Joe Bonamassa. Photo by Christie Goodwin.Roughly a quarter-century ago, B.B. King said of Joe Bonamassa that "he hasn't even begun to scratch the surface."

It was an undeniable compliment to somebody not yet in his teens, but it was also a challenge - one that the blues-rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter apparently still takes to heart. Bonamassa continually scratches and scratches to get deeper.

His performance April 19 at the Adler Theatre will be one example, featuring a set with his acoustic band and another with his electric - both covering roughly 10 songs. The acoustic sets demonstrate that Bonamassa isn't content to skate by on instrumental virtuosity - unlike too many of his ace-guitarist peers. These shows require solid songs, nuance, and variety.

As he said in a phone interview last week, the two-set engagements are "very challenging vocally and on guitar, because you're essentially switching gears tune to tune."

Even better evidence of his range can be found in his recent discography. In the past two years alone, Bonamassa has put out the Driving Towards the Daylight studio album, live and studio releases with singer Beth Hart, the third and final album from the Black Country Communion super-group, a studio disc by the jazz-fusion Rock Candy Funk Party, Beacon Theatre: Live From New York, the live album An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House, and the four-disc Tour de Force: Live in London - documenting themed shows at four venues with different band lineups and more than 60 different songs. And he has a new studio album planned for fall release. (The old saw about the weather can be adapted for Bonamassa: If you don't like his latest record, just wait a few minutes.)

Brandon Decker. Photo courtesy Ashley Wintermute.

The band Decker calls its sound "psychedelic desert folk," and each of those words carries roughly equal weight.

The folk influence is a carry-over from earlier incarnations of the band. Before its fourth album - last year's Slider - leader Brandon Decker wrote the songs and brought people in to round them out. "I didn't feel they were really musical," he said in a phone interview last week. Rather, they were vehicles to say something.

But when the band performs at Rozz-Tox on April 20, Decker will be emphasizing the other two words. In its current form as a four-piece, the folk leanings are somewhat obscured by the wide-open space reflecting its home base of Sedona, Arizona, and the spaciness of psychedelic rock. (The band stylizes its name as "decker.", but for readability I'm ignoring that.)

On Slider and the epic "Cellars" (from the upcoming Patsy EP), there's a comfortable balance between direct simplicity and airy, patient exploration. Instead of being dense in any given moment, the songs wander purposefully, collecting detail to achieve their fullness.

Socibot and the infininty mirror. Photo by AJ Brown Imaging."Look into my eyes and keep still," Socibot says to me in its pleasant but mechanical voice. Before I can do anything to comply with the command, the Putnam Museum's machine continues: "I would say you are a 44-year-old man." I laugh. "Your face is happy," it says.

Clearly, Socibot needs to learn that when it comes to age, it's better to guess low - as I'm on the cusp of 43, thank you very much.

This was a demonstration of Socibot's facial-recognition feature, but the talking, moving head is no one-trick robot. It does impressions - including of some famous cinematic artificial intelligences (2001's HAL 9000, Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg from the Terminator series). It can play card games using QR codes - which can also be employed to tell visitors about other features in the Putnam's new Science Center.

But mostly, it shows the complexity of human expression. Using the "compose" touch-screen interface, users can program Socibot to communicate - not merely typing the words it will speak but controlling its voice and nonverbal cues that impart meaning, from the movement of the eyes and head to flushed cheeks to the set of the mouth.

This teaches the challenges and skills involved in getting machines to complete multifaceted tasks. Nichole Myles, the Putnam's vice president of education and exhibits, noted that Socibot allows visitors to "experience what early coding and programming is."

And because the Science Center is geared to children - with the goal of getting them interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers - Socibot has also been programmed to chide users who try to put inappropriate words and phrases into its mouth.

Socibot is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated (and expensive) components of the STEM center, and you could spend a few hours trying to fine-tune the proper expressions involved in, for instance, Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" monologue.

But given the breadth and depth of science-related experiences available at the Putnam's Science Center, to spend too much time at one station would be wasting opportunities. There's the feature that visibly demonstrates turbulence; the lift-yourself-up pulley; the airways fountain; ferrofluid; the gravity wall; the lever tug-of-war; the 3D-printing station; robot vision; the dinosaur dig scheduled to open this summer ... .

