Strydir Lee (Toledo, Ohio)
This quartet has amassed a dedicated following in the Toledo area on the strength of four solid Rock albums, including their latest, Electric Money Burns. With a revamped line-up and a new album, Strydir Lee are poised to bring their thinking man's crunchy Northern Ohio Rock to the river.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: Foundational influences (Beatles, Stones, Bowie, Dylan) with flashes of Indie esoterica (Flaming Lips, Wilco, My Morning Jacket). (Brian Baker)
The Gregory Morris Group (Cincinnati)
With Folk roots, groovy, jazzy rhythms, poetic storytelling, progressive song structures and a Rock & Roll heart, The Gregory Morris Group doesn't fit comfortably in any one category. And that's why local fans love 'em. The hypnotic, "gypsy" aura, conjured with mostly acoustic instrumentation, swells and shuffles with a timeless, captivating sense of mystery and soulfulness. If there's such thing as Prog Roots music, GMG is one of its finest practitioners.
Dig It: Tim Buckley, Django Reinhardt and Jack Johnson trading songs and stories, round-robin-style. (Mike Breen)
Giant Bear (Memphis)
This fun, intriguing sextet is indeed unique enough to merit its own, self-made musical genre. With flute, mandolin, cello and banjo (plus good ol' guitars, bass, keys and drums), the band (dubbed a "Southern-fried version of the New Pornographers" by the Memphis Flyer) creates a boisterous brand of rootsy Folk Pop, unlike anything else going on in the Americana world (or anywhere, for that matter). Despite the originality and progressive songwriting, Giant Bear's debut album, New American Wilderness, is steeped in tradition. But it's the way this regularly touring crew puts all of the pieces of the puzzle together that makes them so compelling.
Dig It: Zappa and the Mothers of Invention reincarnated as a thrilling Americana/Pop powerhouse. (Mike Breen)
Rambler 454 (Cleveland)
Cheap beer? Check. Trucker hats? Check. Wearing gas station attendant shirts with names that are not theirs? Check. Rambler 454 will make you think you're in a honky-tonk bar, digging their tunes while a bar room brawl might be happening right behind you. They were nominated for Best Garage/Rockabilly band in Cleveland Free Times and Best Country/Americana Band in Cleveland's Scene.
Dig It: Slobberbone sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon. (Daniele Pfarr)
Mack West (Florence, Ky.)
Though steeped in the mood and traditions of Country & Western music, don't go to a Mack West show expecting to hear Rascal Flatts-like modern drivel. Formed by noted Cincinnati musician/songwriter Zach Mechlem (who has played everything from Pop Rock to World music) as an outlet for the rootsier, "Old West" songs he was writing, Mack West's music ranges from low-slung, Johnny Cash-like rumblers to picturesque soundscapes that have a big-sky spaciousness with Tex Mex flavorings.
Dig It: Calexico, Louis L'Amour books, Spaghetti Westerns. (MB)
AUN (New York City/Japan)
A whirlwind of catastrophic, blowy bongos and animalistic grunts suddenly gives way to razor-sharp sampling and frenetic, punchy drum-pad sequencing. Then come ethereal strings and a childlike key-pecking backed by ... techno beats? Japan's instrumental duo AUN allow you to pick your scenario: discotheque, video game or steamy jungle.
Movies. Particularly ones of the rooftop-leaping-Stephen-Segal-assisted-bad-guy-busting variety. (Hannah Roberts)
Timbre (Hermitage, Tenn.)
Harpist/vocalist Timbre Clerpke started down the Classical path at an early age, performing with several orchestras, including the London Symphony. In recent years, she's moved to a more contemporary reading of Classical, with Ambient minimalism and ethereal Pop romanticism thrown in for a lark. She's also stocked her band with her siblings -- pianist Tenor, bellist/vocalist Tetra and cellist Treble (yes, they're all named out of a music dictionary).
Dig It: Radiohead and Sigur Ros debating the relevance of Debussy. (BB)
Campfire Crush (Newport)
From the late '90s wreckage of local faves Roundhead and Radiolaria came Campfire Crush, a guitarless quartet featuring trumpeter/vocalist Dan McCabe, lap steeler/vocalist Carrie Reynard, bassist (OK, so there's technically one guitar) Jane Lane and drummer Eric Cope. You might hear whiffs of Grandaddy and Beulah in their just released debut disc, Lunar Moss, and, as the band's name implies, you might fall in lust around the firepit. Great either way.
Dig It: A band with the block and tackle to say, "Geetars? We don't need no stinking geetars! (Except for the bass geetar ... we need that)." (BB)
Four Finger Five (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
Groove is the driving force behind this four-piece, who have been kicking out the soulful jams since 2003, when they began under the cringe-worthy banner "Funksion." The band's sound has gradually gotten jazzier over the years, with the addition of sax-man Jim VanBemmelen, who brought an even bigger element of improvisation to the group. Sure to appeal to the "Jam band" crowd, the band's live show has been lauded for its consistent energy and virtuosic display of musicianship.
Dig It: Soulive, Dave Matthews Band, Medeski, Martin and Wood. (MB)
4Track All-Stars (Cincinnati)
These All-Stars began in 1998, started by J Reynolds, who had just come off his run as the sax playa for local Funk superstars SHAG. The "4Track" part of the collective's name came from the machine used for early recordings. Mixing instrumentals with MC blasts, the group's "genre" is difficult to concretely define, as Reynolds combines his love for inventive, groove-heavy Jazz with doses of Funk, Rock, Electronica and Hip Hop (he sites influences as varied as Duke Ellington and Timbaland).
Dig It: OutKast jamming with Weather Report, the idea of a Hip Hop version of The Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It In the Road" (yup, they do one). (MB)
Brian Deer (Indianapolis)
Like Robbie Fulks, Brian Deer -- thanks to his former outfit Citizen Band's role as one of the region's best Americana Rock bands -- is likely to have the words "Roots" attached to any adjective used to describe him. But, also like Fulks, Deer transcends that tag with songs that are sturdy in their own right a la Elvis Costello or Bruce Springsteen, artists who similarly defy easy categorizations other than "brilliant songwriter."
Dig it: The dream of a Springsteen/Costello songwriting session. (MB)
Ruetschle (Dayton, Ohio)
The name of this great Pop foursome from Dayton -- a consistent MPMF highlight for pure Pop fans -- comes from the family name of singer/songwriter Mike Ruetschle and is pronounced "Richly," as in the insane catchiness of these retrotastic Pop songs so "richly" deserves your attention. The strangely BritPop flavored foursome recently released its third and finest album, Ruetschle Plays Exotic Destinations, on Seattle-based imprint Poptek Records.
