Dog Party


Sisters Lucy and Gwendolyn Giles were just 11 and 13 respectively when I first encountered them at a day-long music festival in 2009, and I immediately became a fan of their simple punk-driven pop songs. At some point I dubbed them “The Shonen Knife of Sacramento,” and I think that goes a long way in describing the sort of appeal they’ve had for me. As with that cherished band from Osaka, Dog Party has been significantly impacted by the Ramones in developing their sound while drawing from any number of other influences to fill it out. Although they performed quite a few covers during live shows, the overwhelming majority of recorded songs have been self-written. I’ve literally watched them grow up as they’ve matured as both musicians and songwriters. Although I like the melodic and inventive pop of their first two albums Dog Party (2009) and P.A.R.T.Y!!! (2011), their third CD Lost Control (2013) is where they proved they could show the big boys a thing or two. With catchy tracks like “Jet Pack,” “I Can’t Wait,” and “Best Friend” and punked-out rockers such as “Flamingo Go!,” “Gutters,” and a cover of X’s “Los Angeles,” it was a formidable display of what the teens were truly capable of. Rather than rest on their laurels, they followed that one up with Vol. 4 (2015) and ‘Til You’re Mine (2016), which more-or-less perfected the punk-pop style they had settled into. In 2016 alone, they released their fifth album, made an appearance in the sequel to SLC Punk, had two of their songs played by Iggy Pop on his BBC Radio show, and toured with Green Day just before that band’s well-publicized performance on The American Music Awards. Showing they had the ability to branch out into other projects, Gwendolyn was once half of a synth-pop duo known as Ugly Bunny while Lucy has manned the drums for several groups, including Kepi Ghoulie and Pets. Needless to say, I’m exceedingly proud of these ladies and am excited to see what the future holds for them!

Bonus Fun Fact – Critic Everett True (aka The Legend) once referred to Dog Party as “The World’s Greatest Rock Band” after I sent him the link for a video of them performing their song “Sunny Days.” And who’s to say they aren’t, right?


You can find Dog Party’s Lost Control for sale here:



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Baby Grand

Baby Grand - Coming True     Baby Grand - Arts & Leisure

Baby Grand was (and still is) one of my favorite Sacramento pop bands despite what I consider to be a few dubious decisions on their part.  Although Spectrum (2002) was Baby Grand’s debut, I didn’t discover it until well after I became acquainted with their more established sound. Starting out as a threesome (Gerri Ranta: vocals/guitar; Tim White: bass; Tony Cale: drums), they knocked out punchy and cheerful pop tunes that sounded very similar to the Go-Go’s but with less memorable material. Only one song (“Letters”) gave an indication of where the band would be heading a few years down the road. Not a bad introduction, but not quite what I had hoped for having already been a fan of its later work.

Baby Grand didn’t really hit its stride until Coming True (2008), a long-awaited 7-song EP that served as its second release but its first as a band that had decidedly found its voice. Gerri and husband Tim added Cory Vick on guitar and Erik de Kok on keys, and with David Houston providing production, the expanded ensemble crafted an elegant and sophisticated sound that was gentle even during its most upbeat numbers. The new approach brought out the best in Gerri as a songwriter and provided numerous hooks for her delicate vocals. This is timeless music with a light touch that is rarely heard these days even though I’m sure there is an audience just clamoring for more like this. The easy comparison is Belle and Sebastian, but Baby Grand managed to succeed on its own merits without sounding like a deliberate copy. I won’t bother mentioning any standouts because Coming True is just one great tune after another, capping things off with a sublime ode to homesickness called “My Heart is Here.” Gerri and her gang quickly followed that triumph with another EP, Lights Are Getting Low (2008). With this one, the band added a few more players and horns to the mix but retained the basic style of its predecessor. Again, every song is an outright winner, from the peppy “Tell Me Now” to the lingering closer “Don’t Look Down.”

