When plans suddenly change

You should know that there are no reasonably priced sousaphones to be found in local thrift shops. For months now, I’ve wanted badly to dress up like Mark Trail, wrap one of those babies around me and provide some serious bottom end for one of this area’s fine Dixieland combos. Alas, beloved Euterpe must not be “down” with that idea, because I’m consistently coming up tuba-less.

Sorry. I’d figured on writing something else this week.

Deity-like combo the Ancient Sons were on a bill at Marilyn’s on K, with the Quarter After, which contains Rob Campanella from the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Campanella wasn’t in the BJM at the time Dig!, the fine Ondi Timoner-directed documentary that sketched an unintentionally hilarious love-hate rivalry between BJM frontman Anton Newcombe and the Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor, but the Sons should have provided enough motivation to pull me into Marilyn’s on Thursday night.

Anyway, I made the mistake of stopping by the True Love Coffeehouse for the Thursday Night TL Tune-Up, thinking I’d just hang for a few tunes and make it to Marilyn’s by 9 p.m. Wrong. The Tune-Up, which features a round robin of songs between café proprietor Kevin Seconds, local singer-producer David Houston and, each week, a different singer-songwriter (full disclosure: in March, it was yours truly), didn’t get underway until around 8:40; it was scheduled to start at 8 p.m. And this past Thursday, the guest performer was Ricky Berger.

So what happened was, Ms. Berger, a willowy young blonde—on this occasion, all dolled up like a 1940s movie star, replete with curls and period makeup—began playing her nylon-stringed acoustic guitar and singing in that angelic but world-weary voice of hers, and I completely forgot I had any other plans.

Berger, a Bakersfield native who’s been here about two years, is that rare performer who can sing like an angel, write top-flight songs with memorable melodies and lyrics that are in turn wry or cute, accompany her voice with guitar arrangements that are nicely thought out, with chord voicings that make other musicians snap their heads and pay attention. Add that she’s young and visually stunning, and it’s a small wonder this town hasn’t been overrun by major-label weasels fighting to sign her. Of course, major labels aren’t exactly a growth industry these days, so one would imagine that weasel battles are less common than they were a decade ago.

Case in point, a ballad titled “Shmaltz” (which can be sampled at Berger’s MySpace page, www.myspace.com/rickyberger): Over a jazz-tinged, finger-picked arpeggio, itself a work of elegance, Berger’s voice hung notes in the air like ornaments on a Christmas tree. I’d imagine it was like walking into some club in Los Angeles in the 1960s and not knowing who the wonderful singer was onstage whose voice and songs were giving you chills, and finding out later that her name was Joni Mitchell.

Seconds and Houston were good, too. They do this every week, so they ought to be. Most of the time, they’re on a level playing field with their guest (this week Warren Bishop, next week Matt “The Bastard” Woodcheke), trading songs like old pros. But last week, they were on the ground looking skyward at an angel. Yeah, she’s that good.