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Varnaline 

With Centro-Matic and Dakota Floyd. Saturday, February 2, at the Beachland Ballroom.

It's never really mattered who's dropped by to lend a hand in the studio; as long as Anders Parker is in the house, so is Varnaline. The band, both a legitimate group and a de facto one-man operation, rose from the ashes of Space Needle six years ago, with drummer Jud Ehrbar following Parker into his newfound interest in atmospheric Americana.

Parker and Varnaline were on a tear from the start, releasing an album or EP every year ('96's Man of Sin, '97's "Varnaline and A Shot and a Beer" EP, and '98's Sweetlife), and likely would have continued apace, if not for the demise of their label.

"We put Sweetlife out, did a bunch of touring, and a week after the last tour, Zero Hour folded," says Parker from his North Carolina home. With no label and no support, Parker was forced into musical exile, which took a serious toll on his creative and emotional psyche. Moving to northern Vermont and isolating himself in a remote cabin resulted in the germs of many of the songs found on the new Varnaline album, Songs in a Northern Key, released on Steve Earle's E2 Records.

"Although not all of the songs were created up there, it feels like they were routed through there," says Parker. "It's all kind of sewn together by that one place for me."

For the latest Varnaline tour, Parker is hitting the road with Centro-Matic, a new Texas quartet. Because most of the usual suspects are otherwise occupied, Parker has engaged Centro-Matic to join him as his backing band after its opening set.

"With these new guys on this tour, I'm collecting all the lyrics and music and listening to all the records, which I never do," says Parker with a wry laugh. "There's stuff that I go back to and cringe, and there's stuff that I'm pretty psyched about."

As are we.

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