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Lend Them Your Ears

Breaking Stories From the Music Scene

By Richard Harrington
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page WE31

The interesting thing about the Washington Area Music Association's Hall of Fame is that almost everyone in it began their career in humble fashion, working at a local bar, restaurant or roadhouse, sometimes infrequently until people started to notice them. Visit the WAMA Web site, www.wamadc.com, and you'll find not only a crowded Hall of Fame and a local music timeline but links to dozens of local and regional artists. Plus you can get a good overview of local venues and information about the annual Washington Area Music Awards, known as the Wammies. Scroll down the list of recent Wammie winners and you're bound to recognize many of the names, but just as many will be a mystery. So here we go, offering a Whitman's Sampler of local talent, just a hint of the multitude of hopeful artists working their way toward the spotlight. We had some guidance from observers of the scene, and we've kept our ears open to buzz. This list is neither all-inclusive nor is it meant to be exclusive. Our Weekend club listings are chock-full of other deserving acts, and we hope you'll check them all out in good time.

ROCK

When Q and Not U signed to Dischord in 1998, the band was briefly hyped as Washington's next big punk thing, particularly after its initial recordings were produced by Fugazi's Ian MacKaye and Don Zientera. But losing their bassist led singer-guitarists Chris Richards (a Washington Post copy aide) and Harris Klahr, and drummer John Davis to rethink the band's sound and approach. They ended up pumping up the melodies and vocal harmonies (sometimes pushing the latter into falsetto-land) and adding a dash of dance-music energy via synth-bass underpinning -- sort of a middle ground between disco and Dischord. And while there's still a dour political sensibility to the lyrics, the overall mood is considerably lighter, something particularly evident on Q and Not U's recent "Power" album. Now on tour opening for indie-rock darlings Interpol, Q and Not U will be at the Black Cat April 27 with the Threads.


A little dance-music energy plus pumped-up harmonies have lightened Q and Not U's mood these days. The group hits the Black Cat next month. (Shawn Brackbill)

Washington Social Club has made its mark via high-energy live shows enlivened by lead singer-guitarist Martin Royle's manic showmanship. Royle and bassist Olivia Mancini began playing together as Vassar College undergrads and hooked up with drummer Randy Scope after moving back to Washington; they recently added guitarist Evan Featherstone. The band's debut album, "Catching Looks," is a collection of catchy '90s-style indie-pop hooks tempered by '80s-era punk and new wave energies; surprisingly, the group shows little local influence, though it has cited Jonathan Fire*Eater (now the Walkmen) as an inspiration. And the name? According to Royle, after being kicked out of the Washington Sports Club for smoking marijuana, he felt a need to form a club where he could smoke freely, an in-joke Groucho Marx would surely appreciate. Washington Social Club recently played the 9:30 club with Hot Hot Heat.

The Carlsonics also have an exuberant frontman in singer Aaron Carlson, whose fearless and sometimes out-of-control onstage antics have evoked comparisons to Iggy Pop in his Stooges-era gory glory. Carlson, guitarists Ed Donohue and John Passmore, drummer Mike Scutari and bassist Nikki West came together in 1999 while attending James Madison University, which hardly seems the proper incubator for the band's frenetic and happily rough-around-the-edge garage rock. It's a sound rooted in the '70s cacophonies of Detroit and punk London, a sound that, so far, has been better represented in performance than on recordings: The band's eponymous debut album came out in 2003.

A town famous for go-go and punk can also claim psych-rock/stoner-rock standard bearers Dead Meadow and the Hidden Hand. Dead Meadow came out of Washington's legendary punk/indie scene in the late '90s -- having met at assorted all-ages punk shows, the members formed various baby bands before coming together as Dead Meadow. Its 2000 debut was released on Fugazi bassist Joe Lally's Tolotta label, and a few years later Dead Meadow recorded a session for John Peel at Fugazi's practice space, the first time a "Peel Session" had been recorded outside the BBC's London studios. Why the fuss? Dead Meadow cannily melds a passion for the '60s psychedelia a la Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix and the molten '70s rock of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer with the literary influence of such fantasists as J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft: Call it heavy mental. The band's fourth studio album, "Feathers," was released last month, with singer-guitarist Jason Simon getting some added muscle from new guitarist Cory Shane. Touring in Europe with And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Dead Meadow will be at Baltimore's Ottobar on April 26.

The Hidden Hand also has Black Sabbath roots and a Fugazi connection: Singer-guitarist-songwriter Scott "Wino" Weinrich taught Lally to play bass. Weinrich also moonlights in Probot, the band put together by Dave Grohl, who was in the Washington-based hardcore band Scream before his Nirvana/Foo Fighters fame. Grohl has called Weinrich "the godfather of doom music" dating to his '80s run with the legendary Obsessed, and the guitarist's riff-and-rip virtuosity has made him something of a legend in metal circles. Lyrics on the recent album, "Mother Teacher Destroyer," reveal a decided political bent, not surprising since the band's name alludes to secret societies and financial organizations that control the world. The Hidden Hand is touring the United States with Mastodon and Burning Brides, and the group will play April 16 at Warehouse Next Door in the District and May 18 at Talking Head in Baltimore.

