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Tom Russell pays homage to "real goddamn American character"; Dengue Fever takes you to Cambodia and back

Wednesday, May 11 2005
A veteran songwriter, storyteller, and consummate folk artist, Tom Russell exalts the holy excesses and fallen heroes of a lost era when freight-hopping, strip joints, and all-night benders seemed like romantic rebellion from bourgeois complacency. Russell's 18th album, Hotwater, subtitled "Charles Bukowski and a Ballad for Gone America," is a personal homage to what circus midget Little Jack Horton calls on the title track "real goddamn American character." Interweaving spoken word, smoky jazz soundtracks, samples from archival recordings, and genuine songs (from the patchwork of U.S. folk traditions, including country-western, blues, and Tex-Mex), the 55-year-old Los Angeles native pieces together a gritty, eloquent collage of the outsider artists who became legends. Familiar names like Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce, and Woody Guthrie appear alongside Russell's reminiscences of Bukowski, the blue-collar poet who was not only an "isolate, loner, crank," but also "an authentic voice uncorrupted by academic stipends, Pulitzer Prizes, political or spiritual correctness." In short: "an American poet." Watch it all come to life when Tom Russell opens for John Prine on Monday, May 16, at the Fillmore; call 346-6000 or go to for more info. -- Sam Prestianni

There's been a nice glut of recordings of retro rock and pop from Southeast Asia released recently, from the Cambodian Rocks and Thai Beat a Go-Go series to the never-ending font of Pan-Asian documentation that is the Sublime Frequencies label. But there aren't too many bands doing justice live to the swinging '60s/'70s surf-psych sounds of the Golden Triangle and beyond, save for locals Neung Phak and Dengue Fever from Los Angeles. Fronted by honest-to-God Phnom Penh pop princess Chhom Nimol, Dengue Fever started out covering the original Cambodian Rocks anthology verbatim, but has since taken that sound and run with it to an ultra-party lounge world where lyrics are still sung in Khmer. This is no slouch of a band, either, featuring former San Franciscan Zac Holtzman of Dieselhed on guitar and his brother Ethan on Farfisa organ, bassist Senon Williams of Radar Brothers, Beck associate David Ralicke on sax, and drummer Paul Smith. Dengue Fever brings the exotica to the Rickshaw Stop next week. Farfisa-centric dronesters the Dazzling Strangers and yodeling Japanese cowpoke Toshio Hirano open on Wednesday, May 18, and brilliant Oakland pop-rockers the Cuts and Santa Cruz ukulele troubadour Oliver Brown start things off on Thursday, May 19; call 861-2011 or visit for more info.-- Mike Rowell

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Mike Rowell/Sam Prestianni


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