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MULE 12/16, LOUNGE AX On their latest album, If I Don't Six (Quarterstick), the Ann Arbor trio Mule leaven their crushing boogie wallop and mountain man howl with a healthy dollop of West Virginia hillbilly. After earlier efforts that sounded like a ZZ Top tribute band using overwrought James Brown stop-start tactics, they've replaced their hirsute-but-hollow grind with songs that do more than just choogle hard, such as the affecting country lilt of "A Hundred Years"--with harmonies, even. DEMOLITION DOLL RODS 12/16, EMPTY BOTTLE A recent single by this Detroit trio, which features an ex-member of the Gories, reveals it to be a thoroughly ordinary, if sublimely inept, trashy garage outfit. But the people who've seen them don't usually comment on their musicianship. Rather, with smacked lips they recall the costumes donned by Margaret, Christine, and Danny Doll Rod: AstroTurf loincloths, white go-go boots, rhinestone tiaras, and for the women hot pink plastic footballs halved and placed strategically on certain anatomical regions. Show biz lives. SOULVITAMINS, JASON & ALISON 12/17, DOUBLE DOOR On "If I Were Frank Sinatra"--from Fritz (Whitehouse), the debut album by Soulvitamins--Remi Gits quavers, "The object of my affection is my beautiful Stingray bass," establishing that this band pays too much heed to instrumental prowess and not enough to writing. The trio's muscular metal-tinged funk has become a rallying cry for many self-admitted "skinny white boy[s]" empowered by the boldly worn socks of the Red Hot Chili Peppers: they possess plenty of technical ability, but unless you're a liquored-up college student in search of a big beat, you probably won't find anything satisfying behind their flash. Cellist Alison Chesley and singer-guitarist Jason Narducy, a former member of kiddie punk oufits Verboten and On, play pop-rock tunes as an acoustic duo. It's unfortunate the material on their debut, Woodshed (Whitehouse), employs such predictable arrangements. Narducy is an adequate tunesmith, but all ten of the collection's songs are set amid fat, strummed guitars with languid cello lines hugging the melodic contours; any given song is fine, but of a piece things get a bit tedious. With some slight reimagining, however, Jason & Alison, a young entity at this point, could exploit this soft approach--which, nicely enough, places the accent on the tune rather than just sound. CATHERINE 12/17, METRO This quintet is oft derided for a supposed slavishness toward the Smashing Pumpkins: one listen to its Billy Corgan-produced debut EP, Sleepy, will leave bits of carbon residue on your fingers. On their first full-length offering, Sorry (both releases are on TVT Records), they step out of their biggest shadow and into several others. The album art sports the motto "Better living through noise," but the only evidence of their adherence to such a belief is their sterilized appropriations of My Bloody Valentine's guitar excesses. For all the ground the band has gained with impressively sweet vocal harmonies, hooky bubblegum melodies, and a passably thick guitar attack--about time, considering that they're three strong--Catherine's lack of stylistic cohesion suggests directionless rather than ambitious eclecticism. You get an unexpected cover (the BeeGees' "Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You"), a saccharine power ballad ("2 AM"), swirling shoe-gaze fodder ("Funny Bunny"), an indulgent epic ("Waterfall"), and the above-mentioned "noise" ("Saint," with guitars so heavily processed they sound like synthesizers). It's fairly listenable in a disposable pop way, but if you're expecting anything more substantial than a Q-101 teenybopper band I'd suggest staying home to ingest a gallon of delicious and nourishing eggnog. RUGBURNS 12/17, SCHUBAS These San Diego yahoos churn out a credible acoustic country twang but obliterate it all with some of the most puerile frat boy lyrics this side of Weird Al: "Baby's got a thing for muscle-bound jocks / I collapse a lung just taking off my socks / I'm holed up in my closet and I'm petting my fox / She treats me like I got a bad case of small cocks" (from the inspirational "Gold's Gym Guy"). They open for Dan Hicks. TOWNES VAN ZANDT 12/17, LUNAR CABARET After making one of his infrequent live appearances just a few months ago at Schubas, the highly idiosyncratic songwriter and prototype for the anti-Nashville Texas country star returns hot on the heels of a new album, his first since 1987, the beautifully bleak and haunting No Deeper Blue (Sugar Hill). OUTRAGEOUS CHERRY 12/17, EMPTY BOTTLE On their just-released eponymous debut Ann Arbor's Outrageous Cherry evoke a plethora of influences--Velvet Underground, Jesus & Mary Chain, Beach Boys, Eugenius. Putting bubblegum melodies into a rickety musical architecture dominated by palsied guitars isn't a novel approach, but on the band's strongest tunes--and there's a sizable handful of them--OC prove how the song always wins out. Sounding clearly like a nondrummer, Suzanna Mroz mirrors the stripped-down kits and minimal playing of VU's Moe Tucker and Primal Screamer Bobby Gillespie during his days in JAMC. Outrageous Cherry still manage to succeed even without equilibrium on their side.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ewolf.

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