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Bad Luck City Haunts Denver

These folks like their Americana dark.

Still, the new record does not begin with the singer's signature storytelling. Instead, the first track is a mournful, haunting adaptation of the late Lee Hazlewood's "The Night Before" — almost as if to underscore the act's existence outside the American mainstream. The song comes from the eccentric songwriter's Cowboy in Sweden album, a record he made while in a kind of self-imposed exile in Europe. And as it turns out, the subject matter — whiskey and regret — suits the record's overall tone and theme beautifully.

Likewise, subtle and nuanced musicianship shines throughout. No one instrument draws attention to itself aside from O'Dea's appropriately plaintive violin. Warner's restrained yet poignant drumming provides just the right amount of rhythmic impetus, while Kammerer and Perry's guitars weave shimmering, unobtrusive tapestries. On "The Distaff," the guitars and violin are completely displaced by an elegiac trumpet line provided by Born in the Flood's Joseph Pope III, creepy backing vocals by Warner's sister Rose, and a minimalist piano figure, performed by Warner's other sister, Kate, who also co-wrote the song. The album's centerpiece is "Stealth," a paranoid, expletive-drenched portrait of a character who is either a skilled hunter of demons or a hopelessly deluded drunk. Oddly enough, before the Adelaide sessions, Merkl was nearly ready to throw the song away.

"I got to the point where I didn't really like it," Merkl confesses. "It didn't evolve. It was still in that Joe Crack-Up mode." That all changed when the group enlisted Monofog vocalist Hayley Helmericks as Merkl's duet partner. "Once Hayley showed up," he says, "her first take made it my favorite."

Bad Luck charms: Josh Perry (from left), Gregor Kammerer, Jeremy Ziehe, Kelly O'Dea, Andrew Warner and Dameon Merkl are Bad Luck City.
Jody dileo
Bad Luck charms: Josh Perry (from left), Gregor Kammerer, Jeremy Ziehe, Kelly O'Dea, Andrew Warner and Dameon Merkl are Bad Luck City.

Details

CD-release show, with Monofog and Oblio Duo, 9 p.m. Friday, February 29, 3 Kings Tavern, 60 South Broadway, $5, 303-777-7370.

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"It got real evil, real fast," agrees Jeremy Ziehe, who joined as the band's bassist when Arocho departed, shortly after Adelaide was completed.

Though considerably more dramatic than its earlier incarnations, "Stealth" still contains a remnant of the humor that first inspired it. The track ends with the punchline of Merkl and Helmericks, the song's hunters, choosing liquor shots over gunshots. While the frontman focuses on high-quality Irish whiskeys — including the Colorado-made Stranahan's — Helmericks recites a roll call of some of the cheesiest alcoholic beverages available, including Cactus Juice and Hot Damn.

"I think that song could be our first pop hit," Perry muses.

"If only it didn't have all those cuss words," Warner interjects.

"We could always do a radio edit," Ziehe jokes.

With or without radio singles, Adelaide is a deliciously gloomy, wickedly humorous and richly atmospheric collection that establishes Bad Luck City in the pantheon of the very groups that Warner name-checks — melancholy, vaguely sinister acts, like 16 Horsepower and Munly, who have come to be associated with the so-called Denver sound. Bad Luck City, however, has very little planned to promote or distribute the disc.

"I was gonna put them under windshield wipers," Perry kids.

Even when it comes to touring, the outfit is remarkably uninterested.

"We've never even played outside of Denver," Kammerer points out.

"Not even as far as Wheat Ridge," Merkl adds.

Though touring and promotions are far from the band's mind, its members would like to pick up the pace in terms of releasing their music. Rather than allow three years to elapse between records, they're considering putting out a series of EPs, as quickly as they can write and record the songs. Aside from that, the group hasn't given much serious thought to a marketing strategy. Instead of plotting out how to increase exposure or planning that fabled European tour, Bad Luck City would rather focus on pushing its musical explorations further.

"This record is a huge leap forward," Merkl explains. "I want the next one to be a huge leap, too. If you're not getting paid for it, there's no point in not taking artistic risks — not to any certain end, but just to push yourself."

"We're an art-for-art's-sake band," Warner chimes in.

The drummer might be half joking, but there's truth in his glib summary statement. While Bad Luck City's anachronistic sound and style may limit its commercial prospects, this doesn't seem to concern any of its six members. "The most important thing," Merkl notes, "is whatever song we're working on right now."

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