SUSAN JAMES 9/25, SCHUBAS I'm not proud of it, but it's true--women buy self-help books by the truckload, and even those of us who would never fork out cash for the crap have been known to flip through them in the bookstore. The one I'm really waiting for is Smart Women, Foolish Choices, Volume 2: The Music Business, for all those guitar-toting hopefuls who pouted and wailed for a spot on Lilith Fair only to find out that they were going to be accused of having something in common with Jewel. If Ani DiFranco doesn't want to write it, maybe California maverick Susan James will. James--who's accepted the patronage of Bob Weir and Lindsey Buckingham but prefers the likes of D.J. Bonebrake and Tommy Stinson in the studio--has sold some 7,500 copies of her self-released LP, Shocking Pink Banana Seat, and is now on tour in support of a double CD no major label would have let her put out, Fantastic Voyage. On disc one, the usual smart guitar pop is uplifted by the whirling headiness of her voice and made more complex with swirls of rock, jazz, and Middle Eastern music (she has a degree in ethnomusicology); disc two, all instrumental, sets James even further apart from the other larks and thrushes with noisy grooves, noir rhythms, and spidery fingerpicking. It's a bit self-indulgent, but it comes by its realizations honestly. Georgia singer-songwriter and artist Jack Logan headlines. BOUKMAN EKSPERYANS 9/26, WILD HARE In the religion known as voodoo (whose name is derived from a West African word for "spirit") the role of the congregation is not to sit quietly while the clergyman speaks; voodoo practitioners believe that spirit is made manifest in flesh and given a voice to speak most easily by means of music and dance. The drums, which are baptized in a special ceremony, are considered to have spirits of their own, and the dancers function as vessels to be possessed by the gods. In Haiti, where voodoo is the dominant belief system, the line between secular and sacred song blurs easily, particularly in the mass festivals that surround both religious holidays and political events. This worldview of nonseparation has made music and religion major factors in the numerous political upheavals that have kept Haiti sleepless throughout modern history; stories of armed thugs breaking up festivals and persecuting voodoo practitioners in "antisuperstition" campaigns are numerous. Boukman Eksperyans, a large "rasin" (roots) collective that's been around in some form for almost 20 years, has been perceived as a threat from both above and below--the Duvalier regime, which ended in 1986, stridently preferred the swing-influenced compas, and traditionalists initially distrusted the band's integration of influences like rock, Afro-pop, and hip-hop. Still, after the 1991 coup that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide, instead of taking refuge with family members in the United States the band stayed in Haiti and has become something of a cultural ambassador, broadcasting Haiti's troubles to the rest of the world. Its latest album, Revolution (Tuff Gong), recorded mostly at the Fugees' studio in New York, includes brief notes on the spiritual and political grounding for each song, as well as on the rhythms being employed ("Baron" is "played on the Congo rara rhythm and hip hop"). But as coleader Theodore "Lolo" Beaubrun has said, "Everyone has their own level of understanding," and with or without complete understanding, Boukman's rousing international blend of music, passionate call-and-response vocals, and the ever-present beckoning drums should give those used to separating "entertainment" from "real life" plenty to chew on. NEW ORLEANS KLEZMER ALLSTARS 9/27, old town school of folk music There are a lot of accordions in New Orleans, and not all of them are set to Cajun. But the Klezmer Allstars are as likely to toss it in as anything else, as they take their chosen form's tendency to pick up influences to a manic, Carl Stalling-like pace. Which isn't to say they're not capable of playing slow and sultry or big and elegant or absolutely anything else the occasion demands--a rock drum suddenly starts threatening hip-hop, a clarinet giggles, a bicycle horn and a ringing phone segue into a dreamy, droning lullaby--or of skewering cliches on many levels: the "Wedding Suite" on their The Big Kibosh (Shanachie) includes a ditty called "Transition to Buffet." DAMO SUZUKI & MICHAEL KAROLI 9/28, HOUSE OF BLUES Former Can bassist Holger Czukay has described the top of the slide this way: "Damo got married to a German girl from the Jehovah's Witness religion and left Can. For the rest of the group it was the feeling of a powerful fist strike into one's stomach." The legendary avant-psych band never replaced Suzuki, the vocalist who fronted it between 1970 and 1973; though guitarist Michael Karoli took his turn at the mike, along with keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, no one could ever match the Japanese beatnik's intuitive sense of how to crawl or rush into a song and transform it, playfully or terrifyingly. Can continued making records for another five years, but it never quite regained that perfect synergy, and other forces eventually rent it beyond repair. Whether this half-Can reunion can spark the old magic is anyone's guess--but when someone so often imitated returns from limbo, he can usually conjure up a few examples of how it's really done. TOKYO EXPANDO 9/29, METRO I don't know why bands insist on telling everyone who they've been compared to, especially when those points of reference are utterly meaningless: why set yourself up to be compared to instantly recognizable bands like Yo La Tengo and Pavement when you know you're neither as good nor as distinctive as either? FREDDY JONES BAND 10/1, MICROBREWERS' oktobeFEST Anybody can have a "huge grassroots following" these days. Judging from this local aggregation's new Lucid (Capricorn), it's easy: hone your chops on those oodly-oodly solos; make sure your singer goes to that special music-theory class where they teach that "vibrato" equals "sincerity"; be sure to sound absolutely familiar at all times (but don't get caught lifting riffs wholesale--the one-from-column-A-one-from-column-B approach is best); and take your act to places where the actual focus is on beer.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Susan James photo by Cheryl Himmelstein.