JACK BLACK 4/17, EMPTY BOTTLE The self-titled debut LP from Jack Black--produced by former Clash manager Kosmo Vinyl--isn't quite the straightforward "greaser punk" the packaging would have you believe. The cover may be hot pink and the hair may be full of goop, but Ted Nugent looms at least as large as Johnny Thunders, and "Drive Them Wheels" is a dead ringer for Golden Earring's "Radar Love." A few songs are too slow or too tinny, and on occasion front man David Quick lapses into a hot-and-bothered AOR whine. But when he shuts up and plays guitar, even his most derivative licks kick ass.
Carrie Newcomer 4/17, Schubas Mainstream heartland rock is a far more demanding idiom than you might think--too often it's taken up by uninteresting people whose sole artistic credo is "self-expression." But Indiana's Carrie Newcomer (who isn't; her new My True Name, on Philo, is her fifth album) has been blessed with both personality and insight, and her smoky alto and eloquently understated lyrics transcend the usual left-my-love-behind-in-a-dead-steel-town blues. When she sings "And the moon shines high over Tucson / Over waters that were long ago dried / 'Cause the moon don't care if the water's not there / It's high tide," you know she's got a firm grasp on the big picture.
JOHN HUSS MODERATE COMBO 4/18, EMPTY BOTTLE Less predictable than Jonathan Richman and less glib than King Missile, this Hyde Park trio dares to be clever, backing wordplay like "Office work is the awfulest work" and "You're beatific / Context specific" with rollicking folk rock that occasionally trips over jazz. After two full-length cassette-only releases, Huss, bassist John Greenfield, and drummer J. Niimi (of Ashtray Boy) made their first CD, Lipchitz, this year; the able guest musicians include Poi Dog's Dave Crawford and the Coctails' John Upchurch on horns, Susan Voelz on violin, and Pete Weiss on keyboards and Mellotron. Live the act is usually sparer but no less spirited.
MEAT PURVEYORS 4/18, LOUNGE AX A friend of mine told me recently that she hates the term "alternative country." She prefers to call it "urban country," which, of course, is an oxymoron--but it perfectly expresses the odd juxtapositions of sensibility, class, and geography that give the best of the genre its bite. The latest addition to my urban-country A-list is Austin's Meat Purveyors, whose Bloodshot debut, Sweet in the Dark, with its sprightly fiddling (some by ex-Bad Liver Ralph White) and thin, acidic vocals, just might settle this silly "authenticity" argument once and for all. Or at least for 45 minutes.
BATTLEFIELD BAND 4/19, ABBEY PUB Trying to go back to some imagined golden age to find the "pure" forms of music never works: the best way to keep a traditional form alive is to turn it like a high-powered lens onto the present. The four members of Scotland's Battlefield Band presumably don't lose sleep over not being old enough to remember when woad was all the rage and bagpipes were used to scare the living shit out of enemies--they're not old enough to have fought in World War II either, but that doesn't stop them from jerking a few tears with an original first-person account of the little-known battle of Saint Valery. On their latest album, Rain, Hail or Shine (Temple), their own reels, hornpipes, ballads, and marches sound right at home next to the 100-year-old tunes they unearth; piper Mike Katz even uses a traditional, "The Canongate Twitch," to introduce a medley of his own compositions. Though for the most part the Battlefield Band trades in reflective beauty, embers flicker and flare up just when they most ought to, as if Katz or fiddler John McCusker were breathing something flammable into the mix.
ROGER HODGSON 4/19, HOUSE OF BLUES I always thought Supertramp existed mainly to demonstrate that there was indeed a human voice more annoying than Jon Anderson's, but on Hodgson's new Rites of Passage (Unichord), the owner of that voice seems to have found a higher purpose. According to the liner notes, written by Hodgson's wife and producer, Karuna, the reason we needed to hear him revive those dread head-stickers "The Logical Song," "Take the Long Way Home," and "Give a Little Bit" (and indulge in an unintentional parody of New Age pop ragas with Terry Riley on tamboura) has something to do with "shifting from the hierarchical pyramid forms of control to the ancient nurturing circle structures that foster healing and empowerment." I'd tell you what I think of this, but "our commitment to put appreciation before criticism is the key we use to empower the creative potential in one another."
Kevin Drumm 4/21, Empty Bottle Drumm, formerly of Brise-Glace and numerous other collaborative combinations and recombinations, is one of the many young veterans of the bustling and incestuous Chicago improv scene. His eponymously titled (and otherwise titleless) solo debut, on Perdition Plastics, shows what happens when he's left alone long enough to get introverted--a strange, austere sort of magic that plays as much with absence as presence, as much with silence and near silence as with the rippling, scraping sounds of his tabletop guitar. It should be interesting to see how this goes over with a full house of impatient Sonic Youth fans at the Riviera next month; but for this gig he shares the stage with guitarist Taku Sugimoto, saxophonist Masahiko Okura, bassist Josh Abrams, drummer Chad Taylor, and clarinetist Michael Colligan in the relative safety of the Empty Bottle's improvised-music series. One of Abrams's other bands, Town and Country, opens.
EVE 6 4/21, METRO Signed to RCA while still in high school, fresh from a headlining gig at a California ski resort, described by Billboard as "simple and infectious," and claiming a "wide range of tastes" that goes all the way from Tom Petty to the Pixies, this teenage power-pop trio is...nowhere near as wretched as its bio would have me believe. In fact, any band that can pull off the line "Burn burn like a wicker cabinet" in the same breath as "beautiful oblivion" is a force to reckon with. Eve 6 really does stand head and shoulders above the current crop--and that's even more impressive when you consider somebody's obviously being paid to grow a surplus. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Eve 6 photo by Don Winters.