Dig It: The Kinks, Guided By Voices, The French Kicks (MB)
Al Hidalgo (Dayton, Ohio)
Hidalgo's set will make for a pleasant MPMF "stopping off point," with gentle piano ballads that create a mellow sonic space for thought collection. But no snoozing: World-ripe vocal illustration and multi-layered instrumentation guaranteed; this is Rock's kinda recital.
Dig It: XTC, the hard-nosed Pop sensibilities (not to mention 20-plus years of practice) of R.E.M. (Hannah Roberts)
Trapper John (Columbus, Ohio)
Trapper John has been a MPMF favorite with their two previous appearances, which means there could be a big local contingent turning out for this one. With their signature layered guitars and infectious melodies, the quartet has been receiving great notices with their latest album from earlier this year, Find a Way.
Dig It: The sweet and sour Alternative tang of Nada Surf and Teenage Fanclub. (BB)
John Stowers (Los Angeles)
Singer/songwriter Stowers says he's a collector of classic vinyl and, growing up in rural Missouri, his only exposure to music was via his brother's Classic Rock and Soul albums. This explains a lot of the familiarity in Stowers' songs, which draw on influences like The Beatles and ELO but still retain a contemporary, radio-ready flow. Stowers' crisp songwriting is straightforward and relaxed, with flashes of biting commentary. ("For Christ's Sake" takes on the bastardization of Christian principles by religious zealots.)
Dig It: Duncan Sheik, John Mayer, Teddy Geiger, a young Elton John transplanted in the '00s with an acoustic guitar. (MB)
The Layers (Cincinnati)
Songwriters Derrick Davidson and Kevin Muro formed The Layers two years ago with drummer Freddie Brackmann. Claiming influences from Mozart to KISS, The Layers live up to their "Rock Soup" descriptor, jumping from stomping Arena Rock ("Heavy On the Street") to buoyant, harmony-laden Ska/Reggae/Pop ("Convincing A Girl," "Sweet Revenge"), with strong melodies being the main constant. The group's fusionistic vision is on display in all its glory on The Layers' debut album, Days of Gold. Enjoy your soup!
Dig It: Sublime, the members of The English Beat and KISS trading songs after the club closes. (MB)
Big Pretty and the Red Rockets (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
The Red Rockets formed three years ago as a drumless trio with a cellist, who then merged with a local duo known as Big Pretty and eventually added a cute accordianist and a muscular drummer. Needless to say, anything goes with a sextet that loves Hip Hop, Reggae, Jam, Roots and Classic Rock in equal measures.
Dig It: G. Love drinking applejack with Dave Matthews, listening to Jazz 78s, the Bob Marley box set and Hip Hop on the radio. (BB)
Sid Law and mercy killer (Seattle)
Law routinely turns musical expectation on its pointed little head and slaps it for being presumptuous. Law and mercy killer, his unorthodox lead keyboard/rhythm keyboard/bass/drum configuration, can go from World Beat to Funk to Rap to Lounge at the drop of a rhyme and without a seam showing. Law is a guitar virtuoso, a skilled tenor and a gifted multi-instrumentalist with five CDs to his credit.
Dig It: Outkast in an MC showdown with Beck and The Roots. (BB)
Reese (New York, N.Y.)
Rock, Rap, Funk and Soul all find their way into the music of singer Reese's tight, punchy blend. But it mostly just plain rocks. With laser-beam guitar riffs and a groovetastic rhythm section, Reese's music is a particularly soulful brand of hard 'n heavy Rock & Roll, making the title of 2001's breakthrough album, Eclectic Soul, all the more appropriate. His single from that album, "Love to Spare," earned him widespread airplay and even some video spins on Much Music and BET. He's currently readying his latest album, New Fire: Pain B4 Pleasure, due out this winter.
Dig It: Living Colour, 24-7 Spyz, Sevendust. (MB)
Marvin & The Experience (Cincinnati)
Marvin's "experience" extends far beyond his musical talent, but just singling out his musical achievements will leave one's mouth agape. Trained at top-notch schools and traveling around the world performing for thousands, the past couple of years have been good to him. He performed with Talib Kweli, has shared the stage with Usher, Ohio Players and Roberta Flack and was chosen to perform for then-presidential candidate John Kerry on the riverfront a couple of years ago.
Dig It: Eric Benet, Prince, Raphael Saadiq. (DP)
COOPER'S ON MAIN
The Kellys (Warren, Ohio)
The Kellys just released On the World Tour, and since their beginnings in 2003 they've won third place in the national round of Jillian's "Roots of Rock Band Battle" in Memphis and second place in "Project Rockstar," where they got to headline at the Cleveland House of Blues. The girl's got a voice on her, that's for sure.
Dig It: Pink with normal hair. (DP)
The Swarthy Band (Cincinnati)
Starting in the late '90s as an energized acoustic Pop troubadour, singer/songwriter Swarthy assembled a band of ace players in the early '00s to give his timeless, classic Power Pop songs the robust, masterful ornamentation they deserve. The band's two releases (2002's Play This In Front of Your Cool Friends and 2004's Oh Yeah) are two of the finest slabs of Pop/Rock ever produced in the Queen City -- which says a lot, given the city's fine tradition; next year's release, How They Look to the Sky, is eagerly anticipated. The band's vigorous, highly entertaining live shows have been MPMF highlights every year they've played.
Dig It: Robert Pollard, Elvis Costello, The Beatles. (MB)
Shrug (Dayton, Ohio)
A band that draws on too many sources can be pulled off track by their own influences, but Shrug doesn't have any trouble orchestrating their numerous heroes into their own unique sound. Classic Rock collides with Grunge, Glam waltzes with jangly Pop, and Americana does shots with Punk. At the end of it, as if to say "Hope you like it," there's a Shrug.
Dig It: A campfire memorial for Johnny Thunders, Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley and half The Who, with David Bowie, Michael Stipe, Tom Petty and Steve Earle passing the guitar. (BB)
The Scourge of the Sea (Lexington, Ky.)
The Scourge of the Sea makes the kind of Pop music that defines the reason people love music in the first place. Jangling hooks and mournful vocals that seep in slowly, smart lyrics that continue to engage and enlighten long after the first pass and arrangements that delicately bridge the distance between ephemeral and visceral. Gorgeous, intelligent and emotive music that belies its argh-matey nomenclature.
