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House of Blues

When the session adjourns, Planet Albo's head-banging lawmakers get their groove on.



It's a scene as old as rock 'n' roll itself: five guys in a room holding instruments and trying to piece together a new song. On this weeknight they're struggling with "If You Can't Rock Me," a deep cut from the 1974 Rolling Stones album "It's Only Rock'n Roll." It's not fitting together, so they try another run-through.

This isn't your everyday cover band, though, and the space is no garage. Two key members of this middle-aged crew are in shirts and ties. Between them, a single undone button is the only concession to the unhinged spirit of rock. One, the bassist, is Delegate David Albo, R-Fairfax. Two, the singer, is Delegate John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake.

Three, they're jamming, as they do almost weekly while the General Assembly is in session, in a tricked-out studio upstairs at Metro Sound & Music, the longtime musical instrument shop on East Broad Street.

The store's owner, Mark Szafranski, is sitting in on keyboards for Delegate Samuel Nixon Jr., R-Chesterfield, who is hung up with legislative business. Szafranski has a vision: He wants to awaken the dormant rocker inside Richmond-area professionals. So he rents this studio to "weekend warriors" who want to play but don't have the space or the time to set up equipment.

"We thought there was a need for this," Szafranski says. "I'm a musician, I know space is hard to find. To have all the equipment here waiting for you for a reasonable fee — all you have to do is bring your guitar — it made so much sense."

Szafranski hopes the idea will catch on. He sees music as a way to relax and relieve stress, an alternative to, say, the drudgery of working out. "Join the jam, not the gym" is one of the slogans he's trying out.

No debate from Delegate Cosgrove, who hits high notes on "Long Train Runnin'" that no Doobie Brother has come near since Gov. Robb's administration. "You spend all day in committee, which can get pretty tense," Cosgrove says, "and then afterwards come down here and scream your head off. There's nothing like it."

Filling out Planet Albo (the band's name borrows from campaign literature created by Albo's Democratic opponent, Greg Werkheiser, in the last election) are two lobbyists: drummer Matt Benedetti of Alliance Group, whose clients include Microsoft, and guitarist John-Garrett Kemper of Kemper Consulting. They're all here to have fun, but this is a group of goal-directed guys, so they jam with a purpose: They're trying to get a set together for "Albopalooza," the lawmaker's annual fundraiser at Alley Katz.

Capitol Square is behind them, for now.

"I'm chairman of the judiciary committee, and I'm dealing with bills that can execute people, take kids from parents, throw people in prison — very intense stuff," Albo says. "It's great to be able to step away, clear your head, do something fun."

It's time for a first crack at Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music." It's movin', but not quite groovin'. Still, you can see the band members loosening up the further they get from their work day. As they segue into the song's chorus, the tempo gets faster. Those ties may come off yet. S

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