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Mark Growden
After years of behind-the-scenes collaboration with choreographers and filmmakers, multi-instrumentalist Mark Growden steps into the spotlight as an extraordinary songwriter and bandleader on Downstairs Karaoke, his debut full-length CD of warped pop balladry and evocative folk-based storytelling. Released on his own Wiggle Biscuit Records label, the album's opening track, "House of Love," sets a strangely hypnotic mood with an eerie, languid waltz pumped full of sonic exotica -- glockenspiel, accordion, xylophone, "grandma's organ" -- all played by Growden. Nightmarish lyrics haunt the leader's theatrical melody, which swims darkly beneath Sgt. Pepper's waters. And this is just where the weird fun begins.

"Squeaky Persimmon" is a frantic-paced ditty about an odd fruit and a duck. "Gimme" peeks its pighead out from under the big top with tuba, trombone, and a plump marching beat. And the eight-minute "Takin' My Time" stretches out a sumptuously junky, lethargic beat lifted directly from a Tom Waitsian alcoholic daze.

Beneath nearly every tune, Growden finger-picks folky chord changes on banjo or acoustic guitar. On "Rental Car," one of the album's most eloquent tracks, he goes solo and Beck-like: "Sometimes I feel like an old piece of toast/ Forgotten in the toaster/ For a couple of days/ And mistakenly put in the freezer." The chorus is an original mantra to live by: "I need a band-aid/ I need a safety pin/ I need a paid vacation in Tahiti with an air-conditioned rental car." This last line would be a mouthful for any folk singer, but Mark Growden's no ordinary balladeer; he's seen the future of karaoke, and it's weirder than you ever imagined.

-- Sam Prestianni

Mark Growden's CD release party with the Mark Growden Group, the Deke & Mark Show, Peter Whitehead, Down River, the Two Dimensions, and Matthew Perifano takes place on Saturday, Jan. 9, at 8 p.m. at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Tickets are $5; call 863-9834.

 
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