Truth or Chingadero

What a mistake.

Sometimes we do things for the right motives. Sometimes we do things for stupid, selfish motives. For the latter, consider a columnist who figured he might play some music on the street long enough for a video camera—shooting footage for a cable-access commercial touting the June 21 Fête de la Musique—to show up.

Three hours later, no cameraman; must have been a big Juggs show elsewhere. But airborne pollen did show up in force, along with boisterous kids, a couple of drunks, a conga line and a Sacramento Bee photographer who was shooting a feature on roller-derby girls.

Once the sneezing started, plans changed, and for the past 36 hours, this writer has been couch-bound with a couple of Kleenex boxes. But before wandering home, I did swing by the Barber’s Shop Automotive on 18th Street, where a rotating cast of characters played inside the sliding door. It was a decent showing of the local Americana community, or at least the Alkali Flats-Poplollys part of it.

The fête’s organizer, Mike Blanchard, was on hand and was having a good time. “This is the best deal in town, and it’s free,” he bragged. Blanchard has been hosting these soirees the past few Second Saturdays—the music, mostly acoustic, albeit slightly amplified, keeps the threat of public nuisance complaints at bay.

Blanchard had been fixing to deliver a copy of his latest CD, Mike Blanchard & the Whispering Chingaderos, for a while, so he slipped one into my pocket.

It’s a nine-song set that clocks in at just over a half-hour, with seven Blanchard originals, one co-written with his former Tattooed Love Dogs bandmate Peter Gandesbery and a cover of the country-gospel standard “Farther Along.” Blanchard said it features the last recorded work of bassist Erik Kleven, who was killed in a Rancho Murieta car crash in July 2006. It also boasts exquisite flavor from some other players—pedal-steel player/slide guitarist Doug McDowell, saw player Stephan Powidzki and especially accordionist Winko Ljizz, who often parks his mobile jukebox at 22nd and J streets on summer weekend nights. Winko’s squeezebox stylings give the songs on which he appears a real Ponty Bone feel.

The music can be described as “country,” if you don’t confuse Blanchard’s music with the aural NyQuil coming out of Nashville for the past decade. It’s decidedly more Texan—not bad-ass Texan like, say, Waylon Jennings or Joe Ely (Ponty Bone’s old boss), but loose and unencumbered like Townes Van Zandt or Robert Earl Keen imbued with the patina of a thousand tequila-marinated backyard barbecues. Blanchard’s vocals and strummed acoustic are comfortable and mixed upfront.

Blanchard’s a serviceable songwriter—he ain’t Harlan Howard or Don Gibson, but he can write a good tune. Faves include the campfire-smoked “Wild Nature,” the eerie “Midnight Son,” the R.E.M.-like minor-key nuances of “Blue Highway” and the jauntily sad “True Love.” If you’d like—but can’t find—this album, swing by the Alfa garage next Second Saturday.