BEST CLUB FOR BLUES 2003 | The Rhythm Room | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
If, as its faithful devotees seem to believe, the blues is a religion, then the Rhythm Room, at least for Phoenicians, is church. And this church, as club owner and gifted harmonica player Bob Corritore would have it, knows no limit to its worship. In July, the club hosted a live recording session featuring Robert Lockwood Jr., who at 88 is the last living Delta bluesman of note and, with his history as a Chicago session man in the 1950s, finger-picking style and love for 12-string guitar, is perhaps the most influential blues guitarist of the 20th century. The club's warm, full acoustics lent an added layer of gravitas to the proceedings, as did the presence of singer Jessi Colter -- Waylon Jennings' widow -- local blues guitarist Paris James, storied jazz drummer Chico Chism and local standouts like the Rocket 88s' Bill Tarsha in the audience. It was the most extreme recent example of what is on display constantly at the Room -- a love for the music, the Valley's most diverse crowd and the gleeful Corritore, who in his tastefully loud shirts and slicked black pompadour is an impossibly cool cat.

Readers' Choice: Rhythm Room

Zia, a long-standing Valley institution, caters increasingly to buyers of new CDs, as its stores feature listening kiosks for new material and displays new discs along its back walls. But never fear -- this is still the prime spot to find bargain used CDs at prices from $8.99 and up. The selection is wide-ranging -- local jewels like the Gin Blossoms' New Miserable Experience, classic rock from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, already-discarded new releases from the Linkin Parks and Evanescences of the pop globe, and under-the-radar indie releases from Adam Green, the Gossip and others no one will care about in five years. Zia also keeps its shopping experience music-geek acceptable, merely stacking CDs on old shelves, loosely alphabetizing them and mixing the used in with the new to supply their customers with a little work ethic in making their purchase.

Readers' Choice: Zia Record Exchange

Bruce Connole of Tempe bluegrass band Busted Hearts is cooler than you. His polished white-and-black wingtips are the kind you generally see only in early photos of Elvis the aspiring hillbilly singer. They can blind you with the glare, even in a dark barroom full of blurry drunks. They're beautiful, and in this case, they seem to define the man -- a casually mesmerizing anachronism and veteran of Valley music wars. Once you see this hepcat time machine, you'll want to run to the nearest vintage clothing store to buy your own wingtips.

The digital age has given classical and chamber music its best-ever recording quality and fidelity, yet the masters are still getting the short shrift by technology. With LED display push-button car stereos and receivers tuning in whatever signals aren't putting up too much of a struggle, it's near impossible to find a station in Phoenix that gives a flyin' fugue. The only way we found listener-supported classical KBAQ-FM 89.5 (or "K-Bach") was to get a cheap portable radio with a turn dial that sweeps across the airwaves like an old broom that knows where all the corners are. And we had to scan counterclockwise from right to left -- the other direction got us stuck in a frequency that merged a Tejano station with Bible-thumping evangelists. But were we ever delighted to catch Gabriel Fauré's "Requiem Opus 48" in its entirety at a late morning hour where you'd be lucky to hear the long version of "Light My Fire. " And we heard Schubert, Dvorák and Chopin, all without radio edits. As for specialty programming, the noon lunch hour offers a daily Mozart Buffet, 5 p.m. drive time is occupied by NPR's Performance Today, and live symphony simulcasts at the stroke of 7.

Classic rock in the commercially viable sense is deader than the Soviet Union. With hip-hop, drum machines and jailbait starlets on the front burner, it ain't coming back, either. But, like a good mummy, classic rock is a well-preserved music, as radio stations all across the country honor thy Crosby Stills & Nash and keep the coked-out sounds of the '60s and '70s alive.

We're especially blessed in the Valley to have a classic rock station that appreciates the serenity of the mad-ass car bop to the nth degree. KSLX is heavy on the big chunky-butt riff and on the weirdness that is psychedelia. For instance, there can't possibly be another station on Earth that plays more Eric Burden and the Animals or Electric Light Orchestra than our very own baby-boom-honoring programmers at KSLX. If you catch the DJs at their most tender (or perhaps most bored) moments -- say at 3 a.m. or 2:15 p.m. -- you might hear something truly double-take-inducing -- 10-minute prog-rock opuses by Traffic or even Elton John, or perhaps album cuts that almost never get airtime (think the totality of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours).

