There is a vast pool of local musicians constantly starting bands, quitting some bands and staying too long in others. Here are some capsule reviews of local bands or some of the usual suspects that play the area with some frequency.
Janiva Magness & Jeff Turmes - "It Takes One to Know One"
This husband and wife team plays as a duo or with a band, and occasionally in the Valley. Don't miss them. Turmes has a hefty resume as a blues guitar player, but he's also a gifted (and very funny) songwriter in his own right. And Magness can belt out a song with speaker-threatening intensity. She's also the one that plays a rub board (with built-in breasts), and she also kicks in some choice kazoo solos. "Good Car" is the best car song that's really about sex that's come along in a while, and "She Holds a Grudge" is about that annoying ex and her mother of all grudges that is as big as the port of Los Angeles. Nothing close to a bad cut on this one.
Next gig: July 11 at Smokin' Johnnie's in Studio City.
Catfish Hodge - "Bare Necessities" (Chicken Legs Music)
This is the 22nd album for Catfish, with a repertoire larger than the fish that drunken Uncle Bob swears is bigger than Moby Dick. Bare necessities indeed--this album features just the Catfish, his acoustic guitar and a bunch of funny blues songs. The Catfish moans, groans, howls, holds a note for about a month, then whispers like a librarian at a Prozac convention. "Drive My Car" is yet another car tune that's really about sex. In and out of bands and with 30 years' experience on the road, the Catfish has plenty of stories to tell that will leave you huffing and puffing like a bass on the pier.
Hand to Mouth - "Texas Bars & Battle Scars" (Oasis)
This Austin-based trio joined the other half of the population of the Lone Star State out West by relocating to California last September. Actually, guitar player Britt Phillips is a real Valley guy, so he's just moving back home. According to their bio, the band has already sold 3,000 copies of this album. It's hard to see why. This is nothing but generic blues you could see in any one of a million bars. The singing is average. The playing is average. Hey, the Average Blues Band, or perhaps the Former Average Blues Band as the Texans reportedly have returned home.
GRADE - C minus.
Wendy Bucklew - "Asleep in the Swing"
Bucklew is a Santa Barbarian who relocated to Atlanta a decade ago to go to school, took up performing and ended up touring with those Indigo Girls. Usually just a girl with big hair, a bigger voice and an acoustic guitar, Bucklew belts out relationship (or lack of same) songs with Richter scale intensity. This blond may not be having that much fun, but she did take good notes. This is Bucklew's third album, and she'll be starting a nationwide tour with a band this week beginning in Georgia.
Next gig: July 24 at The Mint in Los Angeles.
Carrie James Band - "Midnight Road" (Back Door Records)
The Reseda-based James plays those rockin' blues, using to great effect that classic blues voice that is part sweat and part smoke. James has been singing since the ripe old age of 6 and was influenced by the likes of Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin and Etta James. Keeping up step for step with James' vocal pyrotechnics is guitar player Ronnie Lee, who offers plenty of mean but not overlong licks. Seven of these are James originals, and all are of the good dancin' blues variety.
Next gig: July 24 at the Season Ticket in Simi Valley.
Carl Verheyen - "Slingshot" (Mighty Tiger)
One of the best guitar players you've never heard of, Verheyen is an accomplished studio musician with credits longer than this whole section. This is his fourth solo album and he surrounds himself with able players. The music is mostly blues, but other times he goes off beyond Deep Space Nine to places where even Eric Johnson hasn't been. Verheyen is one of those players that attracts a serious amount of serious note-takers wondering "How'd he do that?"
GRADE - B+
The Fatt-Back Bluesman: Yusef Olaitan - "Solo Sampler" (Fatt-Back Unlimited)
One good thing about being a one-man band is that it's easy to split the dough at the end of the night. The Fatt-Back Bluesman, as he prefers to be called, concocts some foot-tapping originals, plus chooses some covers by some of the greats such as Muddy Waters and B.B. King. An acoustic slide guitar gives the whole thing a Mississippi Delta sound, although Olaitan is actually from Bakersfield, a place that would depress the Optimists Club.
Jason Luckett - "Distil" (Farren Music)
Luckett is a folk singer who has learned a lot of adjectives to describe all those dysfunctional relationships that are responsible for so many songs. Bad significant others make for good songs, and Luckett gets emotional for the usual reasons at the right places. He's got a pleasing voice, and that never hurts.
Next gig: June 26 at Borders in Thousand Oaks.