by Mike Corrigan

The members of Before Braille are all about communication. But in some unintentional deference to the unspoken alphabet from which this Mesa, Ariz., band derives its name, that communication is not necessarily verbal. Utilizing lyrics that come across, at times, as intentionally opaque, this young bass+drum+two guitar outfit communicates emotion and mood through the use of power chords, dynamics, harmonics and back beat. Like their more visible home turf compatriots, Jimmy Eat World, Before Braille puts an impassioned, big rock spin on that ever-more prevalent indie rock sub-category known as emo.

The nationally touring band joins two Inland Northwest groups -- Vertigo Bliss and Illusion 33 -- at the Met this Friday night for the third annual Rock for Tots benefit show.

The songs found on Before Braille's brand-new debut album, The Rumor, crackle with expressionistic lyricism, visceral six-string thunder and the gale-force vocals of singer/songwriter/guitarist David Jensen (with guitarist Hans Ringger, bassist Brandon Smith and drummer Kelly Reed filling out the band's roster). Is the band destined to be the next desert flower to be plucked from the "Mesa Rock" scene? Or will they serve out their time in (relative) indie obscurity? Listening to The Rumor, one gets the feeling that either way, Before Braille will be keeping on and keeping it real -- for themselves and for their ever-expanding fan base.

Spokane's annual Rock for Tots event was founded in 2000 by Dave Kotlan and his buddies in Spokane hard-rock band Vertigo Bliss as a way for local musicians to help the Toys for Tots Foundation. For 54 years, Toys for Tots has collected and distributed toys during the Christmas season to needy kids locally and throughout the nation. The two previous years' shows were tremendously successful, with both area kids and local rock fans coming out big winners. Thousands of toys were collected, and attendees were treated to a big dose of local talent for a relatively teeny price. This year promises more of the same with three bands (two from our area), all poised on the brink of potential greatness.

Illusion 33 is a Sandpoint-based funk/reggae/jazz/punk/metal amalgam that has not only made a considerable splash on the local scene here but is currently winning converts out there in the great wide open as they log gig after gig on the road. Officially formed three years ago by three transplanted Californians (Jesse, Jason and KC), Illusion 33 wraps its direct, honest lyricism in infectious grooves and dishes them up with energy and no small amount of chutzpah. Their debut album is called Catch the Reflection.

Kotlan's band, Vertigo Bliss, is pleased to announce the release of its sophomore recording, Phonophobic, the follow-up to Focus, the group's year 2000 contribution to radio-ready alternative rock. Known as much for their engaging live stage antics as for their recorded output, Kotlan (guitar/vocals), Denny Holler (bass) and Steve Hurlburt (drums/vocals) can also add philanthropist to their list of accomplishments.

Hats off to Vertigo Bliss for all they are doing to organize and promote this show. Tickets can be "purchased" before the show at Inland Empire Toyota Dealers with a donation of an unwrapped toy. The night of the show, the Marines will be on hand to take both toy and monetary donations in exchange for admission.

Singular, Solitary Man -- How do you solve a problem like Neil Diamond? Since his very first recordings and throughout his career, the irrepressible singer/songwriter/entertainer has presented music fans with a question. The question is: What am I? Rocker? Balladeer? Pop star? Crooner? Schmaltzy Vegas act? It's a query that continues to frustrate the once and current Diamond faithful. For instance, how could a guy who wrote such great tunes as "Solitary Man" and "Shilo" go on to write such cheese as "America" and the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull? Although his reach for artistic credibility has at times hurt him in the eyes of critics, Diamond's resilience and ability to change with the times has garnered him cross-generational appeal rare among performers of his stripe.

Diamond started out as a singer/songwriter with a style almost too brooding for AM radio but with such an impeccable pop sensibility that he couldn't help but score big in the Top 40. His early hits, such as "Cherry, Cherry," "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime," "Kentucky Woman" and "I'm a Believer" (the song he wrote for the Monkeys), were exuberant, terrifically gritty and rocking late- '60s pop informed by country, gospel and the blues.

If only his ambitions for something grander than mere pop success had been less pronounced, snappy hits and good taste might have prevailed. Instead, Diamond -- ever seeking to be recognized as a serious artist on par with the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon -- embarked on a career typified more by overreaching (or simply ill-conceived) clunkers than winning contributions to the vernacular of rock-pop expression. He descended into middle-of-the-road balladry and murky, overwrought lyricism that all but extinguished his ability to produce memorable material. Still, it's impossible to discount the simple pleasures found within his best middle-period work, especially where that material (as on "Cracklin Rosie" and "Sweet Caroline") gets back to the songwriting basics and the energy that made his early hits so strong.

Diamond has always demonstrated an amazing ability to bounce back from his self-inflicted wounds. With dogged perseverance and improbable charisma, he continues to bestride the entertainment world like a colossus. Decade in and decade out, he remains one of popular music's top-grossing live performers. The people love Diamond. And after all these years, this consummate entertainer certainly displays an instinctive feel for the material his adoring audience -- young and old, rockers and folkies alike -- wants to hear.

New Age Holiday -- For nearly 20 years, composer/performers Eric Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel have been turning North American audiences on to their unique, classically inspired folk music (or is it folk-inspired classical?). Through recordings and live performances, the pair's shared love of placing traditionally classical instruments in decidedly non-classical arrangements is revealed in compositions that are experienced as more than mere intellectual exercises. Their music is approachable, warm and contemporary. The duo brings their serene fusion of string and woodwind to the Met tonight.

Tingstad & amp; Rumbel's integration of jazz, rock, pop and world music textures into their predominantly classical backgrounds began after a chance meeting during a Pacific Northwest music festival. With Tingstad on classical guitar and Rumbel playing oboe, English horn and keyboards, the two began weaving sounds frequently referred to as "Northwestern Impressionism." As their reputation grew, the New Age label Narada caught up to them, signed them and released their first album (a holiday offering entitled The Gift) in 1985. Their current album is an environmental-themed collection entitled Acoustic Garden (the outer sleeve of which is made from recycled cotton containing wildflower seeds that will sprout when placed in water).

Their holiday-themed show will benefit the EWU Girls Chorus, the Spokane Preservation Advocates and the Friends of Manito.

Wheatland Bank Free Horse & Carriage Rides @ Riverfront Park

Fridays, 4-8 p.m. Continues through June 21
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