For most musicians, getting to quit your day job and build your own recording studio would mean finishing your album quicker. That's not how it went for Darren Jackson, though.

The local indie-rock stalwart, who is finally releasing a new album this week by his alias/band Kid Dakota, spent much of the past three years working on other people's records instead of his own.

"I was so happy to get the studio up and running and to have people in there working, I didn't really turn anyone down who wanted to work with me," Jackson explained.

He's hardly complaining, though. For one thing, the burgeoning producer/engineer is proud of the CDs he helped make these past couple years at his Shortman Studio, which he built in his house in northeast Minneapolis. That includes records by Brenda Weiler, Kwang, Welcome to the Cinema, the Owls, Ice Palace and his former Hopefuls bandmate Erik Appelwick's band, Vicious Vicious.

In the end, taking the time to work on those albums might have actually benefited the new CD, "A Winner's Shadow," Kid Dakota's third disc and the first since 2004's "The West Is the Future." Jackson and drummer Ian Prince will promote it with a release party Saturday at the Turf Club.

"I was originally going to have Alex Oana mix the record," Jackson said, referring to his former St. Olaf College cohort who now runs a studio in Los Angeles. "But after a year and a half working on other people's records, I realized it'd be a shame to not take advantage of everything I've learned and apply it to my own music."

Thus, "A Winner's Shadow" qualifies as the most DIY record Jackson has made, and it's definitely his most cohesive. From the whirling, march-paced opener "New York System" to the paranoid but gorgeous closing ballad "Fallout" -- who knew Jackson could do the Thom Yorke thing so well? -- the record is one big exercise in loud vs. soft rock 'n' roll. Its best cuts, including the steady-climbing "Chutes & Ladders" and the CD's climax, "Downhill," seem to have four or five levels of volume and intensity.

Jackson said he reconfigured Kid Dakota back to being a duo after dabbling in three- and four-member lineups partly out of convenience ("It's easier to tour and set up that way"), but more because he likes the musical simplicity of it. He recruited Prince (ex-Houston, and current Story of the Sea) after original drummer Christopher Maguire went on to tour with John Vanderslice.

"There's something special about two people being able to build up a song together," Jackson said. "It can just sound more impressive."

Kid Dakota will hit the road after Saturday's show, with a gig at the South by Southwest Music Conference and dates in Europe. Jackson hasn't given up on the (formerly "Olympic") Hopefuls. He and fellow Hopeful John Hermanson -- who stepped out front more after Appelwick left to join Tapes 'N Tapes -- have been writing songs for a new record.

"We have about 30 ready, so there's plenty to choose from," Jackson said. "We just need to get them done."

Oh, great, here we go again.

No. 2 by three Kings

While their pal/peer Charlie Parr still records most of his albums in garages or warehouses (to great effect), burgeoning acoustic-blues band the Brass Kings made the leap into Matthew Zimmerman's refined Wild Sound studio to polish up their second album, "Washboard Rope Guitar." Which raises the question: How much polish can be applied to a group in which a rope-strung washtub bass and a washboard make up two-thirds of the instruments?

"Actually, Matthew treated the washtub bass like it was some fancy, German-made standup bass," Kings leader Steve Kaul recalled, not joking. "You'd be surprised the wide range of sounds a washtub can make."

The CD indeed shows the MVP input from Kaul's bandmates, Brad Ptacek (washtub) and Mikkel Beckman (washboard), who also performs with Parr. But Kaul steps out as a bona-fide local treasure on this disc, from his dazzling resophonic guitar work in songs such as "17th Crow Wing Lake Breakdown" to his vividly drawn story-songs, including "Northbound" and "Killing Time." A Bemidji, Minn., native who works as a cook by day, Kaul, 42, doesn't have to use too much imagination to think up his workingman's-blues lyricism.

"Most of the stories happened to me, or to someone close to me," Kaul explained, pointing to "Insurance Adjuster," about a guy waiting around for help following a house fire. "That really did happen to me: My girlfriend and I came home and there were five fire trucks outside our home. It was about 10 years ago, but that's the kind of thing you don't ever forget."

Look for Kaul to burn up another house tonight, the Cedar Cultural Center, for the Brass Kings' release party, featuring openers the Black Audience and guests such as Liquor Pig Dave Babb and Trampled Turtle Dave Simonett (8 p.m., $10-$12).

Tales of the tape

Who says bootlegging is bad for artists? Gary Louris and Bob Mould each owe thanks to some tape-swapping fans for supplying one track apiece on their current albums.

Before hitting the studio, Louris rediscovered the title track of his new CD, "Vagabonds," on a recording that writer/scenester P.D. Larson owned of his 2004 Day of Music performance at Orchestra Hall. Louris recounted: "I put it in with the songs to send to [producer] Chris Robinson, and he said we had to record it. It wound up being one of my favorite songs on the record."

Mould, meanwhile, had to hit up one of his followers for a copy of his long-bootlegged "Walls in Time," now the final track on his new disc, "District Line." The tune was written in 1988 for his "Workbook" album, but was left off because it sounded too similar to "Sinners and Their Repentances."

"It was an MP3 of a cassette, so it sounded all wobbly in pitch," said Mould, who kicks off his tour Wednesday at First Ave. "So I put it into this software and corrected everything, got it in pitch, and just started overdubbing on top of it. But the original demo is still in the track, about 10 percent of the final product."

Neither singer seemed amused when I asked whether these "archivists" would receive any royalties.

Random mix

Mint Condition's first album since its well-received effort "Living the Luxury Brown" is due May 6 on the band's own nationally distributed Caged Bird label. Titled "E-Life," the disc includes guest appearances by Anthony Hamilton and A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The first single, "Baby Boy, Baby Girl," is already picking up steam at adult-urban radio stations. ...

The Honeydogs, Quietdrive, the Hopefuls, This World Fair, Conver Watts and more are slated to play the March 22 "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Krumm" concert at the Fine Line, supporting Savage Audio owner Jeff Krumm, who is battling cancer. The $15 tickets are on sale now. R.E.M., Pearl Jam and other superstars are also reportedly donating auction items. ...

Jordis Unga, the local rocker who came close to winning CBS' "Rock Star: INXS" series/contest, returns to the stage tonight at Epic (the former Quest) following a nasty split with her management and other record-biz misfortunes. "She's seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and when her album finally comes out it will all be worth it," said her boyfriend, Karma Cheema, whose own band, American Head Charge, is hard at work on a new CD and will perform in one form or another at tonight's gig (9:30 p.m., $10-$12). ...

Eric Fawcett and Brent Paschke no longer perform together in Spymob, but they did recently resume their role as part of the N.E.R.D. backup crew, performing on tracks for the Pharrell Williams-led band's upcoming CD. The duo probably won't be part of N.E.R.D.'s tour with Kanye West, though (coming June 11 to Target Center). Fawcett, also a Hopefuls member, recently performed in a one-off group with members of the Dave Matthews Band, Barenaked Ladies and Guster and even actor Jason Biggs for a snowboarding-related film project.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658