I’ve mentioned earlier that I’m not terribly found of EPs, and I have to admit that Coming True and Lights Are Getting Low still leave me feeling frustrated. Cory Vick had given me a demo of the former and told me the band had five more songs they’d been working on that could likely be included with the first batch when it was all ready to be released. Having already been impressed by the four tracks that were available through MySpace at the time, I was quite excited anticipating a full album that would be of comparable quality. The remaining three songs on Coming True pointed to a classic in the making, so the realization that the two were being put out separately was quite heartbreaking to me. The EPs are undeniably magnificent, but these twelve songs collected together could have resulted in one of the best pop albums of its kind. Most definitely something I would have handed out as gifts at Christmastime.

A couple years ago, I happened to bump into Cory at Phono Select and asked him about what Baby Grand had been up to. I was disappointed to hear that the band had broken up and that Gerri was essentially returning to the sound of Spectrum with a new group called Arts & Leisure. I had hoped for one more Baby Grand CD to both enjoy and write about, and I had remembered reading about such a project some time earlier in a local publication. Well, as I was checking out the Sacramento music section just minutes later, I was astonished to find it sitting there . . . Arts & Leisure (2012), the last official Baby Grand album! How did that get past me?! It was certainly something to look forward to, and it turned out to be almost as consistently top-notch as the two EPs. The lineup was the same as that gathered for Lights Are Getting Low, and their performances continued to feature what had become the Baby Grand formula. “Cherry Blossoms,” “Fool for Your Love,” and “Can’t Keep Us Apart” were already familiar to me from live shows, but I was also won over by other highlights such as “Quand Tombent Les Ombres,” their inevitable stab at French pop likely inspired by Françoise Hardy, as well as the dreamy beat-driven “I Know This is Real.” And just when you think Gerri had stretched the breathiness of her voice to its limit, along comes “Skyline” to prove you wrong!

I’ve seen Arts & Leisure perform a few times and I find it difficult to understand why Gerri bothered to change the name of a band that is still Baby Grand as far as I’m concerned. Yes, there’s a harder edge to the pop they play now and Becky Cale has joined the group as a songwriter and vocalist, but stylistic and personnel changes had always been a part of Baby Grand’s history. Gerri, Cory, and Tim are still on board as the core of the band, and they could have just as easily dismissed what came before without losing an essential part of their identity.

Bonus Fun Fact – This is more of an observation. Each release has included at least one song devoted to a particular season: “May Queen” (“I’ll call you in the spring . . .”), “Autumn Wind,” “Winter Night,” and “Summer House.”  If that’s not enough for you, how ’bout this? Herb Fame of Peaches & Herb fame once referred to a tune by another Sacramento band he was reviewing for the now-defunct Midtown Monthly as “a Baby Grand song,” which makes him a lot cooler than any of us could have imagined. And who wrote the Musical Chairs column that followed right after in that same issue? Twas me!


You can find Baby Grand’s Coming True for sale here.


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Jerry Perry / Jackson Griffith


This time I decided to focus on two Sacramentans who are not predominantly musicians but have contributed to the River City music community so significantly that I felt I just had to include them.

I had known about Jerry Perry for years and came to respect his role in Sacramento’s ever-changing music scene before he and I became friends primarily through the sidewalk art festival Chalk It Up. (I eventually became a volunteer after serving a few years as an artist and Jerry was a dedicated board member.) Jerry was Sacramento’s premiere music promoter for many years beginning in the early Eighties. He also published Alive & Kicking, a magazine that featured local bands and musicians on its covers and in articles that made interviews more fun than what would be typically found in rock mags. (Jerry would sometimes take a band bowling or to a drive-in theater, for example.) He opened the Cattle Club to host shows for local bands like Cake as well as touring acts like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. He successfully booked shows for many years for prominent clubs like Old Ironsides and served as the host and booker for the popular Concerts in the Park series each summer in Downtown Sacramento. Unfortunately, Jerry’s empire gradually began to crumble as each of these fell by the wayside. Other venues that he put on shows for like Bows & Arrows and Luigi’s Fungarden have since closed, and there are a number of promoters in town who have been giving Jerry more competition to deal with. However, Jerry was there at a time when virtually no one else was and saw there was a need for more involvement in order to bring Sacramento’s musical talent out in the open. And he’s still keeping busy putting on great shows at Harlow’s and organizing the Hot Lunch series at Fremont Park during the summer. For anyone who’s ever felt the compulsion to say “Hey, you just gotta hear this!,” Jerry truly is a hero in Sacramento. You can find a terrific two-part interview with Jerry here and here that shows just how much of an impact he’s had over the years as well as how much is gone now from his impressive career.

