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PASTELS 11/10, METRO Scotland's Pastels have been delivering deliriously off-kilter pop for over a decade now, serving as spiritual inspiration for dozens of raw pop bands predicated on varying degrees of naivete (Beat Happening, Vaselines, and Teenage Fanclub, to name a few). With their latest album, Mobile Safari, about to see domestic release on Up Records, the Pastels make their long-awaited Chicago debut opening for Yo La Tengo (see Critic's Choice). BROOKS WILLIAMS 11/10, OLD TOWN SCHOOL On his new album Knife Edge (Green Linnet/Redbird) folkie Brooks Williams brandishes a new urgency suggested by the album's title. While his vocals retain his previous calm, at the music's center is his accomplished guitar playing, which convincingly assimilates a variety of divergent styles--deft fingerpicking, Delta blues, calypso--into a compelling whole. Carrie Newcomer also performs. ERIC AMBEL & ROSCOE'S GANG 11/10, SCHUBAS His excellent production on recent albums by the Blood Oranges, the Bottle Rockets, Blue Mountain, and Go to Blazes tends to overshadow the fact that Eric "Roscoe" Ambel is a rocker in his own right. A former member of Joan Jett's Blackhearts and a key figure in the Del Lords, Ambel's making a rare appearance in support of his recently released second solo effort, Loud & Lonesome (ESD). The playing of the record's blistering roots-rock is terrific, but Ambel's songwriting is merely workmanlike. The band may kick, yet all they connect with is the air around them. FOURPLAY 11/11, VIC An "all-star" combo featuring Bob James, Lee Ritenour, Nathan East, and Harvey Mason. As heard on their recently released third album Elixir (Warner Brothers), Fourplay purvey a brand of weightless fusion fluff that's the sort of music you hear tinkling away when you're put on hold or watching the local forecasts on the Weather Channel. As their music is perfect for people who don't actually like music, I'd say "Placebo" would have been a better title for the new album. NIKKI SUDDEN 11/11, EMPTY BOTTLE A founding member of the influential art punks Swell Maps, Nikki Sudden went on to become a reactionary lace 'n' velvet dandy affecting Thunders and Richards 'tude and tunes with Dave Kusworth in Jacobites. It's been many years since he made a decent record, but Sudden's still making his Chicago debut this weekend. His presence brings a certain historical mustiness, especially if he's wielding his evolving trademark snifter. He'll be backed by members of Lava Sutra and the Rosehips. JOHN STEWART 11/11, ABBEY PUB A former member of the Kingston Trio who's penned tunes recorded by artists as varied as Rosanne Cash, the Beat Farmers, the Lovin' Spoonful, Anne Murray, and Pat Boone, John Stewart's greatest fame stems from the Monkees recording of his "Daydream Believer." His new album Airdream Believer (Shanachie) finds him joined by folks like Nanci Griffith and Johnny Cash in giving his old tunes slick modern treatments, and while his husky vocals remain distinctive the production sinks the album like a stone. RAY KANE 11/12, OLD TOWN SCHOOL The undeniable highlight of this year's Hawaiian slack key guitar tour is Ray Kane. Now 70, Kane's dazzling technique epitomizes the allure of the traditional style, an island mutation of old cowboy songs; he casts such lyrical sweetness and instrumental calm that the complexity of his playing fades into the background. As heard on last year's terrific Punahele (Dancing Cat) Kane's music is primarily instrumental, though his occasional easygoing vocals add to his charming laid-back vibe. Guitarists Keola Beamer and George Kahumoku and the Ku'u Lei Aloha Hula Dancers also perform. BLOODLOSS 11/14, LOUNGE AX Disbanding and re-forming in ever-shifting incarnations since 1983--when drummer Martin Bland fell in with Mudhoney's Mark Arm to play in his painfully indulgent "blues" band the Monkeywrench--Australia's Bloodloss eventually settled in Seattle, following in the footsteps of alum Stu Spasm, then of scumrockers Lubricated Goat. With Arm in tow along with founder Renestair EJ, the band's latest effort, Live My Way (Reprise), merges the seemingly innate Stooges fixation of many Aussie rockers with hackneyed free-sax bleating a la "LA Blues." The band's sonic chaos and lyrical sentiments like "Well the world ain't perfect, and neither is my nudity" manage to make the Monkeywrench sound downright focused. SWALES 11/15, METRO Unremarkable guitar pop from Hoboken, the music on What's His Name (Bar/None), the second album from the Swales, reveals a palpable craftsmanship, but the attention to detail ends with Bob Carr's flat talk-sing vocals. BLUE MOUNTAIN 11/15 & 16, SCHUBAS The Oxford, Mississippi, trio transmit the same raw, unfettered expressionism of neighbors like bluesmen Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, imbuing their Neil Young-ish country rock with an electric urgency and an appealing rough edge. Lumped in with bands like Son Volt, the Jayhawks, and the Bottle Rockets, Blue Mountain drift closest to rock, as heard on their debut Dog Days (Roadrunner), and their live show tends to eschew what little cross-genre sophistication there is on the album in favor of high-octane bluster. FRANCES BLACK 11/16, IRISH AMERICAN HERITAGE CENTER On her recent Talk to Me (Celtic Heartbeat/Atlantic) former Arcady vocalist Frances Black, like her sister Mary Black and Maura O'Connell, attempts to cross over from traditional Celtic music with a far-reaching blend of contemporary country and adult pop. The album's four Nanci Griffith covers suggest where she's headed, and her voice consistently holds its own despite arrangements that tend to be a bit gloppy and overly sentimental.

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