A tale of three bands
Around the world with MerlMerl Saunders, the ever-jovial owner and operator of Jessica, the most famous of those sweet-sounding but ungodly sized Hammond B-3 organs, heads back to the High Country tonight for an evening of funktastic grooves.Saunders rolls into Breck (and practically every other town in the Colorado Rockies) with the backing bounce of the King Johnson Band, an award-winning Atlanta-based blues ensemble with a full horn section.How you know Saunders depends on your musical station in life. With three decades of performances under his belt, Saunders’ as well known for his collaborations with Jerry Garcia (including the new age chart-topper “Blues from the Rainforest”) as he is for his tours and CDs with Merl and His Funky Friends, including guests such as John Popper, Dr. John, Dave Grisman and Trey Anastasio.And then there’s his years doing soundtracks for everything from “Fritz the Cat” to episodes of the 1980s TV version of “The Twilight Zone.” Mostly, it’s Saunders’ energetic live performances (including his most recent CD, “Struggling Man,” recorded in the Poconos) that keep him a huge fan base.Saunders plays at Sherpa & Yeti’s tonight with Acoustic Semi as the opening act.Howlin’ at the Moon with Jupiter CoyoteBack on the annual pilgrimage to Colorado, North Carolina’s Jupiter Coyote brings a sound just a bit more distinctive than the band’s Allman Brothers/Leftover Salmon/groove band ilk.Credit leader Matthew Mayes’ creative use of the guijo – a banjo neck with a Stratocaster body, producing some interesting tones – plus Steve Trismen’s fiddle. That adds up to a considerably sweeter take on the jam band thing.Trismen said the group’s kept busy with gigs in the Southeast but appreciates the opportunity to hit the High County. “We’re getting lean and mean in our approach,” he said. “Even for a band that can’t get on the radio, there’s a pretty good living to be made out there.”The band’s set to release an acoustic disc, “Wooden Coyote,” in the spring and will be in the studio this summer for the follow-up to 2000’s “Waxing Moon.”Jupiter Coyote plays Saturday and Sunday at Barkley’s West in Frisco.Mason Jennings: the Next Big Thing?Occasionally, we’ve discovered that it’s worth it to believe the hype. Last year, we pretty much glossed over a local appearance by singer-songwriter Jack Johnson – a surfer, moviemaker and musician who put in a low-key show at the Big Easy Lounge at Poirrier’s at the Wellington.Johnson’s now Rolling Stone material and commanding $20,000 a show, so I guess we missed the boat on that one.But there’s still plenty of time to get in on the ground level with Minneapolis musician Mason Jennings, who’s following in Johnson’s footsteps (touring with him over the winter) and has earned comparisons to Britain’s David Gray and even Dave Matthews (or at least Matthews in his pre-Superdome concert days).Jennings sold some 30,000 copies of his first two indie CDs from the back of his van and is generating some serious buzz with this year’s “Century Spring,” including a feature interview and airplay on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”And with loads of heartfelt sentiment and some very crafty songwriting, Jennings could be the real deal. He and his band also play at the Big Easy at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
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