Dig It: A pastoral Folk/Power Pop collaboration between The Shins, Eef Barzelay, Michael Penn and Grant-Lee Phillips. (BB)
The Rockwells (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Rock history is littered with the remains of bands who couldn't survive the clashing egos of battling brothers in their ranks. The Rockwells are testing fate with two sets of brothers in a dynamic Pop/Rock situation that has survived for the past six years and as many recordings. They live up to their name.
Dig It: The Beatles and all their children and their children's children. And alcohol. (BB)
Marshall Seese (Atlanta)
With groove-riddled Pop songs and a charismatic presence, singer/songwriter Seese released an eponymous EP (produced by Grammy winner Don McCollister) just prior to his appearance at last year's MPMF. The recording has clicked with both listeners and industry folks, earning spins through XM and other radio outlets and getting over 10,000 plays via his MySpace. Seese gets special love in his hometown -- he was bestowed with "Best Singer/Songwriter" honors by the readers of Atlanta's Creative Loafing newsweekly last year.
Dig It: Maroon 5, John Mayer with a Funk jones, The Verve Pipe. (MB)
Taylor Mckenna (Dallas)
Fresh from winning Sonicbids' Emerging Artist slot on the Virgin College Mega Tour (where he opened for Yellowcard and Mae), Mckenna is anxious to sew his Alternative/Folk/Rock sound even further afield. His impressive résumés includes 12 years of classical and musical theory training, a pair of well-received albums and a loyal following throughout Texas.
Dig It: A sensitive songwriter summit with Pete Yorn, Dave Matthews, David Gray and John Mayer. (BB)
The Princes of Hollywood (Athens, Ohio)
The Princes of Hollywood begin with a strong foundation of Folk/Rock songwriting and fold in skewed takes on any number of additional genres, including Country, Doo-Wop, Pop/Rock, Jazz and Blues. The Princes have two albums (2003's Moving Slowly and 2004's Direction of Motion) and their third album, which will hopefully extend the movement theme in their titles, promises to develop their sound even further.
Dig It: Ryan Adams and The Wallflowers teaching an extension course on the harmonies of CSNY, the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel. (BB)
Screaming Mimes (Cincinnati)
The latest in the fine tradition of Pop/Rock in Cincinnati, Screaming Mimes don't write overly earnest, woe-is-me songs or strive to save the world with political messages. With snappy, memorable melodies and clever lyrics, the Mimes are ten times more fun and jubilant then your average pack of Rock & Roll scallywags. Cleverness aside, the band's sharp songwriting skills and interesting rhythms (occasionally using Reggae grooves much the way XTC did at times early on) are equally infectious, making the band more and more fans via airplay on local radio and regular club dates.
Dig It: Barenaked Ladies, XTC, Joe Jackson, psychodots. (MB)
When the members of MercuroChrome claim influences ranging from Velvet Crush to Arcade Fire to KISS to Gillian Welch, that's a claim that requires attention. The only place you'd generally see those names together would be in a comprehensive Rock encyclopedia or in my schizophrenic record collection. Amazingly, MercuroChrome lives up to their quilt-patch references and the proof is all over their excellent debut CD, Is That What They Want.
Dig It: Mitch Easter producing a swinging, jangly Surf/spy movie soundtrack involving all of the above and more. (BB)
The Yo-Yo Contingency (Seattle/Detroit)
Eccentric, to say the least, The Yo-Yo Contingency is a duo that play multitudes of instruments, including guitar, ukulele, keyboard, percussion ... and I believe I heard a kazoo. They released Backed by a Toy Army in June, and there could not be a more appropriate name for an album title.
Dig It: The quirkiness of Ween and the dorkiness of Napoleon Dynamite coming together to play a show at the circus. (DP)
Ballroom Dancing (Cleveland, Tenn.)
Some bands like to call themselves eclectic because they are so audacious, they do both rockers and ballads. Ballroom Dancing doesn't need to make such claims; a simple listen to a few of their songs and you'll realize you're dealing with some highly skilled, remarkably clever musical chameleons. The grand Pop instincts of early ELO, the inescapable, moving harmonies of The Beach Boys and the broad, theatrical song structuring of Queen form the band's creative core, but they're not above jumping into, get this, authentic, banjo-laden Dixieland Jazz if'n they feel like it. If it wasn't put together so well, it would come off like a novelty. But, while fun, Ballroom Dancing is no joke.
Dig It: If your iPod segues Queen into Scott Joplin into The Beatles into Grandaddy, this is your new favorite band. (Mike Breen)
Diet Audio (Cincinnati)
A series of bleeps, monotone sentence fragments, laser-chimes, a pulsating bassline, an authoritative leading lady: Cincinnati's Diet Audio provides the soundtrack to the dreams you wish you were having. Amy Whitaker's otherworldly voice is only the invitation to a visceral, heat-seeking celebration of the body's unspoken and involuntary contract with rhythm.
Dig It: A less intense Portishead, Shirley Manson, a game of strip poker without cards. (HR)
The Trolleyvox (Philadelphia)
The Trolleyvox have been working this potent groove of Beth Filla's gorgeously earthy vocals and Andrew Chalfen's sinewy guitar and haunting songcraft for the better part of a decade. Their new album and third release overall, Karaoke Meltdowns, is a lush, melancholy and muscular display of the quartet's considerable and diverse talents.
Dig It: A serious Pop mindmeld between 10,000 Maniacs and the (not so) Innocence Mission with Dr. Petetownshendstein presiding. (Brian Baker)
Culture Queer (Cincinnati)
With a sound that's equal parts acid trip, Rice Krispies in milk and thunderous extraterrestrial invasion, Cincinnati's favorite schizophrenic call-and-answer freakazoids deliver widely acclaimed Electro-Pop all the while insisting, "We're not gay unless you mean happy-go-lucky." It's a radioactive life-escape hatch; hurry up, and bring sunglasses.
Dig It: B-52s on amphetamines and in shuffled Surround Sound. (HR)
Although the core of Shadeland has been together since 1997 under a variety of names, this version of the lineup has been active for just over two years. The Indianapolis quartet has made great strides between last year's debut, Escape Plan, and their latest concept EP, Sleeping Through Earthquakes, which has been garnering great press in the region.
Dig It: Radiohead's expansive sense of Rock paranoia, Pink Floyd's innate sense of concept, Minus the Bear's visceral sense of Pop absurdity. (BB)
My Left Arm (Chicago)
With a post-punkish fire and quirky Pop instincts, this trio creates a driving, dynamic sound that's emotive but too idiosyncratic and creative to be Emo. The band, which plays frequently in Chicago and around the Midwest, are coming back for their third MPMF appearance and have also played SXSW counter-fest, Quadruple Bypass, in Austin three years running. My Left Arm recently released the full-length CD, Departure, which was produced by Brian Deck, who has worked with artists like Modest Mouse and Liz Phair.
