Venus in cowskins
It seems like I’ve narrowly missed the Mad Cow String Band a dozen or so times now. The band opened the recent Jolie Holland and Sean Hayes show on the UC Davis campus. I saw Holland and Hayes but somehow missed Mad Cow. The group also held court for months at the Delta of Venus Cafe and Pub in Davis, and, despite having consumed 400 or 500 cups of coffee there, nary a plucked banjo did I hear.
That all changed last Thursday, as I happened into the Delta just in time for the resonant thump of the string bass that signaled the start of the band’s first number. Although I’m not a huge fan of bluegrass, watching an enthusiastic, young group play traditional music makes for a good time. Banjoist Danny Chaves seemed a particularly able player, although there isn’t a slacker in the band. (At least, not in terms of instrumental ability.) Tim Delaney (guitar), Alex Roth (mandolin) and Andy Lentz (fiddle) all took solo turns around a pair of microphones as bassist Sean Feder held down the rhythmic structure. It wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, but in a world that includes folks like progressive-bluegrass mandolin master David Grisman and fusion jazz-bluegrass banjo freak Bela Fleck, being groundbreaking in the context of bluegrass music would fly pretty far afield of the mainstream.
Check out www.madcowstringband.com for more information. Better yet, check out the band when it returns to the Delta of Venus, located at 122 B Street in Davis (www.deltaofvenus.org), on January 6 with the finely named Putah Creek Muckrakers. Show up early, because the Delta is really, really small. Any more than a handful of people stacks the place out from wall to wall, and the few chairs are taken up fast.
In related news (because Anton Barbeau played just after Mad Cow last Thursday), Barbeau fans no longer will have to pay import prices for the songwriter’s King of Missouri CD. The project, which features our intrepid psych-pop freak backed by none other than legendary masters of British psychedelic rock the Bevis Frond, was previously available only from United Kingdom-based Woronzow Records. Canadian label Bongo Beat Records will release it officially in North America in January, although word has it that Barbeau is schlepping advance copies at recent shows.
Incidentally, Barbeau’s next album, In the Village of the Apple Sun, is in the can. Barbeau spent an uncharacteristically long time working on this project: two-and-a-half years give or take. The good news is that the album eclipses anything the songwriter has ever done. The bad news is that no release date has been set yet.
Also fresh in the mailbox is the brand-new release from country rockers Nevada Backwards. The 11-track Adaven features the band’s characteristic yee-haw harmony vocals and jingle-jangly acoustic instruments. The “we’re all country boys with pickups” vibe is a bit too thick to swallow at times, but it sure sounds like they’re having a good time. Check out www.nevadabackwards.com for more information.