Stephen Ashbrook
Double Live @ Long Wong’s
Ruka Music

The sign outside of Long Wong’s in Tempe, Ariz., proclaims: “hot wings, cold beer, live music,” and on Stephen Ashbrook’s double-CD recorded in the venerable venue, at least two of the three convey to full effect. Through 26 mostly original tunes, Ashbrook’s impossibly deep and dexterous voice (think Warren Zevon, or Brad Roberts of Crash Test Dummies with a little more range) carries the live music promise, and his only pauses are to clink his bottle of beer in cheers with the sudsy crowd.

Unlike Ashbrook’s upcoming shows in Missoula, where his band will accompany him, Double Live @ Long Wong’s is the singer solo with an open-tuned guitar and harmonica. The stripped-down sound works because Ashbrook’s distinctive voice is worthy of the showcase, and also because his songwriting is capable of downshifting from garage rock to this more intimate songwriter fare.

Among the highlights on Double Live are the first disc’s “Better than Anything” and “All Time Low,” and “Fastest Car” and “You Were Wrong” from the second—all of which capture the energy of the audience singing the choruses or just generally rollicking along with Ashbrook.

Ashbrook’s music is at home amid the sticky floors and smoky corners of the bar, and while Double Live is an understated effort, it serves as a decent primer to his bound-to-be-louder local shows. (Skylar Browning)

Stephen Ashbrook and his band play Sean Kelly’s Thursday, Oct. 6, and Friday, Oct. 7, at 9 PM. Call 542-1471.

Ryan Bundy
Nothing at All

Ever wish your guitar-playing buddy would knock off the Cat Stevens numbers and write some songs of his own? You suspect that your pal’s got some of his own poetry lurking behind the Dylan tunes he croons, but the Neil Young covers are such great babe-bait that he won’t give them up to try out his own chops. If your pal is Missoula artist Ryan Bundy, you know he has put down the Beatles fake book, picked up his own pen, and put together an album of originals. Nothing at All promises Bundy a future that doesn’t involve singing “Father and Son” at Sean Kelly’s Monday open mic night.

Bundy’s relaxed vocal style recalls Mason Jennings, John Gorka and Hayden. Most of his lyrics deal with love and the usual stuff of folk songs, but Bundy’s attention to specifics—“back up against a tree/trying to pick a song/you’ve got your sister’s guitar/underneath your arm/fingers pressing down/oh the slight pain”—keeps him from blurring into the soft focus of cliché.

Even though his picking is timid at times, the spectrum of Bundy’s guitar style keeps this record flowing like the Clark Fork. (Caroline Keys)

Ryan Bundy plays a CD release party for Nothing at All at Break Espresso Friday, Oct. 7, at 7 PM. $2.

The Trillionaires
Honeycomb Conjecture
Run 8 Records

The honeycomb conjecture posits that a hexagonal grid represents the most efficient way to divide a surface into regions of equal area with the least total perimeter. Which means, of course, it holds the most honey. The Trillionaires’ debut album, Honeycomb Conjecture, seems to maximize space with a similar theory.

Travis Yost strategically unleashes smart drum fills into every nook and cranny while Tyson Roth keeps the bass lines simple but interesting. The latter is especially evident in “Birds of Paradise,” wherein Roth executes climbing and descending scales with snappy vigor. The album is not overproduced, which makes it all the more charming, and though it’s a basic three-piece rock record, the composition is refreshing and the lyrics sharp.

Larry Hirshberg’s vocals have the frank casualness of Tom Petty, and in new-wave songs like “Someone Specific,” he brings a conversational tone that evokes the coolness of David Byrne. “Public Restroom” is one of the album’s catchier creations, with a reggae-influenced riff and the gem line: “Public restroom has afforded me the clearest view/of the world so far.”

A bee’s design captures honey in a uniform grid, but locals The Trillionaires have fashioned an album with strong, diverse tunes that hold just as much substance. (Erika Fredrickson)

Iron & Wine with Calexico
In the Reins
Overcoat Recordings

No matter how loud you play Iron & Wine, it sounds like vocalist Samuel Beam is singing to you in a dream from a distant lonely cabin in the woods, coaxing you with soft, haunting whispers to rise from sleep. In the Reins is an Iron & Wine collaboration with southwest folk rockers Calexico, and it’s one that allows Beam to sing in his hushed voice while partying to the sassy desert rhythms that Calexico crafts with such skill. The coupling of these styles is a no-brainer, and in the end the two create a soundscape that complements, not compromises, the individual collaborators.

“A History of Lovers” and “Red Dust” both have the slightly more Latino, multi-instrumental country features of Calexico, while the others, especially “He Lays in the Reins” (which boasts an enchanting operatic interlude) are heavily laced with Iron & Wine’s mountain melodies. “Burn that Broken Bed” is the only track that seems out of place, with its overabundance of bluesy horns seemingly dislocating listeners from ghostly canyons and midnight campfires to the cement alleys of Chicago.

Hopefully the union lasts for another album because with just seven songs, this is too little of a good thing. (Erika Fredrickson)

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