Our Town

From blues to kiddie core, the year 2001 was an odyssey in local music. Backbeat writers remember the best.

Homegrown artists have a tendency to get lost in the encyclopedic shuffle of year-end lists, such as the sprawling one Westword published two weeks ago. Here we revisit more than thirty albums from Denver-area artists who give life, and sound, to our city, many of which stand up against works by national performers. Thanks for the melodies -- and the memories. Now, the list, please!

Marie Beer
The Garden
When performing her fragile, hushed and heartfelt tunes live, Marie Beer at times has trouble connecting with a fickle Denver crowd whose attention span is depleted by chatter and the copious consumption of her namesake beverage. Free from such distractions, The Garden blossoms, especially on the soulful "Sundown" and the riveting (and far from celebratory) "Happy Birthday." -- Patrick Casey

David Booker
Now Booking
David Booker, Denver's busiest bluesman, cut this set of vintage R&B covers as a promo aimed at keeping his gig book filled. But the sparsely produced disc is proof that his gifts as a slicked-back singer, song interpreter and showman supreme are unmatched. Familiar standards and obscure gems (by Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Ace, Count Basie and others) are all done to soulful, winking perfection by "The Captain" and his equally seasoned trio. Now Booking is a can't-miss collection that will win over listeners as well as talent buyers. -- Marty Jones

The Czars
The Ugly People vs. The Beautiful People

(Bella Union)
Ugly Americans is more like it. While Europe has thoroughly embraced the Czars, the Denver standouts continue to get a lukewarm reception locally. It's a tragic notion, considering that The Beautiful People's melancholic, understated sound proves to be the perfect vehicle for John Grant's soothing, soaring vocals. If Grant's gorgeous duet with Paula Frazer on the stellar track "Lullaby 6000" doesn't finally catch the ears of listeners in the Rocky Mountain region, nothing will. -- Casey

Dialektix
The Return of Sidd Finch
(Nashinal League)
The Dialektix crew -- MCs Jarvis and MEST-one, plus DJs Ty Tek, Kombat and Bussey -- serves, scratches and spits its way through one of the most able and clever hip-hop albums to emerge from the Mile High City in ages. At 25 tracks long, The Return of Sidd Finch is full of the requisite pop-culture references and self-serving rhymes; highlights, though, are found in the daring tandem rapping by the two men on the mike. Over beds that range from mid-tempo to just plain slammin', the music on this album is designed to give you a severe case of pimp lash. -- Laura Bond

The Dinnermints
Carnival
Begun as a self-effacing spinoff of artsy ambient duo the Twins, the Dinnermints nevertheless make "pop trash" delicious. Influenced by everything from Kabuki theater to the fuzzy distortion of '60s-era garage pop, the Mints' Carnival is a quick, hooky EP full of get-'em-up rhythms and vocalist/guitarist Sara Mesmer's stream-of-consciousness choruses. It's an infectious midway of sounds, all right, one you'll want to revisit again and again. -- Bond

Elan
The Deluge of Soundtracks & Other Voices From the World's Silent Majority
(Infinite 7)
Humor and experimentation are showcased in The Deluge of Soundtracks, the fifth release by Elan noise-muckers Michael Serviolo and Chris Steele. Blending electronic, noise, rock, world music and more into unexpected feats of symphonic mindfuck, the pair makes aural hygiene actually sound fun. Available only through the Internet (mp3.com/elantheband), the long-player finds two polymeric tricksters at the top of their game. -- John La Briola

Michael Engberg
Bula Learns to Dance
(Many Hats Recordings)
Acoustic guitarist Michael Engberg was inspired to record Bula Learns to Dance by a friend's young daughter, who began dancing as soon as she could walk. The CD might well cause the same sort of response in those who sample the sixteen lilting songs offered here. A clean, concise instrumental offering that flits from Renaissance sounds to jug-band thumping ("Freight Train Melody"), Bula is a soaring homage to the power of the pick. Engberg's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" -- a song that few players are able to resist -- is both melancholic and hopeful, just like the moment that Dorothy returns from Oz to a black-and-white world. Acoustic fans would be wise to follow the yellow brick road into Engberg's realm. -- Bond

