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MARTY STUART 7/14, STAR PLAZA As the recent compilation The Marty Stuart Hit Pack (MCA) proves, beyond Stuart's absurdly flamboyant style is one of those rare Nashville stars that doesn't suck. He imbues his music with a rock 'n' roll swagger, manages to give it a nice lilt as well, and can write, play, and sing with equal skill. Early apprenticeships with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash have sopped his music in tradition, but he's refused to be held prisoner to the past. SIMPLE ONES 7/14, EMPTY BOTTLE On their fine debut album, Worth the Weight (Shangri-La), the Simple Ones suggest a less bluesed-out counterpart to their neighbors and pals the Grifters. Staggering through intentionally fragmented pop tunes and off-kilter rhythms, this Memphis combo churns out hobbling but effective hooks, pushing the music to the brink of destruction before pulling it back in. Bailter Space, the subject of a Critic's Choice elsewhere in this section, headline. MOUNT SHASTA, SPACE STREAKINGS, MELT-BANANA 7/14 & 15, LOUNGE AX Mount Shasta, a bunch of noisy, unkempt Chicago cretins, eviscerated the corpse of the late Shorty (whose frontman Al Johnson served a brief stint in Mount Shasta) and refilled the carcass with rancid sonic slop. Their second album, Who's the Hottie, tightens up the musical half of the formula a bit, but the maniacal rants of John Forbes remain strictly pathological. An irritating mess. 7-Toku, the second album from Japan's Space Streakings, finds this whacked foursome proffering more cartoonish, progged-out approximations of the infinitely superior Boredoms. Combining noise confusion--turntables, sax, and trumpet, along with more standard rock equipage--and a furiously pounding, out-of-control beatbox, this visually absurd stuff is strictly for insatiable fans of nutty cultural mistranslation. Speaking of the Boredoms, on last year's mind-bending Speak Squeak Creak (Nux Organization) fellow Nipponese absurdists Melt-Banana mutate hyper stop-start rock by applying a generous dose of no-wave clatter and Devo-esque herky-jerkiness. Unlike Space Streakings, this quartet utilizes abundant weirdness as a tool to splay punk rock wide open rather than a flimsy raison d'etre. Reports say their live show is nothing short of unbelievable. Brise-Glace, Shellac, U.S. Maple, Jim O'Rourke, and others also perform during a two-night showcase for the local label Skin Graft. The rub is that each evening's lineup won't be announced in advance, so in essence you're forced to attend both nights. Fucking capitalists. SIX FINGER SATELLITE, ZUMPANO 7/15, EMPTY BOTTLE On its forthcoming Severe Exposure (Sub Pop) this wiggy Rhode Island combo retreats from its all-synth Devo-esque outing Machine Cuisine and returns to mucking around in craggy art rock. The new album stakes out a middle ground between the grind of MX-80 and the hysteria of early Tuxedomoon, but it's more lean, driven, and detached. They've even managed to whittle some of the rawer ideas from 1993's terrific The Pigeon Is the Most Popular Bird down to a dangerously sharp point. On their debut, Look What the Rookie Did (Sub Pop), the Canadian foursome Zumpano deliver a charged mix of lush 70s pop icons, from the Zombies to the Beach Boys to Dionne Warwick. Dispensing with the expected wimpiness in favor of a rock-solid attack, a tough-enough rhythm section undergirds the softness of the pop they clearly seek to emulate. Hardship Post (see Critic's Choice) also perform. MARY J. BLIGE, TLC, MONTELL JORDAN 7/15, SOLDIER FIELD On last year's My Life (Uptown/MCA), one of the best straight-ahead soul albums of the last year or two, Mary J. Blige divested herself of limiting tags like "new-jack-swing diva" and "queen of hip-hop soul." Produced by the ubiquitous Sean "Puffy" Combs, the songs are mostly built around rhythmic loops sampled from sturdy 70s R & B gems by everyone from Roy Ayers to Al Green, but Blige's much-improved singing easily carries the album; silky, soulful, and exceedingly tuneful, her crooning occupies the pocket of the thick, slow-burn new-jack grooves. TLC's second album, CrazySexyCool (LaFace), finds the Salt-N-Pepa-modeled trio coming into their own with a salacious blend of hard contemporary R & B grooves, more than adequate vocals, and blunt, teasing lyrics--it doesn't hurt that it's glossed with a savvy, hit-generating pop sheen. Montell Jordan has scored big transferring new-jack swing's sultry jams into gangstaland. On his debut, This Is How We Do It (PMP/RAL), this South Central native croons about homegirls and 40s amid typical Dr. Dre-inspired staccato-gunfire production. An interesting idea, but Jordan's weak approximations of Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass doom the music to artistic--but obviously not commercial--failure. The lineup of this beer-sponsored megashow also includes Boyz II Men, Gerald Levert, Brownstone, and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. A NIGHT OF RECKONING 7/15, FITZGERALD'S A terrific showcase for Dead Reckoning, the new label started by Kieran Kane, Harry Stinson, Kevin Welch, and Tammy Rogers out of disgust with the Nashville machine. The first two releases--Kane's Dead Rekoning and In the Red, a phenomenal mostly instrumental duet by fiddle player Rogers and percussionist Don Heffington--suggest that this label caters to artistic merit rather than commerce. The impressive array of talent on this group tour includes Nashville vets Kane, Rogers, Stinson, Welch (whose Dead Reckoning debut is out soon), and Mike Henderson--most of whom have made acclaimed but poor-selling albums for the majors. Anyone who enjoys what has been ridiculously labeled alternative country shouldn't miss this. DUB NARCOTIC 7/20, CHICAGO FILMMAKERS On his label, K Records, Calvin Johnson--former leader of Beat Happening, coleader of Halo Benders, and de facto spearhead of much of the indie-rock explosion--has released stuff by Tiger Trap, Beck, and Heavenly in addition to aesthetically influencing hundreds of others. His latest combo's scant recorded output provides a low-key, rockist answer to UK dub sound systems, although Johnson claims the band will be playing straight-up rock on this tour.

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