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GREAT PLAINS GYPSIES 4/4, BIG HORSE A stripped-down lineup of rhythm guitar, bass, and drums gives leader Dan Whitaker's songs lots of room to breathe on this local folk-blues-rock band's debut LP, Meeting at the Building (Sunny Smedley). Though Whitaker's muted vocals sometimes threaten to send you drifting off to sleep, he's gifted enough as a melodist to unlock the beauty of Jimmie Davis's "You Are My Sunshine" and let it waft into "The Fool," a country ballad that tickles like a gentle breeze.

ORBIT 4/4, METRO On its major-label debut, Libido Speedway (A&M), this Boston trio doggedly chases the great American arena-rock dream--only it can't decide whether the better vehicle is U2's War or Nirvana's Nevermind. Still, when it's a memorable car-radio rocker like "Medicine" the issue becomes moot.

BUMPUS 4/5, ELBO ROOM; 4/10, Bop shop This local funk septet features a horn section and three lead vocalists who trade off in the tradition of the Family Stone. But the lack of a skilled songwriter like Sly reveals that a band cannot rock on groove alone.

COLOSSAMITE 4/5, EMPTY BOTTLE On All Lingo's Clamor (Skin Graft), the debut EP by this quartet from Minneapolis, former Dazzling Killmen guitarist and vocalist Nick Sakes emotes with the panic of an astronaut down to his last five minutes of oxygen. Meanwhile drums pound in intricate time signatures as three discordant guitars intertwine kaleidoscopically, with the resultant grandeur of Bernard Herrmann's score for Vertigo. Ruins headline (see Critic's Choice).

SQUIRTGUN 4/5, FIRESIDE BOWL On its second album, Another Sunny Afternoon (Lookout), this quintet from Lafayette, Indiana, concocts pop punk that's a little too schmaltzy to really rock: there are some wonderful chunky guitar chords on "You're the Greatest," but as the Gilligan's Island fixation depicted in "Mary Ann" suggests, someone's watching too much TV and not spinning enough 45s.

CHRIS SMITHER 4/7, Chicago Music Mart; 4/10, FITZGERALD'S Small Revelations (Hightone), this singer-songwriter's eighth album in a career that spans a quarter century, finds him combining different sorts of classic influences: while a cover of Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom" shows off Smither's country-blues guitar wizardry, his own "Cave Man" employs Plato's famous metaphor as the basis for a contemplative look back at his own life's tribulations. r13MG 4/8, METRO This local guitar-heavy industrial outfit is headed by Howie Beno, who programmed synthesizers for Ministry's Psalm 69. The up-front, undistorted vocals on 13mg's sophomore effort, Eternacate (Slipdisc), show Beno to be more balanced and thoughtful than his former boss, but before too long you're reminded that it's Jourgensen's bile that gives this kind of stuff its bite.

--Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Chris Smither photo by Tobey.

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