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Paul Burch/ Lonesome Bob

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PAUL BURCH/LONESOME BOB

Although BR5-49 is the only alternative outfit in Nashville that machine honchos will give the time of day, Music City's underground country scene has amazing depth. And the 1996 compilation Nashville: The Other Side of the Alley--on Chicago's Bloodshot label--has turned out to be a prophetic guide to the cream of that crop. Three of the comp's top acts, all of which subsequently released albums on Chicago's Checkered Past label, make a rare local appearance this weekend. The best of the bunch is Paul Burch, whose debut album, Pan-American Flash, evokes tradition without getting bogged down in reverence. His stripped-down approach--drumless, despite the fact that he drums for Nashville weirdos Lambchop--bears a superficial resemblance to that of Austin's more polished Wayne Hancock, but Burch strolls through his charming originals with no apparent effort or self-consciousness. Though his voice isn't spectacular, he makes the most of it, delivering his clever melodies flatly but adding subtle curlicues and bent notes to drive home the really important parts. On the album his band, WPA Ballclub, features killer musicians like guitarist Kenny Vaughan, Del McCoury Band fiddler Jason Carter, and most astonishingly magical lap-steel guitarist Paul Niehaus, but even with only his own spare strumming and modest voice, as he'll perform here, Burch should have no problem connecting, especially with lines like "The city lights ain't like champagne / They're more like bubbles in my glass of beer." Headliner Lonesome Bob, another drummer turned singer-songwriter, has a few zingers of his own. While mainstream country singers escape domestic mundanity with a wild Friday night at the sports bar, Lonesome Bob, who banged the skins for the Ben Vaughn Combo, tries to wrestle his problems to the ground. The scuffle usually ends in a draw: in "My Mother's Husband," from his scrappy country-rock debut, Things Fall Apart, you wait patiently for the sentiment behind "My mother's husband is a pretty good guy" to turn sour, but ultimately the song ends up being about people coping with less-than-ideal lives. The double murder in "The Plans We Made" proves that Bob isn't always so pragmatic, but all his tunes are uncommonly smart and funny. Twisted Dylan-esque singer-songwriter Tom House opens. Sunday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Paul Burch photo by Jim Herrington/ Lonesome Bob photo by leila Suzanna Grossman.

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