Musical Chairs

Posted on July 1, 2010 – 7:55 AM | by OldManFoster
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Lee Bob Watson has been kicking out rootsy music in the Sacramento region for over a decade.  He’s best known for his long stint in the band Jackpot, but is focused on his solo work these days. As part of the Western Family Orchestra  (Lee Bob, Gabe Nelson and others) he will be producing a series of radio shows for KVMR, Nevada City. The first live recording will be Friday, July 23 at the historic Nevada Theater in Nevada City, CA, with special guests Aaron Ross, the Moore Brothers and Bart Davenport. The show is all ages. For info check out

Summer in Sacramento is a definitive statement. It may cause hallucinations. It can numb the brain or illuminate the senses. To experience a Sacramento summer is to face some elemental truths. Sometimes you just hope you’ll make it out alive.  Maybe this is why our town seems to spawn a stoic sort of people, people who’s artistic gifts are shared unassumingly, if at all. With that in mind, I’d like to take time to celebrate the casual brilliance of some of my musical compadres from the Sacramento region.  [This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and you’ll have to pardon me if I betray more than a formal relation to any of the folks mentioned. I’ll use first names, because it feels odd not to.]

Evening Time Comes Down

If there was an anthem for the onset of summer in Sacramento it would have to be James Finch Jr’s “As the Evening Time Comes Down”:

“And it’s finally the evening time comes down/ Fans have been blowing all day long/ But now windows are thrown open all over the town”

James exalts the simple pleasures of summer nights and how they offset the damage of the day. He’s having his coffee with ice, he’s salting the rim of his glass.  He’s walking out the door and he may not be back ‘til morning.   This track can be found on Cornbread & Bourbon (2002), an album of brash tales that are gentler than they let on. James Finch Jr. may be younger than that now, but he still sounds older than the rest of us.

Couples Rock

Isn’t it a kick in the pants when your wife starts writing songs, and the songs are very good, and then you get to be in a band together? How rad is that?  It’s so right-on it almost makes me sick.  Well, Two Sheds pulled that stunt off with aplomb and the Sacramento scene has been better off because of it.  This weekend, I recommend listening to Perfect on repeat while you tidy up the apartment or read frivolous fiction in the shade.

And keep your ears tuned for more couples that rock: Kevin and Allyson Seconds, PETS, and Brian and Tatiana Latour (who have a beautiful new musical baby on the way).

The Quiet One

One day late last century, Gabe Nelson came over to my place to play some music and he left behind a cassette tape of some of his home recordings. For years, I’ve held that tape in very high esteem. In my opinion, the songs on that tape are songwriting gems that could give Jimmy Webb or Ray Davies a run for their money.  One track relates the story of a backyard dance party laid across a sick lo-fi dance groove probably recorded with a cardboard box for a drum-kit:

“Jodie brought her parent’s record player and set it up in the back/ People dancing, people spitting watermelon seeds all over the lawn.”

It’s Pavement meets Prince. I’m telling you, it’s bad.  A Gabe Nelson record still hasn’t surfaced yet.  If you see him around, bug him about it.

The Stars of Oak Park

Every time I revisit To Set Your Calendars on Fire – the 2005 debut of Prairie Dog (Sarah Bethe Nelson) – I find a new obsession.  “The Dampness of the Sea” nearly dissolves into nothing before the long, life affirming slow dance begins. “Rio De Janero” takes you on a trip without sounding like anything other than Oak Park.  Sarah’s songs quietly break many rules. They’ll etch in your skin and then threaten to disappear, never to be heard from again.  Last summer Sarah put out the single “Better Than This”.  It cuts to the center of a relationship in its moment of unravelling, without any gimicks that would sully the whole thing.  It’s a song for the closing scene of a movie that will never get made, because, well, there’s not much more to say, really.

Rusty Miller

I first saw Jackpot on the west steps of the capitol, rocking out atop that big bronze CA state seal. They were playing at the end of the annual AIDS walk.  1997, maybe. As I approached the band,  the singer gave me a nod as if he knew me.   Well, to make a long story short, I got to know Rusty Miller and the band pretty well. When Boneville came out in ’98, I sidelined my other musical interests for awhile. To this day, the opening bars of “Spaceout” – the loose acoustic guitar and a cymbal a million miles away –  give me chills and point the way.  Rusty’s songs made me feel like I didn’t have to retreat to some bygone era to make the music I wanted to make.  It was old and it was new.  It was what I knew all along, and yet it may as well have been some bizarre creature from a distant galaxy that would never be captured, classified nor explained.  That pretty much sealed the deal for me.  Thanks a lot, Rusty!  Lord knows, I’ve had plenty of occasions to take him to task about all this. But like family, he knows. He just knows.

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  1. One Response to “Musical Chairs”

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    By Jonah on Jul 13, 2010 | Reply

    What a well-written piece. Way to rock it! Hope to see you soon and make some stuff, too.

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