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Welcome, Matt

"I just figured any place that can support a jug band is the place for me," says Matthew Sabatella, a Miami-based singer/songwriter who plans to make his first appearance at the Bamboo Room on Wednesday evening. The old-timey goodness of the Juggernaut Jug Band from Lexington, Kentucky, Sabatella figures, may have inadvertently primed the Lake Worth blues club for his own low-impact Americana.

The Juggernauters (The Amazing Mr. Fish on walking bass, washtub bass, and nose flute; Roscoe Goose on washboard, trumpet, and blues harp; Jim "World Wide" Webb on banjo, guitar, and fiddle; Big Daddy T on guitar, banjo, and dobro) no doubt roused the Bamboo Room's crowd from its tropical-drink stupor Saturday, March 9, when they broke out their don't-try-this-at-home rendition of the Who's "Pinball Wizard." The novelty of the jug band is far wackier than any of the mostly acoustic material on last year's album from Sabatella, A Walk in the Park. But the show signaled to the singer/multi-instrumentalist that the Bamboo Room is loosening up its starchy collar of blues fundamentalism and is ready to embrace a younger singer-songwriter such as himself.

So far, the only suitable non-Miami venue he's found is the Underground Coffeeworks in West Palm Beach, where he tries to show up at least once a month. In the meantime, he's been looking for a place in Broward County that fits for his barefoot, straw-chewin' songs. Himmarshee Street, not without reason, scared Sabatella something powerful fierce.

"I was looking for a room where people might sit and listen a little bit. I had checked out some of the Fort Lauderdale kind of places -- but it was such a party, cover-band kind of scene. I don't know."

Sabatella doesn't want to play his songs in a setting where he's essentially a background fixture, like a fancy sconce, providing nothing more than a nice diversion to dining patrons who'd much rather bite into a portobello than a Sabatella. To its credit, the Bamboo Room never allows anything to upstage the performers. Usually content to allow the old-guard bluesmen and women to count on one place in the state where they can feel comfortable (and give local columnists something to write about), branching out a bit has to feel good to the Bamboo Room.

Sabatella's music is not blues -- astute clerks are sure to place it into the rock bin. Nor does it exactly kick up a cloud of dust: Ryan Adams he's not. Still, more than a distant echo of the Replacements can be detected in spots ("Familiar Faces"), and Sabatella's scruffy voice sometimes sounds older than it is (like "Down Again," where a little Tom Waits slips in). For the Bamboo Room, Sabatella will probably tailor his set to include more of his straightforward acoustic numbers, stuff like the crowd-pleasing "Luggage Rack."

Sabatella's record company, Slipstream Presents, now dealing almost exclusively with his own group and Miami fave Amanda Green, is looking to produce another local comp in the vein of 2000's well-rounded portfolio 18 Songs. But Sabatella mentions he may opt for fewer artists, scaling back the scope and increasing the focus to home in on six bands with three songs each. "So you can dig in a little deeper," he explains. Financing the album will soon become a priority, he relates; hence, the live shows.

In addition to the filthy lucre the Bamboo Room hands over to performers (God bless 'em), Sabatella just likes its style, calling the set-up "one of the more professional situations I've dealt with down here."

Could be the start of a wonderful relationship.

Not that South Florida is starving for the bushels of pop-punk fruit that could have been grown succulent and tangy in an Orange County orchard, but Yellowcard, which actually hails from Jacksonville, is carting down a shipment, bringing its youthful assets to Fort Lauderdale this weekend for all to sample.

Although the encyclopedic music Website Allmusic.com complains that portions of the band's 2001 album, One for the Kids, "seem more like the Dave Matthews Band than Lagwagon or New Found Glory," that amounts to an uncalled-for slam not borne out by repeated exposure to the record. Yes, acoustic guitars shuffle around aimlessly here and there, and an electric violin makes a jaunty spin across several tracks, but those elements merely add a dimension that's admittedly a departure from the Green Day template but certainly a far cry from Matthews's pedestrian populism. "October Nights" does cause an ear to cock for a better listen: ("Is that Kansas playing Blink 182?") and "Something of Value" all but falls face-first into freshly planted folk-rock sod, but these strange flourishes just give Yellowcard additional depth, sort of like an oaky Chardonnay. Or something.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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