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DAMBUILDERS, SLEEPYHEAD 7/8, LOUNGE AX Aggressive Boston pop quartet the Dambuilders piques curiosity on two fronts on its recent Encendedor (East-West). First is the convincing manner in which it incorporates the violin playing of Joan Wasser, eschewing the prog-rock excesses of Jethro Tull and instead integrating the instrument both contrapuntally and in warm harmony with Eric Masunaga's guitar. Second is the band's sly humor: "Smell," for example, not only addresses bisexuality ("She goes to bed with the smell of another woman / Of another man") but unabashed masturbation ("Strained through years of one-hand worship / Longs for your naked body clothed"). Best of all, though, their tunes are gorged with hooks. On the new Starduster (Homestead), New York's Sleepyhead have toned down their hyperspastic pop for the general good. Choosing to focus on melodies rather than the unbridled, frantic energy that cluttered its music in the past, this trio--with its penchant for gender-confusing costumes--has finally started to make some good on the promise of its first couple of singles three years ago. Grifters headline (see Critic's Choice). JIMMY LA FAVE 7/8, SCHUBAS On his terrific new Highway Trance (Bohemia Beat), Austin rocker Jimmy LaFave drips a relaxed stylistic diversity as naturally as one perspires in the sweltering summer heat. With a correspondingly hot intensity, the gritty-voiced singer glides through scorching shuffle-rockers, elegant Charles Brown-styled blues, sensitive country weepers, literate Dylan-esque folk-rock narratives, ZZ Top-ish boogies, and more, all of it assimilated under the firm grasp of his singular approach. Some of his ballads can get a bit corny, but he usually moves on to a burning rocker before you know it. FRENTE! 7/8, RIViERA, SCHUBAS Riding high on its hit cover of New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle," a guitar-and-vocals-only version that relies on the coy sweetness of 21-year-old Angie Hart's little-girl voice, this Australian quartet is forging a marketing strain that will soon be known as "alternative lite." On Marvin the Album (Mammoth/Atlantic), they blend lightweight melodies with faux-jazz softness that recalls the work of long-lost British popsters Prefab Sprout and early Aztec Camera--a sound that places them squarely in the middle of the burgeoning new wave revival but seems better suited for a children's TV program. Hart is on record as saying "rock 'n' roll has lost some of its power, and volume's become boring." Frente! succeed in avoiding both style and loudness, but not the "boring" part. They open for snoozy neohippies Counting Crows and Alex Chilton at the Riviera and headline Schubas later the same night. BLAZERS 7/8, FITZGERALD'S This LA quartet's debut album, Short Fuse (Rounder), was produced, appropriately enough, by Los Lobos guitarist Cesar Rosas: the Blazers are a Mexican American combo too, and they employ a similar, if less refined, roots-rock exuberance. Their rich stew blends rock 'n' roll, blues, country, and cumbias and norteno music with an impressive musical fluency; wisely, they seem to ignore what separates these different genres and focus on what binds them, all the while sounding comfortably contemporary instead of like nostalgists or nitpicking purists. They open for Sonny Landreth and the Goners. BOOKER T & THE MG'S 7/9, CUBBY BEAR Touring in support of the recent That's the Way It Should Be (Columbia), their first new album in 17 years, Booker T and the MG's still have a way with spare monster grooves; unfortunately, modern production values have sanded away most of their grit. Booker T. Jones has augmented his trusty Hammond B-3 with various synthesizers, and on "Slip Slidin'" Steve Cropper's guitar resembles anesthetized new-age noodling; their previous dirty soul is now almost hospital clean. Although they don't go down without a fight--and they could be a blast live--today's hungry nostalgia market has claimed another willing victim. Bluesman Larry McCray opens. THRILLCAT 7/9, OTIS' Imagine, if you will, a blend of Bob Dorough's cutesy verbosity and XTC's unabashed quirkiness, only more horrifying, and you'll have some idea of how the New York City trio Thrillcat sound. KRISTIN HERSH 7/10, DOUBLE DOOR Throwing Muses leader Kristin Hersh is touring in support of Hips and Makers (Sire/Reprise), her all-acoustic, mostly solo collection of brooding, melancholy, and largely impenetrable songs about postyouth sadness. Bummer. Syd Straw opens. THOSE DARN ACCORDIONS! 7/13, LOUNGE AX A San Francisco novelty troupe fronted by no fewer than eight accordionists sloshing through hokum like "We're an Accordion Band" (apologies to Grand Funk are in order), "Pump It Up," and Hendrix's "Fire," along with a few mandatory polkas and conjuntos. Those Fucking Accordions! is more like it. TONI CHILDS 7/13, PARK WEST On her new album The Woman's Boat (DGC), singer-songwriter Toni Childs attempts to illustrate the life-death cycle, and instead drowns in a metaphysical abyss. If titles like "Womb," "Welcome to the World," "Death," or the title track don't make it perfectly clear what Childs's current obsession is, jacket photos of a pomegranate midsection, a close-up of a voluptuous pinkish green leaf, or a big pink flower perched strategically between the outstretched legs of a supine woman will. Her thick, smoky voice is couched in a lush soundscape that manages to render myriad ethnic elements--plenty of Indian instruments, guest vocalists Zap Mama--innocuous. SQUATWEILER 7/14, EMPTY BOTTLE Performing in a Homocore Chicago presentation, this North Carolina quartet delivers a brash, off-the-cuff, and sloppy barbed pop rock that vaguely recalls the obnoxious early material of the late and largely unheard Chico, California, band Vomit Launch. From their album Full Bladder (Huel), which pictures the contents gushing out of a hot water bottle, one can quickly deduce that Squatweiler aren't bound by rules of politesse.

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