LENNY KRAVITZ 2/2, Aragon On his fourth album, Circus (Virgin), Lenny Kravitz continues skimming the past in search of familiar settings for his well-worn religious platitudes. Kravitz plays almost everything on the record himself, borrowing mostly from Jimi Hendrix while evoking a John Bonham-esque wallop and a Sly Stone-ish funk. Just like the title of the album's opening track, "Rock and Roll Is Dead," Kravitz seems to feel it's better to exist as a zombie than to come alive with something new. Triple Fast Action open. SOLAS 2/2 & 2/4, University of Chicago Folk Festival, 2/3, Abbey Pub A traditional Irish-American supergroup of sorts, Solas include local button accordion and concertina player John Williams and multiinstrumentalist Seamus Egan. Williams, who recently released his eponymous debut on Green Linnet, is the only American to have won the coveted All-Ireland senior concertina title, while Egan has received notoriety for scoring the film The Brothers McMullen and playing on the sound track of Dead Man Walking. Egan's third solo album is due soon on Shanachie. Rounding out Solas are fiddler Winnie Horan, vocalist Karen Casey, and guitarist John Doyle. These gigs mark the as-yet-unrecorded group's Chicago debut. BROTHER THERESA 2/3, Metro Nonpareil boneheaded hard rockers, Brother Theresa make no less than five references to their genitalia on their debut, Pull It Out (Hirsute), album title excluded. There are "penis tips" up against "ruby lips," "old blue balls," "she's got you by the balls," and a "bulge" in disco pants to name a few, but far more egregious is the local trio's foul hard-rock/funk fusion, which equates bass string popping with artistic expression. But then when a band cites Frank Zappa, Primus, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers among its influences, the horrid result is not particularly surprising. ANDERS OSBORNE 2/3, Fitzgerald's Apart from his name you'd never guess that Anders Osborne was originally from Sweden, as his recently released second album, Which Way to Here (OKeh/Epic), proves he's absorbed plenty of American sounds. Offering a gumbo of New Orleans styles with a rock-based perspective, Osborne suggests Dr. John and Little Feat's Lowell George, all the while bolstered with competent bluesy guitar work and white-boy soul singing. Like his NOLA neighbor Lenny Kravitz he's not doing anything new, but his appropriations are fairly solid. THELA 2/5, Empty Bottle This young New Zealand trio conjures shamanistic sound rituals by guitar. As heard on their eponymous debut, released on Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label, Thela construct slow-moving soundscapes with low-end clang, bass-heavy rumbling, scalding feedback, and somnambulant but powerful drumming. Their minimalist sonic squall's dark intensity recalls that of fellow islanders the Dead C. Flying Luttenbachers and Swob open. NIAMH PARSONS 2/7, Abbey Pub Like Mary Black before her, Niamh Parsons has sung with Arcady, legendary keepers of traditional Irish music, as well as pursued a more contemporary solo career. But whereas Black's solo recordings have suffered from indistinctive production, Parsons's offers a blend of traditional sounds and rock-inflected originals that complements her stunning voice. On 1992's Loosely Connected, recently issued in the U.S. by Green Linnet, Parsons recalls the late Sandy Denny, nailing a traditional piece like "Lover's Ghost" a cappella and breezing through a slick piece of folk rock like "Little Big Time." Her band, Loose Connections--led by her bass-playing husband, Dee Moore, who also writes a bunch of their tunes--closely follows Parsons every step of the way. A new recording is due later this year, and this gig promises a vivid preview. NAPALM DEATH 2/8, Thirsty Whale The founders of grindcore return to America to promote their seventh album, Diatribes (Earache). The new record finds Napalm Death further dispensing with the manic-paced intensity of their earlier, more influential work in favor of more accessible hard-chugging metal. While the vocals of Mark "Barney" Greenway continue to howl with sinister glee, this quintet has lagged well behind in the competition for sonic extremes. What sounded frightening a decade ago now seems routine. BLUR, 2/8, Metro The moronic rivalry between Blur and Oasis driven by the fickle British press has only revealed that of the two hook-heavy insignificant pop bands, Blur is the more substantive. The band's most recent effort, The Great Escape (Virgin), is filled with Kinks-derived melodicism (as opposed to Oasis Beatlemania) and biting commentary on British capitalist culture that could also apply to America. "Yuko & Hiro" chronicles the work-obsessed nonlife of a go-getting couple: "I never see you / We are never together / I'll love you forever." Though Oasis don't sing about anything really palpable, Blur have managed to be popular (in England at least) while swiping at greed despite realizing there are few other options; sunny-faced bleakness can sell. As the new band of Weezer's Matt Sharp, the Rentals offer deadpan retro-70s pop, posing as a robotic new-wave, precollapse Eastern-bloc band. On its debut, The Return of the Rentals (Maverick/Reprise), the band, which also features Petra Haden of That Dog, spits out catchy melodies over stiff rhythms, wheezing Moog synths, and "heavy guitar," though I dare you to find that last ingredient. The delivery is (one would hope) intentionally flat, making Weezer sound downright effusive. If there's anything the world doesn't need, it's two-bit irony like this. --Peter Margasak
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Niamh Parsons photo.