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One-Man Bands

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Recorded under the moniker Vending Machine, Robby Grant's latest, King Cobras Do, is scheduled for release this weekend. On Saturday, February 3rd, he's having an album-release party at the Hi-Tone Café; the self-released CD is also available at Goner Records and Shangri-La Records.

With 12 songs and guests ranging from former Big Ass Truck bandmates Robert Barnett and Steve Selvidge to current Glitches bandmates Adam Woodard and Jared and Lori McStay, King Cobras Do runs the gamut from frenzied pop ("Babies," the album's opener) to blues rock ("44 Times") and surreal space music ("Saturn National Anthem").

The stylishly experimental, electronic-flavored music favored by artists such as Beck -- and, closer to home, former Memphian Shelby Bryant -- factors in on "Memories and Actions," "Desert Sun Played," and the aforementioned "Saturn National Anthem," while "Yawp" shares the same sonic space as Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk" transmogrified with, say, Southern Culture on the Skids' "8 Piece Box."

"Shelby has had a big effect on me," Grant admits. "When Big Ass Truck was recording Kent at Ardent, he lived right across the street from the studio. Later, when I started doing a lot of four-track sessions at my house, he was the first person I collaborated with. Recently, we've been in touch, writing and collaborating on songs over the Internet."

By now, Grant has bypassed the four-track machine for Sony Vegas, a program similar to ProTools -- and on King Cobras Do, he partnered with an up-and-coming lyricist, his 7-year old son, Five.

"He does a lot of free association," Grant says. "Sometimes I use his words as-is; other times, I'll turn a phrase around or just build on something he said.

"Upstairs, in my home studio, I have a piano and an acoustic guitar. I'll start with little ideas, just bits and pieces that I'll build on until the songs become what they become. I go back, listen quite a bit, and do a lot of editing, then move onto the next song. It's a constant revision," he says, noting that the process to complete this album, his fourth CD in six years, took 28 months.

"On 'Saturn National Anthem,' I had the song and the lyrics, but I felt like it needed something else," Grant explains. "I extended the first part of the song, but it still needed a solo, and it popped into my head that Steve [Selvidge] could do a spacey, wicked guitar part. I gave him the files, and he recorded it. In the case of Robert [Barnett], a lot of times I have ideas in my head that I can't play. He's such a creative drummer, and I'm a more keep-the-beat kind of guy."

When Vending Machine plays at the Hi-Tone this Saturday night, the band will be a five-piece, with Grant's brother Grayson Grant on bass, guitarist Quinn Powers, and two drummers, Barnett and John Argroves. For more information, visit Vending Machine's Web site at ChocolateGuitars.com.

Johnny Lowebow, the alter ego of Xanadu Music owner John Lowe, will also be celebrating with a CD-release party this weekend. His latest album, the nine-song Gonerfest III, was cut by Kyle Johnson and Robin Pack, the duo behind Rocket Science Productions, at The Buccaneer last fall; now Lowe's returning to the Midtown bar for a performance Friday, February 2nd.

The night will be a veritable one-man-band festival, as Lowe, Florida musician Ben Prestage (who got his start on Beale Street), and Oregonian Rollie Tussing channel their inner Hasil Adkins on homemade cigar-box guitars.

"Ben and Rollie are both coming in for the International Blues Challenge," Lowe explains. "There's gonna be a bunch of talent in town, so I'm trying to give the one-man bands a showcase. It's not at all a contest -- it's more like a cigar-box festival, which is usually just bonded by the instrument, with music coming from all different genres."

Other highlights of the IBC weekend: the Friday and Saturday night Wordie Perkins Blues Jam at Orange Mound juke joint The Blue Worm and a rare local appearance from Grammy Award winner Alvin Youngblood Hart and his group Muscle Theory, slated to play the Buccaneer on Sunday, February 4th.

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