Local Wire

Shotgun Franny

When she traveled to Austin last November to make a guest appearance on Willie Nelson's new album, Milk Cow Blues, veteran Phoenix diva Francine Reed expected only to contribute vocals to the title track. But things got interesting after she and Nelson wrapped up their languid reworking of the 1934 Kokomo Arnold classic. Nelson was so impressed by her performance that he insisted she stick around and help out on another song.

"He said, 'I wrote a song called "Funny How Time Slips Away" many years ago. Do you know it, Francine?'" Reed recalls. "I said, 'Of course I know it.'"

As a result, that's Reed you hear crooning with Nelson on the signature 1961 weeper. "Everybody thought it came out really well," adds Reed, who relocated to Atlanta some eight years ago but continues to make regular Valley appearances. "Willie gave me a lot of props there. He's just an absolute sweetheart of a guy."

Reed gives the song a brilliant reading, her sweet-soul vocals and jazzy phrasing evoking memories of Carla Thomas and Etta James. In fact, the Nelson/Reed effort is one of the better versions of a song which has been covered to death (200-plus times according to the All Music Guide) by everyone from Elvis Presley to Jim Nabors.

Reed wasn't the only guest star on the album, an exercise in the blues on which B.B. King, Dr. John, Jonny Lang and Jimmie Vaughn help Nelson rework standards both old ("Ain't Nobody's Business," "Outskirts of Town") and relatively new ("Texas Flood," "The Thrill Is Gone"). And though Reed got more than she bargained for in Austin, the initial invitation was no surprise. Nelson's wife is a longtime admirer of Reed's work, including the 10 years she spent as part of Lyle Lovett's Large Band.

Meanwhile, Reed's in the early stages of what looks to be a lengthy period of preproduction for her own album, a follow-up to 1999's Shades of Blue (still available on her Web site, http://www.angelfire.com/jazz/francinereed). Contributing to the delay: the fact that Reed's label, Platinum Records, went out of business earlier this year.

"That's the second record company that's closed their doors on me," says Reed. "I'm not real lucky with those things. So I'm shopping for a new record company, or I may sell my CDs online. Or if somebody wants to give me a whole lot of money to put out a record, I'll do that. Whichever comes first, I'll bite."

Dead Hot Comeback: In a local music scene where genuine "events" are few and far between, the rapid-fire reunion of Dead Hot Workshop's classic lineup certainly qualifies. There wasn't much advance notice on this one, but the band members -- Brent Babb, Steve Larson, Curtis Grippe and G. Brian Scott -- wanted it that way. Their hastily announced 9 p.m. appearance Thursday (yes, that's this Thursday, October 12) at Long Wong's in Tempe is the first step in a mini-reunion tour that will see the group perform several other "secret" shows before staging a full-scale outdoor extravaganza in November.

Thursday's show will mark the first time the quartet has performed together in nearly four years, but it's not the first time the group has attempted a comeback. Dead Hot made an ill-fated return just last year, adding two new members, bassist Steve Flores and guitarist Chris Whitehouse. The combo performed semi-regularly in town, and played a truly stellar set at Austin's South by Southwest conference. However, the chemistry of the band -- Whitehouse's woefully misplaced playing in particular -- was clearly flawed.

With the return of guitarist Larson (who spends most of his time these days being underused in Roger Clyne's Peacemakers) and bassist Scott (back performing after his departure from the Gas Giants), the stage is set for some heavy nostalgia Thursday night. The band's setlist will be comprised entirely of older material, including some long-forgotten chestnuts. Call us sentimental, but we're especially looking forward to the "Taco Bell Song/Fuck No" medley.

Felice Navidad: Listening to a band in a Tempe club a few years back, a friend turned and pointed to a group of women standing at the bar.

"You see the one in the middle? That's John Felice's sister."

This was an exciting moment, a fleeting brush with royalty.

"Wow, that's John Felice's sister?"

Unfortunately, most folks -- even those enlightened souls who own and cherish their Flamin' Groovies and Sneakers albums -- wouldn't know John Felice from John Tesh, and certainly wouldn't know his sister Mary Jo, a longtime Valley scenester, at all.

Among the scores of overlooked and unappreciated power-pop stars, Felice and his band, The Real Kids, rank high on the all-time list. And in what's a likely bet for the rock 'n' roll show of the year, the Boston-based band will make a stop in the Valley next Thursday, October 19, for a 9 p.m. show at the Emerald Lounge. (The triple bill also includes a pair of girl guitar groups, L.A.'s the Pinkz -- going strong with a new single, featuring a cover of the Beat's "USA" -- and locals the Peeps.)

The Real Kids, which formed in 1976, can count itself among a handful of elite cult groups -- Big Star, the Replacements -- whose influence and enduring popularity have far surpassed whatever small success they might have enjoyed at their commercial peak. Though some have tagged the Kids as the world's first New Wave band, the group's sound was always beyond simple pigeonholing. They were even given their name by their good friends, the New York Dolls, who, like the rest of the Bowery/CBGB punk scene, embraced the four Beantowners and their gloriously simple brand of riffage and pure pop romanticism.

For his part, Felice is one of those characters on the pop-culture periphery who's lived an almost Forrest Gump-like existence. He was an early member of the Modern Lovers, roadied for the Ramones and passed on joining the Heartbreakers. The Real Kids' self-titled debut album from 1977 yielded one bona fide classic, "All Kindsa Girls" (which has been included on a number of compilations), and a slew of other memorable three-minute, three-chord moments ("Do the Boob," "Taxi Boys").

The Kids broke up in 1982, and Felice spent the next decade working construction and continuing to play music in New England with his new band the Devotions. In 1991, the Real Kids reunited for the first time during a show marking the closure of the infamous Boston club the Rat. Throughout the late 1990s, the group enjoyed a renaissance, playing to legions of newfound fans, but it wasn't until last year that the group resumed a fairly regular schedule and released Down to You, an excellent EP of new material. A promised full-length follow-up has yet to materialize but is reportedly still in the works.

Modesto Mouse: Modesto indie-rockers Grandaddy skipped Phoenix during their last national jaunt in July, opting instead to play Tucson, a show which those in attendance raved incessantly about afterward. This week, the band will be making its Valley debut opening for Elliott Smith (see page 100) as part of the -- ahem, shameless plug -- New Times-sponsored Indie Concert Series.

Ever since the release of Radiohead's 1997 concept album OK Computer, unwitting indie bands favoring bittersweet melodies, electronic flourishes and cracked falsetto vocals have been saddled with comparisons to the group. Grandaddy certainly falls into that category. The band earned a slew of "best album Radiohead didn't make this year" accolades for its latest V2 Records offering, Software Slump. As it happens, Grandaddy put the disc out in the same year Radiohead decided to actually follow up Computer with the just-released Kid A.

A side-by-side breakdown of Software Slump and Kid A proves that Grandaddy can still lay claim to the best Radiohead-sounding record of 2000. Despite the unprecedented secrecy and advance hype surrounding its release, Kid A is a meandering, bloodless affair, lacking any real focus, direction and, most important, quality songwriting. Software Slump, by very stark contrast, is a humble yet accomplished affair. Full of genuine songs and real hooks, it still manages to delve into OK Computer's arty/conceptual territory with ruminations on the roles of man and machine in the modern age.

Grandaddy is scheduled to take the stage at 8:30 p.m. Monday, October 16, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr