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Don't fear the clown! 

A musical redemption ...

My fiancée, like a lot of people, has an irrational fear of clowns. I mean, sure, if it’s John Wayne Gacy, go ahead, fear the clown, or Ronald McDonald with his children-fattening recipes for lifelong health consequences, then yes, fear away, but Red Skelton? Bozo? Clarabell? Harmless, one and all. Now please add Stix the Clown to that list.

Stix, also known as Michael James, a tattoo-faced cowboy, left his past life as part of the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Sideshow in the early 2000s, settling in New Orleans in 2003 and turning his life toward music. By 2005, he’d formed My Graveyard Jaw, a rootsy, bluesy, Americana quartet that plays the Frog and Peach on Tuesday, Aug. 7.

click to enlarge NOT CLOWNING AROUND :  Former clown Michael James leads his band My Graveyard Jaw through its somber paces on Aug. 7 at Frog and Peach. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MY GRAVEYARD JAW
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MY GRAVEYARD JAW
  • NOT CLOWNING AROUND : Former clown Michael James leads his band My Graveyard Jaw through its somber paces on Aug. 7 at Frog and Peach.

James & Co. made their mark on The Road We Walked Is Now Mine, which consisted of “a lo-fi infectious deep haunting basement blues sound.” In 2010, they followed up with Coming Winds, “a full spectrum, professionally recorded album, mastered by Piety Street Studios.” Now signed to Farmageddon Records, they just released a five-song EP, a teaser for their upcoming 2013 release due in January.

Perhaps knowing they’ve played with the likes of the Devil Makes Three, O’ Death, and the Lumineers will help shed some light on their sound. I listened to a few tracks online, and their sound is melancholic, haunting, and strangely beautiful. James’ voice is like a somber prayer, and fans of early Tom Waits will appreciate his dark aesthetics.

In addition to Michael James on guitar and vocals, the band includes Denise Bonis (member of the Zydepunks) on violin, Kiyoko McCrae on banjo, and Alleyn Evans on cello. The plucking banjo rolls layered with lush strings really add to this quartet’s sparse but stirring sound.

If you like the quiet of midnight graveyard walks, the still beauty of discovering the bones of a sun-drenched bird carcass on a secluded beach, or watching a falcon make off with a field mouse who briefly knows the mystery of flight right before death, you’ll love My Graveyard Jaw.

 

Go fish!

click to enlarge DON’T LET THIS ONE GET AWAY :  Back by popular demand, JimBo Trout and the Fishpeople return to the Red Barn Community Music Series on Aug. 4. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JIMBO TROUT AND THE FISHPEOPLE
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF JIMBO TROUT AND THE FISHPEOPLE
  • DON’T LET THIS ONE GET AWAY : Back by popular demand, JimBo Trout and the Fishpeople return to the Red Barn Community Music Series on Aug. 4.

Back by popular demand, JimBo Trout and the Fishpeople return to the Red Barn Community Music Series at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4 (all ages; $10 donation requested).

This high energy, good-time San Francisco band is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and they continue to deliver “a musical gumbo made up of bluegrass, ragtime, blues, western swing, Appalachian, rock and roll, New Orleans, honky-tonk, and more.”

Featuring JimBo Trout (guitar, banjo, vocals), David Phillips (steel guitar, vocals), Greg Laakso (sax and clarinet), and Steve Neil (bass and vocals), the quartet created danceable, high-energy fun. Their most recent album, Jam Along with JimBo, is filled with old-time mountain music and classic songs for kids.

If you’re looking for a hootin’ and hollerin’ good time, check out this show!

 

The Dude!

The buzz is already huge for Jeff Bridges & The Abiders, who’ll play SLO Brew on Thursday, Aug. 23 (Two shows at 5:15 and 9 p.m.; $40 presale or $45 at the door … if there are any left, which is doubtful; 21-and-older). In addition to being The Dude in one of the greatest cult classics of all time, The Big Lebowski, he tapped into his lifelong love of music in his Academy Award-winning performance as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. If you want to come to this show, I recommend getting tickets now, because these two shows will sell out.

