Weekly Wire
Metro Pulse Eye On The Scene

By Zippy McDuff

July 14, 1997: 


One of Knoxville's older arts groups is looking for a new chez nous. CHROMA, a conglomeration of local amateur and professional artists, received a friendly but decisive eviction notice last month from the Bijou Theatre. For the past five years, the Bijou has let CHROMA use its second-floor gallery walls for rotating monthly exhibits. But starting in August, the theater's board has decided to use that space for displays of local student artwork. Scott Cardwell, a local painter and CHROMA president, says the group hopes to find another locale for its shows, and maybe even a work space to go with it. "It'd be nice to have a space that's just all our own that we could work from," he says. "A home base, I guess, would be another way to put it." (Members are especially attracted to the 100 block of Gay Street, in the vicinity of the A-1 artspace and Theatre Central.) But he says the group will miss the Bijou, which provided not only wall space but a built-in audience of theatergoers.


Tennessee Kingsnakes

They've been slithering around various Old City nightspots for a while, but the Tennessee Kingsnakes seem to be molting into a recording band; their CD, Snakedance, is now available. As a recording band, they're about halfway out of their skin, but maybe not there yet.

The Snakes' music is deliberately, self-consciously Southern--cypress timbers of Little Feat electric slide, with lighter cornicework of R.E.M.-style acoustic frills. The lyrics live in broken-down pop-up trailers and hobo camps, with the hope of salvation--or maybe just a good vacation--visiting and revisiting like a nubile ghost.

Nearly all the songs start out with an interesting pop riff and charge up with enthusiastic percussion, but then lose steam; the rock 'n' roll is repeatedly damped for the vocals, taking turns as if the guitar's there mainly to give the singer time to inhale. Lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Dave O'Dell has a rich, deep voice, and sings clearly as if he wants us to hear every word on the first listening; but on the more tune-challenged songs--and there are several--he keeps it within a narrow conversational range, trailing off most of his verses with a downward flop. There are some vivid lines here, several in "Psycho-Billy Barn Dance" ("Down where it's sounding like a hoedown now/There's a mess of mountain rowdies in a run-down barn/Like chickens gone crazy on a live-wire fence..."), but he plays them close to his chest: plenty of inspiration, but maybe too much care. The instrumentals, likewise, frequently seem like they're winding up to take off somewhere, and then, shyly, don't. Sometimes the withdrawal of the payoff seems deliberate; it's surprising, and sometimes disconcerting.

Still, Snakedance is less predictable and more innovative than most in the Southern-rock genre, proof that the old girl's not dead yet. "Hellion Slumber" is a kind of goth-billy piece that combines monster-movie organ with a tropical paradise-style guitar. And instead of a bridge or a chorus, "Psycho-Billy Barn Dance" sports something called a "vortex," which includes a sampling of the late, great John Bean's phone pranks ("I'll whoop your damn ass.")

There's an EP's worth of good songs on this 14-cut album. The final, and unfortunately shortest song on the album, "Meet Me in Paradise," is a beauty of tropical pop that's hung with us for days now.


Time once again to put pen to paper and song to tape, and submit your band for the annual Nashville Entertainment Association's Extravaganza. Next year's showcase will be held Feb. 18-21 in Guitar City, showcasing a variety of unsigned talent (from rock to folk, jazz to country, blues to Americana, and more) for the likes of national A&R and publishing execs. To apply, send a three-song demo tape or CD, bio, photo, entry form, and ten bucks to: NEA Extravaganza '98, P.O. Box 121948, Nashville, 37212. Deadline for submissions is Sept. 30. Also, more information is available by calling (615) 327-4308, e-mailing nea@isdn.net, or visiting the website at http://www.extravaganza.org.

--Zippy "Mess of Mmmm-Bop rowdy" McDuff

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