Various Artists – Tucson Songs: Exciting New Sounds From Southern Arizona

January 01, 1970

(Le Pop


Through a
fortuitous set of circumstances, the German-based label Le Pop Musik has taken
a shine to several acts from Tucson, Arizona, releasing full length records to date by Tucson locals Andrew Collberg and Brian Lopez and two
ex-pat Parisians who have long called Tucson
home, Marianne Dissard and Naim Amor. Now they step up with the ambitious
compilation Tucson Songs, featuring 17 Tucson-based acts and one from Phoenix.


Le Pop
Musik is the name of the label, and that’s a good indicator of what they were
looking for in Tucson
and found with notable diversity. Of all the acts included here, really only
Andrew Collberg fits the classic mold of “pop” in the Beatles/Big Star/power
pop vein, and his lovely, lilting “Plastic Bows” shows just how vital and alive
that strain of pop music still is in 2012. Brian Lopez offers a gorgeous strain
of orchestral pop with “El Pajaro y el Ciervo,” mixing up English and Spanish
vocals and a suspiciously French sounding accordion into a lush, string-laden
swoon that might catch the uninitiated by surprise and make them wonder who
this Brian Lopez is with the golden voice and knack for full-blown


A casual
reading of the credits reveals the collaborative/incestuous nature of Tucson’s tight-knit but
widely diverse music scene. Brian Lopez also appears on Marianne Dissard’s
steamy desert noir “Neige Romaine” and Sergio Mendoza’s track; Salvador Duran
appears on both Lopez’s song and with Sergio Mendoza y ls Orkesta; Mendoza in turn also plays with Calexico and Lopez; and
their buddy Gabriel Sullivan helms two different tracks and plays on Mendoza’s track, as does
other members of Calexico. You got that, right? If all of the individual
musicians involved were listed I’m sure the cross-over would play itself out
over and over.


being Tucson, several acts step up with songs that reflect the cultural
landscape of Tucson, which is a short 60 miles from Mexico and fully integrated
with the culture of its neighbor to the South. This starts right from the
get-go, with the amazing track “The Rust, The Knife” from the sprawling
collective Gabriel Sullivan & Taraf de Tucson, a spicy mix of cumbia and
Balkan grooves wrapped around a spaghetti western motif and featuring a
remarkable spoken piece by old-school Tucson 
mainstay Billy Sedlmayr. Sullivan’s solo track “Me And the Dog” sounds
like Kurt Weill drug into a gutter and force-fed cheap whiskey and rusty nails.
The border feel continues with the stately, almost meditative “Keeper of the
Flame” by Calexico w/a lovely co-vocal by the French chanteuse Francoiz Breut.
Local legend Al Perry brings his fabulous gift of mixing up twang and pop with
“Dreaming,” which features both his famous guitar prowess (check out the solo;
Buck Owens would be proud) and a mariachi horn line that points the dial
straight at Tucson.
Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta’s big-band cooks up a huge head of steam on “Mambo
Mexicano,” featuring strings, blaring horns, explosive percussion and a fast
moving groove plus a spoken piece by local treasure Salvador Duran. And our
other local legends, Giant Sand, send the record off into the desert with a
final track, “Recovery Mission,” that reflects both band leader Howe Gelb’s
gift for seemingly off hand cosmology grounded right here on earth, a
distinctly Sonoran Desert ambiance and a very localized feel that says that
they’re just not in a hurry to get anywhere anytime soon. You can practically
taste the salsa and Tecate and see the sunset over the adobe. Tucson, in a nutshell.


between and around all of this everything else is pretty great, from Amy Rude
& Heartbeast’s loping country rocker “Stump of Love” and Naim Amor’s
breezy, cinematic instrumental “Creole” (featuring some terrific whistling) to
Courtney Marie Andrews (from Phoenix) blue-grass and folk flavored pop gem
“It’s OK, I Understand” and Silver Thread Trio’s angelic, tres-voiced
British-folk number “Who Killed Cock Robin?” Golden Boots carry the torch for
offhand, effects addled, lo-fi Americana garage pop on “Days Are Night” (a
track that would sound right at home on K Records), and Otherly Love brings
some seemingly casual, low-fi electricity with the incredibly catchy “Crossed
The Line.” Bread and Circus deliver a wide-open-highway country rocker “Miss
Me,” J. Daniel Twelker also hit’s the high-lonesome highway with the
atmospheric “Come Ride With Me,” and local ‘street musician’ Boffomet’s takes you
straight to downtown Tucson on a Saturday night, as U.A. coeds (hopefully) drop
a few bucks on him on their way to a night of clubbing on 4th Ave. and Congress
Street as he delivers the Casio amped “The Circus of Love.”


Anyone in
Tucson who
knows our local community will likely have their wish list of acts not included
(of course I do), but it’s important to remember that Tucson Songs is
meant to be representative, not comprehensive. This compilation perfectly fits
the taste of what the gentlemen of Le Pop Musik were looking for and found in
quantity in Tucson.
A different compilation with a different or broader focus could have come up
with 18 different acts. As it is, Le Pop’s focus on ‘pop’ in a very broad sense
of the term gave it a nice frame to put around a multi-faceted but vaguely
like-minded set of acts that represent a wide range of Tucson’s fertile music
scene. It’s pretty thick down here; drop in and check it out sometime.


DOWNLOAD: It’s a matter of taste. Everything is strong. CARL HANNI

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