If you can get past Tramps and Thieves' bio -- which sounds like an old prospector took time off his day job at Rawhide to write it -- you'll find a band equally obsessed with the Old West and Southwest bar rock circa 1995. It's as if songwriters Emmett DeGuvera and J. Scott Howard did marketing research on what would play well at Long Wong's or Yucca Tap Room before moving here: acoustic songs of foolish heartache, with the occasional profound remark you can dwell on while peeing on your shoes in the parking lot. On Mill Avenue Cowboys, the band's just-minted six-song EP, these bearded Midwestern migrants tap into that Roger Clyne Zeitgeist with the zydeco-decked-out "Next Time," which promises, "The next time I decide to leave, you won't know 'til I'm gone." Guitarwise, the band manages a Western airiness like the Bernie Leadon-led Eagles on tracks like "Jesus (Shake My Shoulders)." Catch them at the Yucca sometime -- probably the last vestige of old Mill Avenue as old-timers remember it (aztrampsandthieves.com).
Speaking of landmarks, Hillbilly Devilspeak has been around for a decade, which should meet the criteria for some historical plaque from our fair city. Too bad these guys won't even get a thumbs-up from Kent Dana when they reveal LIES . . . as told by the white man, the title of their latest disc. Like a debating team that makes its point with equal parts rancor and humor, these heathens pound away like Mudhoney at its most exasperated, catching their breath with the occasional dash of Sabbath. Every song here achieves anthem status, but you'll best remember this set with the cautionary "Above the Law? Say Ahhh . . . ," which outlines the four steps to failure: "No job no problem/No life no problem/No skills no problem/No will drug problem" (hillbillydevilspeak.com).
Another local mainstay is St. Madness, which has hung in there long enough to release a retrospective, the recent We Make Evil Fun. It contains six previously unreleased songs and popular old favorites that help you chart the metallic madmen's progress from their original incarnation, Crown of Thorns -- where their makeup looked like it was applied with a shoe polish bottle -- to a well-oiled theatrical shock-metal machine . . . with makeup that looks like it was applied with a shoe polish bottle (stmadness.com).
For this locale, Otis sounds pretty big time, with a slick album called Abundavida, mixed by two-time Grammy winner Darrell Thorp (Radiohead, OutKast). Guitarist Cal Campbell's lineage to father Glen serves as the rationale behind some of the group's higher-profile gigs, like the Sundance Film Festival and Muhammad Ali's Parkinson's Disease Fight Night. But don't let a few lucky breaks dissuade you from patronizing a fine band with a compelling singer and sure-footed songwriting capabilities. A song like "Feel" builds suspense behind Ryan Jarred's apprehensive vocals until it comes charging out full-bore with an unexpected, propulsive bass line chorus. There's not a moment wasted nor a lick needlessly repeated. You even may have already heard Otis without knowing it, as the track "Lonely Day" was used in the THQ video game MX Unleashed (otisband.com).
Recently, Jim Miles left the Heartgraves, and the time alone has made his songwriting several shades darker, freeing him up to explore strange English folk chords that probably haven't been used since Jimmy Page's pact with the devil still had a few years to run. He even chased down the Elliott Smith estate for permission to record an unreleased song, "Hangin' Out With Me," which turns out to be the most chipper entry on Miles' second solo album, Seven of Swords. It's a quiet, brooding batch of compositions, with Miles' voice carrying a cross between Smith's interpersonal torture and Jon Brion's pretty-boy harmonies (gotojames.com).
What? No more metal rap because Kid Rock went white trash? Don't tell Intrinzik, formerly of Arizona's Fallguy. Get to know him with the title track of his solo debut, Double U I Double L, which spells "will" -- as in willpower. Sez 'zik, "It's what you need will power in your darkest hour." Sounding a little too much like "edu-tainment" to you? Play on and you'll learn Intrinzik used to be a mullet-headed Jew with braces, "zits and fat man's tits," who smuggled a pound and a half of grass strapped to his tubby waist and got off scot-free. There's not a couplet here that would've required a rhyming dictionary, but player haters and underachievers alike might bust a smile at the bust-a-nut braggadocio of "Going Huge": "I'm so huge! You're going small! Like Emmanuel Lewis but I'm tall" (intrinzikweb.com).