BLUES

The Westcott Brothers Band is fronted by Andrew Westcott, who has been making impressive strides since 1998, when the then-13-year-old opened his Christmas present and found a Kramer guitar. Now 19 and playing a Lonestar Stratocaster, Westcott is the virtuoso-in-the-making in a band that includes bassist brother Phillip and drummer uncle Billy Herrington. Originally from North Carolina, the Westcotts have been based in Maryland since 2000, honing a highly powered mix of blues rock and jam-oriented rock they've dubbed "PsychoMojo." "I think they're young bucks," says Birchmere booker Michael Jaworek. "The guys in Delbert McClinton's band told me, 'Boy, we're going to have some competition in a few years,' and they were serious! Plus, it's really good to have some young people who are into the blues."

Another, older Westcott brother, Mike, fronts Blues on Board. He started on guitar at age 10 and now plays in a power trio format with drummer Brian Costantino and bassist Spence Leckliter. Last month, the two Westcott-led bands competed against each other in the 21st International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Blues on Board has been on tour, while the Westcott Brothers Band performs April 16 at Bentz Street Sports Bar in Frederick.

The Mary Shaver Band offers a potent blend of Texas-influenced blues, rock and soul built around impassioned vocals that warrant comparisons to Bonnie Raitt (there's also the red-head connection), Janis Joplin and, especially in recent years, Etta James. The Mary Shaver Band features guitarist Keith Grimes and drummer Raice McLeod, who both played with Eva Cassidy, another major influence. Shaver performs Sundays at JV's Restaurant in Falls Church, every second Saturday at the Zoo Bar in the District and at the Clubhouse Grill in Sterling on April 2. Many of those dates feature Shaver with the Smokin' Polecats, which includes guitarist Dave Sherman and harp player Roger Edsall (they used to be the Nightcrawlers).

"Mary's a belter and fun to watch, so pairing her with the Smokin' Polecats is really a good idea," says Wayne Kahn of the Right on Rhythm Web site. Adds Bill Wax of XM Radio's Bluesville channel (and many years ago one of Shaver's teachers at Prince George's County's Fairmont Heights High School): "Mary's not yet figured out exactly what her style, her unique voice, is. She can sing, and there are times you hear Janis, Sue Foley, Angela Strehli and LouAnn Barton, whom she's acknowledged as influences, but she's still working on developing her own voice."

For Melanie Mason, it's not just the red hair that provokes the inevitable Raitt comparisons. Like Raitt, Mason is a triple threat as singer, guitarist and songwriter, and she's able to hold her own in both band and solo settings. With the Melanie Mason Band, she works an electric avenue traveled by the likes of Robert Cray, B.B. King, and role models Raitt and Susan Tedeschi, while a recent solo acoustic album found Mason convincingly covering songs by Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and Mance Lipscomb, augmented by several strong originals. According to Wax: "She just needs some seasoning: She only started doing this a few years ago, and she's still pretty new at it. She's got a good voice, but is maybe better at her guitar playing. And it's always cool to see a female playing guitar." Look for Mason at Blues Alley on April 12, celebrating the release of a live album recorded there, and at the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival on May 21-22 in Annapolis.

The Linwood Taylor Band is propelled by its leader's dynamic electric guitar stylings, influenced by such masters as Muddy Waters, Luther Allison and Albert Collins. Taylor, subject of a Post Magazine cover story in 2003, the congressionally recognized centennial Year of the Blues, says he reaped some non-congressional validation. "A lot of people suddenly knew what I did," he laughs, adding that an unintended side effect was "more opportunities to give [guitar] lessons." Taylor has a fluid yet aggressive style, with an edge that sometimes suggests his first guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix. He'll be performing at the South River Cafe on March 25, and the Mayo Yacht Club on March 26 and April 2 (both are in Edgewater), at the Cat's Eye Pub in Fells Point in Baltimore on April 3 and Murphy's Eye Pub in Bryans Road on April 9.

R&B/SOUL

Some folks expect Raheem DeVaughn to be the next big thing out of Washington, and he'll get his shot in mid-May, when a major label, Jive, finally releases DeVaughn's album, "The Love Experience." DeVaughn, son of jazz musician Abdul Wadud, has been a longtime mainstay on the local scene, first as half of CrossRhodes with poet-singer-actor W. Ellington Felton, and as a member of Urban Ave 31, a loose-knit group of musicians, vocalists and artists championing what they call "soul fusion."

As his album kept being delayed (about 18 months), DeVaughn crafted mix tapes that found favor at a half-dozen disparate radio stations and even generated a local hit with "Guess Who Loves You More." "Like Anthony Hamilton, Raheem's a true hip-hop/soul hybrid," says Marc Powers of promoter MN8, which presents alternative soul shows around town. "And that allows him to connect across generations, with both WPGC and MAGIC and WHUR, and adult contemporary and hip-hop sensibility." Powers points out DeVaughn's airy falsetto on ballads and a strong political edge evident in "My People," a track on Jazzy Jeff's recent album. DeVaughn has also written for Heather Headley and Dwele, and favors a mix of love songs and socially conscious ones, not unlike a major inspiration, Marvin Gaye. He'll appear at the Warner Theatre April 2 with local legend Chuck Brown and Mike Brooks.


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