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Aural Report

The Countrypolitans at the Fez
Rainy country tunes in a Moroccan bar
by Kurt Dahlke

ne recent addition to Portland's rapidly changing downtown intersection of 11th and Burnside is a kind of Kasbah of the Northwest. But if this place, the Fez, is a steamy Moroccan oasis, why is it always raining?

Yes, we're running through April's sloppy rain once again, to make it to the show on time. Running through the big, sloppy rain.

But soon the rain, the dark and the increasingly less seamy streets fade nicely up the stairs, through trompe l'oeil Mediterranean vistas, and into a maroon coziness offered by the Fez. Incongruously, the Sawtooth Mountain Boys deliver thigh-slappin' bluegrass to these Moorish interiors.

If we were really in a Moroccan club, I'd want these guys playing: Five old dudes dressed down in plain western gear, clustered around one microphone, laying down some fine authentic finger-picking fun. They'd be perfect for a big ol' barbecue; no flash, just genuine substance.

The Countrypolitans celebrate their new CD.

Soon enough it's time for the Countrypolitans to take their turn.

The band celebrates the release of its new CD, Face Of My Hometown, an often-melancholy collection of new-style country tunes with alternative leanings.

On disc, the non-country elements (rock styling, sitars, etc.) take a back seat to the songs, eliminating much of the tension between the two differing types of music.

We had wondered how "country" they'd be live; the lead guitarist, for example, looks like a budding modern-primitive. Does it really matter how "country" they are? They're a group of semi-urban Portlanders and they play because they love it.

The set features material from their new CD. Up-tempo numbers like "I Can't Stop You" and "I Wanna Score" inject a little life into the respectful crowd through catchy riffs and energy. Offers of free CDs enticing couples to dance works some magic to fill up the dance floor for a while. Most of the songs are received well by a standing crowd afraid to approach the stage (yes, including me).

Maybe the quieter, more wistful tunes aren't right for this crowd. Strong material and tightly played, but with reserve. However, when new addition Jonah Howard (looking like a cross between Lindsay Buckingham and Ray Liotta) swivels out an exuberant version of "Mystery Train," we can feel the vibration.

The Countrypolitans have it in them and you can feel it when they start rocking out. Perhaps they're just getting used to the new folks on stage, but they play it pretty close to the vest this night, never really letting go. And songwriter Elizabeth Ames' sad tunes seem better for staring out through a rainy car window than for kicking up your heels at the saloon.

The Countrypolitans have some tuneful, catchy songs and obvious skill; some nice road-grit, a few shows in front of 13 drunken ranch-hands and a bit of corn squeezins ought to keep them on the right path. Because if the right songs come at the right times, we think it's okay to be listening to a few rainy country tunes in a Moroccan bar.

And when we leave the club, it's only a little bit raining.

The Countrypolitans’ new CD is available at finer stores. Or catch the band:
May 4: White Eagle, Portland
May 25: Skyway, Zig Zag, Ore.
June 6: Spirit of Portland dinner cruise, McCall Waterfront Park, Portland
June 29: Skyway, Zig Zag

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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