Jackson Griffith does occasionally play music in the singer/songwriter mode, but his claim to fame will always be as Sacramento’s most highly-acclaimed writer covering the local music scene. He began his career in earnest as the head writer for Tower Records’ Pulse! after initial editor Mike Farrace established the magazine in 1983. With Griffith leading the way (along with journalist Marc Weidenbaum and cartoonist Adrian Tomine), the initially-free Pulse! survived for years primarily on advertising until it folded in 2003, and it established itself as an authority on important bands and musicians not featured in more mainstream American rock publications like Rolling Stone and Spin. (One of my favorite segments was Desert Island Discs, which encouraged readers to submit their list of essential albums. I was quite pleased to have my own “Ladies Only” Top 10 inventory published, although it would be significantly different if I were to compile it today.) Jackson then made a name for himself on a local level writing for The Sacramento News & Review and Alive & Kicking, and I admit I’ve purchased a few CDs based on his reviews.  I’ve already included a link for his piece about David Houston in my entry for Public Nuisance, but here’s another excellent article from the SN&R in which he wrote about a number of Sacramento’s lesser-known artists.

Jerry believes Jackson would be the perfect person to write the definitive book about the history of Tower Records since he had been employed with the company for several years before moving on to Pulse! I’d be inclined to agree and would also like to see him do an overview of Sacramento’s music history from past to present that would include both the breakout acts (Cake, The Deftones) as well as the more obscure standouts (any and all covered in Lost in Sacramento). But Jackson apparently hasn’t expressed an interest in taking on such projects and would rather focus on his own music for the time being. Let’s hope he’ll have a change of heart someday.

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Didley Squat


Sacramento’s late great Didley Squat started out as a fun project for four high school junior nerds: David Mohr (vocals), Stuart Nishiyama (keyboards), Jacob Barcena (guitar), and Casey James (drums). After getting their feet wet at a few open-mic nights at the True Love Coffeehouse, they developed a reputation in town as one of its most popular live bands. Mohr, sounding at times like a frantic Robert Smith, always delivered outrageously high-energy performances that the rest of the band miraculously managed to match.

Didley Squat’s first album, The Smile Box (2004), is a whirlwind mixture of pop and punk that doesn’t really manage to qualify as pop-punk. Mohr’s rapid-fire delivery and Nishiyama’s sprightly playing in songs like “Hong Kong” make for a very exciting listening experience. My favorite track is “Too Nervous,” which builds momentum and tension through a squealing guitar and frenzied vocals. As out of control as they often sound, their lyrics indicate that they’re also very smart lads. As they instruct in “Tuesday Garden,” “Sugar breaks down into water and carbon.” Despite the teen angst, these kids were doing alright indeed!

One thing I must confess here is that I’m not a huge fan of EPs, especially for bands and musicians that are prolific enough to crank out full-length albums every few years or so. Because of this, I resisted purchasing Didley Squat’s four-track intermediary release Burning Alive Making a Living (2005) despite being tempted the numerous times I spotted it at The Beat. No longer able to find it at the store, I finally ordered it through Amazon seven years after the fact. Fortunately, it turned out to be a worthy follow-up to The Smile Box with “Tigerlily” and “My Better Half” among their best-loved songs. “Little Darling” starts out as a lazy ballad but picks up the tempo considerably and closes things out in a typically rockin’ fashion. Burning Alive hasn’t necessarily made me reconsider my ambivalence towards EPs, but at least I appreciate the effort they put into this particular one.

