Follow the music

This is the city: Sacramento, California. Some people say there isn’t a lot to do here in this sprawling metropolitan area, choosing instead to remain on the couch at home where they can be mesmerized by one of the many television networks available to the city’s residents. Other folks find a lot to do here, from outdoor activities, like sports and recreation, to indoor pursuits, like socializing and copulation. Sometimes, they pick up a musical instrument or a microphone and venture onto a stage or into a recording studio. That’s when I go to work. I carry a notebook.

OK, you’ll have to forgive the cheesy Dragnet intro. I’d lobbied the powers that be at SN&R to call this space “This is the city,” in homage to that late, great jazz fan and TV cop Jack Webb. But they envisioned me getting locked into a lame Joe Friday shtick. Imagine turgid column after column in which the writer is eating cold sandwiches in an inconspicuous tan Ford Fairlane, staked out on a suburban cul-de-sac monitoring the noisemaking of this week’s teen garage band. Not the coolest setup for a column on local music, right?

So, welcome to Trust Your Ears, which replaces Clubber in this space. Christian Kiefer, himself a musician and educator, spent the past four years focusing primarily on music as it’s played and sung in area venues. This new column will continue that, to some degree. But there’s more to the regional—and national and international—music scene than live performance, and those areas will be fair game, too.

You may recognize the byline. From 2000 to 2004, I was the arts editor at SN&R, and I spent a lot of time and column inches writing about local music. When I started, I figured the local scene might provide about six months’ worth of quality material, and then I’d return to writing about whatever touring national act was passing through town. But I never ran out of good stuff to cover, which says a lot for this area.

Let’s begin with a few recent local-music iPod favorites.

First, wunderkind singer-songwriter Adrian Bourgeois, who recorded five songs with producer David Houston, is staking a claim to become one of this city’s finest purveyors of unabashed pop music, in the tradition of Paul McCartney, early Todd Rundgren and the late Elliott Smith. According to Bourgeois, his most recent outing will be released sometime later this year as an EP by a new indie label, DC3 Entertainment, which has one of the more cryptic Web sites (at on the Internet.

Live, Two Sheds comes across like a modern, more abstract wrinkle on Lucinda Williams-style Americana, but the band’s self-released debut, Strange Ammunition, adds plenty of color and variation to that thumbnail sketch, with the coolly endearing vocals of singer Caitlin Gutenberger still the focal point.

And some parts of Baby Grand’s recent seven-song disc (Coming True), a twee delight also produced by Houston, are like going on a nitrous-oxide bender inside a Hello Kitty store. That’s a compliment, not a dig.

A while back, I interviewed Jac Holzman, who founded the now-defunct Elektra label in 1950; he’d written a book, Follow the Music, to commemorate his label’s 50th anniversary. One thing he said struck me. To paraphrase: When in doubt, follow the music. If ever you get sidetracked by the political machinations of the music business, or various critical dead-ends, always take it back to the music. Trust your ears.