Bataan Faigao and Wendy Woo
Ecolalia
(Sky Trail Studio)
When Jane Faigao, mother of guitarist/songwriter Wendy Woo and wife of poet Bataan Faigao, died of breast cancer last year, her talented loved ones wanted to memorialize her through music. The resulting Ecolalia, which marries Faigao's spare verse with Woo's vocals and music, is the kind of album that comes from a true place, a repository of pain, longing and love that provides a source for moving art. And while knowing the album's background makes the music hit that much harder, it's not a requirement: With guest appearances from United Dope Front's Ben Senterfit (on saxophone) and cellist Hannah Alkire, Ecolalia is a lovely, meditative album where poetry and music intermingle effortlessly. -- Bond

Janet Feder
Speak Puppet
(Brainbox/ReR)
The only female inductee in the boys' club of ReR Records, Janet Feder perfects avant-folk with a finger-picking arsenal of bent metal and roach clips. Classically contorted (and a scale-climbing daredevil to boot), Feder takes listeners on a "prepared" freefall from heights unknown using simple acoustics and tactile dexterity. On Speak Puppet, she hits slide variations, pastoral narratives and all mesmerizing points in between. -- La Briola

The Fifth Utility
Misanthropolis
(antiMRestablishmentarianism)
Uncompromising and caustic, the Fifth Utility careens its way through a post-punk debut, brimming with an intelligence and a precision that border on diabolic. Misanthropolis uses strange time signatures, annoyed guitars and opaque words to make howling statements about urban isolation and artistic prefabrication. Roving and raging, the four members of the Fifth are our favorite new local misanthropes. -- Bond

Mary Flower
Lady Fingers
Denver's finest guitarist and blues singer kicks the concept of "playing like a man" right in the testicles. Mary Flower plays with a swagger found in few men or women, and Lady Fingers pops with my-way-or-no-way bravado. Supported by several local aces (including John Magnie and Steve Amedee), Flower picks across haunting Delta-blues moaners, stinging slide numbers and tasty jazz standards, packing a hefty but understated emotional wallop that cracks hearts. -- Jones

Gamits
A Small Price to Pay
(Gamits)
Anyone who hasn't seen the Gamits play any of the stages in their Mile High hometown for a while, take heed: The trio has grown up and is ready to rock. Finally unashamed to be pop, the band shows a new-found confidence that's unleashed the sharpest bunch of hooks and the most syrupy melodies to ever bear the Gamits name. Still a rank-and-file part of the punk underworld, the group embodies the genre's rough-around-the-edges charms, a fact that saves A Small Price to Pay, an EP, from getting too saccharine. -- Eric Peterson

Hamster Theatre
Carnival Detournement
(Cuneiform)
Hamster Theatre's free-jazz-and-pony show captivates with Eastern Bloc wedding music, cafe musings and hard bop, sometimes in the space of a single song. As drunken tango collides with loose-limbed reggae, Bernard Herr-mann might be stealing John Phillip Sousa's dancing partner -- or buying Carl Perkins a shot of red-eye. Boasting six of the area's most skilled and adventurous musicians, the progressively playful Carnival Detournement deserves a bright spotlight on the international stage for uniting every conceivable genre of musical expression the world over. -- La Briola

Hi-Fidelity
Adventures on Planet Heartbreak

There might have been a more well-shaped batch of rock and roll songs crafted in a local guitar-and-beer-littered basement last year, but we haven't heard it. On Adventures on Planet Heartbreak, Hi-Fidelity -- a Denver four-piece led by dueling guitarist/vocalists Joaquin Liebert and Nathan Marcy -- waves a tattered Union Jack as well as a devotion to Detroit power chords and staccato drumming. Playful harmonies, lovelorn lyrics and habit-forming hooks transcend a slipshod production in this garage gospel. -- Bond

Willie Houston
Blues Man Willie Houston and His Guitar
(Fasttrack)
With less emphasis on the woman who done him wrong than the woman who done him right, Denver bluesman Willie Houston is a curious workaday figure: Rooted in New Orleans, the 75-year-old serves up smoky helpings of electric Delta-seasoned blues. Somewhere between locals Tommy "The Workingman" Thomas and bleak Otis Taylor, Houston uses Blues Man Willie Houston and His Guitar to make gritty observations with a soft-spoken growl, junkman style. -- La Briola

