-- Gary X. Indiana

Reggae/World

Common Sense
This highly charged young posse's new Surfdog Records release, Psychedelic Surf Groove, is a rockin', poppin' compilation of smooth music: mainly reggae, with occasional surf guitar and beach blanket harmonies. The selection "In Your Eyes" features a guest appearance by master toaster Pato Banton; styles vary widely on other prime cuts. Mixing original and cover tunes performed their own "sensible" way, Common Sense delivers a very hot property.

-- Leigh Crutchfield, Reggae Calendar International

Native Elements
Native Elements has become very popular on the Northern California club and festival scene over the last several years. Comprised of five men and two ladies, this irie posse pleases crowds with their expansive riddims and awesome vocals. They have opened for many famous reggae artists, and recently played at San Francisco's Reggae in the Park concert. What sets these musicians apart from all others are the sweet, powerful harmonies of Tamara Haynes and Karen Smith -- "The Expressions of Unity," as they call themselves -- which mix nicely with lead vocals by Jose Pagan and the group's other male voices.

-- Leigh Crutchfield, Reggae Calendar International

Wild Mango
Beginning in the late '80s as Mango Jam, performing Latin American folk, and recording for Holly Near's defunct Redwood Records, this combo realized they were born to be wild. They released themselves to a fusion of Latin, Middle Eastern, flamenco, and jazz that has since paid off with wider critical acclaim. Again the all-woman ensemble is evolving, but a superlative core of former members of the Blazing Redheads still anchors their diverse carpet of musical sounds, defining them and articulating the creative vision of multifaceted leader Erika Luckett. Venezuelan spitfire Maria Marquez's lead vocals (shared with Luckett) add a delightful charm with sultry vibrato, especially noteworthy on a sassy, loungin' version of "The Look of Love."

-- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Rock/Pop

Liar
Demon clowns and mad Gypsies must glut the road between here and New Mexico -- and from the sounds of Devil Dog Road, Liar has shared wine with all of them. Led by guitar zealot Eric McFadden, Liar burst on the San Francisco scene a little over a year ago, and was immediately adopted by booker/producer Toni Isabella as the Paradise Lounge's favorite act. Live, Liar takes on the nuance of a sinister cabaret. McFadden, sporting his prerequisite top hat and tails, growls with a dusty cadence as his fingers dance across mandolin or guitar strings with an ease that betrays a pact with the devil. Only when violinist Marisa Mead takes her occasional turn at the mike is there a brief respite from the dizzying melange of Gypsy, klezmer, rock, bluegrass, country, and circus requiems that is McFadden's trademark. Mead plants her feet firmly in the more accessible world of rock 'n' roll, but it is still McFadden's obsessive sojourns that make your feet wiggle despite the prickling of flesh. The fact that Devil Dog Road manages to capture even a small fraction of the live Liar experience is further proof of preternatural support.

-- Silke Tudor

Pee
Crammed full of feverish rhythm changes and catchy boy-girl vocal melodies, Pee's first full-length, Now, More Charm and More Tender, sounds like a teen-ager fraught with an identity crisis. There're the childhood memories too recent to ignore, an adolescent's fixation with metal, and an ache to remake favored sounds in their own image. Pee has boiled this aching down to a genre drummer Andee Connors calls "grindpop." "All of the songs are really short and fast and complicated, so it's like grindcore, only it's pop," he says. But Pee separate themselves from the rest of the pop chaff with real musical ability. Connors' tricky beats and pounding assault make him a serious contender for the best rock drummer in San Francisco. And Kelly Green and Jim Stanley arrange ingenious guitar interlocution that matches their vocal play. Live, Pee are a joy, clever and tight, with more stage presence than ever after last summer's U.S. tour. It only proves that Pee stands for post-pubescence -- in the best possible way.

-- Jeff Stark

The Sunshine Club
Say what you will about the impropriety of the category in which the Sunshine Club find themselves nominated; their semiacoustic melancholia is far more at odds with their ubiquitous "neo-country" pigeonholing. Vocalist/acoustic guitarist Denise Bon Giovanni, electric guitarist Sean Coleman, stand-up and electric bassist Simon Colley, and drummer Paul Comaskey offer sparse, desolate tunes more harmonically complex than most mopey singer/songwriter fare, but clearly centered around Bon Giovanni's subdued vocals. What's more: Instrumentation sometimes includes such unequivocally un-Rock, un-Pop sundries as viola and musical saw. Whatever the genre, the Sunshine Club's quasi-rural music has a modern subterfuge and an insidious character. Listeners are fooled into complacence, unprepared for the suggestive, depressive power of the Sunshine repertoire, best experienced live. One minute, you'll be idly sucking the lime wedge out of your melted cocktail; the next, you'll be gnawing through your wrists.

-- Michael Batty

Rockability/Swing

Indigo Swing
Recalling an era when men were men and women were girls (or dames or chicks), Indigo Swing is one of the top swing bands in town. From Johnny Depp's infamous Viper Room in Hollywood to San Francisco's classic Hi-Ball Lounge, the good-time sextet (with vocalist Johnny Boyd, pianist William Beatty, saxophonist Baron Shul, guitarist Jeffrey Massanari, bassist Little David, and drummer Bowen Brown) promises to keep joints up and down the coast rockin' all night long. Their self-produced eponymous debut features jumpin' chestnuts ("Flip, Flop, & Fly," "I Can't Stop It") that will get your toes a-tappin' and your fingers snappin'. But this is no mere cover band. Polished originals ("Swing Lover," "Please Tell 'Em") also showcase the band's signature sound: an energetic, danceable groove centered around clean-cut crooner Boyd, whose to-swoon-by lyrical presence and reet pleats make him a dashing frontman. If Indigo Swing's popularity in a city that prides itself on progressive arts and politics seems an anomaly, well, maybe San Franciscans are sometimes willing to reel in their vigilance for a night of dolled-up and dapper, old-fashioned fun.

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