IT'S NOT unusual to find American new wave bands flirting with country and western sounds these days. From the neo- Nashville romanticism of Lone Justice to the cowpoke punk of Rank & File, the twangy guitars and heartbroken harmonies have begun to seem like the last word in hip. Trouble is, all that many of these bands get out of their dip into C&W is a handful of mannerisms, leaving their songs without the resonances that make the real thing so affecting.
That's one of the reasons Beat Rodeo is so refreshing. Not only is this New York-based quartet's approach to country simple and straightforward, it also uses that music as the basis for its sound, not merely as dressing. In fact, many of the best songs on "Staying Out Late With Beat Rodeo," the band's first album, seem almost like country songs that have been transformed into something else. For example, "Just Friends" has Searchers- styled flourishes, and "Mistake" softens its traditional lines with contemporary technology. Best of all, singer Steve Almaas knows how to craft a memorable melody, lending "Staying Out" the sort of strength and consistency rarely found in debut albums.
Minneapolis' Tetes Noires, who will open for Beat Rodeo this Friday at the 9:30 Club, come across like aggressive Roches, or maybe an '80s take on the Andrews Sisters. Rich vocal arrangements and quirky instrumentation (violin and Farfisa organ, but no drums) imbue their self-penned material with an intriguing folk-punk edge that seems perfectly in tune with songs about bingo halls, grade school romances, male prostitution, mooning and middle-of-the-road drivers. These songs, half-electric, half-acoustic, are alternately tense and tender, with pithy lyrics that seem inspired as much by off-off-Broadway as the garage band ethos. Among the best cuts: "Peace, Piece by Piece," a doo-wop protest anthem; the calypso-ish "Recipe for Love"; and the somber ballad "Family Ties."
BEAT RODEO -- "Staying Out Late With Beat Rodeo" (IRS-39027).
TETES NOIRES -- "American Dream" (Rapunzel 101); both groups appear Friday at the 9:30 Club.