Jux County
Junk County
(Velveteen)
Andrew Monley, Chris Pearson and Ron Smith finally vacated Jux County in September after more than a decade. As a goodbye offering, they released Junk County, their fifth, and best, full-length CD. Dark, far-reaching and almost primitive, the album again reveals Monley as one of the city's most from-the-guts frontmen. Though ultimately a rock-and-roller, he's also a multi-faceted songwriter, as evidenced by songs that range from angular ("Gasoline") to redemptive ("Prime Time"). -- Bond

Kalamath Brothers
Kalamath Brothers
(Hunky)
Frank Hauser Jr. and some parched castaways take to the hills, holler their way through a few murder ballads and miss a train. Along the way, with loose-limbed charm and understated humor, the most surreal of the Queen City's feral families (16 Horsepower, Slim and the Denver Gents included) piece together a backwoods, skiffle-flavored alt-country jamboree. Kalamath Brothers is an exceptional debut. -- La Briola

Laymen Terms
An Introduction
(Soda Jerk Records)
When local music aficionados think of Colorado Springs's contribution to the stable of Colorado talent, they probably don't think about pop punk. Laymen Terms' first EP should help change that perception. The four-piece casts aside the hard-as-nails image of fellow townies like the Nobodys in favor of a slightly more upbeat spin on the style. Though bands like the Descendents and Social Distortion make impressions on the young act, An Introduction is ultimately a fresh and promising first effort. This is a band we're pleased to meet. -- Matt Schild

Longmont Potion Castle
Volume 4
(D.U.)
Mike Jourgensen has simultaneously annoyed and amused the population of Colorado over the years with his series of recorded phone conversations. This latest batch of pranks (including several bizarre three-ways) targets everything from funeral homes and the Waffle House to Denver's own Twist & Shout. Dada theater reigns supreme when mallards invade Welby Road, when the Lamb Center of Lebanon misdirects a package of fleecy ungulates and when Bruschetti and Fruschetta make way for pumpkin brew. On Volume 4, even Sidney Poitier gets an unexpected jingle through an unlikely homage titled "To Sir With Millipedes." -- La Briola

Maraca Five-O
Headin' South at 110 Per
(Smooch)
Despite being released on December 28, 2000, Maraca Five-O's Headin' South at 110 Per ushered in the new millennium three days later with a worldly, rip-snortin' yelp of surf-rabid road music. Had Duane Eddy or Dick Dale written odes to tumbleweeds instead of pipelines, the desert might have replaced Malibu as the mecca for goofy-footers. Credit Steve Gray, Theron Melchoir, Matt Stemwedel and Mike Behrenhausen for taking up the torch from Boulder's legendary Astronaughts -- and for pointing out a remote corner of Pakistan called Tube City on this gnarly wave. -- La Briola

Planes Mistaken for Stars
Fuck With Fire
(No Idea)
It's everything a raging kid could have wanted in 2001: Planes Mistaken for Stars' metal/post-hardcore hybrid is loud enough to make 95 percent of all punks look like wussie choirboys. On Fuck With Fire, hot-poker guitar work borders on thrash while math-rock dynamics dominate the rhythm section. Planes music is loud and punishing, the perfect antidote to the fluff that's passed off as punk these days. Plus, the players scream a lot. -- Schild

Neil Satterfield
Classical and Brazilian Guitar
On Classical and Brazilian Guitar, intermittent Denverite and former 40th Day guitarist Neil Satterfield dives right into the worldly influences that informed his previous solo effort, Wanderlust. In Satterfield's hands, traditional and modern compositions take on a spindly, effervescent quality; he's such a skilled player, it truly sounds as though the guitar is doing the work. A gorgeous album for a book-flipping day, a romantic evening or a vision quest. -- Bond

Charles Sawtelle
Music From Rancho deVille
(Acoustic Disc)
When he died of leukemia in 1999 at the age of 52, Charles Sawtelle left behind a legion of friends and fans -- and an album's worth of songs recorded at his Boulder home studio. Lovingly completed by singer Laurie Lewis, Rancho deVille features Sawtelle, longtime guitarist for Colorado-based bluegrass band Hot Rize, playing and singing with a veritable who's who of bluegrass and American roots musicians, including Hot Rize bandmates Nick Forster, Peter Wernick and Tim O'Brien, among many others. It's a generous gift from a man whose life and music touched deeply. -- David Hill

