The Ass Ponys seem to be making up for lost time: after one of those all-too-familiar major-label crashes, they fell silent for four years, but in 2000 they released Some Stupid With a Flare Gun on Chicago's Checkered Past imprint, and earlier this summer they followed it up with Lohio, the best album of their 13-year career. Singer Chuck Cleaver's observations are so twisted they're sometimes impenetrable, but with his sharp eye for middle-American detail he manages to blur the line between humor and pathos. "Only" dredges small-town living for some unexpected fast-food metaphors ("I can be your supersize / You can be my only / Onion rings or curly fries"), while the masterful "Dried Up" interlaces memories both tender and bitter ("You dried up like an August creek bed / I mounted in an album / With some photos of your summer friends / I can't tell what the note on the back said / You're moving like a poem / And it hurts to see you going"). The band's heartland melodies have never been so hooky or so refined, and each performance is perfectly compact and efficient; Bill Alletzhauser, playing banjo and various guitars, imbues the songs with a sense of Americana that sweeps past cartoonish alt-country toward the folk wisdom of the Band. Thursday, September 27, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.