Chris Jay & the Army of Freshmen, "The Lonesome Death of BJ Skizzums" (Jack-O-Bite Records)
Jay is an East Coast folkie relocated to Ventura, having aligned himself with a bunch of local musicians. Perhaps no army, but at least a squad--the band has since expanded by two to eight players since this was recorded.
Jay writes wry slice-of-life ballads about weird relationships and whiskey. The mostly acoustic playing is first-rate and low-key, and Jay has a pleasing voice and the harmonies are great. Best song: "Down, Down, Down." The band still does acoustic gigs, but they're mostly plugged in and electric these days, unlike the CD.
Next gig: June 27 at Teletron Internet Cafe in Ventura.
The Ziggens, "Pomona Lisa" (Skunk)
A bunch of Wisconsin cheeseheads moved to Orange County in the early '90s and became--kowabunga!--a fine surf band! This album, the band's fifth in six years, has the best title so far this year, and the instrumentals are gnarlier than a 10-foot day at the Wedge. But better than that, the Ziggens are one of the funniest bands around. Too much TV has resulted in references to Abe Vigoda, Mayberry, Gomer Pyle and plenty of other TBS stalwarts. Then there's a song about taking your mom to the prom, which probably only works because she looks like Geena Davis. Despite all the goofiness, the Ziggens are tight musicians, and Bert and Brad Ziggens have cool voices.
Next gig: Friday at the Mercury Lounge in Goleta.
Don Parker, "Everything . . . and More"
Parker is mostly a laid-back folkie from Thousand Oaks with a lot of country-flavored tunes. But on this greatest hits compilation, featuring tunes from 1984 to the present, Parker sometimes invigorates his slice-of-life songs with some wild electric guitar solos. If unpretentious is an important adjective to you, then Parker is your man.
Cyrus Clarke, "Sunrise on the Radio" (Ranch Records)
Clarke, former honcho for the Acousticats, is still doing the acoustic, country folk, bluegrass thing. It's reminiscent of the Rincon Ramblers, only a bit farther north, since Clarke is out of Santa Barbara. A couple of the lyrics are a little sappy, but the playing is first-rate as Clarke takes the listener back to the 19th century when things were simpler and Utah still didn't have a basketball team.
The Fatt-Back Blues Man: Yusef Olaitan, "Solo Sampler" (Fatt-Back Unlimited)
A slide guitar, a stomping foot and a bunch of great blues songs, both originals and covers, make this one-man band the real deal. He's got the voice, the licks and the tunes--what else is there? Just this: "Bakersfield Blues" ain't nothin' but the truth.
Next gig: Tuesday at Cafe Voltaire in Ventura.
Hand to Mouth, "Texas Bars and Battle Scars" (Oasis Records)
This was a three-piece outfit, two of whom were out of Austin. They played in Simi Valley last month at the Season Ticket, then broke up shortly thereafter. Tough market. Actually, the Texans went home. Good. There are enough generic blues bands around anyway.
Nicole Falzone, "Matters of the Heart"
Falzone is a singing drummer who belts out a series of steamy torch songs, some with Aretha Franklin intensity. The songs are mostly slow and bluesy, with "I Don't Want to Love You" the most memorable as Falzone graciously accepts the inevitable with Mr. Wrong.
Next gig: July 11 at Cafe Voltaire in Ventura.
Audio Spark, "Audio Spark"
This used to be Harvey Kirschner, but they changed the name because of the Harvey-heavy rock 'n' roll scene, which already has a Harvey Danger, not to mention the oddball P.J. Harvey; and of course, there has always been Paul Harvey, but he rocks not. This three-song tape proves emphatically that this band has heard Jane's Addiction several times and the Red Hot Chili Peppers a few times as well. The best song is a mystery track on the tape, "It's Really No Wonder," a pop-rock gem.
Officer Negative, "Dead to the World" (Screaming Giant)
This Ventura-based punk band helped make the recent six-punk-band extravaganza at the Ventura Theatre a hit. It's basic pedal-to-the-metal punk with an overabundance of decibels and testosterone but with a good dose of sensibility as they scream against wife-beaters, Satan, peer pressure and other concerns to youthful rockers.
The Lapdancers, "The Lapdancers"
This band features former members of Popsicko and Woodburning Project, a couple of great Santa Barbara pop-rock bands. With a name like this, the Lapdancers have a future at Snooky's, the local bikini bar, if it ever decides to have live bands. Anyway, this band has lots of guitars and several voices harmonizing most pleasingly--sort of pop rock on steroids. This just misses being a classic.