Bet the Sky

A glossy national magazine recently informed me that Lois was “too twee” to merit a profile. This decision speaks volumes about a (male) critical approach to rock that's only interested in femininity as two-dimensional trouble, the clichŽd combination of pink baby-doll frills and swear-words-a-go-go. Like many a K record, Lois' new album has a song that uses candy as a romantic symbol, but the treat it references — an Atomic Fireball — matches her music. Bet the Sky is sweet on the surface, but inside, it burns.

Pretty music isn't always twee, and minimalism isn't always simple. Lois' songs are short and small in scale (acoustic guitar, voice, drums), yet they offer more than louder, dumber rock records. Witty, literate stories are one reason; few lyricists have the imagination to use the delay on a long-distance phone call as a metaphor for alienation. Another is Lois' main persona: incurable romantic. While her male counterparts (Mark Eitzel, Morrissey) indulge in mopey melodrama, mining perverse pleasure from their misery, Lois opts for subtler nuances, shifting back and forth between introvert and extrovert, observation and inspiration.

The raw strumming and bright melodies on Bet the Sky echo Lois' earlier two albums, but with greater confidence. Quiet moments like “Close Yr Eyes” are aided by the light touch of ex-Tiger Trap drummer Heather Dunn, while the punk pep talk “Shy Town” builds up — appropriately — to a pure adrenaline rush. “I think you can/ Make a dream/ Because dreams come true,” Lois concludes on the latter. The sound of her voice and guitar offer proof that she's telling the truth.

Johnny Ray Huston
Lois plays S.F.'s Bottom of the Hill Thurs, March 9; call 626-4455.

Various Artists
Pushing the Norton: The Ace Cafe Compilation

Sober serious stuff first: This disk is a benefit for Adam Fisher, the former co-owner of the Ace Cafe who was seriously injured in a car crash last year. It features many of the “roots” acts that made the Ace a happening place.

Good cause, great record. Ain't it a peach when that happens?
I'm not even going to try to name all the bands that appear on these 21 tracks, but players include L.A. rootsy club bands like Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys, the Loved Ones, the Dave and Deke Combo, and Gary Wayne Claxton. The fabbest thing about Pushing the Norton — for a girl like myself who has everything — is that dang near all of the cuts are either exclusive to this project or available only on obscure, hard-to-find bits of vinyl. While a few tracks are a bit too sleepy-time for my taste, the vast majority are rompin', stompin', boogie-till-your-brains-explode ditties.

This compilation illustrates exactly how eclectic and exceptional the “alternative vintage” scene has become, with styles ranging from rockabilly to R&B to swing to C&W to cabaret. Anyone who cares about the music that spawned the beast called rock and roll will find something to love here.

It would fry the cockles of my wizened heart if Pushing the Norton sold in the zillions. Hefty sales would prove that there's some goddamn hope for the future of American music, dagnabbit!

Sadie O.
Pulsing the Norton's CD-release party is Thurs, March 2, at the DNA Lounge in S.F.; call 626-1409.

Ann Dyer and No Good Time Fairies
Ann Dyer and No Good Time Fairies

On the second track of her jazz combo's first recording, Ann Dyer sings, “Think for myself …/ I like to go against the grain” — lines that aptly describe the group's unpredictable, unfettered music. Dyer's a singer who's not afraid to take chances, and with her expert phrasing and ability to express a wide range of emotions, the risk taking often pays off tremendously.

Dyer starts off the jazz standard “Green Dolphin Street” dreamily enough, but she soon escalates to shouting, with the song evolving into a whirlwind group improvisation — it's an effective expression of love's excitement, urgency and turbulence. The band's fresh renditions aren't pinned down to any one style of playing — one tune may be inspired by funk, the next may pay tribute to acid jazz. Jeff Buenz's electric guitar and guest artist Hafex Modirzadeh's tenor sax wail and soar, while John Shifflett's acoustic bass resonates solidly and Jason Lewis' playful drums keep things lively. As Dyer and her instrumentalists change tempos and phrasings, you never know what they'll do next. It's enthusiastic jazz that lives in the moment, and never gets old.

Liz Sizensky
Ann Dyer and No Good Time Fairies' CD-release party takes place Wed, March 8, at S.F.'s Great American Music Hall; call 885-0750.

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