Four Play: Artists Worth a Listen

by Michael Coleman and Jon Kaplan

On Tap takes a look at four local and touring bands each month. If you are interested in being featured, please send your CD along with contact information, including your website and a list of upcoming shows to On Tap Magazine. Attention Four Play: 25 Dove St., Alexandria, VA 22314

Chris Cernak

ALBUM: Down The Road
Show: Wednesday, Sept. 28, Level X Lounge, DC

“Downward Spiral,” the lead track on Chris Cernak’s new CD “Down the Road,” opens with the plaintive yet gorgeous sounds of a lone acoustic guitar and violin. It’s a fitting intro to a ballad about self-inflicted pain and redemption, and a powerful kickoff to the upstate New York native’s latest recorded effort. Unlike a lot of stripped-down singer/songwriters who can be monotonous, Cernak manages to not only hold the listener’s interest, but to keep them fully engaged. Part of it is deft use of varied tempos and the other is that Cernak is also a strong songwriter who uses blunt language to effectively convey blunt feelings: sadness, regret, longing and hope. That said, his cover of Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” is a meandering and repetitive misfire on an otherwise very strong record. The track that follows, “Do What You Want With It,” is an upbeat love song punctuated by Cernak’s lively acoustic guitar, which is a welcome return to form. Rich, velvety tones, crisp playing and compelling songwriting make “Down the Road” a winner. – MC

Level X Lounge: 1934 9th St. NW, DC; 202-538-4438;

The Big Boy Little Band

ALBUM: Live from the XM Satellite
Show: Saturday, Sept. 3, Zoo Bar, DC

If you live in the DC area and love the blues, it can be hard to find the real deal. Much of what passes for “blues” in the region is soupy R&B or Go-Go-esque music dressed up with the occasional “Mustang Sally” cover. The Big Boy Little Band is a very welcome exception. The four-piece outfit’s new CD “Live From the XM Satellite,” is a gritty, electric guitar and harmonica-fueled romp through some pretty traditional Chicago and Texas-style blues. The jaunty “Twelve Bar Blues” is truth-in-advertising. “The Heat and Humidity,” a slow-shuffling lament about the weather, will ring true to anyone who’s spent a summer in DC. “Beg for the Money” is a tight romp and a little reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House is Rockin”. Frontman and harmonica player Big Boy Little leads a skilled band that knows what real blues music sounds like. Check these guys out the first Saturday of every month at the Zoo Bar and at the Zoo Bar Blues Jam every Thursday, which they host. – MC

Zoo Bar: 3000 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; 202-232-4225;

Jason Mendelson

ALBUM: Metrosongs, Volume One: Mostly Blue

Jason Mendelson moved to Alexandria from Tampa less than a year ago, but the availability of public transit in his new home has inspired a series of songs that might make you think he’s a DC native. Mendelson decided to write a song about every Metro station in the system. His first collection, “MetroSongs, Volume One: Mostly Blue,” is an eclectic mix of pop songs that brings to mind The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Elliot Smith and Dave Brubeck, among others. Mendelson handles whimsy adeptly in “Pentagon,” a cocktail pop tune in the 5/4 time signature that Brubeck brought into the mainstream with “Take Five.” But Mendelson also covers heavier subjects, like the 1932 Bonus March in “Federal Triangle,” and a story about DC homelessness on “Gallery Place – Chinatown.” “Eastern Market” covers the so-named market’s recent fire, restoration and even manages to work in a shoutout to the famous “bluebuck” pancakes available there. Mendelson is already hard at work on Volume Two, so keep an eye out for that as well as upcoming live gigs by the Metrosongs band. – JK

Paul Pfau and the Dimestore Band

ALBUM: Seven
Show: Friday, Sept. 2, Rock and Roll Hotel (CD Release), DC

Paul Pfau and the Dimestore Band have had a busy summer. They’ve headlined the world famous 9:30 Club, been a finalist in the California Tortilla HFStival Battle of the Bands and now they’re celebrating the release of their brand new CD, “Seven,” at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Sept. 2. The PPDB, as it’s known, is a combination of the Dimestore Band, which has been rocking the DC area since 2006, and singer/guitarist Paul Pfau, who made his name in the area playing with various blues bands as well as solo acoustic gigs. With “Seven,” the band has captured their rich blend of funk, blues, jazz and rock on disc. Standouts include “Bad Little Girl,” which has echoes of John Mayer and Curtis Mayfield, and “Senses,” which brings “Journeyman”-era Eric Clapton to mind. “Mad at Love” continues the disc’s momentum with its hard-charging, Maroon 5-esque funk riff. This is an act you shouldn’t miss live or on their relentness new disc. – JK

Rock N Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; 202-388-7625;

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