When Marcus Leary packed his bags bound for Texas, he took plenty of Central Valley musical roots along for the ride.
Armed with a brand new country CD, "A Man That Can Love You," the former Arvin resident, 42, is hitting the promotional trail looking to build a fan base deep in, dare I say, the heart of Texas.
"This has been a fun ride," said Leary from his home in Dallas. "I'm really excited about this new CD. I've gotten nothing but great reviews and I'm thankful to have the honor and privilege to share it with you all."
Since making his amateur musical debut, Leary has had great success catching the ears of fans drawn to the spark he attributes to his Arvin upbringing.
"I did all the things a small-town boy would do, with great friends and cousins always around me. We used to hang out and do things like ride our bikes in the country on the dirt road. You could always find fun things to do in Arvin."
Leary says while his musical tastes are all over the map, the country stylings of George Strait, Garth Brooks, Trace Adkins and Kenny Rogers had the most impact on his artistry.
"My family had country music playing in our house at an early age and when I hear it, it reminds me of home. If you take a little bit of each of my tastes in music and stir it up like stew, you got me."
While the reach and popularity of country music have grown in recent years, there are still few African-American artists who have been able to have an impact, making comparisons to Charley Pride and Darius Rucker inevitable for Leary.
"I was introduced to Charley Pride by my family at 8 years old and grew fond of his traditional soulful twang and that baritone voice with the steel guitar and fiddles. I would listen to all his records and dream of having that sound.
"As far as Darius Rucker, he's probably one of the most recognized singers in the country because of Hootie & the Blowfish. I like that easygoing, sit in the grass with your girl on a sunny day kind of music he has."
And who can forget towering country rapper Cowboy Troy?
"I remember seeing him in the '90s at one of the big country clubs called Red River Road House in Pennsylvania. Great performer, but I can't tell how many times people come up and ask if I'm Cowboy Troy."
Looking to break ground as an African-American in the genre, Leary is inspired by the popularity of Rucker and Cowboy Troy.
"Here's the thing. It'll take a certain type of person because many after Charley Pride have failed. The perfect analogy would be our president. You can't be too obvious because country music will show you the door quick. Be yourself, don't take yourself too seriously, have a great song, and country music will embrace you. That's been my experience so far."
"A Man That Can Love You," a full-length CD, is a collection of soulful contemporary country. The production is slick, straddling the line between the '90s and present but with an independent charm real country fans can appreciate and enjoy. Leary's voice is strong but works best when he taps into his spiritual side on songs such as "A Better Day Comin'," where his flow sounds most natural.
He's also more at home on up-tempo numbers "Backwards," "Move a Mountain" and "Kill the Radio."
All eight tracks on "A Man That Can Love You" were written by outside songwriters. According to Leary, the choice to bring in a team for the project is standard in the industry.
"I work with good writers and tell them what I'm thinking. They do the rest. I wanted this one to really count and show my sound and performance style. It's what I'm best at. Unfortunately, my songwriting is not one of my best suits, but neither is it for Tim McGraw, George Strait or Elvis Presley."
Following a string of high-profile shows throughout Texas, Leary has plans to bring his act to Bakersfield during the summer, along with the Kern County Fair.
"I'm going to keep rolling along, perform every chance I get, and hopefully get signed to a major label, so I can keep going and touch a few hearts on the way. My show has a lot of energy. Everyone who comes out has a great time."
Isaiah Navarro & the Tribe
Speaking of homecomings, former Rozzes vocalist Isaiah Navarro makes his first appearance back in Bakersfield with his new band, the Tribe, at Sandrini's on Friday.
My last memory of the Rozzes was during one of the band's final shows at Jerry's Pizza opening for alt-rockers Funeral Party, a Los Angeles buzz band that just days before their Bakersfield appearance performed on "Late Show with David Letterman."
Upon my descent into the Jerry's Pizza basement, I assumed the thick crowd was there waiting for the headliners.
I was wrong.
Following the Rozzes' electrifying set with members of the crowd singing along to every word and female fans locked in on Navarro, the room immediately emptied out, leaving Funeral Party to perform for what felt like their own wake.
After the post high school breakup of the Rozzes three years ago, Navarro ventured out on his own, recording a solo record before making the jump to Hollywood with nothing but his guitar and a wealth of ideas waiting to be released.
"I couldn't be happier right now," said Navarro in a phone interview. "It kind of feels weird, too, because when I left, I had so many people tell me I couldn't move, I couldn't get a band together."
Navarro admits it did take awhile to make connections, but within a few months the ambitious singer/songwriter began finding kindred spirits drawn together by similar interests.
"As a musician, all you can really hope for is people's attention and appreciation. Finding musicians like this doesn't just happen until it was meant to be."
After only a couple of rehearsals, he and the band debuted in January at Lot 1 Cafe in the hip Echo Park section of Los Angeles, an experience that convinced him he'd made the right move.
"Once you have that 'click' moment, everything just falls into place. Luckily, it was there that night. I think we did a good job; everyone seemed to enjoy it. So, we're just building off steam from that."
The group has maintained momentum, scoring shows at a number of Los Angeles watering holes with crowds eager to find the next big thing. Now Navarro said he's ready to take the next step, beginning with the hometown crowd.
"I feel like we really have to live up to something with this show at Sandrini's. I want this to be a show that people are glad they caught and will be talking about for months. We've been looking forward to this since we booked it."
The group will hit the studio at the end of this month to record the demo they hope will bring them attention from indie and major label scouts.
"Most of the songs we did with the Rozzes were written before I'd even formed the band, so it's exciting to know they're going to be heard by even more people. I think it gives more incentive for people to come to this show and hear these songs with a new band, along with some of our new songs. I hope everybody likes them."
Joining Navarro are drummer Josh Little, bassist Jacob Gonzalez and guitarist Michael North.
Friday's showtime is 9:30 p.m. Admission is $5. Sandrini's is located at 1918 Eye St. For more information call 322-8900.
Mothership, Gypsyhawk, Meditated Assault at On the Rocks, 7401 White Lane, 9 p.m., Friday, $5, 327-7625.
This triple bill of molten metal goodness should bust your eardrums in a matter of riffs. Hailing from Southern California, co-headliners Mothership and Gypsyhawk bring their razor-sharp whiskey-soaked chops for a stop in Bako on their national March Out of Winter tour. Opening the show are Bakersfield favorites Meditated Assault who, since we last spoke, were preparing for the zombie apocalypse.
Cholo Biafra: Tribute to '70s & '80s Punk Rock at Sandrini's, 1918 Eye St., Saturday, $5, 322-8900.
It's an encore tribute to the era that brought you the Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, TSOL, The Exploited, The Damned, Circle Jerks, Misfits, Sex Pistols and more. Dust off your old leather jacket with the faded GBH "City Baby's Revenge" image, your oxblood-colored Doc Marten boots and mind your moshpit etiquette.
The band: Pablo Alaniz, guitar; yours truly on vox; Salvador Galindo, guitar; Cesareo Garasa, drums. Also appearing are KSVG indie radio deejys Jake Chavez and Greg Looney, spinning vintage punk between sets.