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Handsome Family 8/30, Lounge Ax For a former Texan, the Handsome Family's Brett Sparks shows lots of Canadian influences--Neil Young's rattling guitar, Leonard Cohen's languorous balladry, and Gordon Lightfoot's polite diction. But on this Chicago mock-country band's sophomore outing, Milk and Scissors (Carrot Top), lyricist-bassist Rennie Sparks (Brett's wife) keeps the focus on morbid Americana, speculating on Amelia Earhart's dying thoughts and Liza Minnelli's fear of Skylab. Prong 8/30, Metro Less bilious and less catchy than, say, Ministry, this threesome calls its latest Rude Awakening (Epic), but it plays more like a mild sleep inducer. James Taylor Quartet 8/31, Double Door In the 60s jazz musicians like Wes Montgomery and Herbie Hancock covered top 40 hits and wrote TV and movie themes to put bread on the table. The resulting pop-jazz hybrid inspires the Hammond-organ-heavy stylings of this groovy British instrumental combo. The group is touring America for the first time, with a set that tweaks Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and the themes from Mission: Impossible and (yow!) Starsky and Hutch. Buskers 9/1, Simon's Tavern This Minneapolis folk duo, featuring Bob Frey's Cat Stevens-ish quaver supported by Marc Conklin's mellow electric guitar, will peddle and play from its new self-titled debut album of stale meditations on lost love and loneliness.

Zakk WYlde 9/1, Schubas Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne's regular guitarist since the late 80s, shares his boss's sense of subtlety, as evidenced by the lyrics on his recent Book of Shadows (Geffen): "How can you do the things you do? / You make Satan look like Christ / I swear it's true." Far 9/4, Fireside Bowl On its big-label debut, Tin Cans With Strings to You (Immortal/Epic), the Sacramento quartet Far builds tension through maddeningly repetitive metal guitar riffs, then resolves it with singer Jonah Sonz Matranga's eruptive howls of existential anguish. In quieter moments like "Sorrow's End," though, exploratory chords and changes suggest a more sensitive Sonic Youth. New Bomb Turks 9/5, Empty Bottle On the just-released Scared Straight (Epitaph), these Ohioans' sharp, energetic back-to-basics punk attack recalls the Stooges, with classic rock references (Nugent, Zeppelin) and a hilarious parody of Exile-era Stones ("Wrest Your Hands") thown into the bargain.

--Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of James Taylor Quartet, by Ben Ankar.

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