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Dark Ditties: Rachel Brooke and Viva Le Vox explain why we shouldn't be smiling 

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Rachel Brooke is psyched that there are no more international border checkpoints to negotiate while driving from California to Bend. On Wednesday, the 27-year-old Michigan-based country crooner experienced a close encounter with some rabid border agents after playing a show in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a city that's perched a scant 20 miles from the renowned Mexican drug haven of Ciudad Juarez. The "crossing" is one of 32 permanent, interior checkpoints within the United States that are designed to thwart international smugglers, and, occasionally, alt country bands.

Much to the surprise of Brooke and her heavily tatted-up band, Viva Le Vox, their oversized van was waved right through, blacked-out windows and all. The car in front of them, however, wasn't so lucky.

"They were really into busting people," Brooke said of the border guards who were throwing high-fives to one another after wrangling in a suspect vehicle. "It was really weird. We were really surprised they didn't pull us over."

Lucky for us, Brooke's paranoia has given birth to plenty of great songs - dark ones.

"I don't have any happy songs, that's for sure," said Brooke during a recent phone interview. "There's been a lot of circumstances in my life that's caused me to write sad songs."

Her dark country twang might be weepy sad, but somehow it doesn't always come across that way. Maybe it's because the feelings come so naturally for Brooke; it's not the forced melancholy produced by so many of the Emo bands out there. Her voice - pleasant, powerful and sweet - helps keep it light too.

"If I'm singing a sad song, I don't add anything that's not there - that's not real. And I don't have a deep, scary voice or anything," Brooke said.

She's currently on a 35-show tour with Florida blues and soul punk rockers Viva Le Vox who, despite their awesomeness, are not exactly covering "Shiny, Happy People."

"This isn't the time for happy songs," said Antoine Dukes, the drummer for Viva. "It's not the 50s anymore."

Similarly dark and passionate, the veteran touring band has proved a natural fit for Brooke's haunting, old-school country sound.

"People are down, dude. F*cking gas is expensive, we're going to get f*cking bombed by somebody, ya know?" Dukes said. "We just play music and it comes out a certain way."

Viva keeps musically fit by sticking to a strenuous touring regime, often playing more than 200 shows a year. Working with a dynamic front woman like Brooke has been especially gratifying since she's continually tweaking and honing her sound, Dukes said.

"It's like any art - it's bad to be stagnant," said Dukes.

Brooke, who's been gigging full time since 2008, now has five full-length albums as well as an EP, released earlier this year.

Hoping to keep her own brand of country going as long as she can, the Michigan-based musician said she's looking forward to her next adventure on the road with Viva.

"We've only been playing together a week, so there's lots more opportunities for weird shit to happen, I'm sure."

Rachel Brooke and Viva Le Vox

Boomchick opens

$7. 21 and over.

8pm. Sunday, April 1.

The Horned Hand, 507 NW Colorado Ave.


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