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Former SLO Towner turned national sensation M. Ward plays Fremont Theater on March 1 

Along time ago in SLO Town there was a trio called Rodriguez, and one member of that trio was named Matt Ward, an introverted guitar whiz with a style all his own. After college, that guitar whiz, like so many of his local musical brethren, pulled up stakes and headed north to Portland, which he still calls home, but something funny happened to this shy guy. He became M. Ward, national indie sensation, who in addition to his solo work is a member of the duo She & Him with actress-musician Zooey Deschanel and a member of Monsters of Folk with Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Conor Oberst, and Mike Mogis (both of Bright Eyes).

click to enlarge WAYWARD SON:  Former SLO Town resident turned big time blues-folk artist M. Ward plays March 1 at Fremont Theater for a Numbskull and Good Medicine Presents show. - PHOTO COURTESY OF M. WARD
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF M. WARD
  • WAYWARD SON: Former SLO Town resident turned big time blues-folk artist M. Ward plays March 1 at Fremont Theater for a Numbskull and Good Medicine Presents show.

M. Ward plays a Numbskull and Good Medicine Presents show this Tuesday, March 1, at the Fremont Theater (7 p.m.; all ages; $25 presale at Boo Boo Records and ticketfly.com, or $30 at the door), touring in support of his new album, More Rain, set for release on Merge Records on March 4.

Ward recently produced the new Mavis Staples album and has also worked with Cat Powers, Neko Case, Howe Gelb, and Beth Orton among others. He’s clearly “in” with the cool kids!

“I think one of the biggest mysteries of America right now is this: How are we able to process unending bad news on page one and then go about our lives the way the style section portrays us?” Ward asked in press materials. “There must be a place in our brains that allows us to take a bird’s-eye view of humanity, and I think music is good at helping people—myself included—go to that place.”

His new album features collaborators such as R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Neko Case, k.d. lang, The Secret Sisters, and Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, and it’s filled with Ward’s jazzy guitar work in outside-the-box folk and blues compositions punctuated by sometimes arcane but always provocative lyrics.

“Anybody got a load that they need lifted?/ Anybody got a pain in their heart?/ There’s a place you can hide / When they’re conspiring against you/ Confession// Somebody need a body to save the day?/ Somebody need a love that goes all the way?/ There’s a place you can go/ Where I know they’ll never find you/ Confession.”

Should be a good one!

Last time I checked, tickets remain for the Numbskull and Good Medicine John Moreland show at Tap It Brewing Co. this Thursday, Feb. 25 (7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $13 presale at ticketfly.com or $15 at the door). I also just found out that Lilly Hiatt will open for Moreland. Hiatt’s breakout album, Royal Blue, garnered good reviews since last year’s release, and American Songwriter calls her ode to father John Hiatt, “Somebody’s Daughter,” one of their “Top 50 Songs of 2015.” PopMatters included Royal Blue in their “Best Americana of 2015” and The Bitter Southerner called the album one of “The Best Southern Albums of 2015.”

Good Medicine also has Dan Curcio of Moonshiner Collective playing a solo show at Tooth & Nail this Friday, Feb. 26 (5:30 p.m.; all ages; free). Good food, good wine, and good weather awaits!

And next Thursday, March 3, country rocker Cody Johnson plays the Grange Hall (7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $20 presale at Boo Boo’s and ticketfly.com or $25 at the door).

Happy Birthday, Johnny!

click to enlarge NORTH COUNTY GAL:  Jenny Ashley (pictured) plays an EP release party on Feb. 26 at Dunbar Brewing Co., part of a three-act Johnny Cash birthday celebration with The Creston Line and the Shawn Clark Family Band. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY ASHLEY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY ASHLEY
  • NORTH COUNTY GAL: Jenny Ashley (pictured) plays an EP release party on Feb. 26 at Dunbar Brewing Co., part of a three-act Johnny Cash birthday celebration with The Creston Line and the Shawn Clark Family Band.

This Friday, Feb. 26, Johnny Cash would have turned 84, and to celebrate, Dunbar Brewing in Santa Margarita has something special in mind—a special beer release and a trio of bands for your listening (or dancing) pleasure.

“I’ll be playing with Jon Bartel and Brenneth Stevens (of The Creston Line),” singer-songwriter Jenny Ashley explained. “The Creston Line will also play, and we’ll finish the night with a set by The Shawn Clark Family Band” (7 p.m.; 21-and-older; free).

Ashley, a Cal Poly English lecturer and longtime friend, has been quietly writing haunting country-folk songs, and she’ll release Sidecar, a four-song EP that evening. 