16 Horsepower
Hoarse
(Glitterhouse)
Defining the word "earnest," the only fear that these bold horsemen possess is of the Lord and, perhaps, of cracking a smile. With a mixture of brilliant live material recorded at an energetic 1998 show at the Bluebird Theater and some surprising cover songs, 16 HP even manages to have some fun on Hoarse -- assuming you find Joy Division's "Day of the Lords" a good time. -- Casey

Superbees
'81 Comeback
Denver power quartet the Superbees believe in music's therapeutic qualities. "The Healing Power of Rock" is one of many mellow-metal nuggets contained on '81 Comeback. After a couple of listens, it's clear the band is on to something. With guitars that grind like teenagers in heat and drums that threaten to leap through the speakers, this album is a sexy, smoke-filled orgy of sounds, all of which are lovingly caressed by vocalist/guitarist Fletcher Neeley. Hit the black light, grab your stash and let the healing begin. -- Bond

Otis Taylor
White African
(NorthernBlues Music)
Many Denverites suffer from hometown insecurity when it comes to music, believing that artists from the Mile High City must be inferior by definition. But Otis Taylor puts the lie to this theory in a big way. He's made a handful of excellent recordings over the past several years, including 1997's When Negroes Walked the Earth, and his latest effort, the austere and deeply moving White African, is quite simply the best blues album of 2001 made by anyone, anywhere. Hope that makes you feel better. -- Michael Roberts

Various Artists
Amateur Rocket Club
(Brick House/Noise Tent/Uneven Studios)
Three of the four bands who appear on the seven-inch Amateur Rocket Club hail from the Queen City, giving this modest entry into science-fair boosterism a distinctive hometown charm. Breezy Porticos, Kudzu Towers and the Maybellines unite with Utah's Jenni Jensens to give the journal-keepers and do-it-yourselfers a labor of analog love. The results? A cool cloud-gazing, ivy-munching, mahvalous makeover in clear red and blue vinyl. -- La Briola

Various Artists
Upland Breakdown
(Upland)
A pickers' clinic under a full moon (elevation: 8,100 ft.), Upland Breakdown finds legendary punk engineer Spot warming up for some of the region's best contemporary roots bands: Drag the River, the Stop and Listen Boys, Grandpa's Ghost, and I.W. Harper and the Blue Caballeros. Recorded live at a nondescript roadhouse in Centennial, Wyoming, the intimate, stripped-down compilation celebrates blues, C&W, Celtic, psychedelia, jazz, rock and roll and glazed doughnuts. -- La Briola

Dick Weissman and Gary Keiski
Pioneer Nights
(Wind River)
Dick Weissman is an academic (he spent years as a professor at the University of Colorado at Denver before recently relocating to Oregon) and author (among his tomes is The Music Business: Career Opportunities and Self-Defense). But he's also a banjo player and guitarist of considerable talent, and on Pioneer Nights, he and violinist Gary Keiski make folk-derived music that's smart, skilled and heartfelt. -- Roberts

Cindy Wonderful
24 of Her Greatest Hits Vol. 1
(Wonderground)
Cindy Wonderful busts out the cheap tape recorder, the effects pedal, the sampler and the acoustic guitar for this mental menagerie of widely varied -- and variously successful -- songs. A collection that veers far from the territory Wonderful covered most recently with the dadaesque hip-hop construct Rainbow Sugar, Greatest Hits is a confounding, chaotic and occasionally just plain pretty glimpse into the mind of a sometimes-local believer. -- Bond

Yonder Mountain String Band
Town by Town
(Frog Pad)
Boulder's kings of the sixty-minute bluegrass medley shatter perceptions with this pleasing, to-the-point recording. Town by Town's bare-bones tunes are largely short songs built on vintage structures, played with soul- and knee-slapping skill by Yonder's unplugged pickers. Sure, the band's mountain music includes textures more native to Colorado than Kentucky. But YMSB plays jam-grass that can tickle even the most patchouli-loathing Americana fan. -- Jones

Armando Zuppa
Zupperman
A delightful, playful solo debut from the Italian-born leader of neo-traditional bluegrass outfit New Country Kitchen, Zupperman is a riotous romp through the hallowed lands of country-style picking. An exemplary banjo player with a flair for drama -- he casts himself as a superhero in the album's liner notes -- Armando Zuppa moves through Zupperman's nine songs with a confidence and agility that reveals him as a master of his instrument, his genre and, ahem, his cape. -- Bond

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