Slim Cessna hasn't forgotten you, Denver.
For starters, he misses sliding his lanky cowboy frame into a booth at Taco de México. After all, it's hard to find authentic Mexican food in Cranston, Rhode Island, where he's lived since late 1999. It's also hard to replicate the feel of Colorado's dry mountain air: Overgrown, green and damp, Rhode Island is a land of leafy mysteries that little resembles the songwriter's home state.
"I miss the barrenness and the brownness, the big sky," Cessna says. "I'm from Colorado, so it's a part of me. I can understand why someone from the East Coast would miss it here, as well. But I think the place you're from is always with you, and you get anxious to at least visit it."
Perhaps more than greasy brain burritos and moisture-free environs, Cessna seems eager to revisit the fans he garnered as the leader of one of Denver's most successful bands. Prior to his eastern migration, Slim Cessna's Auto Club was one of the few local acts capable of regularly drawing capacity crowds to larger venues; with the 2000 release of Always Say Please and Thank You on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles imprint, the Club enlisted even more members on and off its home turf. And though his visits to perform with the band have been fewer than he forecast at the time of his move, Cessna is still able to pack them in, as evidenced by the Club-happy crowds that showed up at the Bluebird Theater for two consecutive New Year's Eve shows.
"I don't know what I could possibly say that would be nice enough about how I'm treated there, by the whole community," he says. "It's an amazing town as far as the support it shows for local music, and people shouldn't take something like that for granted. Even in Boston or New York, they're not going to go see a local band unless they're on MTV or something. People in Denver seem to latch on to their own."
When Cessna rides back into town this week, he hopes Denverites still regard him as one of their own, even though he'll be playing with a band that doesn't boast local origins. On Friday, May 2, at the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins, and on Saturday, May 3, at Denver's Climax Lounge, he'll perform with the Blackstone Valley Sinners, a trio that finds him on guitar and vocals alongside bassist/backing vocalist Judithann -- a member of the current Auto Club -- and Rich Gilbert, a Boston-area guitar god and multi-instrumentalist known for his work with Tanya Donelly, Frank Black and the Catholics and Steve Wynn.
Formed on a lark at the 2001 Pawtucket Film Festival -- "an event that's exactly like what it sounds like" -- Cessna says the Sinners starting gigging seriously in and around Rhode Island before recording It's a Sin, which saw release in January on Gilbert's Valley Records. A mix of covers and Cessna-penned originals, the album's solid country vibe won't feel like a huge departure to those accustomed to Cessna's straight-faced, if skewed, reading of the genre and the spirit of artists like Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb. (Some might be surprised by the use of a drum machine, a tool the band tapped because they didn't want to mess with the chemistry of the lineup.) But out there on the East Coast, the album's caused a right stir, partly because locals didn't realize that Gilbert -- who mans lead guitar, steel guitar, dobro, banjo and piano for the band -- was a bumpkin at heart: "He's a rock star out here," Cessna says. "I think seeing in him in a country act has been a little unusual for some people."
(Not that all of the discussion of the band has centered on Gilbert: In a review in the Boston paper, the Noise, one critic cited "Slim Cessna's flat fucking weirdness. Check the warped but somehow sensible covers of Shania Twain's 'Still the One' and George Jones's 'There Stands the Glass.'")
And even though he's playing with some new friends, Cessna has kept the Club together, albeit in a newfangled way. After the departure of longtime members John Rumley, "Danny Pants" Grandbois and Ordy Garrison, Slim invited steel-pedal player Reverend Glasseye, Judithann on bass and drummer Tim Mahr to join Munly and the Reverend Dwight Pentecost; the new configuration makes semi-regular loops of Eastern Seaboard towns such as Boston and New York. With Munly and Pentecost, Cessna continues writing new material, some of which the Autoites will record with producer Bob Ferbrache during a July visit to D-town. The band is also planning some intermittent touring of the West this summer.
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"With all of the things everyone's got going on, you can't really hit the road as often as you might like," Cessna says. "But we're trying to stay active, and we're doing pretty well. Living on the road in a van when you're a 37-year-old man isn't always the ideal situation."
Maybe not, but we'd sure like to see a little more of you, Slim.
Johnny be good: Slim Cessna isn't the only former Denver dweller returning home this week. John Vecchiarelli, who toiled as a drummer before going solo and, eventually, moving to Portland by way of San Francisco, appears at the Climax Lounge on Thursday, May 1; he's in the middle of a cross-country tour with fellow singer-songwriter and all-around earnest guy Michael Zapruder. Although it's been several years since Vecchiarelli removed himself from our fair city, those who saw him perform here before are likely to remember it: During live shows, he often alternates between acoustic and electric guitar, playing new-troubadour-style tunes with lyrics sometimes designed to devastate. Tiny Rooms, his debut release for SpeckRecords, is both dark, introspective and surprisingly funny. Let's welcome John V. back home, shall we?
A fine jazz combo is coming together in Denver. The only problem is that the players will swing together for one night only -- a pity when you consider the lineup. Pianist Eric Gunnison, trumpet player Ron Miles, saxophonist Pete Sommers, bassist Mark Simon and drummer Paul Romaine will unite to play tribute to stars of the '50s-era West Coast jazz scene in a special matinee performance on Sunday, May 4, at the First Universalist Church (4101 East Hampden Avenue). Showtime is 2:30 p.m. Enjoy the combo while it lasts...which should be for approximately two hours.