Head-clearing roots rock
The members of Dead Rock West could just about fill a phone book with the names of headliners they've worked alongside. So the prospect of a group forming around singer Cindy Wasserman and singer-guitarist Frank Lee Drennen seemed as distant as the horizons Drennen described in his songs.
"The band was a slow evolution because we were both in other bands," Wasserman says, recalling that as drummer Bryan Head, bassist David J. Carpenter and keyboardist Phil Parlapiano joined the fray, they reached a critical point: "It was like, 'Now we're really a band.' "
The L.A. quintet's debut, "Honey and Salt," is a head-clearing helping of roots rock that alternately aches with every bump in the road and looks with resolve to the next curve. Not long after the band released the album earlier this year, the fivesome landed a 55-date summer tour with John Doe. But the ex-X icon not only wanted an opening act, he wanted Dead Rock West to play as his backing band as he toured behind what many are calling his finest album, "A Year in the Wilderness."
"John is an amazing person to learn from -- he's this super-punk guy in the way he talks and looks, but at the same time he's so kind and generous," Wasserman says.
Says Drennen: "Punk rock is about being who you are, even as you continue to evolve as a person. He's definitely what Dead Rock West aspires to be."
Doe and Dead Rock West play Safari Sam's on Saturday. This fall, DRW will play some dates with the Jayhawks' Marc Olson, to whom Wasserman lends her vocals talents on his forthcoming solo album.
The Orange County-based quartet Aushua has been around only a year, but the band is building itself to last. "We want to be in a band that matters," singer-guitarist Nathan Gammill says. "Hopefully, we can be pop in a classic sense, making music that's very relevant and that speaks to people we know."
The rough-edged anthems on the foursome's self-released "Hold On!" EP are a good start. Gammill -- with Neujahr brothers Phil (bass), Eric (guitar) and Lee (drums) -- recorded the five songs last October using portable studio equipment in the Good Shepherd Chapel on the campus of Concordia University in Irvine. Both the band and producer Eliot Richardson had to, um, give thanks the session was allowed to go off.
Now Aushua is getting ready for a follow-up. "The songwriting is pretty organic in that everybody in the band does his own thing," the singer says. "We just kind of know when the song is ripe."
Just last weekend, a new batch came to fruition -- Aushua recorded four new songs with Thrice guitarist Teppei Teranishi at the controls. Coming off a handful of L.A. gigs and a residency last month at the Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa, the quartet seems to be on the fast track. "We grew from that," says Gammill. "We learned a lot about just playing a club."
Aushua performs tonight with the Deadly Syndrome, Phoenix and the Turtle and Le Switch at the Scene in Glendale.
Al Stewart joins Inara George, Mike Andrews and a host of other performers Sunday evening in a tribute to the music of Bessie Smith at Theatricum Botanicum. The show, a benefit for the Topanga Canyon venue, boasts an estimable lineup, including Priscilla Ahn, Tom Brosseau, James Combs and John Gold, among others. Info: www.theatricum.com. . . . The first L.A. Women's Music Festival runs all day Saturday at Woodley Park in Encino. The concert, featuring five stages, is packed with solo artists and female-fronted bands, including the likes of Sophie B. Hawkins, Los Abandoned, Salon K, Amy Raasch, Patrice Pike and Two Loons for Tea. Info: www.lawmf .com. . . . Electro-soul artist Sam Sparro celebrates the release of his debut EP on Saturday at Bordello. . . . Iconic folkie Bert Jansch headlines the Troubadour on Friday. . . . And on Monday, Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Phillips and Linda Perry will guest with the Section Quartet at a free show at the Troubadour.
More on the blog: latimes.com/buzzbands.