Sadly, a show held on March 8, 2008 at the relocated True Love Coffeehouse was officially Didley Squat’s last. However, they did have the good sense to spit out a second album shortly before their final bow. Though not quite as solid as their debut, Big Blue Burden (2007) ended things on a high note with “Friend of a Friend,” “Paint By Numbers,” and “Good Looking Scientists” proving they could still give 100%. And though it hardly seems possible, Mohr double-tracking his vocals on a few songs gives them an even more delirious edge. And as with the first two releases, the multi-talented Mohr designed the simple and whimsical cartoon graphics for the album’s cover (in addition to posters for their shows). Considering how young they were when they broke up, we can only imagine what these guys would’ve accomplished had they stuck it out for a few more years.

Bonus Fun Fact – According to Mohr, three of the four band members hated the band’s name. However, there’s no indication which one favored the moniker enough to let it stick.


You can find Didley Squat’s The Smile Box for sale here.

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Public Nuisance / David Houston

     David Houston - Earth and Moon

Public Nuisance was one of the great lost bands of the Sixties, having built up an admirable reputation in the Sacramento area through live performances while never releasing any recordings during its time beyond a failed single.  It originated in 1964 as an instrumental surf band called The Jaguars with David Houston and Jim Mathews on guitar, Larry Holmes on bass, and Ron McMaster manning the drums. Once Pat Minter replaced Holmes as bassist, a shift was made towards vocals and the more British influenced rock that was all the rage. In 1966, they recorded and rerecorded a pair of songs (“There She Goes” and “Please Come Back”) as Moss and the Rocks before finally settling on the name Public Nuisance. Houston and Minter shared songwriting and vocal duties, and several more recording stints yielded enough material for two albums.

Unfortunately, circumstances beyond their control kept all of it from seeing the light of day until it was finally compiled on a double-CD collection in 2002 called Gotta Survive. Tracks from another recording session remain lost, but everything that could be recovered is apparently included in this collection. As welcome as the archival approach is, it does prove to be too much of a good thing in a few cases. Listening to both versions of the first two recorded songs will likely be of interest only to completists since the later renditions are superior to the originals. “I Am Going” ironically wears out its welcome as a pleasant Beatlesque melody is driven into the ground with one false ending too many. With an assist on lyrics by his pal Kevin Seconds, Houston did a remarkable job of transforming an untitled backing track into a winning song called “Going Nowhere,” and it fits in quite well with the rest of the album. However, having the bare-bones instrumental track follow immediately after really dilutes what is otherwise a unique achievement as far as I’m concerned. So more can be less, but ultimately we should be grateful that music of this overall quality should finally be made available after being lost for almost 35 years. Joey D’s liner notes might be overly enthusiastic, but his excitement is understandable. You definitely feel a sense of discovery when you listen to this anthology for the first time, and it’s hard to believe that the most outstanding of these tracks never shared the national spotlight with acknowledged classics by The Seeds, Count Five, and The Sonics. “America,” “Small Faces,” “Magical Music Box,” “Ecstasy,” “Darlin’,” “Love is a Feeling,” and “Gotta Survive” can stand alongside much of the 60’s garage rock comprising the legendary Nuggets box sets. This is hard-rockin’ stuff, my friends! Granted, some of it is a bit dated; Public Nuisance were part of the “Make love, not war” generation, after all. But these sentiments will never really go out of style as long as a national policy of aggression exists to rebel against.

Since the dissolution of Public Nuisance, David Houston has kept himself busy recording music for other artists at his own studio. As a musician, he’s left behind the sonic force of his former band, and the only Public Nuisance song I’ve heard him perform in recent years was easily the gentlest in its repertoire, “7 or 10.” I caught his set at a Velvet Underground tribute show in which he focused on the lovelier offerings of that famously abrasive band, and I was really impressed with how much thought he put into the arrangements he devised for his string accompanists. I had seen him sit in with so many groups during shows that I once jokingly referred to him as “an honorary member of every band in Sacramento.” For a more comprehensive account of Public Nuisance’s history and Houston’s impact on the Sacramento music scene, please check out Jackson Griffith’s excellent 2003 Sacramento News & Review article Evolver.

Bonus Fun Fact – David Houston had the honor of having The White Stripes cover “Small Faces” during their 2003 tour and being invited to meet them backstage after a Bay Area performance. It’s a shame Jack and Meg never recorded it for one of their subsequent albums.


