "I thought it was a joke at first. But then I was like 'Hell yeah!' It's reliving the early days."
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The tour follow the release of a brand new album from Sevendust, Black Out the Sun, and a return to touring for the veteran band.
"We had missed each other a lot. The break for us was a big step in the fact that we needed to remind ourselves, that if we didn't have this, how would feel?" says Connolly. "Sometimes you're touring and making so much music you don't take a second to appreciate what you have. It's a gift: five people still together after 15 years of releasing records and 18 years as a band." -- Lauren Wise