Spot Check | Spot Check | Chicago Reader

Music » Spot Check

Spot Check

by

comment

Combustible Edison 4/5, Lounge Ax On their second album, Schizophrenia (Sub Pop), Combustible Edison continue crafting misplaced exotica for a nostalgia-crazed generation that's already moved on to 70s reruns of American Bandstand, even if they still drink martinis. While the group's incidental music worked on the sound track of Four Rooms, the new record's strained artistic reach emulates Ennio Morricone's lousy 70s output amid the morning-after haze of cocktail excess. Nil Lara 4/5, Cubby Bear Raised in New Jersey by Cuban-born parents, Nil Lara weaves his roots into his new eponymous album. Combining bland, pseudoanthemic singer-songwriter fare with ineffectual Latin American flourishes, Lara creates a blend that masterfully prepares him to open for crappy neohippie bands like Rusted Root, who subvert their post-Dead flatulence with tepid drum circle-jerks. I suppose Lara isn't to blame, but offering this sort of half-assed ethnic-rock fusion as a solution to rock's current doldrums only proves that record labels think we're too lazy or stupid to understand anything that's not American unless it's watered down. Flip 'em the bird and stay home swilling a bottle of Mezcal. Leftover Salmon headline. Tracy Bonham 4/6, Metro It's tempting to lump Boston's Tracy Bonham, who headlines an early show, in with female rockers like Liz Phair and Jennifer Trynin. But that would be lazy, sexist, and inaccurate. No, after listening to Bonham's major-label debut, The Burdens of Being Upright (Island), I'd say that she belongs to a new class of heart-on-sleeve ironists--sardonic wits who think a chorus like "I'm freezing / I'm starving / I'm bleeding to death / Everything's fine" will show all of those crummy exes. Come to think of it, that description sorta sounds like Phair and Trynin. Verve Pipe 4/6, Metro Superbly illustrating regional relativism, Verve Pipe's new major-label debut and their third album overall, the Jerry Harrison-produced Villains (RCA), is clearly the work of spiritless, dopey Pearl Jam wanna-bes with a penchant for Live's quasi emotionalism. But up in East Lansing, Michigan, the town they call home, they're, like, excellent rock stars. Preventing STDs is no laughing matter, but "Barely (If at All)"--about an encounter between the tune's hard-up narrator and a condom-dismissing tart--painfully confuses wisdom with chuckle-inducing cliche: "And she, with her hand between our lips/Gave me what we now have in common." Wow, art and a social conscience mixed together. Verve Pipe headline a late show. Dambuilders, Dirt Merchants 4/6, Lounge Ax On their second album, Ruby Red (East-West), Boston's Dambuilders have replaced much of their sunny melodicism with a darker, more aggressive attack. The brooding violin of Joan Wasser asserts itself more prominently, nicely accenting the band's generous firepower and Dave Derby's dark lyrics. I'm not quite sure what it means when I receive multiple copies of a record: is it so good that I need several copies or has poor-sales desperation forced labels to cram the blasted thing down my throat? If Scarified (Epic/Zero Hour), the debut album from Boston's Dirt Merchants, is any indication, it's the latter. No less than six copies have landed in my mailbox, and as I've listened to each one I've found that not only do they all sound the same, but the more I hear them, the more forgettable they become. Singer Maria Christopher delivers a sometimes wistful, sometimes catatonic tunefulness amid by-the-numbers guitar cacophony, and while it's all pleasant enough, one copy of the album would've told me that it's been done better before. Jerry Lee Lewis 4/10, Cubby Bear Last year's Young Blood (Sire) didn't add much to Jerry Lee Lewis's oeuvre, but it proved that the Killer can still sing his ass off. A polite nostalgic gig at Ravinia last summer witnessed Jerry Lee sleepwalking across his ivories, but that voice leapt from the speakers. Disgusted with a poorly tuned piano, Lewis held forth, seething beneath his cool demeanor until he decided the gig was over and suddenly kicked the piano bench with more punk-rock attitude than Green Day or Rancid have ever con-sidered. With an audience of something other than subscription-compelled geriatrics, this rare club date could smoke. Bill Miller 4/11, Fitzgerald's On his recent Raven in the Snow (Reprise), Bill Miller has eschewed most of the Native American trappings that marked his debut in favor of a stronger singer-songwriter bent. Though the album credits suggest plenty of Nashville affiliations--Kevin Welch and Steve Earle guitarist Richard Bennett helped with the songwriting--Miller clearly recalls Bruce Springsteen from the days of yore, wedding his evocative metaphorical gifts to a more blustery folk-rock attack.

--Peter Margasak

Add a comment