Capsule reviews of local bands and other So Cal bands that play here with some frequency.
Sexy Death Soda, "California Police State" (Bong Load Custom Records)
They used to be called Tommy & the Demons, but that was before Tommy left, and rather than becoming & the Demons, this Ventura-based band changed its name to Sexy Death Soda. The band has made a career out of being larger than life and stranger than fiction, not to mention all the weird venues it's played, such as the Rendezvous, the Hong Kong Inn and Art City II. The band plays blues reminiscent of '60s garage rockers the 13th Floor Elevators and the Shadows of Knight or '80s roots rockers such as Green on Red and the Gun Club.
Next gig: June 7 at Wild Planet (Ventura).
Psycho Cafe, "Moodswing" (IHV/Wheat Records)
Ponderous hard rock as relentless as a tractor knocking over the Joad house in "Grapes of Wrath." Testosterone rock for skateheads with backward baseball hats and baggy shorts.
Jill Cohn, "Stories From the Blue Bus" (Matrix Records)
Mostly just a girl and her piano, Cohn waxes eloquent and serious about concerns of the fair sex--something like Cosmopolitan as an album. Cohn has a great voice; the songs, however, are relatively interchangeable and mellow enough for Mom.
Next gig: June 13 at SOhO in Santa Barbara.
Soulcracker, "Beyond Seven" (Onionhead Productions)
This is the second album by this group out of Flagstaff by way of San Diego. It's a live recording, and while it may be a bit frantic for dancing, this band has successfully captured the sound of this week's happening musical genre, punk funk. Front man Beastie Ulery has the anarchy under moderate control, and relentless touring may take this band to the next level.
Next gig: June 5 at Nicholby's (Ventura).
8 Stops 7, "Birth of a Cynic" (Elephant Ear Records)
Aggressive grunge/garage rock by these Santa Barbarians, punctuated by the growling vocals of Evan Sula-Goff, who somehow manages to prevent those veins in his neck from blowing up. For a bunch of youngsters, 8 Stops 7 can hang with Soundgarden, and all those other bands that have more money.
Next gig: Tonight at the Ventura Theatre.
Shrubbers, "National Boulevard" (Raj Records)
Roger Len Smith used to live and play in Santa Barbara, but he headed south for Santa Monica. For his performances, Smith plays with a revolving cast of Shrubbers, but it's clear who is Shrub No. 1. Not only did he write all the songs on this one, but he also plays guitar, piano, bass and harmonica. It's literate folk-rock not likely to ignite a mosh pit. Smith seems a relaxed and assured performer playing sturdy sit-and-listen music.
Jason Luckett, "Distil" (Farren Music)
Luckett is an emotional folk singer who knows a lot of adjectives used to describe dysfunctional relationships. He's got a powerful voice and is an animated performer.
Next gig: June 26 at Borders in Thousand Oaks.
22 Jacks, "Overserved" (Side 1 Dummy Recordings)
Featuring former members of Wax, the Adolescents and No Use for a Name, either this is a pop punk super-band or these guys just can't get along with anyone. They do know what a good song sounds like, however, and they do a raging version of "Message in a Bottle," plus a reverent rendition of "Tracks of My Tears." The lyrics are sung, not screamed, and the harmonies work smoothly on these frantic rockers.
Next gig: June 6 at the Ventura Theatre.
Lisa Haley and the Zydecats, "Waiting for the Sky"
Haley, a rowdy redhead, sings and plays a mean fiddle as she fronts her tight band, which does that zydeco stuff, beloved in the Bayou State and now, perhaps, everywhere else. Much like ska and swing music, zydeco has the built-in beat that works on the vast majority of all feet within listening range. This album from last year doesn't rage as fully as the band does live.
Next gig: June 12 at Libbey Park in Ojai.
Mark Insley, "Good Country Junk" (Country-Town Music)
This is one of those what-do-you-call-it acts. Perhaps too rock for the country set and too country for the rockers. Insley does roots rock with a capable twang. The backup band is on fire.
Next gig: June 12 at Cafe Voltaire in Ventura.