Readers' Choice for Best Radio Station -- Rock: KUPD-FM 97.9

Since blues music by design doesn't pack many surprises -- you know, 12 bars, repeated first line, misery and horndog sentiments -- it's up to the clubgoer to come up with the variations. With an assortment of blues establishments and institutions in place in Phoenix for decades, it's hard to find a new blues hangout that's underground enough to spotlight new talents and yet doesn't feel like a beer palace that changes into a sports bar at the clang of a bell.

Monroe's has the underground part worked out -- can you recall the last club in the Valley that's a walk-down? We can't, either. Using this subterranean advantage, it's possible to slip in at happy hour and feel you're in a blues cellar in St. Louis where the 115-degree sun can't catch you crying in your beer. Monroe's has played host to bands like Hot Ice and Morgan City General, a blues duo from Iowa that plays there every Wednesday night, but to anyone whose introduction to the blues was the Robert Johnson boxed set, it's the romantic notion of a musician with one hell-hounded trail that brings people to Monroe's modest suds cellar.

Located in a two-building strip mall next to a family-owned convenience store, the Rogue modestly sits south of ostentatious downtown Scottsdale. When the Rogue replaced the Blue Ox last year, a diminutive, wall-mounted jukebox set the new hole apart from its predecessor. Selections from the Stooges, Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies, the Descendents, the Dead Kennedys and early Social Distortion -- what hard-core jukebox would be complete without the anthem "Mommy's Little Monster"? -- make this 'box the champ. Rockabilly and psychobilly complete the 'box's selection.

Naturally, the rad jukebox portends the occasional live act that graces the bar. A small corner stage presents bands that delve in anything from retro-psychedelia to old-school fist-pumping "gabba gabba hey" punk.

Long Wong's remains an old faithful, supporting promising bands seven days a week in its delectably cramped 99-person-capacity confines. These days, pop craftsmen Gloritone, noise-core rockers Hot Fought Cold, bluegrass ensemble Busted Hearts and satirical metalheads Steppchild are among the old jangle-pop headquarters' mainstays. Tempe, with its smoking ban and redevelopment goals, may now be roadhouse unfriendly, but Wong's is like a cockroach in the framework -- its devotion to rock 'n' roll and good drunken times may never die.

Readers' Choice: Nita's Hideaway

For amateur hip-hop hopefuls, O'Mallys is tantamount to Ed McMahon's auditioning den. The club, essentially a sports bar tailored to an urban-music-loving crowd, with dance floor and plush booths thrown in with the pool tables and televisions, holds open nights for DJs and for rappers, the latter of which culminates with single-elimination freestyle battles between the combatants. By the end of the night, there's one man left standing; even if he offered nothing but bugged-out corny stuff, at least he was better than everyone else. House DJs who spin popular beats from the old school and beyond, and cheap bottles of Hennessey and Cristal give the Arizona hip-hop head the feeling that we out here in cactus-and-saloon town do actually have a place in the bangin' universe.

It wouldn't take that much research acumen to find out who Burton Barr is, but we prefer to think of him as a home bootlegger's best pal. While the Recording Industry Association of America continues its crusade against those dirty downloaders, we prefer to fatten our CD and DVD collections the old-fashioned way -- we buuuuuuurrrrrrn them! And the best collection available of the little silver disc devils is at the aforementioned BB's on Central. We found fairly recent titles from the likes of the Shins, the Hives and Stephen Malkmus and lots of hole fillers for our collections that could be gotten without tying up a phone line. Don't want to splurge for a four-CD boxed set during a recession? Boxed sets of Sinatra's Columbia years, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds Sessions and the recent Buffalo Springfield retrospective are available, although any set with more than three discs is usually separated as individual CDs, so you might have to acquire and burn them on the installment plan. As for DVDs, new titles seem to appear and disappear daily -- we found new releases like Bridget Jones's Diary, the refurbished Lady From Shanghai and A Hard Day's Night, multiple Monty Python titles and the Godfather trilogy, but way too many Poirot mysteries for our liking. And though it behooves us to tell you where you can find some of the newest and most eclectic titles, we kind of wish you didn't know about the Teen Central library on the fourth floor, which is supposedly for kids but features titles by Laura Nyro, Captain Beefheart and the Ink Spots. If you find a kid digging those, adopt him and call him Clarence.

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