Best Metal-Scrapper Turned Authentic Bluesman

Willie Houston

When Willie Houston sings the blues, he draws from a deep reservoir of personal experience, including heartache, poverty and years of backbreaking labor in the Louisiana swamps. Still an engaging and soulful performer at 76, the Junkman adheres to a timeworn sound that grabs listeners with honesty and conviction.
Not long ago, Otis Taylor was a Boulder antiques broker, and uninformed observers of the local music community considered him to be something of an antique. How wrong they were. In the mid-'90s, Taylor reinvented himself as a modern bluesman, and since then, he's earned the kind of critical acclaim that most artists never experience. He's nominated for four W.C. Handy awards -- the blues equivalent of the Grammys -- and he probably won't leave Memphis empty-handed when the awards are distributed next month. After all, his latest disc, 2003's Truth Is Not Fiction, on Telarc Records, was named one of the top ten albums of the year in any genre by the New York Times and wound up on two different top-ten lists in the Washington Post. Some antique.
Jack Redell is an American classic in the making. Some day, folks will speak of Redell's time here with a reverence generally reserved for Tom Waits and Jack Kerouac. Hell, word has it the Thin Man has named a drink named after Redell in honor of the amount of time he's spent there. And since last year's brilliant, full-length Famous American, the prolific troubadour has written two binders full of unreleased songs. He has a haunting storytelling ability that recalls Nebraska-era Springsteen delivered with the fierce conviction of a young Johnny Cash and the timbre of Jay Farrar. Talk about a burning ring of fire.
It took three years for Victoria Woodworth to produce and unearth Faultline, her first solo recording. It took much longer than that to collect the wealth of experience and emotion at its heart. A small person with a big voice and a poetic bend, Woodworth concentrates on the Important Issues: longing, love and loneliness; faith, awakening and self awareness; memory and hope. But her work isn't bogged down by its own psychic weight. She's a songwriter's songwriter, a student of the chorus, the build and the bridge -- and her style suggests artists we can only assume are her teachers: Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline, Gram Parsons. Woodworth often plays live with her band, the Heroes, though she is a fine solo performer, as well. Hopefully, the next record won't take three years. We can't wait that long.
A decade ago, the Gothic Theatre was a pit: dank, dirty, with crappy sound and ripped-up seats left over from its Prohibition-era, weekend-matinee heyday -- the perfect setting for punk shows back before the style became sterilized. In 1999, the Gothic underwent a makeover more radical than the one performed on Michael Jackson's nose. The venue's original art-deco atmosphere was rebuilt from the ground up -- the beautiful wraparound balcony is the perfect place to chill, drink and listen -- and its warm, natural acoustics are augmented by one of the best sound systems in town. Performances at the Gothic are now real events, whether they're blues, soul, indie rock, industrial, metal, jazz or even that new, squeaky-clean punk rock.

Eric Gruneisen
Everything about the Soiled Dove is rock-solid. Located in the heart of LoDo, it provides an intimate experience unlike any other room. The stage is situated so that there isn't a bad seat in the house, the distance between performer and patron is negligible, and the lights and sound are simply stellar. With a consistent lineup that caters to the best local and national emerging artists, the Dove has become Denver's place to play. And Above the Dove, the venue's rooftop patio, is the perfect place to chill between bands.
After years of sliding faders and twisting knobs for local luminaries such as Blister 66, Rocket Ajax, Chaos Theory and countless other acts, James Martinez has finally found a home behind the boards at the Blue Mule. From one-man acoustic acts to balls-out gutter punks and everything in between, Martinez has mixed them all. And with a keen understanding of the importance of tone versus volume, space and dynamics, Martinez continues to make even the most marginal of musicians sound like superstars without making anyone's ears bleed. Over the past decade, Martinez has mixed at damn near every club and venue in the city, but he's never sounded as good as he does at the Mule.
Because so many downtown warehouses once used for rehearsal spaces have been recast as lofts and galleries, Denver is experiencing an epidemic of homeless musicians. Rents are up all over, but that's only part of the problem; after all, who wants to rent to a bunch of kids with Stratocasters? Actually, John Burr does. He opened Sound Structure Studios on a stretch of Walnut Street that's still desolate enough to accommodate the collective racket of the more than twenty bands that call the place home. The recording and rehearsal spaces are clean, spacious, reasonably priced and well insulated -- which means jammers don't have to worry about getting their reggae mixed up with someone else's bluegrass. Burr plans to open a bar on the site, just for his tenants to hang out and jam in: Consider it a clubhouse for the under-appreciated, under-funded, often unwashed masses also known as local musicians.
The first time the Mars Volta came to town, in November 2001, it was easily outshone by the other acts on the night's bill. Vocalist Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez seemed reserved, even timid, despite being widely renowned for their explosive stage presence as members of the critically acclaimed El Paso quartet At the Drive In. But by the time they returned two years later in support of the just-released Mars Volta debut -- the epochal prog-rock masterpiece De-Loused in the Comatorium -- their sound and live show had noticeably coalesced. The result was simply the best concert of the year. Unfortunately, it's also probably one of the last times the band will play a venue this intimate.
Garage rocker-turned-director Davis G. Coombe spent six years chronicling the explicit and unpredictable behavior of the Czars, Orbit Service and Rainbow Sugar, then boiled it down into a 99-minute exposé of Denver's underground music scene, warts and all. Intimate, candid and stylish, The Tornado Dream not only graced the 2003 Starz Denver International Film Festival, but it gave local-music fans a glimpse of band life beyond the stage.

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