You can find Public Nuisance’s Gotta Survive for sale here.

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When rock duo Pets recorded their first album Pick Up Your Feet (2006), Derek Fieth and Allison Jones came by their signature sound by playing guitars in unison while letting a drum machine fill in the beats. Despite their minimalist approach, Pets managed to create a soundscape of Spectorian proportions with the addition of keyboards and electronic effects. “Pushy” gets things off to a lively start with Derek mumbling about his girl’s aggressive nature while Allison eggs him on by screaming the album’s title over and over. And from that point on, the production work by the band and Doug Godsey is damn near insane! A consistent barrage of noises bounce around and sweep through like a monstrous mosquito while other moments are accented with shimmering echoes. As a vocalist, Allison is a force to be reckoned with, exploding with “SET TO ATTACK!” to kick off the album’s second track “Meatbee” (which, not coincidentally, is another name for the hostile yellow jacket wasp). On tunes like “Backseat,” “Coldhouse,” and “Be My Friend,” she yelps and chants and often sounds as though she’s on the verge of hysteria. Derek, on the other hand, has a much more laid-back demeanor on songs like “Pretty” and “Give You a Ride.” And when the two engage in a round of call-and-response, there’s something undeniably sexy about the way they play off each other. I have to admit the two tracks in the middle that don’t feature a lead vocal by either member of the band aren’t as engaging to me as the ones before and after, but they still feel as though they belong thanks to the clever segueways and sequencing. The focus is clearly on sound dynamics and how this music makes you feel rather than how it makes you think. Sex, dancing, and generally having a good time with the one you love is primarily what matters here, and I can state from firsthand experience that they’ve succeeded admirably in inspiring that credo. The album closes with a near-instrumental track during which Derek and Allison’s voices faintly rise up in the distance as it progresses. It’s a nicely subdued ending for a record that can really get your heart pumping and feet moving.

Quite frankly, I was a bit confused the first time I listened to the follow-up album, Ready the Rifles (2010). Pick Up Your Feet split the vocal duties evenly between Pets’ two members, but Ready the Rifles is basically Derek’s moment in the spotlight with Allison literally in the backseat. She has only one lead here on “Switchblade” and just provides background and harmony vocals on some of the other tracks. Since Allison injected a welcome dose of adrenalin to many of the first album’s songs, I wasn’t quite prepared for her relative absence the second time around. Another unexpected development involves the general sound of the recording, which is considerably more relaxed and conventional compared to Pets’ first outing. (Also different: Ira Skinner adds a more human touch on the drums and serves as an unofficial third member.) Having spent more time with Ready the Rifles and allowing my initial expectations to gradually fade away, I can now assess it on its own merits. What this album lacks in visceral impact, it makes up for with simple and engaging pop songs that’ll remind you of The Vaselines (“Lost in There”) and The Jesus and Mary Chain, who serve as ground zero for the majority of Derek’s more melodic material. Stripping away most of the sonic jewelry has allowed for a more streamlined sound that lets the hooks dominate more readily. As with Pick Up Your Feet, the lyrics here are pretty basic and are mostly present to hang the infectious rhythms on. The following lines from “Clever is Whatever” seem to suggest that physical satisfaction is still a priority: “The last thing I’m trying to do is to seem smart to you / The furthest thing from my mind is what goes on inside your brain.”  But with persistent references to guns (naturally) and breaking hearts, there seems to be more going on below the surface for this second go-around. And when Allison does chime in from time to time, there’ll be no doubting that this is a Pets album. Granted, it’ll have quite a few older fans like myself scratching their heads during its maiden voyage, but stick with it and I think it’ll begin to shine as a low-key gem over time.

Bonus Fun Fact – Pets have been nominated for SAMMIE Awards in no less than five different categories in just as many years: Electronic, Rock, Pop, Indie, and Post-Punk. Stay tuned to see how they’ll be classified in the near future!


You can find Pets’ Pick Up Your Feet for sale here.

