Rock in a Hard Place

Deep inside the local scene

THEY WERE the Naked Barbie Dolls, then the Naked Barbies, then the Vagabond Lovers, and now they’re the Naked Barbies again. The national debut that occasioned the name change didn’t pan out as hoped, and the band reckons it can comfortably return to life beneath Mattell’s powerful corporate radar. “I just never really got used to that Vagabond Lovers name,” singer Patty Spiglanin says in an e-mail. “I don’t think anybody did.” The Barbies have also decided that going through lead guitarists like raspberry jam is more trouble than it’s worth, and are simply going without, leaving the slot open for ex-Barbie and current Counting Crow Dave Vickery when he’s in town. Catch the totally reborn Barbies at Albany’s Club Muse this Saturday.

I first saw Train open for the Barbies back in 1995, playing mainstream, borderline rootsy rock that was a lot like stuff I was hearing on the radio–and playing it well. I remember writing breathlessly–a 24-year-old budding journo grasping at the obvious superlative–“It seems safe to say that this Train is bound for glory.”

Six years later, Train is doing all right for itself, with a sold-out show Saturday at the Warfield and an immaculately-produced second album out on Columbia Records. Though Drops of Jupiter doesn’t really have the highs of Train’s ’96 self-titled, self-produced debut–the singles, in other words, which is all the industry really cares about–other than that it’s got it all. There’s soulful, moany, manly vocals; shimmery and/or wocka-wocka guitar; rattling tambourines; power chords and burbles and jangles (oh my!); and all that good stuff. You got your piano, your string section, your sanitized Dylanesque intonation. “Let It Roll” sounds like a mellower version of the first album’s “I Am,” with rootsy vocals in that same insistent cadence and slide guitar a-moanin’. It’s the least “alternative” thing I’ve heard in a while, and yet pretty pleasing stuff.

MUSICAL MAN-ABOUT-TOWN Tommy Carns has long hosted singer-songwriter nights at Cato’s and is now rumored to have something going on the second Sunday of each month at Beckett’s in Berkeley. His new disc Get Up and Fall Down has a bit of the folk one might expect from a singer-songwriter dude (“Cul de Sac,” “Patchwork Dress”), but there’s a lot more here than that. You can hear touches of playful downtown jazz in “Tweezer,” echoes of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” in “One of Me,” Jonathan Richman in “Thrown Away,” country and Irish folk in “Should’ve Listened to You,” and rockabilly in “Roadkill.” The tweaked title track sounds like a very drunk Elvis Costello backed by Tom Waits’ band, with besotted horns, percussive guitar, and syrupy backup vocals. Carns celebrates the CD at Blake’s this Sunday, and his former performing partner Lisabell’s band Soultree is also having a CD release thang this weekend, Friday at the Starry Plough.

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