Hail Mary: Jason Lingo pulled a last-minute surprise for the win at the Songwriter's Showcase finals.
By Steve Hahn
They look normal at first glance, seamlessly blending into the general population. They eat, shop, work and live among us. But when the sun dims, they show their true form. Amateur musicians, a hidden army in our midst, a particularly dangerous group that has the power to both charm and disquiet the deepest regions of our soul. This week Mūz grabbed some garlic and set out bravely into the night to investigate the shadowy phenomenon festering in our very back yards.
First up was the final competition of this year's Songwriter's Showcase held at Britannia Arms in Aptos. An impressive lineup immediately disarmed Mūz and the garlic was forgotten, as eight artists representing a diversity of musical styles battled for eight hours of free recording time at Ken Capitanich's MARS recording studio. Each musician brought a well-thought-out, cohesive, technically strong and originally conceived song to the stage.
Of special note was James Hurley, whose lounge-jazz guitar playing and strong, full voice temporarily transported Mūz to the middle of the Las Vegas desert, images of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra dancing in the head. OK, he may have to work his way through a few more competitions to get to Sinatra's level, but his well-layered chord progressions earned him third place, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Hurley picking up his own gigs in the near future.
The second-place competitor, Steve Keys, was a little more Weird Al Yankovich than Rat Pack, employing the always-entertaining trope of poking fun at your own deficiencies. A bit wide around the edges, Keys had the Brit Arms erupting in laughter as he sang of his daily workout routine, consisting of "exercising his rights," "lifting his expectations" and "jumping to conclusions."
Keys seemed to have the free recording time in the sack until the last performer took the stage. Starting off his set by announcing, "I don't think I stand a chance," Jason Lingo proceeded to launch into a funkified country-rock tale of the desperate Pennsylvania coal-mining town he grew up in. Using direct lyrics to paint scenes of the drained landscape, a snapshot of the ruin left after the natural and human resources have been sucked dry, Lingo was the most adept of the performers at expressing his own life experiences emphatically. The powerful lyrics were backed up by some extremely agile guitar work by Jeff Cruse, who reached right down your throat with his solos. Next year's competition starts in January at the Britannia Arms.
Ukulapalooza: Next up for Mūz's descent into the underworld was the monthly meeting of the Santa Cruz Ukulele club at Bocci's Cellar, where it was Amateur Night. The tension in the air was high as approximately 200 ukulele enthusiasts interspersed copious amounts of food and wine with performances by workaday folks honing their skills with one of the world's smallest stringed instruments. The performances ranged from melancholic solo acts to bumping, lively ukulele collectives, with a few guitars, drums and even a standup bass slipping past security. Be sure to check out Bay Area Backroads on KRON this weekend for scenes from last month's meeting. Next month's meeting will feature ukulele champion and registered Canadian James Hill. It's free to show up to the meetings and they even lend out ukuleles if you don't bring your own, so there's really no excuse not to check them out.
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