Porch Music

If you judge a band by the company it keeps, you'll probably want to get to know the Subdudes a little better. The four-piece -- with two members in Colorado and two in New Orleans -- is no more than one degree of separation removed from predecessors in the Continental Drifters, relations in the Radiators, fans in Evangeline and collaborators such as Willie Williams, the former Zion Harmonizers guitarist who appears on the group's new CD. The common thread among these performers is that they all partake of a flexible swamp aesthetic and an unbroken authenticity that musical New Orleans shares with few other cities.

And it's not just a New Orleans thing, either. Huey Lewis overheard a tape and picked the Subdudes to open for him on his 1991 tour, which doesn't contradict the notion of virtue by association at all -- it just proves that dorks can have good taste, too. The Subdudes have always said that the band was just the sideline offspring of its members' real bands, but a fortuitous 1987 gig at Tipitina's proved more popular than those real bands' shows, and bassist Johnny Ray Allen, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Malone, accordion player John Magnie and tambourine player/percussionist Steve Amedee decided to pursue the sideline with a major-label debut in 1989, followed by Lucky in 1991, followed by a sacking of said major label, which obviously couldn't figure out how to sell another gumbo band.

Annunciation was the band's first for the smaller High Street Records, and it showed the band gelling into the kind of porch-sitting groove and gospelly harmonies that pricked up Adult Alternative ears. Primitive Streak is the newest offering, and if it stretches out across country, rock, soul and longhair-rumba territory (and, with a guest appearance by Bonnie Raitt, into commercially endorsed territory), the CD is still no great stylistic departure. It's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be relaxed, kind of jaunty, occasionally thoughtful -- sort of like the music you'd expect to hear on the soundtrack of a film about some guy taking a long walk down some Louisiana back road in spring. It's nice stuff. Not as danceable as the Iguanas, not as drink-inducing as John Mooney, not as ponderous as Poi Dog Pondering and not as stylistically pure as Beausoleil -- all of which bear comparison. The Subdudes just aren't an extreme sort of band; it's all right there in the punned, emasculated name. The drummer usually doesn't even play a regular drum kit, just a tambourine with brushes.

You've got to figure that any band that may be accurately affiliated with the word "porch" is best experienced live. That's where the audience can kick back and fill in all those funky open spaces left over when four unprepossessing musicians get together with the intention of forcing not a thing on you. -- Brad Tyer

The Subdudes perform at 9 p.m. Friday, March 22, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $14 to $27.50. True Infidels open. Call 869-5483.

Rova Saxophone Quartet -- Since its inception in 1977, the Rova Saxophone Quartet has come to epitomize improv's wandering spirit -- and the limber musical grace that often accompanies it -- while continuing to embrace a contrasting fondness for compositional structure. At the least, the ensemble's work over the last 19 years has been wildly unpredictable; at most, it has remained breathtakingly complex -- which means, essentially, that a Rova Sax Quartet performance is not for everyone. It requires a long attention span and a far-flung imagination, not to mention an ability to set aside predisposed ideas of what is or isn't musical. Though the founding members of this groundbreaking San Francisco unit -- Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin and Bruce Ackley (newest member Steve Adams replaced Andrew Voight in 1988) -- have made their individual marks in other areas, they've always returned to Rova, the project that worked them into a creative lather in the first place. Over the years, they've helped define a movement loosely defined as "collective improvisation" and have lent a new credence to the saxophone quartet in modern jazz. After hundreds of performances worldwide, almost two decades of recording, countless awards and collaborations with everyone from the Kronos Quartet to Alvin Curran, Rova's members remain as down to earth and approachable as ever -- even if their music still seems a bit out of this world. At Rice University Coffeehouse at 10 p.m. Sunday, March 24. Tickets are $10. 527-4050. (Hobart Rowland)

Johnny Reno -- In the beginning, there was saxophone -- and electric guitar was merely an afterthought. When jump-blues began to mutate into rock and roll, the spotlight, more often than not, focused on frontmen of immaculate -- if outrageous -- apparel, careful coiffures and golden tenor saxes that honked, wailed and blew the strange new wind that was sweeping the nation. That wind still blows out of Fort Worth down through Houston like a jitterbug norther whenever Johnny Reno and his Sax Maniacs come to town. This is a sip of what rock once was, minus the retro aftertaste, and a swallow of what dance music can and should be: as far from canned, predictable techno-pop as possible. Reno is a veteran of the Texas bar circuit, first in the Juke Jumpers and then fronting for the Sax Maniacs, whose sax and stage antics have long been noted for both their high energy and reverence for tradition. In the last few years, Reno has found success away from Lone Star stages working with Chris Isaak and scoring films. But he hasn't forgotten the joints where that success was shaped. Boogie, woogie and blow, baby. At the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23. Tickets are $10. 869-COOL. (Jim Sherman)

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Hobart Rowland
Jim Sherman
Brad Tyer