Dig It: Nirvana indulging their Sonic Youth, Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. fetishes to the fullest. (MB)
The Good Luck Joes (Milwaukee)
This quintet has a trio of Andrews (two is usually my limit) and a wealth of influence and talent. Drawing on a broad Classic Rock/Pop/Folk base (with touches of Electronic and Garage Rock), the Good Luck Joes have attracted a loyal fan following with their first two releases (the 48 Hours EP, their full-length What Do You Think of That Noise?) and a compelling live presentation.
Dig It: George Harrison's guitar gently weeping on Chris Martin's piano while Jeff Tweedy writes a poem on a beer bottle. (BB)
The Turnbull AC's (Cincinnati)
Originally appearing as a solo act, frontman Dan Mecher received so much attention for his songwriting and haunting lyrical subject matter that he turned it into a full-fledged party, complete with bass, drums, organ and lead guitar. The result was immediate with Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nominations and, most recently, a new self-titled album, which the band celebrated in the grandest of fashion, booking release shows at three top Cincinnati venues for three days straight. The buzz that this band has created in the Queen City in just a little over a year will be hard to surpass.
Dig It: An unpretentious Costello who tells spellbinding ghost stories. (DP)
Apollo Up! (Nashville, Tenn.)
Former and current members of Forget Cassettes, On Command, Shiboleth and Lotushalo came together in 2002 to form Apollo Up!, and that exclamation point is there quite appropriately. Rough, hard Rock with remnants of Punk makes this band a must-see. They just released their second album, Chariots of Fire, on Theory 8 Records.
Dig It: Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, RAWK! (Daniele Pfarr)
GUIDO'S CORNER TAP
Carol Ames (San Diego)
Born in Texas, Ames is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer whose most recent album, Shades of Indigo (her third release), has garnered her widespread praise and accolades. Her smoldering, rootsy, well-constructed Adult Alternative songs have helped her get nominated for (and win) several awards, including nods from the San Diego Music Awards, Billboard's World Song Contest and the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, where she earned the grand prize in the "Country" category in 2004.
Dig It: Nanci Griffith, pre-political Dixie Chicks, Kathy Mattea. (MB)
Mike Fair and the Adventure Seekers (Cincinnati)
You've got to love a guy who lists Claude Monet and Sandy Koufax among his influences. Journeyman guitarist Fair (he's played with Ma Crow and the Flock, MC Blue and Wojo) was recording demos for his various other bands when he realized he'd made an album and formed the Adventure Seekers to play it live. I Am Smiling, Dammit has garnered great reviews since its release earlier this year and Fair and the Seekers tear it up on stage.
Dig It: Rootsy slowburn gene splice of early Wilco and Rod Stewart when he was, you know, great. (BB)
Westside Daredevils (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Westside Daredevils have been among the reigning champs of Knoxville's Pop/Rock scene for years, and the release earlier this year of the quartet's Twilight Children cements their position. With melodies catchier than the Hong Kong flu and harmonies that bridge the gap between the Pop innocence of the '60s and the Indie Rock sophistication of now (and production from former Superdrag drummer Don Coffey Jr.), Westside Daredevils show the kind of world class talent that Knoxville has been turning out for years.
Dig It: Imagining what Superdrag would sound like if they were obsessed with The Raspberries. (BB)
Nathan Asher & the Infantry (Raleigh, N.C.)
With Asher's utterly astonishing poetics and natural, conversational vocal style, plus lyrics that tell captivating stories and/or deal with the upside-down state of current affairs in the world, The Infantry is like a Folk big band filtered through a Modern Rock paradigm. Though they create a dust-bowl whirl of energy akin to the Arcade Fire, they're also capable of more dramatic shifts in tone and texture. The band's latest album, last year's Sex Without Love, shows they have more than what it takes to be the next big ArtPop band on the Indie scene.
Dig It: Bright Eyes, Margo and the Nuclear So and So's, Wilco. (MB)
The Hiders (Cincinnati)
Bill Alletzhauser (former Ass Ponys guitarist) leads this supergroup of talented musicians who released their first album (Valentine) just a few months ago, receiving fantastic press all around. The harmonies between Alletzhauser and Beth Harris add to the longing and aching heard in the melancholy tunes that bleed heartbreak and loss.
Dig It: Neil Young harmonizing with Emmylou Harris. (DP)
Sibling rivalry has resulted in some of the finest Rock music ever created (see Black Crowes, Kinks, Oasis). If brotherly squabbles are the key to success, then this accessible Pop/Rock crew has a leg up, featuring not two, but three brothers (Bryon, Nolan and Danny Rossi). Having toured the country in different band incarnations, Schaeffer is ready to take it to the next level with its new CD, No Ordinary People, which features pure, emotionally direct Pop songs about love gained, love lost and love in waiting.
Dig It: The kind of Rock music they play on VH1. (MB)
Stranger Lazy (Indianapolis/Bloomington, Ind.)
Stranger Lazy has been alive for almost 10 years and has self-released five full-length albums. They're currently working on another entitled 80's Brown. SL has shared the stage with Local H and played esteemed venues such as The Trash Bar (NYC) and Birdy's (Indianapolis). They've got a unique sound, each song sounding distinctly different from the next, with interesting time changes and melodic vocals that mesmerize.
Dig It: Built to Spill, Modest Mouse. (DP)
The Spectacular Fantastic (Cincinnati)
Mike Detmer has been crafting and honing the Spectacular Fantastic's broad ranging, self-described "retro Pop with a twang" for the past four years, making the quartet one of the area's best Pop/Rock outfits. After four terrific albums and a host of EPs, if The Spectacular Fantastic is, as they say, "the best band you never heard of," you need to school yourself and fast.
Dig It: Influences like Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams, Yo La Tengo, Pavement, GBV, Johnny Cash and The Beatles speak volumes. So does their name. (BB)
The trio zerochance has the kind of name that seems inspired by something someone told them when they started. Now they're shoving the comment back in that numbnuts' face, like Skynyrd when they named their band after their redneck gym teacher. Zerochance's new album, Better Days for Broken Hearts, is attracting major label attention and the band has opened for Sheryl Crow, Uncle Kracker and Michelle Branch, among many others; they've got the big time chops to back up those stats.
