Countrypolitans at the Fez
country tunes in a Moroccan bar
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
Yes, we're running through April's sloppy rain once
again, to make it to the show on time. Running through the big,
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.
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
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
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,
June 29: Skyway, Zig Zag