A friend of mine commented this morning that a George Bush presidency might actually be good for the arts world -- not because, as some have suggested, a conservative commander-in-chief would unite the fringe in fighting a common enemy. Rather, my friend would be so wary about catching a glimpse of Bush on the tube that she would refrain from watching TV for, oh, four years or so -- which would leave more time for making pictures and poems and writing stories and songs. It's an interesting theory, all right.
Of course, many local artists have already found the time to produce, TV or no, and keyboardist/guitarist/bassist/accordionist/mandolin player/vocalist Jamie Osborne is certainly among them. With a transcontinental collective of musicians hailing from Denver, Atlanta, Detroit and Oakland known as Whitey on the Moon, Osborne has released Special New Band, a twelve-song recording on his Denver-based label/studio project, Vela Para Todo. Whitey displays a certain musical moxie by referencing both Gil Scott-Heron (the band's name is culled from Heron's 1970 song of the same name) and former college rock kings Pavement (the CD's title is a reference to "Cut Your Hair," that band's pseudo-hit from 1994, wherein singer Steven Malkmus balked at the institution of bandism), artists whose similarities would seem limited to the usage of the twelve-tone scale. Somehow, though, Special New Band manages to mix the scruffy sarcasm of indie rock with a soulful, danceable groove.
The album (which is currently available via whiteyonthemoon.com and zerotec.com, an online distributor run by Osborne's friends in the ubiquitous Man...Or Astro-Man?) is a challenging listen, full of disparate noises that rattle and hum above and below the dominant melodies: droning vocal samples, whirring keys, nearly subsonic textural elements presumably supplied by wayward amplifiers. It is also a wonderful surprise, an out-of-the blue offering from a uniquely talented ensemble: Local players include cellist Henry Throop and violist Kelly O'Dea (an occasional player with locals Maraca 5-0 and Tarantella), who make poignant stringed contributions throughout, notably the instrumental "9 Cans"; saxophonist Mark Harris (of the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble and Three Little Words) and trumpet player Derreck Bannach (of the Emergency Broadcast Players) also add some expressive brass.
Osborne's face is familiar to those who frequent Wednesday open-mike nights at the Mercury Cafe: He hosts the event every other week and is scheduled to do so again on November 22. (As host of the Wednesday "Sleepless Night" show on KUVO, his voice is also familiar to late-night radio listeners; Osborne is on the air from midnight to 3 a.m.) But because the logistics of live shows are complicated by the geographical differences between players, Whitey on the Moon is, for now, a studio-only affair. And though Special New Band is the first to emerge from Vela Para Todo, Osborne hopes the studio will eventually host collaborations with artists from all over the country -- ideally beginning with some of the progressive punk-jazz players from the Chicago scene -- as well as local artists. If the quality of the studio's premier recording is any indication of things to come, we have only this to say: Godspeed. Whitey on the Moon is a fine new (almost) local offering. To the moon!
Also continuing a stratospheric ascension into the pop consciousness is Dressy Bessy, which helped provide the soundtrack to a cartoon world with its cover of Free Design's "Bubbles" on the Powerpuff Girls disc earlier this year. In addition, the band placed two songs on the soundtrack for But I'm a Cheerleader, a happy little story about sexual-deprogramming camps. Yet its newly found Hollywood status has not slowed the Dressy wheels: The California EP has just been released on Kindercore Records, with Sound-Go-Round to follow next summer. How do you like them Apples?
Those who like their pop with slightly less sugar, and who lamented the passing of punk pranksters Boss 302 when the band dissolved this summer, should note the arrival of The Agency, a gritty new punk trio that claims the LaDonnas' Brad Stanton along with Rich Groskopf ("the funny guy from Boss 302," according to Scott Campbell of the 15th Street Tavern) and Bill Hodo, also of Boss. The Agency officially opens for business on Friday, November 17, at the Tavern, with the Bottle Rockers and the Dumb Ass Brothers. No word on just what these agents represent.
Also loud will be the shopping malls of America, which will condone all manner of panicked consumption as the old post-Thanksgiving Christmas shopping freakout begins to take hold of your friends and neighbors next weekend. Yet before you feel compelled to buy stuff for other people, Friends of Red Rocks would like you to consider doing a little me-centric shopping -- for a good cause, of course. This weekend, seven area Borders Books & Music locations will donate 15 percent of every purchase to FORR and its efforts to bring a mammoth, mostly local music festival to the amphitheater next year. You must mention the Friends (or present the coupon available through its Web site, friendsofredrocks.org) in order to activate the donation. Maybe all those Yanni purchases can translate to something positive after all.
Finally, when Chan Marshall's publicist at Matador Records told me the Cat Power singer normally has an 85 percent success rate when it came to following through on interviews, I assumed I'd be in the winning percentile. Alas, Marshall never called, which was very sad news for Backwash. Her most recent offering, The Covers Record, finds her channeling everyone from Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan to lesser known artists such as her pals in Smog through her own disjointed and emotional filter. Covers has cemented her status as an important songwriter, an insightful interpreter and an enigma: She's part Southern girl, part city dweller; she's a confident player but a shy, reluctant performer sometimes troubled by floodlights and disembodied voices. She is, ultimately, the kind of artist whose willingness to be honest and vulnerable with her listeners -- her own songs sometimes read as particularly poetic diary entries or prayers -- winds up as a kind of catharsis. As one French fan wrote on a Cat Power Web site, in succinctly imperfect English: "Her songs gave me an outburst of emotion." Perhaps you will have the same experience, oui? Cat Power performs at the Bluebird Theater on Wednesday, November 22 (Sarina simoom opens with an acoustic set). Meow!
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