Local Licks 

This week, we review Markus James, Empty Rooms, Diablo's Dust, and Jonathan Meek & the Mutes.

Markus James, Snakeskin Violin. Another entry in the blossoming "desert blues" scene, Snakeskin Violin finds Sebastopol's Markus James journeying to Mali for some old-fashioned cultural exchange. The results are inspiring if a tad unbalanced, with James' voice and guitar occasionally drowning out those of his collaborators. (Firenze Records)

Empty Rooms, Lacuna. Empty Rooms' second EP is desperately seeking definition. Even for those who relish drone, it's tough to stay engaged — especially during post-rock centerpiece "Twenty," which takes eight minutes to go nowhere. Closer "We've Been Waiting for You," dream-pop with lithe vocals and an uplifting crescendo, hits the mark a tad too late. (self-released)

Diablo's Dust, Somewhere Between the Beginning and the End. Husband-and-wife duo Thom and Sarah Kilts present a jumble of folk, bluegrass, and swampy blues-rock à la White Stripes. Not everything works, and there's room for improvement in the vocals and mixing, but moments of clarity arise. At least they're having fun. (self-released)

Jonathan Meek & the Mutes, Irony & Pity. First off, there are no Mutes: Livermore's Jonathan Meek does almost everything here, from singing and playing all the instruments (minus his brother's drumming on two tracks) to recording (in the local church where his father preaches). The songs are a mixed batch of DIY rock, at their best when Meek and his guitar let loose. (self-released)

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