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Americana

Hammerdown Turpentine

If it weren't for a beat-up old couch, the country/rock septet Hammerdown Turpentine might not exist. Back in 1995 in Charlottesville, Va., singer/guitarist Jif Johnson and drummer Cling Golden wanted to start a two-piece rock band called the Alkaloids. But all Golden had for a kit was a snare. Taking the bull by the horns, he found himself a ratty ancient ottoman to beat on as well. Ever since, the pair have infused their music with the same plucky drive and weathered-furniture feel. After arriving in San Francisco in 1997, the duo formed HT with banjo/guitar player Oliver Kollar, upright bassist Davyd Drake, multi-instrumentalist Lynn Wilkens, and guitar/dobro player David Batinich. (The group just added a seventh member, guitarist Rob Alper.) Soon, the combo was displaying its rough-and-ready musical chops alongside such acts as the Bad Livers, Zen Guerrilla, Polkacide!, Andre Williams, Brave Combo, and Holly Golightly. Hammerdown's second full-length, the just-released Ain't No Grave, showcases exactly what makes the acoustic band so special. On one hand, there are rollicking barn-burners like the title track and "Sixty-Five," which feature Johnson's sneering vocals and the other musicians' blistering instrumental attack; on the other hand, there are mournful drunken ballads like "Guarantee" and "Horrible" (in which a dude moons after a speed-snorting, funny-hat-wearing heartbreaker). Throughout, Johnson displays a taste for the macabre, dumping bodies in lakes, feeling a hanging rope around his neck, eyeing an electric chair. But don't worry about the bogyman: Hammerdown's music is as comfortable as that old couch, and twice as engrossing.

Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom is one of the most unique local artists to come along in ages. For starters, the Nevada City native's main instrument is a harp -- not a little harp, but a giant Celtic one. Second, she plays that harp in a singular style, contrasting her gentle strumming with discordant banging sounds -- a result of being as influenced by African traditional styles as by staid classical ones. Then there's her songwriting, which can best be described as Sylvia Plath meets C.S. Lewis or Lewis Carroll (hell, she even sounds a bit like Carol Channing). While her tunes are filled with unicorns, shellfish, low-flying turkeys, Greek mythological queens, dragons, and dirigibles, the vibe is one of personal declaration, of a girl trapped between unusual visions and earthly emotions. "I killed my dinner with karate/ Kick him in the face/ Taste the body" isn't a couplet you're likely to hear from anyone else. But the main thing that separates this young Mills College student from her peers is her voice. Mostly, Newsom sings in a tiny chirp that seems to come from a pixie chipmunk; occasionally she bursts into fierce screeches, like a cat caught under a rocking chair, or in the case of "Inflammatory Writ," declaims in the tone of a righteous town crier. Hers is not a voice for the fainthearted, but taken together with her stunning harp playing and oddball songwriting, it shines like a bucket of fish eyes. Besides releasing her debut full-length, The Milk-Eyed Mender, on the hip Drag City label last March, Newsom has toured and played recently with such indie luminaries as Will Oldham, Cat Power, and Devendra Banhart. She's currently on tour with reunited folk-rock legends the Incredible String Band.

Vetiver

Named after a tall, razor-thin grass, Vetiver is the most bucolic of all of San Francisco's new folk acts. Guitarist Andy Cabic's songs have a lustrous, old-timey rural feel, as if they were written in a field of wheat during the 1940s (which is all the more interesting considering that he plays in punk jam band Tussle and used to play noise rock with the Raymond Brake). There's a classical air as well, thanks to the melancholy, melodious playing of cellist Alissa Anderson and violinist Jim Gaylord. While strumming elegant acoustic figures, Cabic sings in a soft, comfortable croon, the remnants of his North Carolina upbringing coming out when he stretches into a slightly nasally region. It's a voice that's perfectly suited to his songwriting, which focuses mostly on naturalism -- either telling a narrative about an "Arboretum" trip or spinning more imagistic lines about "Luna Sea." Live, the trio often covers Randy Newman's "Burn On," a deadpan tale of an Ohio river that's so polluted it catches on fire. While Vetiver isn't nearly as eccentric as fellow Bay Area folkies Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, both of those musicians guest on the band's eponymous debut (released in March by DiCristina Records). The album was recorded in part at the home of former My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O'Ciosoig, who laid down delicate percussion on two tracks and persuaded altchanteuse Hope Sandoval to sing harmony on one tune. Even with all the help, however, Vetiver is decidedly Cabic's show. With this record, he proves himself to be one of our finest up-and-coming singer/songwriters.

DJ/Selector/Turntablist

Adrian & the Mysterious D

Vinyl-only DJs may sniff at this pair's hard drives, but Adrian & the Mysterious D (aka Adrian Roberts and Deidre George) certainly know how to rock the party. A little over a year ago, the dynamic duo started "Bootie," the first ever U.S. club night devoted wholly to the bastard pop form known as "mash-ups" (songs comprised of the instrumental from one tune and the vocal from another, usually downloaded from the Web). Inspired by a similar night held in London, the two DJs combed the Internet for the best of these illegal bootlegs, then brought them to their monthly party at the Cherry Bar. Besides sending audiences into spasms of joy over boots that mixed Nirvana with Michael Jackson and Eminem with the Smiths, Adrian & the Mysterious D showcased an unerring sense of fun, offering cheap drink specials, midnight pizza parties, pirate fashion shows, and hot go-go dancers during their gigs. Eventually, "Bootie" developed such a loyal following that the organizers could afford to bring in like-minded DJs from Nashville (Radio Quitta), Glasgow (McSleazy), and even Australia (Dsico), as well as spin off two weeklies (Friday's "Guilty" at the Stud and Saturday's "Smashed" at the Cinch). And for the one-year anniversary of "Bootie," Roberts even put together Smash-Up Derby, the self-proclaimed "world's first mash-up band." Committedly unpretentious and ready to rock, Adrian & the Mysterious D deliver the perfect remedy for S.F.'s occasionally snooty, often staid dance scene.

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