Carol Denney's voice stands front and center throughout all eighteen songs and 67 minutes. For those who take comfort in the erstwhile Berkeley activist's audacious, stage-friendly folk style, this fact may be a godsend. Yet for those with whom her self-aware expertise, trebly tones, and drawn-out, wavering syllables don't sit well, it could be a real drag.
Our July 15 Best Of issue awarded the word "lightweight" with honors for "Best New Slang Word." But as Berkeley rapper Rafael Casal teaches us, there are 99 more Bay Area slang words to learn. Better get started.
Nothing quite reaches the heights of the opening track, which matches an innovative stop-start technique with the more traditional Middle Eastern rhythms the San Francisco band espouses throughout the remainder. Its songs, performed on traditional flute, fiddle, lute, and percussion, flow like ancient poetry - many, in fact, are based upon folk songs and devotional prayers from the region.
The subject matter is consistently odd (Would you like to see it?/The power of a woman/What shall we do?/Make love, make love, make love, make love), but this accomplished and adept San Francisco roots-rock group sure knows how to sell songs like "Cowboy Lingerie Store" and "Jungle Ho." It's just how they roll. They've embraced their kookiness, and you should too.
Indie rock is a strange beast. On one hand, it's as free and open as it wants to be; on the other, it's restrained by the rock pedigree. In Sholi's hands, both sides of the coin come into play. Its music reaches intriguing experimental territory and explores a vaguely Eastern influence, but the standard guitar-bass-drums triad seems to stifle the band's expression.
The first thing that registers about Bob Harp's second album is how evocative it feels, how true it sounds - as if his guitar and harmonica really have collected dust for decades. The effect is but an illusion (he's a young guy; his songs are new), but the ploy is forgiven as his tunes speak for themselves. If not directly, they muse affectionately on America, folk, the country, and the West.
At Speisekammer (2424 Lincoln Ave., Alameda) on Aug. 6. 8:30 p.m., free
At Rasputin Music (2401 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley) on Aug. 9. 1 p.m., free
Oakland's ninth annual Art & Soul Festival, taking place in Downtown Oakland on August 15 and 16, finally has a lineup. We won't complain that it took them until three weeks before the festival to announce this. We also won't complain that we're slightly underwhelmed by who they ended up booking, although some of the acts excite us. We'll just give you the names: Shawn Colvin, the Bodeans, Will Downing, Bobby Caldwell, Mo'Fone, Ramena Vieira, and Walter Hawkins. And more, they promise. The festival, which also features art, dancing, and food, runs from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $10 per day. Foibles aside, let's hope it's a success; the more good vibes in downtown Oakland these days, the better.
First things first: the record sleeve is adorned with close-up, cropped photos of booties ("Cupcake$") and breasts ("Cookie$"). Mike P.'s gritty, urban, but not quite gangsta hip-hop can be surprisingly tuneful, with help from his pals Andre Nickatina ("Btch Pt. 2"), Equipto and San Quinn ("Hella Records"), and Krushadelic ("Valley of Kingz"). Fillmoe Frisco represent, as it were.
With a name like Awkward Turtle, it can be just one thing: cutesy, charming, unabashedly twee indie-pop. Something like the Postal Service meets Belle and Sebastian. But Oakland duo James and Evander subverts expectations just enough to make its sleepy electro-pop feel a bit dark. Not a word is spoken among the EP's 22 minutes, contributing to its ethereal moodiness.
Imagine Jeff Buckley fronting a late-Nineties alternative rock band - from Soundgarden's catharsis to Radiohead's contemplation - and you're at least halfway there. This is conveyed with patience and utmost sincerity, from Carey Head's Buckley-esque howl to the band's direct yet emotional performance. Pollux's music would make a fine blanket for a cloudy day.
At Annie's Social Club (917 Folsom St., San Francisco) on July 22. 8 p.m., $5