Dances with firewater

Lisa Phenix has a way of collecting the very best musicians in town to back her up. I first heard of her from Michael Roe, local guitar hero and longstanding member of the 77’s. “She’s a mom, and she writes good songs,” Roe simply told me, explaining how he was hired to play guitar on her new CD but was won over by her straightforward, friendly roots-folk sound—music that would be equally welcome in an early-evening bar or at a family-reunion picnic.

Last weekend at the Fox & Goose, Phenix continued the tradition of having a crack team of musicians behind her onstage: musicians who understand how the nuances of tone can create a complete sonic palette for the audience. Well-known local session bassist Erik Kleven held down the low end with support from former Popgun drummer Larry Carr. Carr’s drumming is a welcome sound since he’s so seldom out on the scene these days. There are few drummers with such a complete understanding of drum tone: woody, resonant and perfectly compensating for the cavernous, echoey space of the Fox & Goose’s larger room.

The surprise of the evening, though, was unknown (to me) guitarist Brian Burke, who not only played expertly, but also possessed a particularly full and beautiful tone: clear, slightly overdriven guitar that was a bit reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan without being too derivative or irritating.

Phenix’s family-friendly music could easily slide into the banal (and, based on the kinds of musicians Phenix gets to play with her, she must understand this in some intuitive way). But musicians like Burke give it a real edge: an occasional heavy-shredding guitar solo injecting it with a dose of testosterone at just the right moments. It’s good stuff and well worth listening to.

Two more great surprises for the evening: first, the addition of Sam Joseph on Middle Eastern “jumbish,” a metal-bodied dulcimer-banjo hybrid. Joseph sat in without practice and played through the second set, adding an interesting upper-register string tone.

Last, the interpretive dancing of “Henry,” a local barfly who has been around town at live shows (particularly at the Fox & Goose) for years. Henry’s babbling is literally incomprehensible, but he’s not afraid to cut a rug up front if he gets enough firewater, something he proved during Phenix’s second set. If Rock the Light ever sees Henry’s act, it’ll probably ask him to join the band.

Mike Rofé's May 26 show at the Fox & Goose will be his last as a Sacramento local. The reason: Rofé is moving to Los Angeles in June. The good news for fans is that he won’t be gone for long; the singer-songwriter plans on returning in September as part of a solo tour. Meanwhile, Rofé’s working on a new solo album with producer Dave Middleton (of SquishTheBadMan and the Famous Celebrities), which will be out this fall.

Also on the bill is singer-songwriter Josh Schramm, who is releasing his new CD that evening, including some material from the songs he wrote as part of February’s “Album Writing Month” project ( Schramm also has one foot out the door: He and his wife are moving to Holland this summer. In the meantime, he’s living in a van. Really.