Before that, of course, SLO Brew has a whole other mess of shows cooked up for you, starting on Friday, Aug. 3, with reggae act Tribal Seeds (7:30 p.m.; all ages; $16 presale or $18 at the door), with The Expanders opening. Tribal Seeds lists Bob Marley (natch!), Steel Pulse, and Midnite as influences.

click to enlarge NINER! :  Nine-piece Americana act Old Man Markley returns to SLO Brew on Aug. 6. - PHOTO COURTESY OF OLD MAN MARKLEY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF OLD MAN MARKLEY
  • NINER! : Nine-piece Americana act Old Man Markley returns to SLO Brew on Aug. 6.

Old Man Markley returns to the club on Monday, Aug. 6 (8 p.m.; all ages; $10). The spirited nine-person Americana act performs on a range of homey instruments, including kazoo, train whistle, autoharp, and washboard.

Former boxer, singer-songwriter, and raconteur Paul Thorn, born in Tupelo and raised among Mississippi’s rich musical history, returns on Tuesday, Aug. 7 (7 p.m.; 21-and-older; $17 presale or $19 at the door). He’s got great songs, great stories, and a voice that gets under your skin.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, the Charm City Devils will bring their blues-based roots rock’n’roll to the club with opening act Rusted Stone (8 p.m.; all ages; $10.73 … because the show’s presented by New Rock 107.3FM!).

And mark your calendar for Thursday, Aug. 9, because ALO is coming back to the club with a great new album, Sounds Like This, to promote (7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $20 pre4sale or $23 at the door). Paula Fuga & Mike Love Trio opens.

 

Play, songwriters, play

Steve Key’s Songwriters at Play showcase series kicks off on Thursday, Aug. 2, in its newest location, Arroyo Grande’s SLO Down Pub, with headliner Susan Marie Reeves (6:30 p.m.; all ages; pass the hat). Reeves, a Santa Barbara resident and lead singer of the band Wild Sage, calls her original music “Gypsy Newgrass”—a combination of bluegrass, folk, Irish, and alternative pop-rock. Guest performers include Nicholas Donaghy, Madeleine Koster, and a duo called Banana Soup.

click to enlarge GYPSY NEWGRASS! :  Steve Key’s Songwriters at Play showcase series kicks off on Aug. 2 in their newest location, Arroyo Grande’s SLO Down Pub, with headliner Susan Marie Reeves. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN MARIE REEVES
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN MARIE REEVES
  • GYPSY NEWGRASS! : Steve Key’s Songwriters at Play showcase series kicks off on Aug. 2 in their newest location, Arroyo Grande’s SLO Down Pub, with headliner Susan Marie Reeves.

On Sunday, Aug. 5, check out Blue Cactus Choir at Sculpterra Winery (1 p.m.; all ages; pass the hat). Technically speaking, it’s a pretty small choir—Marty Atkinson and Katy Boyd—but they make up for their small numbers with big talent. “Atkinson’s former band Cactus Choir had a tangled, but passionate, affair with the major labels (10 years signed to Atlantic Records, EMI, and then Curb/Universal). Katy Boyd has recently been compared to Tom Waits, Janis Ian, and Townes Van Zandt. She’s a witty, charming singer songwriter making a name for herself on both sides of the Atlantic,” said concert co-producer Bonnie Nelson. Geoff Baker, Holly Ann Phillips, and Rob Kimball are all guest performers.

Then, on Tuesday, Aug. 7, head to Kreuzberg to check out Chi McClean (6:30 p.m.; all ages; pass the hat). The folk rocker writes acoustic songs influenced by Jimi Hendrix, the Black Crowes, Free, the Faces, and the Allman Brothers. Guest performers include Spanky Baldwin and an L.A.-based singer named Vette.

click to enlarge WINE FOR TWO :  On Aug. 5, check out Blue Cactus Choir at Sculpterra Winery as part of the Songwriters at Play showcase. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUE CACTUS CHOIR
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUE CACTUS CHOIR
  • WINE FOR TWO : On Aug. 5, check out Blue Cactus Choir at Sculpterra Winery as part of the Songwriters at Play showcase.

Finally, on Wednesday, Aug. 8, at Upper Crust, Emily Wryn is the featured performer (7 pm.; all ages; $10). The 23-year-old ingénue hails from Lompoc and is on the verge of big things. Her music was “discovered” by Nic Harcourt, host of KCRW’s excellent show “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” There’s also a great opener called Girls and Boys!