Dig It: Infectious Pop with no fear. (BB)
This group of guys has it all: talent, catchy tunes and experiences that most people never know at such a young age. Fizzgig has gone through two tours of England, as well as a slew of other accomplishments that include TV appearances, radio play on XM Radio and featured songs in three independently released films that took part in the Detroit Film Festival. With several releases already out, their new album is due later this year.
Dig It: Weezer, All-American Rejects. (Daniele Pfarr)
JEKYLL & HYDE'S 2ND FLOOR
This trio is headed up by the brother/sister duo of Alison and Carl Shepard, who deftly combine emotional, almost folksy Pop songs with programmed electronics. The acoustic guitars and natural, ethereal vocals blended with modern rhythms and technology creates a new brand of dreamy Trip Hop. Together since 2001, entheos (which also features drummer Justin Webb) released its self-titled debut CD in 2004 to local acclaim.
Dig It: Everything But the Girl, Venus Hum, Beth Orton. (MB)
ellee ven (Los Angeles)
A name-change and the abandonment of a teaching career kick-started Jessica Kunin's newfound life as a club-ready Electronic Pop princess. Settling on the stage name ellee ven (a play on the number "11"), Kunin released her first album, The Eleventh Hour, in 2001. The album created buzz on MP3 sites and some songs landed on national TV shows. More recently, Kunin released Project 11, a CD/vinyl project designed to catch the attention of DJs. It worked -- DJs are now spinning her music internationally. Sleek and stylish, Kuinin's songs are laced with sugary Pop melodies, Electro quriks and vamping Euro-Disco beats.
Dig It: Annie, pre-superstar Madonna, Goldfrapp. (MB)
Liquefaction (Austin, Tex.)
Liquefaction was formed by multi-instrumentalist Kindel, a chilly, alluring vocalist. But, unlike most Electronica/Dance bands, she isn't just the ear/eye-candy frontwoman -- she is the main writer and musician/programmer, joined by a fellow synth player/programmer/guitarist (who is either named "Joe," "Cyber Lexi" or "Sine," depending on which bio/Web site you look at). Liquefaction's music -- an expansive, pounding and hypnotic mix of Progressive Dance and Industrial music with sci-fi imagery and a Goth undertow -- can be heard on their two full-length CDs and various compilations.
Dig It: Dead Can Dance with a trippier, modern club music injection. (MB)
Hungry Lucy (Cincinnati)
If Hungry Lucy reminds listeners of Depeche Mode, the duo comes by the comparison honestly. In 1998, War-N Harrison was invited to contribute to a DP tribute album and he enlisted vocalist Christa Belle to front the track "Blue Dress." The collaboration was so positive, the pair formed Hungry Lucy. With eight years, three full-lengths and a brand new EP behind them, Hungry Lucy have consistently been awing local fans ... and national ones too, when they hit the road or get discovered online.
Dig It: Madonna and Depeche Mode team up for some Gothic/Trip Pop/Dance darkness. (BB)
Dress Code (Dayton, Ohio)
Derek "DJH" Holley founded Dress Code in the '90s, and the debut, About Time, has seen airplay on MTV, VH1 and Indie film projects. His track "Break It Down" appears in the Indie film Limbo, and a few other tracks are featured on a compilation album from London's dance label, Home City Records.
Dig It: Depeche Mode with Isaac Hayes replacing David Gahan. (DP)
JEKYLL & HYDE'S 3RD FLOOR
Nate McDonough (Springfield, Ohio)
Springfield might be a small town, but it's spawned some big names -- Grammy winner John Legend, Methods of Mayhem vocalist Tim Murray, singer/songwriter Griffin House -- and now up-and-comer McDonough. He began playing guitar at 13 and within two years was playing hometown bars to appreciative audiences. McDonough and his crack band are about to release their debut album.
Dig It: Good lyrics, tight harmonies, the art of the song. (BB)
Fokushima (Athens, Ohio)
For anyone raised on the epic Folk of James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot and Cat Stevens, it's comforting when a young band offers respite from the nonstop, clanging desperation of more contemporary music. With soothing vocal harmonies and easy R&B grooves, Fokushima have reached a level of cohesion and wisdom that belies their short time together.
Dig It: Nice 'n Easy, American automobiles, the combination of leather and denim, Simon & Garfunkel. (HR)
I know you're wondering, so here's the scoop: Penumbrae is the area between complete shadow and complete illumination. Does that definition make it the perfect name for this Detroit quintet? If the Penumbrae in this case is the area between Folk, Americana, Pop and Rock, then perhaps it is. But a band with this much chemistry and charisma is leaning more toward illumination.
Dig It: Lucinda Williams-layered rootsy Folk cake with Radiohead/Pink Floyd icing. (BB)
Formed in 2000 by singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Acres, this trio has released three hook-heavy full-length CDs, been featured on radio stations around the country and had songs placed in both TV shows and movies. The band's heartfelt Pop/Rock sound has earned them opening slots with like-minded artists such as Train, Jason Mraz and Collective Soul. Doing everything totally DIY-style, ACRES has also become something of an Atlanta music sensation; along with three other top honors, readers voted them the best overall band in the city for newsweekly Creative Loafing's local music awards.
Dig It: Counting Crows, Goo Goo Dolls, newer Bon Jovi. (MB)
Philosopher's Stone (Florence, Ky.)
Philosopher's Stone make magnetic, liquefied Indie Pop that flows like an ocean breeze. Atmospheric and poppy but never pandering, the Stone began rolling in earnest in 2001, when they released their debut album, The Goods & The Ills. Singer/guitarist Brad Denham reconstituted the band with a new lineup recently and, as a five-piece now, the band is busy recording new songs in Denham's home studio.
Dig It: Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, The Shins. (MB)
Bill Reveles (Westlake Village, Calif.)
Hey, do you know if any of the MPMF venues will be serving pork roast from a spitfire grill? There will be ample hitching posts on Main Street, right? I recommend you enjoy Reveles' self-proclaimed Garage Gospel the way it was intended. Or better yet, just grab a seat and let the good ol' Heartland Rock bring the range to you.
Dig It: Jesus, G, C and D chords, any song that's ever made you think that church might not be that bad. (HR)
Brian Charniga (Cincinnati)
Charniga made his debut three years ago, but he sounds like he's been singing for an eternity. Like Jeff Buckley (to whom Charniga has drawn numerous comparisons), he isn't your usual set-up-in-the-corner-and-blend-in-with-the-wallpaper type of singer/songwriter; his fluid songs command attention, emitting a hypnotic, almost otherworldly aura dripping with passion and soul.
