Twang Time

The fifth annual Twangfest offers the best in alt-country (whatever that means)

The second album sold fewer copies than the first, the Blood Oranges broke up and their record company went out of business. This reunion is on a small scale, with only a handful of shows scheduled. Twangfest should be the perfect opportunity for the Blood Oranges to get the reverence they deserved 11 years ago. -- Pick

Elizabeth Cook
9 p.m. Saturday, June 9
Don't you just hate musical prodigies? Born in rural Florida, singer/songwriter Elizabeth Cook had begun performing in her parents' band by the time she was 4 years old, formed her own group by age 9 and released three singles by the time she was 11. After graduating from college, Cook moved to Nashville, where she soon landed a publishing deal, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry (a whopping 26 times!) and got signed by Atlantic, which will release her first CD later this year.

Whether she'll be a huge star this time next year or just another major-label casualty is uncertain, but Cook's talent speaks for itself. Sounding a bit like Tammy Wynette, a bit like St. Louis sweetheart Alice Spencer, Cook sings traditional hard-country songs -- no hyphens, no "alt," no apologies -- that would surely overtake the airwaves if contemporary country radio didn't suck so hard. A gifted songwriter, Cook manages to work within established idioms without sounding derivative or retro. Her best songs, such as "Demon," strike just the right balance of torch and twang; when her sturdy, vibrato-rich alto leaps into an ardent falsetto at the line "makes me feel dirty to have a demon in bed with me," you'll get goosebumps, promise. -- Saller

Deke Dickerson
Deke Dickerson


Begins on Wednesday, June 6, at the St. Louis Brewery & Tap Room and continues Thursday-Saturday, June 7-9, at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.
St. Louis Brewery & Tap Room & Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.

Ass Ponys
11 p.m. Saturday, June 9
Although the Ass Ponys are the only band ever to play Twangfest and to have had a big hit on The Point, they're neither as mainstream alternative-rock as the radio hit might imply nor as rooted in country or other forms of Americana as a Twangfest appearance would suggest. "Little Bastard" was a novelty, the brightest, bounciest, most sing-alongable song the Ass Ponys have done. (After extensive research into the RFT archives, we're fairly confident that it's also the most popular record ever made about childhood incontinence.) "Little Bastard" appeared on the band's first major-label recording, Electric Rock Music, in 1994. That album did indeed contain some elements of twang, mostly courtesy of John Erhardt, a bluegrass veteran who played guitar, slide and pedal steel. He left before the next record and was replaced by Bill Alletzhauser, a terrific guitarist with no discernible background in country music. If there's any twang to be had these days, it comes by way of vocalist/lyricist Chuck Cleaver, who works within a twisted and modernized folk-music tradition, writing songs about devil worshipers (who can't spell), grandmothers, john boats (loaded with rotting fish) and the many ways in which fate plays tricks on people. The Twangfest organizers should be commended for stretching their musical definitions far enough to include this intoxicating, uncategorizable band. -- Pick

Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics
Midnight Saturday, June 9
Although you might be tempted to hold a history of yukkety-yukking against him, Deke Dickerson isn't just the real deal -- he rewrites the whole rockabilly contract. Raised on a farm in Columbia, Mo., Dickerson first formed the garage-a-billy band the Untamed Youth and then split for California, where he formed the Dave and Deke Combo, the best West Coast hillbilly outfit since the Collins Kids. With his 1959 Mosrite double-neck guitar, he learned every turnaround, bend and break known to Joe Maphis and Merle Travis, then added his share of original head-spinning licks. As a songwriter, Dickerson rarely strayed from the poignancy of "Chrome Dome" and "Henpecked Peckerwood," but after filling his first post-Dave and Deke albums with such songs as "Lady Killin' Papa," "Poon-tang" and "You're My Cadillac," Dickerson has taken a darker, deeper look at traditional country and rockabilly, which almost always means laying bare the blues. On last year's Rhythm, Rhyme & Truth, Dickerson finally made an album as thoroughly convincing as his talent has always been. He moves stealthily through piano boogie-woogies, Sun rockabilly, Western swing, honky-tonk ballads and even some joyous doo-wop, but he never finagles the country soul. After four full nights of Twangfestivities, Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics should be the ideal finale. -- Kasten

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