Anyone who dismisses Ghost Buffalo as just a Planes Mistaken for Stars side project doesn't quite get it. While guitarist Matt Bellinger and drummer Mike Ricketts do indeed split shifts between the two bands, Ghost Buffalo is a full-time passion for leader Marie Litton. The songwriter lends her soaring, haunting voice to the group's heartache-weary country rock; on stage, she's nearly dwarfed by her acoustic as she gazes heavenward and pours her heart out to the universe. The dazzling contributions of Bellinger, Ricketts, guitarist Josh Coyle and bassist Tom Ventura can't be overstated, but it's Litton who's the front, center and soul of Ghost Buffalo.

Artist, producer, teacher and one-man guitar battalion Dave Beegle remains an underground six-string phenom. After launching power trio Fourth Estate in the late '80s, the Fort Collins homeboy used his masterful tone -- something that mates Joe Satriani and Paco de Lucia with Johann Sebastian Bach's blessing -- to explore the instrumental nuances of flamenco, world fusion and ethno-acoustic rock. As fluent with the blind-dog blues as with a Balkan-flavored arrangement, Beegle, lauded nationally as "a guitarist's guitarist," has issued a handful of exceptional solo and group-oriented discs via brother Morris's Hapi Skratch imprint, proving what can be accomplished when simple wood and wires merge with virtuosity and heart.

Bluegrass traditions may not be ancient by the standards of Greek mythology, but they have a proud history that Fort Collins-based Open Road limns with love and skill on its latest disc for Rounder Records, ...In the Life. The longer Bradford Lee Folk and his musical partners perform this music, the deeper and more natural their playing and singing becomes. They bring the past into the present.

Jay Munly might be the star, but cellist Rebecca Vera and violinists Elin Palmer and Frieda Stalhiem are the driving force behind the Canadian transplant's "thinkin' man's country music." Weaving together complex rhythms and sensuous melodic lines, the trio of harlots augment Munly's dark, rootsy side with a chamber-driven classicism, turning lyrical murder ballads and tales of backwoods madness into uniquely beautiful arrangements. Then there's the girls' stirring vocal harmonies -- airy, crystalline, seductive and just the right balance for a Southern Gothic hoedown.

Some bands are just made for booze. ZZ Top? Tequila. Black Flag? Why, a six-pack, of course. But when listening to the ragged country punk of Out on Bail, whiskey is the only real choice. The semi-acoustic coed quartet writes songs that burn on the way down, peel the casing off your entrails and make you simultaneously sappy and feral as a pit bull. And when OOB revs out its gruff cover of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," you'd better pass that fifth over here, quick. Screw tears in your beer: These guys will leave a hunk of broken heart swimming in your shot glass.

Timing, they say, is everything. Which is why Detective Jabsco may be the most unfortunate band in Denver. The outfit's music is lacking absolutely nothing: Impassioned, concise, soulful and catchy as hell, it's a welcome lungful of fresh air. So what's the catch? The style is straight-up ska-core circa 1995, perhaps the uncoolest thing you could possibly be playing in today's post-punk-glitch-crunk-garage-emo-indie atmosphere. With the recent rise of "Ska Is Dead" tours and buzz bands like Dogs Die in Hot Cars flirting with that skank-heavy upbeat, Detective Jabsco shouldn't have to wait long for a full-blown ska revival -- and the attention it deserves.

As fitting at a basement show as it is under the disco ball, the music of Constellations is a protean thing. While clearly drawing from many of the same sources that fuel the current dance-punk lemming march, the group molds jarring guitars, pixilated noise and logarithmic beats into a much more slippery sound. Its stunning debut, Sistering, careens between laptop and agitprop, rattling vertebrae even as it leaks a chilly futurism; somewhere in the middle, singer Zak Brown warbles like Jello Biafra drunk-dialing Morrissey. Trying to calculate Constellations' arc through the cosmos would be a crapshoot, but one thing is certain: It's a band with a luminous future.

A scant year and a half ago, Gann Matthews resembled nothing so much as an unplugged disciple of Thom Yorke and Isaac Brock. What a difference a few months make. The young troubadour has swiftly graduated from shaky-throated emulation to sure-footed maturity, trading in indie pallor for a rich, ruddy rootsiness that teems with guts and depth. His debut disc, The Thin Line, is a dexterous exercise in classic folk/pop syntax that's as candid as is it crafted. Just 23, Gann Matthews is already at the head of Denver's singer-songwriter herd. Give him a couple more years; he'll be unstoppable.

Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a gorgeous, angelic voice that alternately recalls Gillian Welch, Rosie Thomas and Paula Cole, Judith Avers could literally sing the classified ads and still be positively riveting. Fortunately, that won't be necessary: Avers is equally adept and compelling as a storyteller, crafting heartrending tales steeped in both hopefulness and despair. Although she performs mostly at area coffeehouses and sports bars, in a just world, Avers would play to standing-room-only crowds. With talent like hers, it won't be long.

Comedy Works Downtown
Comics that turn up for the Squire Lounge's Comedy Night want to win the $25 bar tab that's awarded for best performance each week. But it's not the booze they're after, and it ain't the glory; other venues are far more lucrative and offer way better exposure. No, Colorado comics know that if you can kill on Colfax, you can kill anywhere. And between the heckling of incoherent drunks, the abrasiveness of hipsters playing shuffleboard, and the steely gaze of a room full of jaded comedians, the anything-goes night offers a real challenge. First-time performers need not fear, though: The Squire, while difficult, is a good spot to cut your comedic teeth. Afterward, you'll be promptly belittled from the stage, regardless of the quality of your set. Welcome to the club.

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