Rice Returns 

Action hero turned guitar virtuoso Steven Seagal, rapper Insane Wayne, Arkansas rocker Chase Pagan, and indie band Chess Club: It's a motley crew, but all four acts have been keeping the folks at Young Avenue Sound busy. In January, Segal completed a blues album (engineered by Jack Holder) in Studio A, while Insane Wayne and The Drum Squad brought in Project Posse's Nick Scarfo for various projects, including an upcoming Gangsta Boo album.

Chess Club's debut, recorded by Jeff Powell, will be released this spring or early summer on Young Avenue Sound's in-house label, Memphis Records, says studio manager Cameron Mann. Meanwhile, Kevin Cubbins is wrapping up sessions with Papa Top's West Coast Turnaround.

What's next? Major renovations of Young Avenue Sound's Studio B. "When we first opened, Studio B was an afterthought," Mann says. "We had extra gear and available space, so we built a really simple, digital room. Now we're getting more business from bands who find Studio A too big, too intimidating, and too expensive, so we've decided to add character, build some acoustic panels, and 'vibe out' the room more."

Mann hopes to recruit former Easley-McCain Recording co-owner Doug Easley to help with the project, which, he says, will be a "significant" overhaul of the space.

"We're going to put in glass windows, enhance the acoustic quality, and just make the room feel better," he explains. "We'd always hoped that B would be a place that indie bands would find comfortable and affordable. And now we're working to create the environment they need."

The studio is also pursuing a development deal with Augustine (Cubbins is currently in pre-production with the group, Mann reports) and finishing production on an upcoming EP by local rockers This Is Goodbye, produced by Ross Rice and engineered by Kevin Houston.

This week, Memphis Records is also releasing, Dwight, the long-in-coming follow-up to Rice's 1997 release, Umpteen. Recorded with Steve Selvidge, Harry Peel, and Brad Jones at different studios over the course of the last 30 months, and eventually mixed at Young Avenue Sound, the album will finally see the light of day at Rice's record-release party at Young Avenue Deli Saturday night.

The March 4th show is just one of many local appearances for Rice, who will also perform with FreeWorld at Blues City Café on Monday, March 6th, play at Two Stick in Oxford, Mississippi, on Tuesday, March 7th, and play a reunion gig with his former band, Human Radio, at The Blue Monkey on Saturday, March 11th.

"Dwight is finally born after a lengthy gestation," Rice says via a phone call from his current home of Rosendale, in upstate New York.

"We started it awhile ago and ran out of money, which isn't unusual," the former Memphian explains of the project. "I got back into the studio early last summer, and got [Young Avenue Sound owner] Don Mann to help me finish 'em and print 'em up.

"It's pretty exciting," he says. "There are new paradigms -- things like MySpace, which has helped me network with people in a way I couldn't have imagined five years ago. Umpteen was on E-Squared, Steve Earle's label, and we had distribution. I'm not sure how to do that now, so I'm playing things by ear."

Rice says that he has modest goals for Dwight -- the first of which, he says, is to finally get the CD out there.

"I'm in my early 40s, and my wife says I'm handsome, but I realize that part of the business isn't open to me. That radar doesn't exist for a lot of us," he says of the mainstream music industry. "But I have several friends in groups that are signed to major labels, and, to a man, they're miserable."

In Rosendale, he explains, he works as "a musical odd-jobs guy," playing in five different groups, producing at various studios, and gigging at assorted shows.

"I really do miss the cultural collision of Memphis," Rice says, although he admits that, as a pop musician, saying he's from Memphis hasn't done him any favors. In fact, without a strong signature of traditional Memphis music in his sound, he often gets puzzled looks whenever he tells people that he's from here.

But Rice maintains his work ethic is all Memphis: "From my experience in local studios, everyone blows in at about noon or one and grabs a cup of coffee or a smoke. They circle around the music for hours, and then, suddenly, they'll pounce and record. It's very different from Nashville or anyplace else, but it's an environment I'm always trying to recreate."

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