Back in the early part of this decade, Jason Mraz made San Diego his home. Initially relying on his musical theatre experience to wow the crowds at the chill coffeehouse venue Java Joe's, Mraz began to blossom onstage with tongue-in-cheek rhymes, a rock-solid guitar talent and a whole lot of sex-laden repartée. After catching the attention of Elektra Records, he began recording his debut, Waiting for My Rocket to Come. Blending the folk-happy tendencies of Dave Matthews and the sexy dexterity of John Mayer, Mraz took the record beyond coffeehouse quietude and into platinum success. His newest, Mr. A-Z, came out this year to even more acclaim, launching Mraz into the echelons of true industry success.
While Scott Russo's antics make any Unwritten Law experience memorable, it's the San Diego natives' anthemic rock melodies that continue to lure in the fans. Formed in the early '90s, Unwritten Law became a weighty live force behind Russo's potent growl and the band's relentless national touring schedule. The cultish success they enjoyed with their first three discs grew into popular hysteria with 2002's MTV crowd pleaser, Elva. With their latest album, Here's to the Mourning, the band blends hard-living lyrics with the melodic vocals they harmonize so well. And despite the departure of co-founding member Wade Youman, Unwritten Law is coasting through 2005 with more musical strength than ever before.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Karl Denson escaped from rock 'n' roll a long time ago, but it was really about time. After his name-making turn as a member of Lenny Kravitz's touring and studio horn ensemble, Denson began a full-court sprint to his jazz career. A stint as co-founder of the popular Greyboy Allstars in the mid '90s helped Denson carve out a niche in acid jazz before the band broke up in 1997. Pasting together the elements of jazz that he knew so well and adding the funky blues tendencies of Sly Stone, Parliament Funkadelic and James Brown, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe was born. With half a dozen albums to his name, the band thankfully doesn't have an end in sight.
Anya Marina is the nymphish figure you'd certainly overlook in a crowd. But she's got more than enough voice to compensate. The wittiness of a comedienne and the marked attention-getting skills of a true actress have morphed Marina into a towering stage talent. It should have been radio that made Marina a big name in San Diego-her drive-time deejay gig at 94/9 and her local timeslot on Sundays are the station's best programming-but instead it's her first full-length debut, Miss Halfway, that will serve as her true opus. The lingering sweetness of her guitar sensibilities and her droll wordplay shouldn't make it hard for her to win over the hearts of audiences everywhere-if she hasn't already.
Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra
After graduating from Boston College, Al Howard decided to hit the road to travel America. What he experienced as a young African-American on the highways and byways turned out to be so valuable that he churned out a book and an album about his encounters. The music that resulted is a unique blend of hip-hop, rock, Latin, spoken word and jazz fusion. Taking that music onstage, Howard and his K23 Orchestra improvise, jam and stretch the limits of style and genre into a new road-savvy style of musical art.
It was a sad day when the charismatic and controversial Country Dick Montana died of a massive heart attack in 1995. Not only did it end his creative, musical family tree, but it also cut short the life of one of San Diego's most valued Beat Farmers. With the rock 'n' country still coursing through their veins, guitarist Jerry Raney, guitarist Buddy "Blue" Seigal, bassist Rollie "Love" Dexter and new drummer Joel Kmak carry on the Farmers' legacy. The band's rollicking onstage mix of country, blues and cage-rattling rock rightfully lends every member a near-mythical musical reputation in San Diego and beyond.
As Brad Nowell's last true protégés, Slightly Stoopid have lived up to their Sublime inspiration. Ocean Beach residents Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald debuted on Nowell's Skunk label while they were still in high school, and the copious performing has since paid off. The co-frontmen of Stoopid are beginning to evolve their weed-drenched skate-funk into their own brand of hip-pop. Sun-shiny melodies are abundant and their riotous lyrics are the most accomplished to date on this year's Closer to the Sun. San Diego never had such an appropriate soundtrack.
Blessed with a flair for storytelling, Ryan Ferguson sounds comfortable in the role of singer-songwriter. It wasn't that long ago, however, that he was blowing the speakers off the wall as a guitarist for No Knife. He's been on MTV, received radio airplay and heard his licks on Dawson's Creek, but it will be Ferguson's tender voice that makes him a solo star. As a native San Diegan, his laid-back manner is no façade-Ferguson's tranquil approach to love songs and life is a bit of The Shins-meets-Teenage Fanclub-hard to imagine, but staggering to hear.