The Show(case) Must Go On!

Despite the players' eclectic backgrounds, the music of the Czars is unified and focused -- focused, that is, like a bleary eye through a lens of smoke and depression. On its four albums, including 2002's arresting The Ugly People vs. the Beautiful People, the group boils oceans of loss and regret into a vapor of swaying rhythms and billowing guitars -- not to mention the stratospheric sadness of Grant's vocals. The sound is as constricting and epic as that of Jeff Buckley or Low.

The Czars have garnered reams of critical applause over the years -- including a "Band of the Month" award in the prestigious British music journal Mojo -- and have toured America and Europe with the luminous likes of David Gray and the Flaming Lips. At work self-producing its fifth album, set for an early 2004 release, Pearson and his compatriots have weathered enough of the music industry's wrath and indifference to realize that the act of creation ultimately has to be its own reward.

"Being in this business is tough when you sell just enough albums to keep plugging along, but you don't make enough to be self-sufficient. We're stuck in that limbo between good and bad," he says with good-natured humility. "Maybe that's our creative aesthetic: We're mediocre enough to survive nine years together." One listen to the Czars and you'll realize just how humble he's being. ­ Heller

THE DEARLY BELOVED
NOMINATED IN BLUES
5 P.M., LA RUMBA
Down-and-dirty "hard wild" blues is a hallowed style not to be attempted by the meek. Fortunately, there's nothing meek about the Dearly Beloved, the all-female trio composed of guitarist/vocalist Jennifer Waters, guitarist/vocalist/bassist Whitney Rehr and drummer Laura Coleman. Having formed in Denver last year, the Dearly Beloved boasts one of the city's more power packed woman-centric combos: A longtime member of the local music scene, Rehr currently holds down frontwoman duties for Moonhead, Coleman keeps time for Backbone Velvet, and Waters toils as a solo artist.

In this incarnation, the players channel a rootsy kind of psychedelia that moves from slow-grooving and Morphine-esque to rocking and guitar heavy to playfully traditional. "Big Woman Shoes" is a gutbucket-style slice of the Delta that oozes sexuality and pro-femme stealth. (When played live, the song often ends in a rain of wayward footwear flung onto the stage by audience members.) Rehr and Waters seem like they were made to play together, despite the fact that their stage personas are so distinct: Rehr is wild, unhinged and dervish-like -- a fiery ying to Water's more controlled, tough and determined yang. They get the balance right. -- Bond

DEVOTCHKA
NOMINATED IN ECLECTIC
Impossible to pigeonhole, DeVotchKa has entranced a growing fan base across the Southwest with its unique melting pot of gypsy vaudeville, classical strings, polka, and hooks that sound as if they're barreling straight out of a spaghetti -- or possibly goulash -- Western soundtrack.

The band -- vocalist/guitarist/trumpeter Nick Urata, violinist/accordionist Tom Hagerman, drummer/trumpeter Shawn King and Jeanie Schroder, who plays the sousaphone and upright bass -- recently released its second album, titled Una Volta. Vacillating between haunting and ecstatic, the disc is a revelation, a fitting complement to the band's memorable live shows.

DeVotchKa recorded the CD at Wavelab Studios in downtown Tucson. "We'd wake up, get this awesome breakfast at this historic hotel [the Hotel Congress] and walk to this studio where you're surrounded by killer vintage instruments," recalls King. "Something really clicked; we made a record I'm super proud of."

Urata and company are currently touring the nation as the backup band for the traveling BurlesqueFest extravaganza, but touring Arizona and New Mexico with mariachi/indie-rock fusion act Calexico last year "was pretty epic for us," says King. "We started to hit it big in Arizona -- better than Colorado."

So is DeVotchKa planning to make like the Apples in Stereo and Slim Cessna and trade the Rockies for a change of scenery, in this case the saguaro-speckled desert? "I would love to move down there," answers King. "I really felt like we found home." But mention the triple-digit high temps that dominate Tucson summers, and King waffles. "We'll definitely have to do future recordings in the winter," he says. -- Peterson

DIALEKTIX
NOMINATED IN HIP-HOP
MCs Mest One and Jarvis, the frontmen of Dialektix, have come a long way since the hip-hop combo's formative days recording in the bedroom of Mest's apartment.

In the middle of recording the group's debut album, 2001's The Return of Sid Finch, Jarvis had to pawn one of the two keyboards the musicians had been using, cutting production in half. Then, during the recording of 2002's eponymous EP, their creativity was limited by the constraints of a meager budget and the studio's ticking clock.

Consequently, Dialektix has taken its time within the relaxed confines of its own studio, the Cracker Factory, for its next effort. "We were not pressured by studio time," says Mest. "When we're not flowing, we can take a break and revisit things later." Bolstered by the addition of DJ Destro, whom the MC refers to as "the best DJ in the state," and the confidence amassed from performing over one hundred shows in the past two years (with Atmosphere, Storm the Unpredictable, Black Sheep and Five Fingers of Funk, among others), the band has completed fourteen of sixteen tracks for the new album.

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