Dig It: Buckley's Live at Siné EP, sensual, seductive poetics. (MB)
Nathan Wade (Seattle)
Deeply traditional in both tone and spirit, Wade's recently released CD, The Dead Leaves Sing, was inspired by the songwriter's love of historian/chronicler Alan Lomax and his field recordings, particularly the Southern Journey compilation. Wade translates the Country Blues sensibility of the those old recordings, filtered through his own perspective, but he also gives them an extra layer of genuineness and intimacy by recording them out "in the field," at various spots around Bainbridge Island (an old schoolhouse, a lodge in the woods, a room overlooking the coastal shoreline). The results are hauntingly soulful and moving, just like those old Lomax recordings that stirred him initially.
Dig It: Murder ballads, Nick Cave, "Post-Apocalypse Americana." (MB)
Melissa Greener (Austin, Tex.)
Greener's rich Acoustic Pop is informed by a remarkably adventurous life. Born in Detroit, Greener has lived and performed in Canada, China, Tel Aviv and San Francisco, before she finally settled (for now) in the music-crazy hub of Austin. But it's the music of America that most flavors her sound. Influenced by Lucinda Williams, Ani DiFranco, Simon & Garfunkel and Nick Drake, Greener's slick-sounding debut CD, Fall From the Sky, has drawn some positive press, including a review from Acoustic Guitar Magazine, which noted that, despite being her first album, she "is already a pro."
Dig It: Shawn Colvin, Joni Mitchell, Sarah McLachlan. (MB)
Martha Berner (Williams Bay, Wisc.)
Berner has lived nearly everywhere and has soaked up an extraordinary amount of music in the process. Filtered through her passionate love of everything from Tori Amos to Led Zeppelin, Berner lashes together the twang of Folk/Country, the burn of Alternative Country and the punch of Indie Rock on her acclaimed full length debut, 2005's ...this side of yesterday.
Dig It: 10,000 Maniacs with Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Ani DiFranco and Gordon Gano pitching in, pushing the total to 10,004 Maniacs actually. (BB)
Wake the Bear (Cincinnati)
Scott Cunningham, former member of Promenade, had a solo vision and Wake the Bear was the end product. Just a few months after the conception, Cunningham was receiving attention around the city and more particularly on online radio station WOXY, where he was chosen to take part in the "Unsigned" program and podcast, which also featured Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. His album Woe Is Meat was released in late 2005.
Dig It: A falsetto Sufjan Stevens. (DP)
Alex Diaz/Ho Chi Minh (Miami, Fla.)
Diaz records under a variety of guises, including his own name, Xela Zaid (come on, DaVinci Code fans, puzzle that one out) and Ho Chi Minh. Diaz has sported a dark Indie Rock streak that suggests a love of Nirvana, Pixies and the Lennon wing of the Beatles exhibit, but his new Summerwood EP (as Ho Chi Minh) plays things closer to his Pop influences.
Dig It: Frank Black playing Ouija poker with Kurt Cobain and John Lennon. (BB)
KNOW THEATRE DOWNSTAIRS
Nikki Capra (Chicago)
It's a rare joy when artists look beyond the musical spectrum and include influences such as James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. Capra does just that, writing poetic lyrics with classically trained piano behind them. Earlier this year, Capra was one of five finalists at the International Song of the Year contest for her song, "Snow Angels," and her first release, The Astronaut, includes songs that have been chosen for licensing by Noteborn Music (affiliates include MTV, Comcast and Spike TV).
Dig It: Tori Amos with a PhD in English. (DP)
The Whitney Barricklow Band (Cincinnati)
Backed by some of the best musicians in the city, Barricklow's stirring Pop songs are filled with catchy, sugar-sweet melodies sung in one of the finest voices you'll hear in the Cincinnati music scene. Barricklow has released two EPs, which -- along with an energized stage show -- have earned the band slots at several local music festivals, airplay on local radio and appearances on local TV. The band is currently working on its first full-length album, which is due imminently.
Dig It: Jill Sobule, Dar Williams. (MB)
Pete and J (New York, N.Y.)
Singers/guitarists Pete and J are two songwriters without a band. They make that clear on their debut release, called ...Without a Band (actually, they've more recently teamed with a drummer and bassist, making that debut nothing but a big fat lie!). The twosome (Pete Harper and Jason Blynn are their proper names) met and began performing together in college, combining their talents at open mics and wherever they could get a gig. They each played in several other bands in various parts of the country (together and apart), before landing in NYC, their homebase for frequent tours up and down the east coast (they even landed some UK dates earlier this year).
Dig It: Unplugged, laid-back Black Crowes, Elton John with an acoustic, Elliott Smith without a deathwish (MB)
Stephanie's Id (Asheville, N.C.)
Fueled by the colorful, expressive vocals and melodies of singer Stephanie Morgan, Stephanie's Id makes kaleidoscopic, adventurous Pop music with natural layers, dynamic, theatrical arrangements and an eclectic, infectious pulse. The band's enchanting, unique sound has garnered plenty of attention from the industry and artistic community. Their music has been the basis of a ballet, while Jane magazine placed one of their songs on a compilation CD and their song, "White Guys Selling Cars," placed third in the Unisong International Song Contest's "social/political" category. With a retooled lineup, the band is kicking off a national tour at MPMF, which will be followed by Morgan and keyboardist Chuck Lichtenberger's wedding in (keeping in line with their unconventionality) Iceland.
Dig It: Björk, an organic Stereolab, Shivaree. (MB)
KNOW THEATRE UPSTAIRS
Steven Cooley (Indianapolis)
Lots of artists feel lucky to be playing MPMF. Singer/songwriter/pianist Cooley is probably feeling just lucky to be playing anywhere. Inspired by Gospel music as a child, he sang in choir up through high school, when he taught himself piano and began writing songs and playing clubs. But alcohol and drugs got the best of him, and he ended up homeless and on the streets. He got himself cleaned up and dove headfirst back into music, translating his experiences and life reflections into passionate, R&B-tinged Pop songs. The results can be heard on his highly professional-sounding debut album, Lost My Faith.
Dig It: Gavin DeGraw, Nick Lachey, Maroon 5. (MB)
This is a husband and wife making beautiful music together -- literally. Their single "Anna" will be featured on the new TV show Desire, and their spring release Lying Awake was produced by Grammy nominee Ric Hordinski (Over the Rhine, David Wilcox) and released nationally. They met at college in Cincinnati and claim they don't get sick of each other, which is good because they're touring the U.S. extensively this year.
Dig It: Heather Nova, or any of the heartfelt songs you always hear on Scrubs. (DP)
Shane Bartell (Austin, Tex.)