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Phono Select


Once upon a time, Tower Records was the place to go for aural satisfaction throughout much of the world and was an important part of my life beyond my own overwhelming love for music. I worked for Tower for twelve years at the chain’s first store in Sacramento and then for nine more at the company’s corporate office before it fell victim to changing trends in technology. Without Tower as the predominant music retailer, independent stores like The Beat and Dimple ruled Sacramento by default. Tower founder Russ Solomon tried to make a modest comeback with R5 Records in a location where one of his famous stores once stood, but it came and went after a few years of struggling to make a profit. R5’s demise freed things up for former employee Dal Basi (who had also been a longtime Tower buyer) to start his own store with the help of partner Nicholas Lujan. Located on K Street in the heart of Midtown Sac, the small shop holds quite an impressive collection of great titles. Their emphasis is decidedly on vinyl, which reportedly has had a very healthy market in recent years, and they’ve always got something pretty cool spinning on a turntable. Still, I’ll admit I’ve never looked back once I began collecting CDs, so I was eager to see what they had waiting for me in that format. Within a minute of browsing on the store’s opening day, I found about five discs I was interested in buying! Granted, the limited selection means you likely won’t be successful if you’re seeking something in particular, but anyone who’s serious about music in general will almost certainly leave with an unexpected treasure or two. During my initial visit, I was surprised to find a bootleg collection of demos by The Screamers, a legendary L.A. punk band that failed to release a proper album before they prematurely broke up. I’ve also purchased terrific stuff by Pylon, Neko Case, Suede, Devo, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, U2, The Louvin Brothers, The Vaselines, Pere Ubu, Galaxie 500, The Replacements, Annie Lennox, The Lemonheads, The Strokes, Simply Red, The Pooh Sticks, Bettie Serveert, and Sacramento’s own Ricky Berger. I was also offered a free mixed CD of power pop that Dal was cool enough to throw together for early bird customers, and unlike The Beat (which has admittedly gotten a lot of business from me over the years), Phono Select’s used CDs are reasonably priced and can go for as low as three bucks. The cozy size of the store makes it a comfortable place to hang out and chat with the guys, and if there’s anything you want that you just can’t find anywhere else in town, Dal or Nich will gladly order it for you if it’s available.

Update: Phono Select can no longer be found in Midtown Sac, which is unfortunate for me cause it had been just a few blocks from my apartment until February 2013. The current address is 2475 Fruitridge Rd, Sacramento, CA 95822.


For more information about Phono Select, please go here.

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Agent Ribbons


I’ve been procrastinating for the better part of a year, but I’m finally ready to announce that I’m head over heels for Natalie Gordon, the extraordinarily talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist for Sacramento’s Agent Ribbons. She’s so damn groovy and gorgeous that she almost instantly became my local celebrity crush the first time I had an opportunity to watch her do her thing. Here, take a gander and you’ll see what I mean:

Yeah, she’s a doll alright, but you ain’t gonna hear her music just by staring at her. That’s why I’m here to let you know that Agent Ribbons’ debut release On Time Travel and Romance has given Sacramento another reason to be proud of its homegrown musicians. It all began when Natalie befriended Lauren Hess in a downtown used record store (which happens to be the very same store featured on the cover of DJ Shadow’s magnum opus Entroducing . . . )  This meeting of minds gave Natalie a renewed interest in her musical ambitions and inspired her to form a band (à la Art Brut) with Lauren sitting in on drums. Agent Ribbons has a decidedly retro sound thanks to Natalie’s focus on vaudeville, cabaret, and blues traditions in her songs, but she still manages to put a contemporary spin on everything she touches. Writing stories about looking for love after death and running off to join the circus, Natalie has a talent for dishing out the whimsy without ever sounding overly cute.  And her vocal on “Birds and Bees” is so hypnotically sensuous that it’s become a permanent fixture on my profile on MySpace. I particularly like how Agent Ribbons’ DIY discipline extended to recording the album. They’ve admitted that they just wanted to take a batch of Natalie’s terrific songs and bang ’em out without much thought of what they would sound like. They weren’t very proficient on their instruments at the time, but they figured out how to compensate by creating a signature sound that supported their material but didn’t overstep their reach. Natalie’s vocals are up front and center, her tunes are simple but instantly memorable, and the chemistry she shared with Lauren is quite apparent since there’s very little else competing for attention. A classic album, as far as I’m concerned.

