With the demise of MRMF and the disarray of the Blues Festival, Twangfest 3 offers what looks to be this summer's most consistent lineup of live music. Headliners include the V-Roys on Thursday night, Damnations TX on Friday and Dale Watson on Saturday (see "Sound Checks," p. 78). But each night also features four bands you may not know, though you might want to. Get to Off Broadway early.
Thursday, June 10
Elena Skye and the Demolition String Band (Hoboken, N.J.). Skye has an airy, torchy voice and smart lyrical instinct, with originals like "Biggest Piece of Nothin'" and covers, especially Madonna's "Like a Prayer," played, yes, straight-up bluegrass-style.
Cadillac Cowgirl (Memphis, Tenn.). A.k.a. Nancy Apple, whose style reminds me of Heather Myles and who digs deeply into traditional honky-tonk subjects and melodies with neither pretension nor irony.
Deliberate Strangers (Pittsburgh). God, death, drink and banjos. Not necessarily in that order, and not for the faint of heart.
Jim Roll (Ann Arbor, Mich.). Roll's debut, Ready to Hang, has been praised by Dave Marsh, and rightly so. Loss and desire collide on these half-spare, half-full-out folk rock songs. His recent work has taken him into the world of cellos, pop and ever-louder guitars -- but the soul of his enviable songs has stuck around.
Friday, June 11
Old Rip (Chicago). Kelly Kessler, once of the Texas Rubies, now fronts this country/folk/blues band. "Well of Tears," Old Rip's cut on the new Twangfest compilation CD, Edges from the Postcard 3, stands out for the sly curve of Kessler's phrasing and a moving, bluesy lyric.
Gypsy Mechanics (Nashua, N.H.). The pleasure of walking into a bar with no idea about the band and no plan to listen, then suddenly getting hooked: I felt that way when I stumbled on these pop- and Clash-informed youngsters in Nashville earlier this year.
Hayseed (Nashville, Tenn.). You might remember Hayseed from that early Bloodshot compilation The Other Side of Alley, on which his rough-edged voice swelled around the witty but spiritual "God Shaped Hole." That voice is so big, so wild-hearted, that it can even take lines from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" and forge them into convincing country soul.
Jim Stringer and the Austin Music Band (Austin, Texas). Stringer's cut on this year's Edges comp starts out in spare style, then breaks open into a charming, dumped-but-happily-doomed reverie -- plus some fine barrelhouse piano riffing.
Saturday, June 12
Polish Hillbillies (Pittsburgh). Twangfest 3 features several female-fronted bands, churning two-step rhythms and post-Loretta Lynn lyrical sensibilities. One, the Polish Hillbillies, also features some pedal-steel and dobro work. Show up early on Saturday.
Heartbreak Hill (Toronto, Ontario). This year's only bluegrass band at Twangfest also sounds like one of the weekend's finest: agile dobro, mandolin and banjo, with some high, tart harmonies, as well as magnetic story songs and covers like "High on a Mountain" and "Weary, Weary Lonesome Blues."
Buck Diaz (Philadelphia). Todd Larson's voice sounds as if he lost a shouting match with Jim Beam, and the band sounds so rock-god-guitar cocky that they might have won.
Ex-Husbands (Nashville). This no-bullshit trio played last month at the Side Door. Here's another chance to hear their fine, springy, honky-tonk style.
-- Roy Kasten