Bartell has been a pretty big deal in some potent scenes, guitaring with Cling in Austin and fronting his own band in Portland. On his own, Bartell's early Smiths exposure comes through on the quietly emotive and amazingly powerful songs from his debut EP, Reference, and his full-length follow-up, Too Soon to Tell.
Dig It: Thom Yorke fronting Coldplay and opening for Morrissey. (BB)
Peter Adams (Cincinnati)
At an age when most people are figuring out what to do post-college, Adams was playing every instrument on his debut album, The Spiral Eyes, which went on to become a huge chart-topping hit in Sweden. Swedes obviously identified with Adams' ability to create cinematic Pop with a visceral twist. You should too.
Dig It: The Flaming Lips arm wrestling Neutral Milk Hotel at a Beatles appreciation convention. (BB)
Medicine Hat (Chicago)
With a winning mix of Roots Rock, Americana and boozy Jam Rock, Medicine Hat has powered out three acclaimed albums in three years and attracted a sizable and loyal following at home and throughout the Midwest. The sextet is renowned for their loose but furiously intense live shows, earning comparisons to The Faces and Crazy Horse.
Dig It: The Faces drinking, the Drive-By Truckers driving, the Black Crowes blasting out of the speakers. (BB)
Woosley Band (Columbus, Ohio)
This busy Cowtown fivesome make music with a Power Pop sense of melody and the ragged, organic drive of mature Roots Rock, like Elvis Costello commandeering The Jayhawks for his backing band. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Sean Woosley, the band -- which, with slight lineup modifications, has also performed as The Fierce Lime and His Ponytail Assassins -- has a lifetime's worth of CDs in its discography already and they've got two more in the pipeline, Follow Fire Exit Signs (due soon) and The Thundermug Eulogies, due in early 2007.
Dig It: Robbie Fulks, old Wilco. (MB)
Zach Broocke (Los Angeles)
Singer/songwriter Broocke (pronounced "brook") is a Wisconsin native who journeyed into the music world to show the world there's more to his home state than "Laverne and Shirley, the Brewers and, of course, cheese." He began his mission in Nashville, where he recorded his debut album, Be Somebody, with some of the city's finest session players. Broocke then took his rootsy, refined Pop/Rock songs to Los Angeles, where he formed a backing band that features ace players who have worked with the likes of Jackson Browne and Brian Wilson. With his new band, he recorded the EP Last Call, which came out this year and features the kind of gently rockin,' ear-cradling songs that are just begging to be played on Top 40 radio.
Dig It: The Wallflowers, Ray LaMontagne, Tom Petty. (MB)
Pike 27 (Newport)
Pike 27 are the pioneers of Roots Rock in Cincinnati, and frontman Dave Purcell is accompanied by award-winning musicians from the area. Members have included former members of The Warsaw Falcons, The Graveblankets and The Stardevils, along with current members of notable bands such as Clabbergirl and Messerly & Ewing. According to the band, they're for music fans who are tired of Pop or Americana artists that have left behind the Rock side of the equation.
Dig It: A rougher R.E.M. or The Rolling Stones. (DP)
Caddle (Birmingham, Ala.)
Bad jobs, brassy broads and cryin' in a bottle are topics that are the hallmarks of classic Country. It's also the domain of Alabama's self-proclaimed "bastard sons of Southern Rock," Caddle, whose music shows a distant C&W influence but is propped up by a teethy, turbo-charged Rock & Roll energy that is remarkably infectious. The powerhouse quintet has been compared to "Hank Williams fronting the Ramones" and called "Steve Earle meets The Clash," which speaks a lot to Caddle's skills as players and songwriters. Drinkin' music, sure, but there's real proficiency going on here as well.
Dig It: Drive-By Truckers, Supersuckers, Jason and the Scorchers. (MB)
The Sportsman's Club (Columbus, Ohio)
Mike Brewer, the lone gunman of The Sportsman's Club, claims to just "piss around with various software on the ole laptop trying to make music in whatever window life allows." For just "pissing around," he's landed some tunes that teeter on the brink of melodious Nick Drake and the distinctively sounding Spoon. Brewer is also a member of two other Columbus bands, Lori and Kola Koca Death Squad.
Dig It: A one man Spoon, solo Tweedy, sparse Indie Folk. (DP)
Shoot the Messenger (New York, N.Y.)
Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters and U2 inspire this band to strive for a musical message. Talking Heads, Barenaked Ladies and XTC allow them to perform with humor in mind. Altogether, the band is a fusion of many genres wrapped into one quirky package. Three of their songs have won songwriting contests, and their album, My So-Called Democracy, was released in 2005.
Dig It: The humor of Barenaked Ladies, with serious undertones. (DP)
Elliott Ruther Trio (Cincinnati)
It's clear from such soulfully frantic Blues Rock tunes as their latest, "Baby Lucifer" (which has all the unforgettable makings of a classic), that the Elliott Ruther Trio have not yet begun to fight. Mixing the sexually charged swagger of early Punk influences like The Clash with tireless and pouting Stones-esque hooks, no doubt the stage lights will peter out before these guys do.
Dig It: Bill Haley, Violent Femmes. (HR)
Late Night Drivers (Dayton, Ohio)
Yeah, I've always thought Weezer should have brought a chick on board, too. But, unless Belle and Sebastian is the goal, you have to pick just the right ultra-femme vocals. Heather's sexy slide is personable without trying too hard and it adds the perfect amount of fun to those crunchy guitars and devil-may-care Pop sensibilities.
Dig It: Pixies, Pixies, Pixes. (Oh, and some GBV for good measure.) (HR)
The Spares (Chicago)
Whether they're talking about sticking it to the 9-to-5 "Man" ("Mexico") or a family on the brink of breakage ("I Don't Love You Anymore"), The Spares hammer out sweet O' Brother Where Art Thou-esque Americana that is anything but what their name suggests. Wartime snare drums, front-porch mandolin and Jodee Lewis's twisty twang paint a picture of the era and geography that should have yielded this band.
Dig It: Alison Krauss & Union Station, only a bit jaded and dirtier. (HR)
Shanna Zell (New York, N.Y.)
Whether backed by a full Rock band or just singing with her acoustic guitar, singer/songwriter Zell's voice echoes with a passionate, aggressive force that makes her music stand out from some of her more timid peers. She dove into the NYC scene a few years ago, playing successful shows at esteemed venues like The Knitting Factory. Her first full-length album, Hurricane Season, features backing from musicians who have worked with everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to Tony Bennett and it has received good response from radio and Internet music sites. The album features the sultry Rock cut, "The Flatlands," which was chosen for the soundtrack of the awesomely-named indie flick, Dykeotomies, a comedy about a lesbian stand-up comedian.
