January is the quietest time of year for national acts coming through town, and this week is no exception. But the local club scene does get a reprieve from the winter doldrums in the form of the International Blues Challenge (see Local Beat, facing page), an annual blues battle of the bands sponsored by the locally based Blues Foundation that draws up-and-coming acts from around the country and the world. The International Blues Challenge has scored big hits the last two years -- last year with the novel Pere Ubu-meets-Bo Diddley vibe of Detroit's Chef Chris and His Nairobi Trio, who took home the big prize, and the year before with local-boy-makes-good Richard Johnston making the leap with his unexpected win. Previous winners also include blues-circuit stalwart Sean Costello and great crossover hope Susan Tedeschi. No telling what will emerge this year, but among the unavoidable dullsville bar-blues bands will likely be some true finds and future celebrities. Catch a rising star up and down Beale Street all weekend.
And if you're looking for a taste of blues outside Beale, a good bet is New Orleans' popular modern blues master Mem Shannon, a former cab driver who expanded his vehicular interests with the Handy-nominated anthem "S.U.V." Shannon will perform at Huey's Midtown location on Sunday, February 2nd.
-- Chris Herrington
It's beginning to sound a lot like Austin over at the Hi-Tone Café. Last Saturday, Texas troubadour Roger Wallace tore the place up. On Sunday, February 2nd, Wayne "The Train" Hancock, an infinitely more versatile performer than the stunning, if somewhat monochromatic, Wallace, will be stopping in to tear things up all over again. Hancock can offer the kind of eerie yodel that hasn't been heard since Hank Sr. took his last ride, and he does so without sounding like some kind of pathetic imitator. His pinched nasal twang can be as grating (and when connected to the right song) as gratifying as Webb Pierce's. When his band, virtuosos all, decide to swing it out, the wild West Coast sound they create is more in the spirit of Hank Penny's wild countrified jazz than Bob Wills' jazzified country. Local rockabillies The Snipes will be on hand to open.
Over at Young Avenue Deli this week is Wisconsin-based retro rockers The Mystery Girls, whose classic garage sound mines early '60s R&B. They will be playing with The Reigning Sound on Monday, February 3rd.
-- Chris Davis