ROSE CHRONICLES 5/6, SCHUBAS This Vancouver foursome practice a lightweight pop led by the wispy, swooping vocals of Kristy Thirsk, who sounds a lot like fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan. The blend of her dreamy whine with the effects-laden but consistently wan guitar of Richard Maranda recalls mid-80s 4AD twaddle like This Mortal Coil or Modern English; Rose Chronicles have just replaced the flaccid melancholy with a firm but undistinctive rock drive. "Modern rock" never sounded so stale. INCOGNITO 5/6, METRO This 12-member British ensemble claim some responsibility for the proliferation of "acid jazz," and on the latest of their three albums, Positivity (Verve Forecast/Talkin Loud), they opt for the soul/funk side of the style. The elements of jazz that do arise are usually in the form of overtly silky vocals and anesthetized, albeit infrequent, horn solos. If any claim can be made for Incognito's distinction, it's their slightly-more-successful-than-Ronnie Jordan fusion of hip-hop beats and cloying, overarranged soul glop. Of course, innovative doesn't always mean interesting or enjoyable. JOHN TRUDELL 5/6, RIVIERA Between 1973 and 1979 this Santee Sioux from Nebraska was national chairman of the American Indian Movement; then his wife and three children perished in a fire of "suspicious origin" in their home on a Paiute Shoshone reservation in Nevada less than a day after he burned an American flag on the steps of the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. The activist turned to poetry, eventually fusing it with music, and his 1992 debut AKA Grafitti Man (Rykodisc) was highly acclaimed. Trudell's just-released follow-up, Johnny Damas and Me (Rykodisc), has a greater emphasis on contemporary rock production, and while his writing is thoroughly compelling, giving a gritty, heartfelt voice to hippie-tinged disaffection, the merger of recited poetry and bland, middle-of-the-road rock music can't help but get tedious. Early spins provide a solid sense of Trudell's still potent anger and determination, but after a while it all sounds robotic. He opens for simpy Canadian bleeding heart Bruce Cockburn (see Critic's Choice). KEVIN MONTGOMERY 5/7, THE VIC Twenty-four-year-old Kevin Montgomery sounds like he's writing songs for fortysomethings. His debut from last year, Fear Nothing (A&M), finds his high, sweet, keening voice cradled by a polite country-tinged sound that ranges from overly sensitive adult-contemporary to only slightly more gritty heartland rock. Montgomery's quaint little narratives mull over the sad lives of folks you might have met in a million other songs (e.g., "She goes out dancin' on Tuesday nights / Got a receptionist job she does not like" and "She doesn't like the life she's leading / But she's a prisoner of the fear of leaving"--these are two separate women); they're not caricatures, but they won't surprise you either. A fine opener for the sensitive politesse of sleepy Peter Himmelman. PAW 5/12, METRO This Lawrence, Kansas, quartet churns out a massive, gruff hard rock undermined by slightly baroque instrumental passages (such as the acoustic guitar interlude in "Sleeping Bag" or the incongruous pedal steel in "Jessie," both from Paw's A&M debut Dragline). Lurking beneath the din is a surprisingly melodic sensibility, although the punishing vocal roar of Mark Hennessy, which recalls the hyperrevved shout of the Lazy Cowgirls' Pat Todd, puts most of their songs through the wringer. Since Paw are just media pawns in a paper-doll grunge community, their long greasy hair and smelly clothes don't mean that much; for the moment their music is still rooted in a burly, leaden midwest intractability, but there are moments that reach for something greater. Chainsaw Kittens open. VANCE GILBERT 5/12, SCHUBAS The story goes that guitarist-singer Vance Gilbert switched from a love of jazz to an adoration of folk after being transfixed at a Shawn Colvin concert. Unfortunately, with his recent Edgewise (Philo) as proof, Gilbert has created a preening, jazzy folk rock so slick that it's impervious to all emotion. Think of a less soul-bound Bill Withers peppered with excruciatingly dopey novelty bits--he does a song called "Country Western Rap"--and you'll have not only a rough idea of what Gilbert sounds like but a pounding headache as well.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tobey.