“I recorded at Northwall Records, Jon Bartel’s studio in Atascadero,” Ashley continued. “This is Northwall Record’s first release. The songs range from moody, evocative indie folk on tracks like ‘Sidecar’ to brighter alt-country licks like ‘Big Apology.’”

Bartel, who’s also in the rock band American Dirt, is also a Cal Poly English lecturer, and he’s packaged Ashley’s songs in a gauzy swirl of emotion punctuated by what sounds like lap steel, fiddle, harmonica, banjo, guitar, and light percussion.

Songs like the opening track “Whiskey, Winstons and You” paint forlorn pictures: “I picked up your trail/ On the outskirts of town/ It was long gone cold/ Pale as a wedding gown// So I’ll be in Santa Rosa/ With the bourbon and your smokes/ And I’ll stay until/ The desert eats my bones.”

My favorite track is the simple but hooky “Big Apology,” about a broken relationship and the hollow promises to change. Another track, “Hooks,” is about an inescapable and perhaps toxic romance. 

Should be a fun night, and according to Ashley, “Chris Chambers, head brewer and owner of Dunbar, will be releasing a new beer, ‘Johnny Mash: The Beer in Black.’ And each band playing will do a few Johnny Cash covers in his honor.”

I think Johnny would be honored.

Blues Ryder

click to enlarge ETTA’S PROTÉGÉ:  Deb Ryder brings her big bluesy voice to the next SLO Blues Society show on Feb. 27 at the SLO Vets Hall. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DEB RYDER
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF DEB RYDER
  • ETTA’S PROTÉGÉ: Deb Ryder brings her big bluesy voice to the next SLO Blues Society show on Feb. 27 at the SLO Vets Hall.

Rumor has it that the SLO Blues Society headliner for their show this weekend has just moved to Nipomo, or at least she will when she returns from a tour of France. Deb Ryder has been a blues powerhouse in LA since her family relocated there from Illinois, where her father Allan Swanson—a singer and club owner—had introduced her to the Chicago blues, jazz, and gospel scene. In LA, Ryder lived next to Canned Heat’s Bob Hite and spent time honing her vocal style at Big Joe Turner’s weekly blues nights. Etta James also mentored Ryder, and they share a similar style of big, bluesy vocals. Ryder also frequently performed at the Topanga Corral, owned by her stepfather.

Her debut album Might Just Get Lucky (2014), got some great reviews, and now she’s released Let It Rain (2015), which she continues to tour in support of. Her band includes Alan Maggini on guitar, Larry “Big Horse” David on keyboards and harp, Dave Becker on saxophone, David Kida on drums, and Ric Ryder on bass.

Catalina Eddy and the Blue Keys open, and I’ve been listening to their new CD recorded live at D’Anbino Cellars. They play a great mix of frontman Ted Waterhouse’s originals as well as choice covers. From Delta and Chicago blues to roots, rock, and soul, this is a great live band, and this should be a great show for blues lovers and dancers.

“The idea of this band is to deliver blues-roots-style original tunes mixed with classics that are treated in a fresh, unexpected way: Muddy Waters and Aretha Franklin soul tunes with zydeco accordion, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 with a riff from Dave Alvin,” Waterhouse said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for quite a while and it’s great to have found the right bunch of players to make it happen. We love to see the way folks have been connecting with this music and it’s great to watch them get up to dance at our shows.”

See it all this Saturday, Feb. 27, at the SLO Vets Hall (8p.m.; 21-and-older; $20 at the door; in advance at Boo Boo’s and Cheap Thrills). Come at 7:30 p.m. and get some free dance lessons from SLO Dance. Become a Blues Society member and get in for $15. 

“The Blues Society runs on volunteers to produce and staff our concerts,” organizers added. “At the shows, volunteers set up, sell tickets and drinks, or clean up after the show. Volunteers get free admission to the show and two drink tickets. If you have extra time and energy to contribute, please call our volunteer line 541-7930 and we will contact you.”

All aboard!

click to enlarge DOUBLE D’ANBINO:  The Mystery Brothers play an album release party on Feb. 27 at D’Anbino Cellars, where they recorded the album they’re releasing. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MYSTERY BROTHERS
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MYSTERY BROTHERS
  • DOUBLE D’ANBINO: The Mystery Brothers play an album release party on Feb. 27 at D’Anbino Cellars, where they recorded the album they’re releasing.

Jim Conroy’s got a voice as deep as a well—both literally and emotionally. On the opening track of The Mystery Brothers’ new CD Get On Board! Live at D’Anbino’s, Conroy’s voice fills up the Michael Jackson classic “I Want You Back” in a way you’ve never heard before. 

The recording is a mix of classics like Ehden Abbez’s “Nature Boy” and Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and Conroy’s originals, and it’s a great example of The Mystery Brothers’ live experience.

