When we last checked in with Minneapolis's Gear Daddies, they'd released an indie cassette called Let's Go Scare Al and were trying to get noticed. Since then they've been picked up by PolyGram, which rereleased Al and put out their new album, Billy's Live Bait. Their first record was an inchoate but promising country-rock blend of small-town woes and a sort of laconic defiance. Bait is just terrific; the country's still there and so's the trenchancy, but the record is less naive, has more shape, and rocks out more confidently. Songwriter Marty Zellar sings in a blunt rural patois ("She's fucked again / And she don't know why") that obscures many of the songs' quite moving sensitivity, but the twinges of self-pity that marked Al are gone; now when he sings, in that deep, rough growl, "I feel sick and I feel used"--in the guise of an apparently female narrator, no less--you're with him right away. I like the ringing guitar of "Stupid Boy" and the high back vocals that come in at the end; the way "Sonic Boom," despite its title, saunters along; the screaming at the end of "Don't Look at Me"; and the "Already Gone"-meets-"Sorry Somehow" grit of "Time Heals," swimmingly written and sung by drummer Billy Dankert. (Live, Dankert's songs are marred by the fact that he's blocked by the cymbals and denied a spotlight; the group should correct this practice.) Bonus: "Zamboni," thoroughly hidden on Billy's Live Bait, Zellar's amusingly heartfelt plea to drive the ice scraper at the hockey rink. Saturday, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.