BLOODLINE 2/24, SCHUBAS Bloodline includes the sons of some famous musicians--Miles Davis, Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger, and Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley--and if not for their fortunate births they would be sent straight to the H.O.R.D.E. category. The band's blues-rock is accomplished enough but lacks any touch of originality, and the lyrics that help to sink their insufferable eponymous debut provide textbook examples of dumb rock cliches: "Her love is like a needle in my arm," or perhaps you'd like to try "I am running through the darkness, can't find my way / Is this what was promised, now alone I lay." I'm sure these fellows said that they wanted to be just like their dads when they grew up. Unfortunately they failed.
FALSTAFF 2/24, EMPTY BOTTLE Led by Ian Schneller, Shrimp Boat's wunderkind guitarist and persistent goofball, this trio unleashes his all-over-the-place muse. This gig celebrates Falstaff's self-released eponymous debut, one of the most intriguing and baffling albums to come down the pike in a long time. It's difficult to know just what to make of tongue-in-cheek lyrics like "I gave my cock a woman's name / To see if she would feel the same / The pilots all deplore my ruse / They say you can't be a man if you call your cock Christina," but one must admire their complete disregard for propriety. Schneller's occasional vocal turns with Shrimp Boat were often difficult, so his full-time singing in Falstaff can be a bit of an endurance test, especially when he leaps into his piercing falsetto. The band possesses a sublime musical range, from chunky hard rock ("Thusly") to overblown prog-rock ("Asa Nisi Masa") to sensitive ballads ("Sweet Demon Flesh") to indescribable experiments ("Uno Momento Rubato dal Porco Dio"); there are also a couple tunes--"Lonely Postman" and "Million Dogs"--that date back to Shrimp Boat. The album's toss-in-the-kitchen-sink production can't be replicated live, but Schneller and his pals can scale the same nervy heights just fine on their own.
GREG BROWN 2/25, LUNAR CABARET Greg Brown's most recent album, The Poet Game (Red House), offers striking proof that he may well be the most keenly observant and eloquent singer-songwriter working today. On the album's title track he tentatively describes his career as "the poet game," and he's not stretching in calling himself a poet. Brown's songs deliver an artful universality and a remarkably poignant view of the world. On "Jesus & Elvis" he tempers that poignancy with sharp humor ("Now here they are on black velvet, in a parking lot in Missouri") and on "Ballinghall Hotel," a lean portrait of human weakness, he adds pained resignation ("I said I'd never come to this ugly old hotel again / Baby, here I am"). Critical comparisons to Dylan's Blood on the Tracks don't seem that far off: Brown also has a strange voice that he works expressive wonders with. Musically, he's rooted in a modern folk tradition but he liberally includes flavorings of blues, country, and rock. Maestro Subgum & the Whole open.
BUTT TRUMPET 2/25, METRO On their impossibly wretched debut, Primitive Enema (Chrysalis), Butt Trumpet, a quintet from LA--where else?--audition for the role of punk rock band on a forgotten 80s sitcom. A lot of people must get kicks out of song titles like "Funeral Crashing Tonight" and "I Left My Gun in San Francisco" because the headliner for this early show, Fear, is able to mount yet another revival tour by offering perfunctory versions of "Beef Baloney" and "Let's Have a War." Punk rock for Las Vegas if only Vegas would have it.
SMOOTHIES, FITZ OF DEPRESSION 2/25, METRO A more viable late-night blast of punk rock is headlined by the Smoothies, the latest in a seemingly endless string of Chicago bands attracting loads of press gawking. Fronted by Sarah Contorer and Jenn Solheim, this spunky foursome sets surprisingly sophisticated pop-tinged melodies within familiar driving buzz-saw guitar. Their debut single was released a few months ago and newer stuff is forthcoming on Southern Records, including a debut album produced by Bob Weston. Fitz of Depression are a hyperreductive Olympia, Washington, punk rock trio whose recent Let's Give It a Twist (K) provides a rapid-fire exposition on the joys of rudimentary expression. With the exception of "Young & Free," a poorly disguised rewrite of the Jam's "In the City," the album's stripped-down exuberance offers little more than a high-energy jolt of happy stupidity.
GEORGE JONES 2/25, RIALTO SQUARE On The Bradley Barn Sessions (MCA), yet another unnecessary George Jones duet collection, the great one offers more versions of workhorses like "A Good Year for the Roses" and "The Race Is On" with current country stars like Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Trisha Yearwood and a few odd rockers (Mark Knopfler and Keith Richards). His voice remains astonishing, which is why, despite a growing string of largely irrelevant recordings, George is always worth risking the ticket price, especially now that he supposedly always shows up sober.
CRANES, IDAHO 2/27, METRO On their third album, Loved (Dedicated/Arista), England's Cranes give their breathy goth-pop a broader textural palette, but the music still sounds wildly incongruous next to the helium-suckled warble of Alison Shaw, whose voice makes Juliana Hatfield sound like Wolfman Jack. Idaho, who are, of course, from Los Angeles, avoid any sort of chirpiness. Their second album, This Way Out (Caroline), is a somber collection that suggests a far less finessed American Music Club. Leader Jeff Martin sets his bleak but pretty melodies in a fairly straight folk-rock setting while he laconically croons about life's difficulties. Not exactly uplifting or original stuff, but a nicely evocative bummer just the same.
CASPAR BROTZMANN MASSAKER 3/2, DOUBLE DOOR On his new album Home (Thirsty Ear) Teutonic iceman guitarist Caspar Brotzmann rerecords a handful of tunes from his first two albums, neither of which have been released in this country. Aside from some renewed guitar-hero excesses, the basic sound remains the same--thunderously loud but sludgy-sharp rhythms and Brštzmann's static extrapolations. It would have been preferable to see a compilation of the original stuff and an album of new material. On the other hand, if one can get past his dopey sense of darkness, Massaker live display tension-and-release dynamic extremes like you've never heard.