Who is better at perpetuating Arkansas stereotypes than Arkies themselves? The Pine Box Boys advance the proud traditions of Dogpatch, Bill Clinton, and Lum & Abner on Arkansas Killing Time, fourteen bluegrass-tinged tunes about killing much more than time. The album's cumulative effect is that of a song cycle of country ballads composed to accompany slasher films. "We've been calling it horrorbilly -- just a darker form of bluegrass," deadpans songwriter and frontman Lester "Tombstone" Raww, aka Mark Beshirs. "We are not so traditionalist as to find the drums offensive in bluegrass. There are some who would object to it as quite satanic." Having grown up in Arkansas and attended a small Christian conservative-arts college before migrating to San Francisco, Raww is quite familiar with both bluegrass and with what some people find satanic. His complex love-hate relationship with his home state's musical and cultural heritage is evident throughout the band's debut, a contemporary homage to what Greil Marcus has dubbed "old weird America." A few songs are mostly shtick, such as "Just a Crush," a creepy tale about a hillbilly serial killer. But most are nicely spun yarns that wouldn't feel out of place on an album of murder ballads by Johnny Cash. "56, AR" is a thunderous fable about how the real-life hamlet Fifty-Six got its name. "I Kept Her Heart" is a clever, macabre tale in which the title means exactly what it says. "Weary Friend" and "Bakersfield" are tender ballads that stray from the album's theme.
Arkansas Killing Time is an impressive first album, but these songs of death sound even better live. Onstage, the Pine Box Boys are captivating performers. Bluegrass purists might indeed blanch at band dynamics first developed in the Zag Men, the Bay Area noise band in which Raww joins Pine Box Boys drummer Steven "Your Uncle" Dodds and upright bassist Col. Timothy Leather. Banjo player Big Possum Carvidi rounds out this combo, whose sound might be said to blend that of Dr. Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys, the Bad Livers, and latter-day Frank Zappa. On guitar and vocals, Raww himself possesses a stature reminiscent of the late Man in Black -- that other Arkansas murder balladeer.
The Pine Box Boys play Oakland's Stork Club on Saturday with Toshio Hirano, Buck Nasty, the San Antonio Kid, and Bob Harp. Tickets are $5 at the door. 9 p.m. 2330 Telegraph Ave. 510-444-6174. -- Stephen Buel
The Urban Funk Rebellion is so big, it takes two Grand Openings to do it justice. The spring-summer "all-youth graffiti exhibit" sponsored by Higher Gliffs, currently showing at Deep Roots Urban Tea House, is throwing itself another party, this Thursday night (8 p.m.-2 a.m.) at the Noodle Factory, 1255 26th St. (at Union St.), Oakland -- with art by Daz One, Arik, and students from the Urban Promise Academy and Berkeley High, and tons o' DJs, including a female tag-team DJ showcase with DJs Trinity and LP. Info: 510-625-9940. -- Kelly Vance
We've heard many a provocative panel discussion in our time, but perhaps none so provocative and doggone relevant as this one: Race, White Privilege, and Social Justice in the New Hip-Hop Generation. Moderated by Weyland Southon of KPFA's almighty Hard Knock Radio, the panel includes some of the heaviest hitters of hip-hop academia: Adam Mansbach (Angry Black White Boy); Jeff Chang (Can't Stop Won't Stop); Tricia Rose (Black Noise); Bakari Kitwana (Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop); and Dave Stoval (University of Chicago). If sparks fly Friday night (7:30 p.m.) at Cody's Books (2454 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley), don't say we didn't warn you. -- Eric K. Arnold
When Irish Prose Is Baffling
Did you have trouble understanding Samuel Beckett's writings? Four local artists -- Dylan Bolles, Keith Evans, Dianne Jones, and Michael Meyers -- have delved into Beckett's novel Molloy and come up with Ballybaba, an interactive installation based on the setting of the same name, where visitors can experience "the muck and discomfort of being human" in the company of fellow sufferers. It's part of the Richmond Arts Center's summer exhibitions, through August 15. Reception on June 26. TheRAC.org -- Kelly Vance
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