CARDIGANS 6/14, DOUBLE DOOR This Swedish quintet delivers unabashedly twee, oversweetened retro-pop confections with enough Scandinavian whiteness to make your whitest whites seem dingy. On their domestic debut, Life (Minty Fresh), the Cardigans recall the 60s pop kitsch of Pizzicato Five and Saint Etienne, with the club beats supplanted by a real, if slightly effete, rhythm section. Singer Nina Pearson, who appears on the album cover wearing ice skates and a fur-trimmed baby-blue minidress, glides with ease through the catchy melodies, accenting the hooks well enough that the overall saccharine heaviness can be overlooked. If you have no tolerance for cuteness, stay away. But if hooks are your business, you might check out the band's sugary charms. ROY ROGERS 6/14, BUDDY GUY'S Best known for his production work with John Lee Hooker, the Roy Rogers who's not a cowboy is also a recording artist in his own right, though not a particularly interesting one. On his recent Rhythm & Groove (Pointblank) he spits out slide-happy blues rock that suggests Little Feat and Bonnie Raitt far more than the urgency of Delta blues. IGUANAS 6/14, FITZGERALD'S; 6/15, CUBBY BEAR The textbook, er, cliched way to explain this New Orleans bar band's music is to call it a gumbo of styles--Tex-Mex, rock 'n' roll, funk, soul, and honky-tonk all combine to make a hearty musical dish. The new Iguanas album, Super Ball (Margaritaville), displays no uncertain competence. But there are three good reasons why they're called the Crescent City's "quintessential bar band" while a combo like Los Lobos, which uses a similar recipe, is simply a great rock band: lack of substance, originality, and style. GROOVE COLLECTIVE 6/15, METRO What helped distinguish Groove Collective's eponymous 1994 debut from the rest of the often bland acid-jazz pack was the simpatico pairing of unalloyed hip-hop rhythms and terrific postbop soloing from ace jazzers like Josh Roseman, Bill Ware, Fabio Morgera, and Jay Rodriguez. The New York troupe elasticized typically stiff beats to handle rhythmically complex solos. Their follow-up, We the People (Giant Step/Impulse), shows that their grooves have tightened and their scope has widened with the use of varied Latin rhythms, but ultimately the album disappoints. The funky sounds will have no problem filling the dance floor, but with ultra-smooth fusionoid machinations largely replacing the hip-hop element, Groove Collective have lost most of their edge. Occasionally one of the players will spark the proceedings, such as in Morgera's fiery trumpet entrance on "Hide It," but too often the album veers toward the antiseptic mush heard on WNUA, though the group still has a terrific live reputation. Funky Wordsmyths open. Groove Collective will also open for Maceo Parker's Navy Pier appearance on July 25. RONNIE DAWSON 6/15, SCHUBAS The fact that 57-year-old Ronnie Dawson still churns out the rockabilly he helped pioneer in the late 50s is amazing enough, but his tour promoting two new releases proves he's as good as or better than he's ever been. Rockinitis (Crystal Clear Sound) is actually a reissue of a fine 1989 album; more impressive, though, is the brand-new collection Just Rockin' & Rollin' (Upstart), recorded in glorious mono. On his new album Dawson displays his remarkable singing and reveals an innate understanding of how country and blues mated to give birth to rock 'n' roll. Though not part of the tour, the spare horn section that sporadically appears on the album only adds flair. There's not a lick of nostalgia in Dawson's vibrant music. Rather, his raucous spirit proves timeless. BILL MORRISSEY 6/15, FITZGERALD'S Like country outsider Rosanne Cash, folk rocker Bill Morrissey recently made the leap from songwriter to novelist. Despite the critical acclaim earned by his first book, Edson, Morrissey hasn't left music behind, and his new album, You'll Never Get to Heaven (Philo), is filled with poignant vignettes of people at crossroads, primarily romantic and spiritual. His woody drawl delivers his words with homespun simplicity and assured intimacy. Kate Campbell opens. SPECIALS, SUICIDE MACHINES 6/18, VIC Though the punkish energy that charged its classic 1979 debut album helped it stand out in England's 2-Tone ska revival, the Specials went on to become something far less special. After dragging on for a few years as Special AKA, the group officially re-formed in 1994 as the Specials--though without original vocalist Terry Hall and keyboardist Jerry Dammers. Now, two years later, they've released a new album, Today's Specials (Virgin), the first fruit of their re-formation. Wouldn't you know, it's all covers. Between paying homage to their roots (Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker, Toots & the Maytals, etc) and trying to show their breadth (Monkees, Dave Brubeck, and old pals the Clash), the Specials exude all the vitality of a propped-up corpse. Detroit's Suicide Machines are considerably more energetic on their debut, Destruction by Definition (Hollywood), but their amped-up punk-rock-ska hybrid has none of the sophistication, soul, or subversion of the headliners, back when they mattered. --Peter Margasak
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Martin Bogren.