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October 5, 2006

It's the light of dawn, or as Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes put it, "Brightblack Morning Light is a color of the day when the truth of the universe is faded into a veil of the blue sky. It's a time when spirits are allowed access. It's a humble time that affects all Life. It's a time to recognize and accept change, without the limitations of your own surroundings. That time offers a free ritual that needs no shrine."

If you've had your ear to the ground in the alt. folk world of late, you know that Brightblack Morning Light is making waves with their languid songs, landing on the cover of the überhip music/culture mag Arthur, even mentioned in (the now-unhip) Rolling Stone. And if you've really been paying attention, you know the band formed right here in Arcata, not that many noticed at the time. (I did not.)

Nathan and Rachael, the core of Brightblack, explain that the songs for their eponymous Matador Records release, were "written by two homeless friends from Alabama while living in tents in rural California." As the tale goes, Nathan saw pictures of Humboldt County in an old copy of National Geographic and left Alabama five year ago to come here. After living in Arcata, then spending some time on a commune east of here, he returned and played guitar at what he told Rolling Stone was "an anarchist bookstore" in Arcata, and also got involved with Earth First! Eventually he brought his friend Rachael out from Alabama and formed a band called Rainywood. You might even have heard them when they played at the Humboldt Brewery opening for Bonnie Prince Billy (who BTW is coming to the Synapsis in November.) I was at the show and picked up their first EP, a gorgeous collection with a sound that's pretty close to what they're doing now.

Brightblack isn't the sort of band that puts out singles in the old-fashioned sense of the word, but the track "Everybody Daylight" is the modern equivalent: It's posted for free on the Matador Records website and dozens of hipsters link to it on their MP3 blogs. The song's languorous feel shows up on much of the rest of the band's work and on the Rainywood EP. It's something like Southern soul slowed to a crawl by ganja smoke -- in fact Rachael's Rhodes keyboard sound has the feel of a Stax/Volt 45 played at 33. I imagine the band in a still-water swamp, rowing along in a canoe, pushing aside hanging moss. Nathan's snaking slide guitar runs slither like water moccasins while the drummer works the cymbal with brushes kicking the insistent beat once per bar. A flute trill interjects occasionally like a heron disturbed from her roost. Whispering through it all are Nathan and Rachael's breathy vocals in close harmony, commenting on something mystical. The overall effect has the seductive allure of an opium den. You get the feeling if you relax and give in, you may never want to leave.

Fair warning, you have a narrow window to catch their act. BML opens Part 2 of the AS Presents Fall Harvest Festival on the HSU Quad at 4 p.m. Friday and they're only scheduled for a 45 minute set before they make way for The Pine Leaf Boys, a trad-Cajun band from southern Louisiana, who in turn are followed (at 6:30) by Alejandro Escovedo, a Tex Mex rocker whose (truly amazing) new record Boxing Mirror touches on his near-fatal bout with Hep-C. Oh yeah, the whole festival is free -- ritual and all.

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Cher-Ae Heights Casino's "Blast From the Past" continues Thursday. Oct. 5, with The Spencer Davis Group, offering a glance back at the '60s Brit blues rock scene from the guy who brought us "Gimme Some Lovin." This time there's no question about the provenance: Spencer Davis was lead guitarist back then, but rock historians also know that the band's real star was the young Stevie Winwood, who provided vocals and keys, and he left early on to join Traffic and pursue a solo career.

Courtney from The Monster Women called to say, "We're playing this Thursday at Synapsis [Gallery] with Universalia Jane and Two-Ton Boa. They're awesome, kind of sludgy with dark lyrics and a dark sound, with a woman singer. And Jane is just amazing. Her voice is just like, wow, and the combination with the cello makes it really, really good. It's so cool to work with these bands." Showtime is 9-ish. Since Courtney's day job is managing Ramone's Old Town I asked if they had music for Saturday's Arts Alive. Turns out U-Jane is playing there and maybe the M-Women too. Jane also has a gig Sunday at Sacred Grounds along with likeminded Sorrow Town Choir from S.F.

Also at Sacred Grounds, a triple bill Friday, Oct. 6, with The Professional Superheroes, The Jade Stems (aka Rubberneckers) and Sugar Eater, a punk combo on tour from Saratoga Springs NY.

Catch the Pro-Supes again Tuesday, Oct. 10, at Synapsis with The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, Cinemechanica and Mega-Total Violence.

