By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Sad dudes, sad tunes. Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys show up first, at Gypsy Tea Room on Thursday night, and it's a good thing: The precise honky-tonk laments on their third album, Your Favorite Fool, are so genre-specific they don't demand much unpacking to reveal their lovelorn frowns--all it takes is Hobart's hangdog drawl and guitarist J.B. Morris' dewy-eyed lead lines to see these guys have tipped back quite a few at the bar on quite a few lonely nights. Listen past the impressive (if a little slavish) Bakersfield ambience and you'll find Hobart's clever wordplay; "I'll Forget Her or Die Crying" is, needless to say, a highlight. He even unearths the pitiful in inanimate objects: "Golden ring with one tiny little stone," he and Chicago siren-for-hire Kelly Hogan sing on Fool's "Golden Ring," "Waiting there for someone to take it home/By itself it's just a cold metallic thing."
Before he wore emphatically colored pearl-buttoned shirts, Hobart led the Kansas City emo band Giant's Chair; chances are he crossed paths back then with the Black Heart Procession, a group of San Diego indie vets who've taken an unlikely route out of complicated guitar rock and into ornate, goth-tinged cabaret balladry. If the band started out as a gloomy Elephant 6-ish concern--lots of singing saws and organ and auxiliary percussion, and a reluctance to stop piling on those things--it's blossomed on its excellent new album, Amore del Tropico, into a sort of roots-rock Portishead. They're still folding vanloads of exotic instruments into the music, but it's remarkable how good they've gotten at working a sustained mood, a feverish, itchy world of shadows of shadows and darkly comic unrest. When singer Paulo Zappoli moans that "we trust the ways we bleed" at Rubber Gloves on Tuesday, you'll appreciate the human company.
Joseph Arthur, on the other hand, might appreciate yours, at Gypsy Tea Room on Wednesday night. This po-faced New York-based singer-songwriter's been waiting to break through to a mainstream audience since 1996, when Peter Gabriel signed him to his Real World label. Come to Where I'm From, his 2000 album, attracted some critical hoo-hah but just missed the recent resurgence in interest for po-faced singer-songwriters; opening a Coldplay show I caught early last year, he seemed to have trouble with a crowd already predisposed to breakup songs. Redemption's Son, his forthcoming record, may finally do the trick: It's full of textural, melodic pop-rock with a sober emotional heft, and Enjoy Records, the Universal imprint that made a star of Hawaiian surfer dude Jack Johnson, is issuing the disc in the States. Consider him the thinking man's Pete Yorn, and make his year.
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