The group—Conroy (guitar/vocals), Billy Baxmeyer (bass/vocals), Bruce Beck (keyboard/vocals), Randy Johnson (trumpet), Paul Trent (percussion), and Daryl Vandruff (drums)—has been exploring the overlap of jazz, R&B, and Latin music for nine years now, and this is their second album after Heart Searches

They return to where it was recorded, D’Anbino Cellars, this Saturday, Feb. 27, (8 p.m.; 21-and-older; $10; call 227-6800) for an album release party. For more music happenings, check out newtimesslo.com and look for my column. There’s a lot happening—a lot.

More music …

The Cuesta music faculty performs a variety of classical, jazz, and folk music this Friday, Feb. 26, (7:30 p.m.; all ages; ticket info at cpactickets.cuesta.edu) in the Cultural Performing Arts Center. All proceeds benefit the Music Student Scholarship Fund. Inga Swearingen, Ron McCarley, Michael Walker, Jumi Kim, Marcy Irving, Ken Hustad, Jeff Miley, Jennifer Martin, Chad Ruyle, Alexander Kato-Willis, George Stone, Bob Bennett, and David Becker are all scheduled to appear.

click to enlarge THE SWEDE:  Swedish Americana folk singer Sofia Talvik plays Last Stage West on March 1. - PHOTO BY JONAS WESTIN
  • PHOTO BY JONAS WESTIN
  • THE SWEDE: Swedish Americana folk singer Sofia Talvik plays Last Stage West on March 1.

The SLO County Jazz Federation presents NYC-based guitarist Joshua Breakstone in a trio setting on Friday, Feb. 26, in Unity Concert Hall (7:30 p.m.; all ages; $20 general admission, $15 for Jazz Fed members, or $10 for students; at Boo Boo’s or at brownpapertickets.com). Dylan Johnson (bass) and Darrell Voss (drums) round out the trio.

Cholame resident Callie Twisselman appears at the Paso Unveiled Fashion Show Extravaganza, on Saturday, Feb. 27, (7 p.m.; all ages: $35 per person includes the show, entertainment, appetizers, and desserts; available at the Paso Robles YMCA) to benefit the North County YMCA and grow its scholarships and programming to help more families in need pay for pre-school, after school programs, youth sports, and a number of other platforms. Twisselman’s new single, “The Test Drive,” recently broke into the Top 40 Country charts.

Music written by several prominent American composers—Randall Thompson, Kirke Mechem, Morten Lauridsen, Craig Kingsbury, and J. Aaron McDermid, will be featured during the Cal Poly Choirs’ Winter Concert this Saturday, Feb. 27, at the PAC-SLO (8 p.m.; all ages; $12 and $14 for the public, and $9 and $12 for students; call 756-4849). Titled “America … America,” expect musical theater, spirituals, and American classical from PolyPhonics and The University Singers.

Jake Nielsen’s Triple Threat plays Frog and Peach Saturday, Feb. 27 (1- p.m.; 21-and-older; free). Playing blues, funk, reggae, and rock, that band and frontman Jake Nielsen is an inspiration because he struggles with cerebral palsy and has no use of his legs, which doesn’t stop him from being an incredible guitarist and terrific entertainer.

click to enlarge NYC JAZZ:  Jazz guitarist Joshua Breakstone plays a SLO Jazz Fed concert on Feb. 27 in Unity Concert Hall. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL G. STEWART
  • PHOTO BY MICHAEL G. STEWART
  • NYC JAZZ: Jazz guitarist Joshua Breakstone plays a SLO Jazz Fed concert on Feb. 27 in Unity Concert Hall.

The Basin Street Regulars Jazz Society returns with another hot jazz concert at the Pismo Vets Hall on Sunday, Feb. 28, starting with an 11 a.m. jam, then Cell Block 7 at 1 p.m., Ragbone Saints at 2:20 p.m., and then another set by Cell Block 7 at 3:20 p.m. (all ages; $10 at the door). There’s plenty of room to dance!

The Festival Mozaic Winter Mezzo II Chamber Concert plays on Sunday, Feb. 28, in Congregation Beth David (3 p.m.; all ages; visit festivalmozaic.com or call 781-3009 for details). “Brahms wrote three piano trios over the course of his impressive career, and the first two are featured in this weekend’s performances,” organizers say. Performers include Scott Yoo (violin), Bion Tsang (cello), and John Novacek (piano).

Swedish Americana folk singer Sofia Talvik—a veteran performer with six full length albums as well as numerous EPs, singles, and tours—plays Last Stage West this Tuesday, March 1 (6 p.m.; all ages; 461-1393) in support of her newest, Big Sky Country. The Telegraph recently selected the record as one of the best Country/Americana albums of the year. Think Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins.

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

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