Scottish fiddlers/guitarists/singer/songwriters Peter Cameron, Gifford Lind and Andy Shanks, aka The New Makars, are in town for a few days, sharing songs and stories Thursday, Oct. 5, at the Winema Theater in Scotia, and Friday, Oct. 6, at the Red Radish, then hanging around to lead songwriting and fiddle workshops Saturday and Sunday at Chia Jen Studios down in Rio Dell. Want to learn Scotch fiddling? Contact Jennifer Mackey at 764-3877.

The upsidedowncross flow of molten metal continues at the Alibi this weekend, with Seattle sludge rockers Me Infecto and Portland metal punkers Black Elk Saturday. Local heavies The Lord's Burning Rain share a Sunday bill with Saros from S.F., who offer a slight twist on the formula. While they have a pair of dark, hard guitars dueling over a churning ice-cold rhythm, one of the guitars is played by a woman, Leila Rual, and the obligatory Satanic vocals are occasionally joined by her sweeter voice.

Nucleus and the related Subliminal Sabotage play Friday night at Red Fox Tavern, celebrating young rapper Eli's 22nd b-day. The next night it's the return of Big Earl and the Cryin' Shame to the venue, and it's blues belter Earl's 30th.

Sunday, Oct. 8, Sub Sab and the Nuke Boys are part of the lineup for a show at the Arcata Masonic Lodge (on Bayside Road) billed as a benefit concert for a proposed cannabis café in Arcata. Organizer Rev. Slanky tells me it should start at noon, with IRB, Mezclar and Shantaram the Magician also making appearances.

Next Tuesday, Oct. 10, at Six Rivers, catch Tom Harker, aka The Uke Man, on the road from Ohio, who tells me he's "a crusty old bard (61 yrs.) seasoned by Joe McCarthy, the '60s, and the education wars (31 years in an 8th Grade English class -- the last 18 years as local union president, too). I write songs and sing them, write poems and speak them, see what's going down in our country and the world and resist it. I'm an Ex-Boy Scout, an Ex-Catholic, an Ex-Good Boy -- but I'm NOT a `Grumpy Old Man.' It is true, though, that I have no patience with stupid, conniving grown-ups who, for example, still swear Saddam was behind the NYC and Pentagram attacks. I'm an active activist (I'm told that Humboldt County understands that term). And, finally, `I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!'" And as you might guess by his Uke Man moniker, he expresses his anger while strumming a ukulele.

Interesting on/off action last week with Buju's show at the Mateel cancelled on Thursday due to pressure from the SoHum gay community, then reinstated Friday after pressure from ticket-holding dancehall fans. No word on why they replaced the Beenie Man show at the Mateel scheduled for weekend after next with an Oct. 19 visit by Anthony B and Wisdom, but it's worth noting that Beenie is on the blacklist for OutRage!, the gay activist group leading the anti-dancehall gay-bashers campaign. Anthony is not.

This note came from Passion Presents without further explanation: "Due to logistical issues and concerns beyond our control, The Black Crowes engagement at the Eureka Municipal Auditorium on Oct. 15, has been canceled." Refunds where you bought 'em.

Wondering what sort of music you might see at the yet-to-open Arkley Center for the Performing Arts? While the theater and its official website are still under construction, the concert trade magazine Pollstar already lists some shows. For what is apparently the grand opening, they're bringing in silver-haired countripolitan superstar Kenny Rogers for a show on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 2007. ACftPA confirms, adding, "The date tickets go on sale and ticket prices are yet to be announced." (The box office number is 442-1956.) The big question: Will this show be the most expensive in Humboldt history? An industry source who crunched the numbers figures "The Gambler" gets upwards of $70 grand per gig. The Center only holds around 700. The smallest venues Kenny's been playing are twice as big. No way they're making the nut. Will this be another gift from Rob and Cherie? Also in the pipe: The juggling Flying Karamazov Brothers (Feb. 25), Golden Dragon Acrobats (March 8), smooth jazz pianist David Benoit (May 17) and A.C. (adult contemporary) pop pianist Jim Brickman (April 22). Aside from the F.K. Bros, things looks pretty conservative, which is no surprise. It's worth noting that the faux Russian jugglers are an act that has previously been booked by CenterArts in the Van Duzer. The venues are close in size (A. Center holds around 100 less than the Duzer) so yes, the two organizations will be bidding on some of the same acts. For those who did not take Economics 101, I'll spell out a basic rule of free enterprise: When there's competition for limited resources -- i.e., bands willing to play Humboldt County -- prices go up.

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