Dig It: Alanis Morissette, Aimee Mann, Lisa Loeb. (Mike Breen)
Creepin' Charley and the Boneyard Orchestra (Indianapolis)
In four short years, Creepin' Charley and the Boneyard Orchestra have become one of Indy's most acclaimed Rock outfits. Working the area between the inadvertent polish of Classic Rock and the deliberate chaos of Garage, Creepin' Charley and the Boneyard Orchestra make visceral Rock with an undeniable appeal.
Dig It: Tom Waits fronting The Stooges, opening for a Rolling Stones club tour. (BB)
Buffalo Killers (Cincinnati)
Local fans are still rightfully lamenting the untimely end of Thee Shams, one of the area's great Garage Rock bands. Fear not, Shamheads, the Gabbard brothers (with drummer Joseph Sebaali) have returned to drop some hallucinogenics in your canteen for a journey to the center of your exploding plastic inevitable id as the Buffalo Killers. The trio's new self-titled debut is the sound of Cream, The Beatles and Cactus engulfed in a garage pot cloud. In other words, perfect.
Dig It: '60s psychedelia freaking out in a sweat lodge with '70s Blues Rock. (BB)
the cut*off (Fort Worth, Tex.)
The cut*off consists of four Texas high school friends who reconnected in 2000 while three members attended the University of North Texas. The trio retooled a couple of years later and added a second guitarist/old pal to become the cut*off. The band's sound has some of the slanted structuring of AltRock with just a hint of their Southern roots swirled in for extra flavoring, akin to their hometown heroes The Toadies. The band's latest release, The Rorschach EP (released on Dallas' Summer Break Records), is available now on iTunes. Check the band's MySpace for a wicked cover of the Pixies' "Monkey Gone to Heaven," which appeared on a 2004 Pixies tribute album.
Dig It: Pixies, Modest Mouse. (MB)
The Terrors (Cincinnati)
This quartet has accepted its mission: to deliver edge-of-your-seat, Progadelic music with the perfect mix of scatterbrained precision. It's a nail-biting experience; just when you think the fleeting, layered vocals might jettison you into uncomfortable and unexplored spaces, pounding rhythms delivered with pinpoint accuracy assure you that tour guides are close at hand. The band just announced its break-up, so expect this set to feature some of the "former" members.
Dig It: If The Mars Volta spent less time primping and more time living. (HR)
Brett Mitchell (Midland, Mich.)
Mitchell has been playing in various bands since junior high as a drummer and guitarist, in styles ranging from Garage covers of Green Day to original Blues Rock. Mitchell blends all of his experience and passion into his solo acoustic Pop presentation, as evidenced on his full-length, Stereo.
Dig It: John Mayer vs. Howie Day in acoustic guitar cage match refereed by Jack Johnson. (BB)
Brigid Kaelin (Louisville)
Kaelin left a promising television production career in New York to care for her ailing mother and in the process, she reawakened her love of and desire to play music. Any doubt about the decision dissipated when her album Keep Your Secrets became the biggest selling disc by any Louisville solo artist last year. Kaelin rocks the stage with guitar, piano and, against all odds, accordion and darkly witty songs.
Dig It: Nellie McKay and Lyle Lovett double dating with Norah Jones and John Prine. (BB)
Holly Spears (Cincinnati)
Relocated from West Virginia, Spears has really impressed herself upon the local scene in Cincinnati, and the reactions have been positive and welcoming. She has toured with Blessid Union of Souls and her music has been featured on MTV's Making the Video. Quite busy year round, Spears has performed over 400 shows, and each one is filled with vivid songs and her heartfelt guitar playing and singing.
Dig It: Sheryl Crow with a better voice. (DP)
Jennifer Daniels (Lookout Mountain, Tenn.)
With a golden, versatile voice and strong, intuitive lyrics, Daniels' music has drawn fawning reviews from publications around the country, including Paste Magazine, who called her "an amazing musical talent." A frequent touring artist (with both a full band or simple mandolin/guitar accompaniment from Jeff Neal), she's shared stages with artists like John Mayer and the Indigo Girls. Daniels' sophomore release, Dive & Fly, was named one of the best self-released albums of 2002 by Performing Songwriter, and her latest release, Summer Filled Sky (produced by the esteemed Rodney Mills, who has been behind the boards on over 35 gold and platinum albums), has been similarly drooled over.
Dig It: Sarah McLachlan, Dixie Chicks, Vienna Teng. (Mike Breen)
Emily Herring (Denton, Tex.)
In praising her debut disc from last year, My Tears Will Be Relieved, critics have compared Herring to everyone from the Williamses (Lucinda and Hank) to Merle Haggard to Maria Muldaur. What that translates to is an honest appreciation of Country music's traditions and an understanding of how the Blues fits into the story. Herring is an original voice doing extraordinary things in the simplest terms.
Dig It: A big plate of Texas Country with a side of Delta Blues. (BB)
RED CHEETAH COURTYARD
Rory Lewis Band (Charlotte, N.C.)
Lewis is reportedly the most downloaded unsigned artist on the internet, and his Dave-Navarro's-cute-brother looks once got him voted Sexiest Man in North Carolina. The well-traveled South African native can fit into any opening slot (he's warmed up audiences for The Black Crowes, Violent Femmes and Everclear), plays guitar and sings like a man possessed and he's working on his PhD in Computational Mathematics. Smart, sexy and talented. If we didn't love him, we'd hate him.
Dig It: Ramones-like energy combined with a love and understanding of Jazz, Blues, Jam, Tex-Mex and Classic (and Classical) Rock. (BB)
Gazer (Batesville, Ark.)
They come from a small town. They go to church. They combine to make music that pulls from many of the popular bands that have existed in the past 10 years. For some reason or other, they don't venture much more north than Tennessee, and that's a shame. They've opened for Evanescence, Everclear, Smile Empty Soul and Blindside and their first album will be out sometime later this year.
Dig It: Jellyfish, Depeche Mode that won't make you want to kill yourself, the ominous sounds of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and fashion that belongs on the cover of GQ magazine. (DP)
The Dirty Royals (Los Angeles)
It's been a whirlwind year since the core of the bi-continental LA/UK band Samurai Seven switched drummers and rechristened themselves The Dirty Royals. Last year, the Seven tore up Neon's during MidPoint and the Royals promise to do the same, if their fresh EP, Obsessed America, is any indication.
Dig It: Crunchy, hook-ripe Power Brit Pop/Punk, like