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CERTAIN DISTANT SUNS 6/23, METRO In the liner notes to Happy on the Inside (Giant), a compilation of their first two EPs, Certain Distant Suns suggest that living 45 minutes outside of Chicago has isolated them from the "music scene" and allowed them to come up with something original. They neglect to mention how many record stores out there are selling English imports. You wouldn't confuse CDS with, say, Styx, Wicker Man, or Loud Lucy, but distinguishing them from the fleet of bands aping My Bloody Valentine is a different story. Applying fake English accents, loud, high-end guitar textures, and some Milquetoast hip-hop beats to structures lifted from a plethora of better-forgotten UK new wave bands--New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, etc--Certain Distant Suns, whether they like it or not, carry on the Chicago Anglophile tradition of the Way Moves and early Ministry. LUTHER VANDROSS 6/23, NEW WORLD MUSIC THEATRE On his latest album, Songs (Epic), protean proto-slow-jam powerhouse Luther Vandross offers up interpretations of a baker's dozen soul and pop classics, primarily the sort of gloppy ballads that dominate the airwaves of waiting rooms in doctor's offices: "Killing Me Softly," "Evergreen," and, in a leaden duet with Mariah Carey, "Endless Love." The collection not only reinforces Vandross's position as his generation's Barry White, but proves him a first-class schlockmeister. With a gospelized cover of "Love the One You're With" and "inspirational" fodder like "What the World Needs Now" and "The Impossible Dream," Vandross goes straight for the jugular of every nonmusic consumer with a soft spot for love songs. He performs with a full orchestra. ROY AYERS 6/23 & 24, COTTON CLUB Despite a west-coast jazz pedigree that includes stints with Teddy Edwards, Gerald Wilson, and Chico Hamilton, vibist/keyboardist Roy Ayers's solo work has been only marginally jazz. However, the jazzed-up funk and soul that fills Evolution (Polydor), a recently issued double-CD retrospective of his 70s recordings, served as one of the prime inspirations for the acid-jazz movement, both aesthetically and as a bountiful source of samples. His position as icon secure, Ayers has just released his first domestic major-label album in a decade, but unfortunately Naste (Groovetown/RCA) gets stuck in a contemporary-funk rut. Smothered in programmed beats and synth washes, whatever vision Ayers once possessed becomes ho-hum. RON SEXSMITH 6/24, SCHUBAS This guitar-playing singer-songwriter type from Toronto, who once made his living as a courier, has an impressively distinctive voice and an endearing way with low-key pop melodies. His eponymous debut benefits from Mitchell Froom's quirky production, which sets Sexsmith's warbly, fragile croon amid spare but assertive instrumentation, allowing his liquid voice to spill out over the contours of any given tune. Sexsmith claims a big Kinks influence, but his writing has a less rockist slant, revealing touches of outsider popsters like Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson (Sexsmith appears on the recent Nilsson tribute album). His lyrics lack the deftness of those sources, but his voice, which recalls a less edgy Grant Lee Phillips (of Grant Lee Buffalo), focuses attention on his beguiling tunefulness. He opens for Jann Arden. NITZER EBB, EARTH EIGHTEEN 6/24, METRO The new Nitzer Ebb album Big Hit (Geffen/Mute) apparently represents a big step forward because it employs real instruments in addition to their boring old computers. Don't worry, though; they still create a good old-fashioned, angst-ridden postindustrial racket. Swooshy. RED AUNTS 6/27, EMPTY BOTTLE The back of #1 Chicken (Epitaph), the third album from LA's Red Aunts, reads, "14 songs, 23 minutes--fuck barcodes man." The quartet's sonic blitz employs a similar no-pussyfooting attitude. Whereas most American neopunk outfits meticulously tailor their veiled re-creations, Red Aunts prefer to bury possible antecedents in a manic garagey sloppiness--feedback, unhinged riffing, furiously flailing drums, and screeched vocals that make Babes in Toyland sound like smooth crooners. Pretty darn stupid, but live they have all the makings of a delightful boot in the face. WAILING SOULS 6/27, SKYLINE STAGE Since the crossover success of Jamaican dancehall artists like Shabba Ranks and Buju Banton has relegated traditional reggae acts like Third World and Wailing Souls to the rear guard, these veteran groups have heightened their hippie-dippy populism and incorporated high-tech production in a last-ditch effort to compensate for the failed promise raised by Bob Marley's popularity. Live On (Zoo), the new Wailing Souls album, finds them legitimizing "Mother and Child Reunion," Paul Simon's 70s stab at reggae, as well as delivering innumerable slices of give-peace-a-chance simplicity. The vocals of Lloyd "Bread" McDonald and Winston "Pipe" Matthews convey plenty of soulful power, but the short distance between Wailing Souls and pabulum like Hootie & the Blowfish sadly reinforces the effectiveness of global marketing. What's the point of a racial crossover if everything sounds the same? Wailing Souls perform as part of this year's Sunsplash package, which also includes Aswad, Banton, Worl-A-Girl, and Dennis Brown.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Jimmy Hole.

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