Their follow-up, Chateau Crone, might possibly be a classic as well, but it’s definitely another creature altogether. With a much fuller palette and considerably more ambition on display, I was quite impressed with how much work they put into this one compared to the first. I have to admit I was pretty surprised when I finally heard the leadoff song “I’m Alright” up close rather than from a distance. (I’d heard it in a park as Sacramento concert promoter and Agent Ribbons groupie Jerry Perry played the new album repeatedly at a chalk art festival I was involved with.) Not exactly what I expected to hear from the ladies, but it sounds like they were born for it. Absolutely rockin’ and yet so damn smooth . . . . a hit single floating in from a much cooler time and place! What follows is generally more familiar for those accustomed to their older stuff, but with newest member Naomi Cherie adding violin and cello to the mix as well as the addition of background vocals and fancy effects, it does give them sort of a “Wall of Sound” compared to the minimal accompaniment they established before. That means you’re gonna have to listen to it a few times before it really starts to sink in, but it’s certainly worth the extra time it takes to sort it all out. Natalie’s vocals are more subdued and less quirky this time, but she still sounds fabulous. She seems to be haunted by the ghost of Roy Orbison in “I Was Born to Sing Sad Songs,” which is one of the most majestically melancholic ballads I’ve heard in quite some time. The album ends with popular concert favorite “Wood Lead Rubber,” but Naomi’s violin runs certainly add a thrilling dynamic not present in their live renditions when Natalie and Lauren performed it as a duo.

Since the ladies weren’t able to make ends meet in their hometown, they moved to Austin in March 2010 with the hope of greater success. Naomi unexpectedly left the band during a national tour, but Agent Ribbons bounced back with a BUST Magazine interview a few months later. Sadly, Lauren decided to call it quits after an unfortunate accident while returning home during their last tour resulted in a broken wrist. Natalie has since moved on with a new band called Tele Novella that features boyfriend Jason Chronis on bass, Matt Simon on drums, and Sarah La Puerta on keyboards. Let’s hope the next few years bring more ups than downs for this wonderfully talented woman.

Bonus Fun Fact – In 2008, Agent Ribbons was banned from entering the U.K. for a full ten years! Okay, perhaps the word ‘fun’ doesn’t exactly apply here, but that certainly is an attention grabber. Here’s the full story.


You can find Agent Ribbons’ On Time Travel and Romance for sale here.

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Knock Knock


My introduction to Sacramento pop band Knock Knock began with an inside joke at a SAMMIES Showcase I attended in 2006. Just before getting started, lead singer Allen Maxwell announced that he and his band would be performing nothing but Anton Barbeau songs. Anton had thoroughly kicked ass in the previous set, and since he had long been my favorite local musician (see my first “Lost in Sacramento” entry below), hearing more of his songs sounded like a pretty sweet deal. Alas, Maxwell was just goofing around following some backstage shenanigans with Anton, but I was still impressed with how he provided a rousing beat for opening song “She Knocks Me Out” with handclaps. It’s true: A well-rehearsed clapping of hands can almost always win me over.

A couple years later, Knock Knock was awarded a SAMMIE to honor their second CD Girls on the Run (2008), but as superb as that release is, I feel their debut was just as deserving of the recognition. Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders (2004) is comprised of such an abundant range of intriguing textures and indelible melodies that it would inevitably be a tough act to follow. It’s remarkable that exuberant uptempo tunes like “I’ve Been a Drag” and “Dan Can You Stand” can occupy the same space with the languid beauty of “Oceanography” and “Levee,” but Knock Knock seems to have a knack for mixing things up without having to struggle to do so. “Eye of the Storm” finds a nice balance between the two extremes and is perhaps the best representation of their work as a whole, but you certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on other catchy numbers like “Jorge” and “Rotten Dogs.” Think of a poppier version of Yo La Tengo and you might have an idea of what to expect. Maxwell’s feathery-but-urgent vocals compare favorably to Ira Kaplan’s while Heather Conway adds an even lighter touch to a pair of songs a la Georgia Hubley.