I've spent a lot of time as a kid, a kid at heart, and a parent at children's museums and science centers, and the Putnam's STEM center is a marvel - especially considering how quickly it came together and how little it cost.

Bedroom ShrineFor all of about six seconds, the Quad Cities band Bedroom Shrine's new album No Déjà Vu seems content to set a mood.

The first sound on "Brown Recluse" is the whirring of a tape machine, whose unsteadiness makes the opening notes of acoustic guitar tremble plaintively.

But before that old-time folk vibe can register, the wind chimes tinkle softly, leading to some gentle feedback that builds to the simultaneous entrance (at the 19-second mark) of hand claps and electric slide guitar. Those two elements pull against each other, the hand claps establishing a pleasant groove with the acoustic guitar while the slide concisely articulates its grudge.

The instrumental is clearly meant as a table-setter, but it illustrates that Bedroom Shrine has no interest in dawdling. At all of 85 seconds, the track musically sketches out the band's Facebook blurb of "rock 'n' roll gets lonesome" and scurries off.

That's the basic method of the album, whose 12 songs run a total of 32 minutes. That by itself means nothing, but it relates to both the album's charm and its shortcoming: The vivid, sharply drawn songs leave you wanting more (good!), but they also feel like sketches that would be even better given the time and space to grow into more-mature form (less good!). It's telling that the only two songs that run more than three minutes - "You're Gonna Lose" and the title track - feel most like they've reached the ends of their natural lives.

Jim LeachIn 2006, U.S. Representative Jim Leach of Iowa introduced a resolution urging President George W. Bush to appoint a "Special Envoy for Middle East Peace." The resolution said, in part, that "history has demonstrated that the Middle East region is likely to lurch from crisis to crisis without sustained diplomatic and economic engagement by the United States."

In an interview March 24, Leach amended that statement. "I would say not only without our engagement, [but] ... with or without our engagement."

That revision is a reflection of all that has happened in just the past few years: the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine; developments regarding Iran's nuclear program; the Arab Spring; turmoil in Egypt; and the Syrian civil war - the last of which has grown more complicated given newly escalated tension between Russia and the West.

It also hints at a frustration Leach clearly has with American foreign policy in the region - and not merely the long, costly war with Iraq.

So when Leach presents his lecture "What is Old, New, & Unprecedented in America's Relationships with the Middle East" on April 10, he'll have a lot to talk to about. (The speech is the first public event of St. Ambrose University's new Middle East Institute.) But don't expect many answers.

Blake Selby understands that he's already at a disadvantage.

"Look, there are a few facts," he said in a phone interview this week. "Number one, I'm white and I'm in the rap game. ... I'm already fighting an uphill battle. ... The other thing is that I'm not from the streets. I never claim to be; I never pretend to be in my raps. ... This is kind of my way of fighting back."

"This" is his first full-length album, Ammunition. The Quad Cities-based hip-hop artist (who also owns Quad Cities Fitness in Bettendorf) has a record-release show Saturday at The Clubhouse in Bettendorf, and the album and show represent his musical introduction to his new community.

As the name suggests, it's no clammy handshake. The 16-track album is loaded with aggressive, surgical-jackhammer rapping. It features the Chicago hip-hop artist Twista and singer Sam Kay on "Never Let Go." It brings along the Quad Cities metal outfit 3 Years Hollow on "Monsta." And its straightforward production (by The Chemist) mainlines the hooks.

Bassist and singer Devin Alexander attributes The Post Mortems' two-instrument setup to laziness, but it's not ordinary laziness - as there's very little that's typical about the Quad Cities/Iowa City band.

From its bass-and-drums-rock conceit to its gear to the seven-plus years it took to record its new album Cracked & Crooked, The Post Mortems have often traveled through bramble and brush.

But as arduous as that has often been for Alexander and drummer Al Raymond, the band's March 7 album-release show at RIBCO should provide plenty of proof that the journey has borne fruit. The record successfully hews to The Post Mortems' two-man core while pushing past the boundaries of what should be possible with only a traditional rhythm section - maintaining a minimalist identity while giving listeners much of they dynamic range and texture they expect from a larger outfit. And Alexander said his recently debuted live bass rig should be a revelation to longtime fans of the band.

