Service journalism. That's what we're after in this section. Sure, every now and again we're going to delve into out-there culture stories and profiles, but for the most part, we're about covering things that you can go see or do or listen to.
To wit, here we introduce a new feature list that will run four times a year and hopefully serve as an easy primer to local music. In December, we'll bring out a big year-end wrap-up with countdowns of albums, singles and more. But, first, we're kicking things off with a short rundown of releases that don't seem to have much buzz around them, local albums that somehow flew under the radar, but that strongly deserve attention.
Magic Cropdusters: “The Apartment”
David Jukes isn't exactly elusive. For years he's worked as a manager at Vino's, the daytime employment hub du jour for local musicians. But while anyone familiar with the scene can easily place four or five of the staff onstage, only folks who've been around for a while would recognize Jukes as the driving force behind the Magic Cropdusters, easily one of Little Rock's best bands over the last decade. The Cropdusters started in at a fairly clipped pace, releasing two albums in two years, 1997 and 1998, with Jukes backed by a shifting crew, including Ho-Hum's brothers Bryan, Joe Cripps and Jukes' brother Michael. Nearly 10 years later, with only a couple of shows here and there to sate fans, the band's finally released its “Chinese Democracy.” Turns out it was worth the wait. Jukes' cryptic songwriting sounds at first like a stream of consciousness, but repeated listens — no trouble since the music is so mind-searingly infectious — reveal a strange, nostalgic world of cats come home, “beautiful” Volkswagen Beetles and other seemingly mundane topics that become anything but in Jukes' hands. “The Apartment” is available via iTunes only.
Arkansas Bo: “I Know That's Right”
This mixtape may have slipped out to a few folks late last year, but Arkansas Bo, the shaggy-maned, always-grinning half of the rap duo Suga City, didn't give it much of a push until at least January. Maybe the timing wasn't right. The mixtape's 20-odd tracks sound custom-made for driving slow in the summer. String-heavy '70s soul provides the foundation, music from the likes of Teddy Pendergrass, the Lost Generation and William DeVaughn. It's a perfect compliment to Bo's voice — a deep, molasses-smooth, Southern basso profundo. The Stuttgart rapper dips every now and then into societal critique — “Jim Brown,” a song featuring Goines, is an anthem for black pride — but he rarely manages to suppress his smile. Everything is breezy, a feel-good, cool-out good time. To get a copy, hit Bo up on his MySpace (www.myspace.com/sonnygallins) or call him at 901-483-5592.
Shannon Wurst: “Sunday Pie”
Shannon Wurst came up surrounded by music. The Alma native grew up at bluegrass festivals, sitting in picking circles and singing mountain music. She's long performed with her father, Ronnie, a hard-touring Southern rocker, and her stepfather, Ed Carr, a talented flat-picker. Now, after stints working in Vermont as a dog musher, serving as a raft guide in Colorado and playing bluegrass in North Carolina, she's returned home to carve out “Sunday Pie,” her stellar debut album. With a strong, sweet voice, she works in traditional material, songs from friends and her own compositions, all flavored by the traditions of Ozark bluegrass music. “Big Papa,” a twangy country-blues about trying to lure a man with homemade gravy (“a man needs gravy, like a good woman's care”), is the stand-out track. The album is available on her website, www.shannonwurst.com.