Joaquina's Jeff Klindt and Dennis Mitchell are rural refugees, and who can blame them? The bright lights of San Francisco certainly have more to offer than their former home of sleepy Visalia, an I-5 pit stop of 4-H clubs and dashed ambitions. Still, through their label Future Farmer, they've found themselves drawn back to the music of the Central Valley, and not least of all to their own: The Foam and the Mesh is a drunken acoustic stumble of a record, though what the band keeps pratfalling over are hooks and turns of phrase that are sharp, immediate, funny, and true. Full of the jangly quirks of the Violent Femmes and the offhand charm of the Replacements, the CD wryly articulates the rural fear -- and hope -- that countless punk-folkies have striven for.
Really, nobody in his right mind plans to rhyme Reno, Keno, vino, and El Camino, and Klindt probably doesn't even recognize how much of his soul he's baring while he's at it. But from song to song, Klindt voices all his modest ambitions: He wants to get laid, but he'll settle for third base; he wants to be famous, but he'll take a role in a made-for-TV movie; he wants a romantic night out, but he doesn't mind just watching the sprinklers turn on in a Modesto park.
Then there's the story of the housewife who's sick of "pulling dead dogs out of swimming pools" -- she wants out. So she calls a meeting and tells her family, point-blank, that she needs to move to the city where the bright lights are: Fresno. "What do you think that nursing school paid for?" Klindt sings, mirroring the sound of a person who's just worked up the nerve to ask for what she wants.
Much like the Violent Femmes before them, Joaquina uses the acoustic setup to advantage -- they keep it spare so the right lines seep through. Drummer Scott Collins subtly propels songs both upbeat ("Moo Hoo Hoo") and minor-key ("Superbowl"), while tunes like "The Day the Dogs Took Over" and "Big Timber" mean as much musically as they do lyrically. Still, The Foam and the Mesh is Klindt's showcase. When he commands you to "get off your lazy ass and look at me," he's only half joking. And when he notes that, "This line is brought to you by all the pain I left out/ Made possible by a grant from all my self-doubt," that's reason enough to look.
Joaquina plays Thursday, March 25, at 9 p.m. with Decal, the Keeners, and Liar at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Tickets are $8; call 885-5075.
-- Mark Athitakis