 

More music …

Human Nation is chock full of five of the Central Coast’s best jazz musicians: Adam Levine on guitar (he writes about 80 percent of their material and handles all arrangements), Dave Becker on sax and flute, Dean Giles on drums, Darrel Voss on percussion, Bill Wingfield on bass, and Brett Mitchell on keys. They’re tighter than a prairie dog’s butt in a dust bowl, and their repertoire moves well beyond jazz and into the realms of funk, fusion, American, and world music. See them live on Friday, Aug. 3, when they play the Paso Robles Concerts in the Park series from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Keeth CrowHawk’s Percussion Ensemble will open the show at 5 p.m., and Grammy Award-winner Louie Ortega will be a featured guest star with Human Nation. The band is limiting its local exposure this year and focusing on an album and plans for shows in larger venues next year outside the area. They promise to pull out all the stops for this show!

The Painted Sky Concert series has a special treat in store on Friday, Aug. 3, when Sweet Talk Radio plays an intimate evening of Americana folk. Featuring the husband-and-wife team of Kathrin Shorr and Tim Burlingame, this dynamic L.A.-based duo features Shorr’s captivating vocals and Burlingame’s lyrical guitar. They’ve had many of their original songs featured in numerous television series such as Fairly Legal, In Plain Sight, Army Wives, Beautiful People, and Haven, not to mention various national commercials. The evening starts at 8 p.m. with opening act Garrison Starr. Tickets cost $18 and are available at Boo Boo Records, the Cambria Business Center, or by calling 927-8330.

The Strata-Tones will heat up the D’Anbino dance floor on Saturday, Aug. 4, delivering an evening of ’50s R&B. Fronted by big-voiced belter Valerie Johnson, this is just a killer live act! The cover is $10 at the door ($5 for Record Club members), and the show goes from 8 to 10 p.m.

Whoop, whoop! New band alert! On Saturday, Aug. 4, from 9 p.m. to midnight, the Fuel Dock in Morro Bay will be host to the debut of Back Bay Betty, a sextet of such veteran players as vocalist Linda Martin, formerly of the Bluz Dogz; Casey Rodgers on lead guitar and vocals; and Johnny Johnson on harmonica and vocals. Rounding out the rhythm section are Bob Ake on bass guitar and vocals, Casey McDonald on drums and vocals, and sound engineer Russ Coulton on rhythm guitar. Expect plenty of recognizable rockin’ tunes by contemporary favorites, as well as blues and funk classics. The group also has some original music to throw in the mix.

The SLO County Trumpet Alliance—formed in 2011 through the collaborative efforts of Warren Balfour, Dan Beher, and Lyle Stubson—plays D’Anbino on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 2 to 4 p.m. The group’s repertoire contains more than 50 musical works for trumpet ensemble music.

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Bay Area-based singer-songwriter Geoff Baker returns to the area on Sunday, Aug. 5, for a doubleheader: a 1 p.m. show at Sculpterra as part of Steve Key’s Songwriters at Play showcase, and a solo show at Linnaea’s Café at 8 p.m. “My music is a mix of acoustic indie, roots, Americana, and folk, with either high-speed fingerpicking or melodic strumming, and catchy tunes,” explained Baker, who “borrowed” a guitar at age 14 and never gave it back. His love of post-punk music—the Pixies, Jesus & Mary Chain—soon led to explorations of acoustic and roots music by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Elliott Smith, Lucinda Williams, Nick Drake, Son Volt, and Bob Dylan. A songwriter was soon born.

Chicago artist Andrea Dawn (piano) will play Linnaea’s Café on Tuesday, Aug. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. She’s currently touring with Zach Goforth (bass) and Dan Knighten (drums) in support of her new full-length album, Theories of How We Can Be Friends. Recorded mostly in her loft studio over the course of a year, the album was released on Waterloo Sunset Records. “Unlike her previous work, Dawn wanted to create a lush musical backdrop for her piano and vocal-driven songs,” explained Goforth. “In addition to having a strong rhythm section, the record abounds with strings, bells, voices, orchestral percussion, ambient guitars, and vintage organs and keyboards.” If you like Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, and Fiona Apple, this one comes recommended!

Keep up with Glen Starkey via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey or myspace.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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