Billy Joe & the Dusty 45s
Conor Byrne Pub 5140 Ballard Ave. N.W., 784-3640, www.conorbyrnepub.com.
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Listen to Billy Joe and the Dusty 45s' "Simple Things."
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Listen to a sample of The Bad Things' "The Breaking."
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Listen to a sample of Jeff Fielder's "Pack My Bags."
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For such a narrow genre, rockabilly has lived a remarkably long life. But for all the style and presentation, all it takes to breathe life into the genre is a lot of energy. Billy Joe & the Dusty 45s have been kings of Seattle's rockabilly scene for almost 10 years now. And they do it by adding elements of honky-tonk, jump blues, and swing to their music, not to mention lightning flashes of electric guitar and flare-ups of mariachi trumpet from frontman Billy Joe Huels. Speaking of flare-ups, Huels has been known to set his horn on fire in a live setting. You ladies who are holding your Bettie Page bobs together with half a can of hair spray might want to steer clear of the stage. BRIAN J. BARR
The Bad Things
It's only natural that a city with a healthy cabaret scene would sprout a band like the Bad Things. A mix of old-world revelry and punk-rock grit, the Bad Things' music is a twisted carnival of Gypsy folk, klezmer music, and Appalachian balladry. They evoke an atmosphere both chilling and wine-soaked, like a party being held at the edge of the world. Fitting for a band that calls itself "Music of the Post-Apocalyptic Depression Era." BRIAN J. BARR
Shane Tutmarc & the Traveling Mercies
Easily one of the coolest local roots acts since Jesse Sykes, Shane Tutmarc & the Traveling Mercies deliver country-based songs with a hipster aesthetic. It's perfectly natural for Tutmarc, who was one of the founding members of United States of Electronica and whose grandfather was a steel guitarist. His voice is strained, lending an urgency to his songs, which range from unironic country steps to finger-picked folk ramblers to piano-driven devotional songs. And the Country Music Association should recognize him for writing one of the best country lines ever: "I'm gonna live the life I sing about in my songs." Tutmarc himself at least recognizes the genius of that lyrical gem; he chose it as his album title. BRIAN J. BARR
The Tripwires are a local supergroup of sorts, led jointly by veteran singer-songwriter John Ramberg and lauded producer Johnny Sangster, along with help from Sangster's brother Jim on bass and Mark Pickerel on drums. Live, they are just what you would expect from such a seasoned group: unfussy rock 'n' roll with plenty of Reigning Sound–influenced soul and harmony-driven pop moments and bright shades of Alex Chilton. Nothing but a good time. HANNAH LEVIN
Jeff Fielder is the sort of guitar player whom other musicians can't help but admire. His easy enjoyment of playing comes through in his work, which is always marked by technical agility, but with an entirely natural grace that allows him to swing between full-tilt rock, country twang, and hushed balladry and maintain an original sound all his own. Along with stints in the Radio Nationals and a handful of other local rock and Americana outfits, Fielder quietly released a lovely solo effort last year that largely flew under the critical radar, but the guy deserves to hit a much broader audience soon. HANNAH LEVIN
A few years ago, Neko Case quipped that there needed to be more female singers with full-bodied voices willing to belt it out. Well, Case would certainly be pleased with Washington state native Kristen Ward. Hers is a very rare voice, one that No Depression contributor Kurt B. Reighley aptly compared to Christine McVie's and Linda Ronstadt's. One might also be inclined to toss Carly Simon into that mix. In short, Ward sounds like the rootsier female singers often heard pumping out of stereo speakers in the 1970s. But for all the '70s aesthetic, Ward's band strikes a balance between the '80s roots pop of Lone Justice and the soggy Northwest twang of Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter. These are songs about love, loss, small towns, and poor decisions. BRIAN J. BARR
Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands
Mark Pickerel has one of the best résumés of any local musician playing REVERBfest. At the age of 18, he was playing drums with the Screaming Trees. By the time he was 21, he had been in an early incarnation of Nirvana and landed a full-time job at Sub Pop, and the Screaming Trees had become one of the flagship bands associated with the grunge movement.
Since that time, Pickerel has gone on to work with a slew of admirable artists, including Neko Case, Jim Carroll, Steve Fisk, and most recently, big-time breakout local star Brandi Carlile. Thanks to his old pals in Mudhoney, he received an invite to play the prestigious All Tomorrow's Parties festival in England last year. "My only goal then is still my goal today," he explains when discussing his work history and ethic. "I want to stay busy, be prolific, work hard, and make sure that my heart is invested and involved in the projects that I take on. I always imagined that I'd have to move away to stay busy as a drummer, but I've been lucky to find so many great jobs right here in Seattle."
Those current gigs include playing with the Sangster brothers in the Tripwires and his work with the Praying Hands, the backing band for his solo work for Bloodshot Records. Out from behind his drum kit, Pickerel casts a dark shadow as a wayfaring songwriter, traveling across the classic subject matter of broken hearts and dastardly deeds, but with a self-deprecating sense of humor—and a mature sense of responsibility. "The first thing I ask myself when I'm working on a new song is whether or not I'm being honest. I don't think most adults really want to hear stories from the perspective of a victim unless the character is willing to admit their own role in what went wrong. I always try and include a little bit of my own involvement in each tragic ending—a little comic self-deprecation keeps it from being too morose." HANNAH LEVIN