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FREDDY JONES BAND 11/24, ARAGON The ascension of the Freddy Jones Band from generic yuppie-bar band to generic midsize-arena band might be one of Chicago's stranger success stories were it not happening all over the country; Hootie & the Blowfish, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and the Dave Matthews Band have proved that whitewashed, harmless mediocrity--despite the occasional nod to racial diversity--makes white people feel real good. The band's bland third album, North Avenue Wake Up Call (Capricorn), hypnotizes their audience with dim-witted lyrical wanderlust that doesn't seem to mean a damn thing: "Thread another needle it's working / Pass the bottle of reason / Another blanket of feeling / I hear the stars are in season." Uh, heavy, man. LEO KOTTKE 11/24 & 25, WOODSTOCK OPERA HOUSE One of America's most distinctive guitarists, dazzling fingerpicker Leo Kottke is touring in support of his recent Live (On the Spot), his first nonstudio offering in 15 years. Capturing the broad scope of a typical performance, the album includes new originals, old classics, and a few strange covers (the Platters and Duane Allman), along with his rambling and slightly absurd stream-of-consciousness storytelling. When he chooses to sing, his voice still sounds like a dying frog, but his playing remains mesmerizing, gorgeously clear, and technically impeccable. TAR 11/25, LOUNGE AX While the bio that accompanies Tar's latest and final album, Over and Out (Touch & Go), makes a fuss about how the band played their "final" show this past spring without any self-righteous fanfare, this weekend sees Tar playing--what's this?--their final show. Hmm. Like they say in the album's closer, "I think it's finally over." Home for the holidays, singer and guitarist John Mohr rejoins his old compatriots to play tunes off what might be their best record since 1991's Jackson. The record demonstrates the trademark precision with which Mike Greenlees's bulldozer rhythms intersect the lockstep guitar riffing of Mohr and Mark Zablocki, but tunes like "Welk" and "QVC" interject near-hooks without threatening the structural integrity of their almost mathematical sonic architecture. Arcwelder and Flour open. MARK CHESNUTT 11/25, HORIZON On his latest album, Wings (Decca), Mark Chesnutt affirms his position as one of mainstream country's finest honky-tonkers. With impressive presence his voice exudes some of the intangible but highly expressive shadings that make his stylistic paradigm, George Jones, the form's undisputed giant. While he's got the chops, he's also got good taste; a few gems penned by Jim Lauderdale, including the terrific "The King of Broken Hearts," dot the new record, and the remainder aren't too shabby either. Chesnutt's music is thoroughly middle-of-the-road in its calculated heartland appeal, but it easily rises above most of the swill that surrounds his hits on country radio. John Michael Montgomery headlines. 1000 MONA LISAS 11/28, METRO RCA Records' limp attempt at their very own Offspring. And to boot these dopey dupes cover Alanis Morrisette's "You Want to Know." How fucking hilarious. DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER 11/28, JAZZ BUFFET Making one of her infrequent live appearances, vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater sings tunes from her new album, Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver (Verve). For this project soulful hard-bop pianist Silver contributed original lyrics to many of the album's instrumental classics. Bridgewater's creamy, agile voice navigates the tunes with assurance, confirming that she's one of the better straight-ahead jazz singers at work today. PAPAS FRITAS 11/29, METRO On its recently released eponymous debut album, issued on the local Minty Fresh label, this Boston-area pop trio propels itself beyond the raggedy indie-rock trappings that marked its singles. But apart from the nearly perfect "Passion Play"--which dates from an earlier single--the new album's stylistic shifts aren't necessarily improvements. Recorded with greater clarity, the album finds Papas Fritas transplanting its singsongy melodies into weightless, almost saccharine settings. If the group could lose the cloying cuteness, it would have plenty of promise. For now the short "Kids Don't Mind" sounds like an educational jingle from Sesame Street, "Lame to Be" should be a show tune, and the uppity sentiments of "Smash This World" get delivered with all the urgency of a Fifth Dimension song. GOLD SPARKLE BAND 11/30, BOP SHOP On its debut album Earthmover (Third Eye), this rough-hewn Atlanta quintet purveys a nicely ragged adaptation of ESP-Disk free jazz aesthetics, suggesting a loose parallel with the bevy of free music activity around Chicago. Imbued with an undercurrent of rock energy, Gold Sparkle Band nonetheless avoid fusionoid traps in favor of swinging with an off-kilter grace. While the bulk of their tunes employ fairly standard postbop heads, saxophonists Charles D. Waters and Rob Mallard and trumpeter and trombonist Roger V. Ruzow balance things with harmonically challenging counterpoint and rhythm. They perform with the NRG Ensemble, fierce local stalwarts who offer an effective answer to Gold Sparkle Band's less chaotic and dense machinations. BOILED IN LEAD 11/30, ABBEY PUB Veteran Celtic rockers from Minneapolis, Boiled in Lead continue to diversify their approach on their recent Songs From the Gypsy (Omnium), thickening their folk-rock gumbo with chunks of rural blues, a pinch of country twang, and heapings of heartland rock bluster. Their increasingly eclectic approach may appeal to those enamored with such functionless variety, but to me the band's restless muse has blunted any sense of purpose or direction.

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

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