Tasty stuff indeed, and when you’re finished with that one, you should be more than ready to take in the gorgeous harmonies and sugar-rush momentum of Girls on the Run. Punchy, jittery, chiming, rhyming . . . that’s what makes Pop pop, and it’s all here and then some. Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders had its share, but nearly every track on the follow-up features some variation on the standard “ooo” vocals to the point where Knock Knock can practically claim ownership. It’s almost as though they’re mantras providing temporary sanctuary from everything trying to rip the singer’s whole life apart. (“It’s alright now, it’s alright now . . . ooooooo,” Maxwell reassures in the title track.) Apocalyptic musings throughout the album could be referring to the end of the world or just the end of a relationship, but is there really a difference when it’s your heart on the chopping block?

Getting back to inside jokes, there’s plenty to be found inside the sleeves of both CDs. If you like that sort of thing, which I kinda do.

Bonus Fun Fact – According to Knock Knock’s bio, original member Nicola Miller signed a contract stating she would be the drummer to Maxwell’s bass for at least 20 years. She apparently found a loophole because she was replaced by Christine Shelley prior to the band recording its excellent third album, We Will Raise Your Child (2012). Then again, the contract is likely just another inside joke, so maybe we should call this “fun fiction.”


You can find Knock Knock’s Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders for sale here.

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The Dutch Falconi Orchestra


Dutch Falconi and His Twisted Orchestra was one of Sacramento’s most popular live acts during the 1990s. Taking the big band dynamic to its logical extreme with up to 32 members performing onstage or on the sidelines, these guys and dolls really knew how to put on a show! I happened to mention Dutch Falconi in passing while talking to former co-worker Dean Alleger during a lunch break, and he responded that he had not only played trumpet for the group but also co-produced its masterpiece Crime Boss Hootenanny (1997). I was absolutely awestruck to discover that someone I’d spent so much time shooting the breeze with had largely been responsible for piecing together a musical mosaic I had admired for so long.

On Crime Boss Hootenanny, Dutch Falconi drew inspiration from Cab Calloway, The Andrew Sisters, Tom Waits, and various other sources, but what really stands out besides the consummate musicianship is a satirical bent that recalls Firesign Theater at its wackiest. (Alleger was kind enough to give me a CD documenting a mock radio production that confirmed the Firesign influence wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.) There are the few expected showstoppers here like “Jerry the Junker” and guest vocalist Countess Kitten Fontina’s Bavarian mobster saga “Lepke Finger Gang,” but to truly appreciate this album, you really need to listen to it from beginning to end. In an attempt to fill the compact disc format with as much entertainment as the technology would allow, an 8-minute skit serving as an intermission was inserted at the appropriate interval. Alleger informed me that the basic tracks took only five days to lay down but that the album as a whole took two years to complete due to all of the nuttiness that was included in the final product.

Falconi’s out-of-print debut album The Shoes of Despair (1994) remained a holy grail for me until just recently when Dutch himself delivered it to my doorstep. I still think Crime Boss Hootenanny easily stands as their towering achievement, but The Shoes of Despair established the template for their theatrical approach to performing. Dutch’s introduction kicking off “Bandstand” makes it clear that he and his ensemble have a show to put on, and what a show it is! Unabashed tributes to cannibalism (“Potatoes, Carrots and You”), corruption of the innocent (“I’ll Show Them”), and exploitation cinema (“Rocket Bra Revenge”) abound, and the musicians gathered together for this first outing were in full swing right from the start. The liner notes alone are state of the art, covering each and every track as well as recalling DFO’s victorious court win against no less than The United Mass Marketing Agents of America.

As for Crime Boss Hootenanny, if you think you might be interested in checking out what I’ve often referred to as “The Sgt. Pepper of Swing,” you can find new copies for sale on Amazon for no more than a buck-and-a-half.

Bonus Fun Fact – The Dutch Falconi Orchestra incorporated a penis guillotine in its act for several shows, the gory details of which can be found here. Not for the faint of heart!


You can find Dutch Falconi’s Crime Boss Hootenanny for sale here.

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