MULE, SILKWORM, CRAIN 4/15, LOUNGE AX Mule is a heavy Ann Arbor trio with burly mountain-man vocal stylings and a faux-backwoods roots blast. Its new four-song EP Wrung (Quarterstick), however, dispenses with the pronounced chaw spitting of the band's debut album in favor of a more stripped-down, boogie-laden kick in the ass--sort of ZZ Top with the dry heaves. Transplanted to Seattle from Missoula, Montana, Silkworm sculpt a fine tension from their shy melodicizing, pummeling rhythms that avoid the expected 4/4 grooves, and obfuscatory twin guitars that bump into each other like flirting grade-schoolers; their music works as much for what it doesn't do as for what it does. Louisville's Crain take the powerful pinpoint grind of Chicago's Tar and loosen it up. Or maybe they just don't play their instruments as carefully. In any case, the vocals of guitarist Tim Furnish have the same neck-bulging intensity no matter what he's singing about, though the actual content is anyone's guess. The amazing Jon Spencer Blues Explosion headlines. SUBDUDES 4/15, PARK WEST I suppose you could say the Subdudes update the Crescent City's rich musical heritage by placing it in a contemporary setting, but all I hear is a more idiosyncratic sequel to mid-80s Steve Winwood. CELTIC FIDDLE FESTIVAL 4/16, OLD TOWN SCHOOL Three Celtic fiddlers--Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham, and Christian Lemaitre--engage in solos, duets, and trios with Breton guitarist Soig Siberil. The idea may sound a bit tedious, but a recently released recording called--get this--The Celtic Fiddle Festival (Green Linnet), made on a U.S. tour by the same three fiddlers, reveals a staggering vitality and richness. Those worried about understanding thick Irish dialects can relax--this is all instrumental stuff, and while I'm not sure how close it clings to Celtic tradition, the end result is varied and deeply compelling. ANGELIQUE KIDJO 4/16, QUICKSILVER Saddled with the tag "world beat artist" because she was born and raised in the small West African nation of Benin, a neighbor of Nigeria, Angelique Kidjo, who relocated to Paris in the early 80s, is touring in support of her recently released third album, Aye (Mango), a sumptuous funk/R&B/soul amalgam that pays no heed to the boundaries of either genre or nation. Sung mostly in her native Fon, with two tunes delivered in Yoruba--Nigeria's language--Kidjo nevertheless incorporates a wide range of contemporary Western strains. It's slick dance music fronted by a singer of phenomenal range and power, its more "exotic" traces thoroughly integrated. THE MOON SEVEN TIMES 4/16, AVALON Disguised by a combination of ethereal textures, an aggressive attack, and some empty grandeur is the plain and simple fact that Champaign's the Moon Seven Times play moody adult-contemporary mush. RAILROAD JERK 4/16, LOUNGE AX The way this New York quartet incorporates roots music into its alluring punk swagger has little competition. Whether reappropriating Bukka White's masterful lament "Fixin' to Die" for contemporary urban malaise or kicking up some dust on the nonsensical, rockabillyish "Pin Prick," Railroad Jerk resists getting caught up in formalistic concerns, instead using these pungent blasts of prerock tang to spice up its lithe machinations. BILLY PILGRIM 4/20, SCHUBAS This Atlanta duo, named after the simp protagonist in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, sounds like an unseemly meeting of R.E.M. and James Taylor with a dash of REO Speedwagon. Employing big production and enlisting expensive session players such as John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff, Andrew Hyra and Kristian Bush trudge through all of the standard folk-rock expectations: passionately strummed acoustic guitars, keening harmonies, and darkly sweet melodies. Unfortunately the whole thing sounds artificial, as if these pampered college boys jumped from the front porch right into the studio. If you can believe the conceit of "Halfway Home," a resigned lament from a tuckered trucker with wife-and-kids, your imagination deserves plenty of credit. PANTERA 4/20, ARAGON BALLROOM With Far Beyond Driven (East-West), their recently released third album, entering the Billboard charts at number one, these Texan metal meatheads are cramming a hybrid of 90s hardness (Helmet, Rollins Band, Metallica) down the throats of America's male youth. The album's brain-sizzling production makes Pantera's blustery roar sound like a close approximation of a jet engine, but the hyperreductive drivel spilling from Philip Anselmo's tense lips tips the attitude away from ambivalence and toward disaffected nonchalance, even contempt. "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills," which their record-company bio labels a "twisted love song," opens with the lines "I fucked your girlfriend last night / While you snored and drooled, I fucked your love" and later explains, "Your girlfriend could have been a burn victim, an amputee, a dead body / But God damn I wanted to fuck." Following Pantera's lead, interpersonal relationships could soon be nothing more than semiotic grunts and gestures and disposable fluid repositories. Let's mosh. OYSTERBAND 4/21, SCHUBAS These English vets have spent their career edging their folky roots music closer to mainstream rock. On Holy Bandits (Rykodisc), their latest, they come off as a sober, less rambunctious Pogues. Lyrically articulate and peppered with snazzy instrumental flourishes (mandolin, accordion, banjo, tiple, melodeon), their music nonetheless approaches AOR blandness, though they can raise a slight ruckus live. WRECK 4/21, AVALON Born in Milwaukee but raised on second-generation Chicago punk, Wreck have managed to eke out an existence based on rampant borrowing. Their new, Jon Langford-produced El Mundo de los Ninos (C/Z) finds them pounding out grooves reminiscent of aged midwest stalwarts Breaking Circus meshed with what optimists might call a mature, more melodic sound.