Come enjoy dinner from the Fresh Deli by Nostalgia Farms, grab a brew from Front Street Brewery's Tap Room, and get ready for uncensored improvised comedy, courtesy of The Blacklist!

The Blacklist will be offering just two dates to see uncensored improvisational comedy on the Davenport side of the Quad Cities. With two shows on February 15th
hopes to re-energize the downtown during this cold winter month by teaming up with Nostalgia Farms' Fresh Deli and the Front Street Brewery Tap Room to offer their customers and many of The Blacklist's fans another reason to come to downtown Davenport for entertainment.

George Strader, owner and performer at The Blacklist stated, "Live comedy entertainment hasn't been at The Freight House venue for over 3 years, and the space has such a fantastic view and neighboring businesses to visit. It just seemed like a great place to put on a show." The Blacklist, who performs regularly at The Circa '21 Speakeasy in Rock Island, has the next two weekends off due to Bottoms Up
Burlesque's Soul Train shows occupying the space.

The Blacklist will host both an early show and a late show on the 15th show will be "100 Laughs" (the signature show from The Blacklist), in which the show starts with zero and does not stop until The Blacklist tallies 100 audience laughs! Along the way you will enjoy many different games that you, the audience, have complete control of! The crazier the suggestions the better! "100 Laughs" is an adult show, rated R, so leave the kids at home! Doors for "100 Laughs" will open at 6:00pm with the show starting at 7:00pm, and tickets are $10.

The late show will be the very popular "Shots 'n Giggles," which brings improv comedy and drinking games crashing together into one hilarious night of improvised entertainment! A lot like watching a car wreck, performers will astound you as they do their best to remain in control and on the ball as the shots keep coming and the laughs keep flowing! Described as "Whose Line Is It Anyway? on Jack Daniels," this
a social experiment gone hilariously bad. This is one drinking party you can't miss! "Shots 'n Giggles" is also R rated with adult material and is strictly for audiences 21 and over. Doors for "Shots 'n Giggles" will open around 8:30pm, with stand-up comedians taking the stage at 9:00pm and The Blacklist at 10:00pm.

Tickets are $12.

Tickets for all shows can be purchased ahead of time exclusively at The Blacklist's website, www.blacklistcomedy.com or can be bought at the door on the night of the show. Seats are limited, so reservations are recommended. Visit the troupe's website or Facebook page for additional information.

Nostalgia Farms' Fresh Deli: Edward Kraklio - (563) 424-4561

Front Street Brewery Tap Room: Steve and Jennie Zuiderma (563) 322-1569

The Blacklist Improv Comedy Troupe: George Strader - (309) 781-9617

I come to praise local television news, not to bury it.

Okay, there won't be much praise, and there will be some burying.

 

The Quad Cities-based hard-rock band 3 Years Hollow can trace its current enviable position to a series of fortunate events.

The quintet is poised to release its album The Cracks on the national Imagen Records indie label on February 11 - with a local release show February 8 at Rascals Live in Moline - and has tour dates scheduled with Saving Abel through mid-March.

None of that would have been possible, vocalist/songwriter Jose Urquiza said in a phone interview on January 29, without a trade of equipment for time.

Roughly seven years ago, Urquiza said, the band was looking to cut its first album, and he approached Real Trax Recording Studios' Rob Cimmarusti about learning the ropes of the business. Cimmarusti made a proposal, Urquiza said: "We had this really expensive microphone, and he basically said, 'I'll trade you. You can give me the microphone, and you guys can have all the studio time that you want.' We wanted to record our record, so we did it. We would not be here without Rob."

The products of that swap were 2008's Ascension and a continuing relationship with Real Trax. Urquiza is now the studio manager, and he and guitarist Tony Reeves, guitarist Neil Kuhlman, bassist Dex Digga, and drummer Chris Cushman recorded the bulk of their new album there, too.

The story of The Cracks, 3 Years Hollow's second full-length, is a bit more complicated but no less serendipitous. It starts with the band's 2012 EP Remember, which was meant both for fans and record labels. Its title track topped Sirius XM Octane's charts, which "really ... legitimized us [as] a national band," Urquiza said.

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