The ghost of Buddy Holly

Despite what you may think…

Simon Ennis—the hat makes the man.

Simon Ennis—the hat makes the man.

Simon Ennis is not the ghost of Buddy Holly. Nor is he the second coming of young Bob Dylan, nor a wayward Tin Pan Alley songwriter who has become unstuck in time, nor an escapee from the Dixieland Jazz Jubilee.

What Simon Ennis is, quietly and without fanfare, is one of the most talented, complex and irony-ridden songwriters in the area. ("Damned If You Do,” from Ennis’ debut solo CD Real Long Gone, will go down in history as one of the greatest songs ever written in Sacramento.) Instead of guitar hooks and pounding drums, Ennis relies on his cutting wit and expert use of irony in writing songs that seem at times to come from a long-forgotten era when songwriting was considered a craft to be apprenticed in the same vein as carpentry or stone masonry.

On the stage of Luna’s Café last weekend, Ennis and his band, the St. Simon Three, displayed that craftsmanship in all its glory. The band, supported by Tara McConnell on bass and Chip Conrad on drums, reached a loping rhythm that fully supported Ennis’ songs—a mixture of Dixieland, Tin Pan Alley, Cambridge-scene folk music and the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. Conrad’s minimal standing kit (snare and bass drums and two ride cymbals) worked well in delineating the shuffle-based rhythms that Ennis favors, and McConnell’s able bass playing brought a sense of foundational movement to the songs. Coupled with Ennis’ own electric guitar work, the band sounded something akin to Elvis Costello if backed by the Stray Cats—a fascinating glimpse into a songwriting past that is, at the same time, completely contemporary.

Ennis has a clear interest in the psychology of his characters, particularly in songs like the evening’s closing number, “Jack Ruby,” a song that reads like a psychological biography of its famous subject. It is therefore not surprising to learn that Ennis is in the final stages of completing his Ph.D. in Psychology at UC Davis. What is surprising is the tendency toward clarity in his songwriting and his decidedly proletarian approach to music—facets that seem, at times, counter to higher education.

Sharing the evening was Philip Flathead, a musician who can only be called the Thelonious Monk of local acoustic and folk music. Flathead’s conception of beat and rhythm is bizarre in the best sense of the word, with songs that tend to collapse on themselves like folding chairs, only to open back into the shape for which they were intended. Strange stuff, to be sure, but also fascinating.

Local eclectic-music outfit ¡Búcho! has announced it signed with new San Francisco-based indie label House Cat Records. The label is staging an all-ages launch party at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Monday, November 18, which will feature ¡Búcho! as well as indie-rock labelmate Go Kart Go and San Francisco-based remixer the Fresh Blend. Recording begins on ¡Búcho!'s House Cat Records debut this winter for release next spring.