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PAUL K 10/16, SCHUBAS Detroit-born, Kentucky-based cult hero Paul K has been praised as (or accused of being, depending on your perspective) a "one-man Tin Pan Alley," and now he's taken the next logical step: he's written a rock opera. His A Wilderness of Mirrors (Alias), loosely based on the Book of Job, is a ridiculously overloaded and penny-dreadful sentimental story that tries--humorlessly--to meld The Grapes of Wrath, Love Story, and The X-Files. Those already enamored of K's well-assembled, breathy balladry will find some of the familiar elements in place; the rest of us, who normally find him inoffensive, have to wade through more layers of pretension than usual to follow the story. Ray Davies at his worst was still good for a chuckle or two.

Angelique Kidjo 10/16, OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC An international star based in Paris's African music scene, Benin-born singer-songwriter Kidjo is ambitious and proud of it. She's described her latest album, Oremi (Island), as the first of a trilogy that will trace the African diaspora through the Americas; she hopes to create a pan-African style that will make all the arguments about authenticity obsolete. On Oremi she's halfway there already: she renders Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" into high-powered womanly hip-hop, duets with Cassandra Williams on a brooding R & B ballad sung in both English and Kidjo's native Fon, pays homage--in Yoruba--to James Brown on "Itche Koutche" with Branford Marsalis on sax, and spikes the whole spicy plate with African percussion and Mahotella Queens-like harmonies.

SADIES 10/16, EMPTY BOTTLE These Canadian huckster hicks do the Bloodshot label no dishonor with their debut CD, Precious Moments. They get As for effort in costuming (love those white embroidered suits) and instrumentation (band members switch freely between fiddle, mandolin, washboard, and jug); and their rockabilly-tinged Bill Monroe worship is performed with the mooning cow eyes of true love. But love's not the most reliable of comforts in country music, and about four classics into a Sadies set I start feeling a little queasy about such cute and energetic young things singing with such gusto about murdering their girlfriends.

SIMON JOYNER, BIRDDOG 10/18, SCHUBAS Simon Joyner's new album, Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between (Sing, Eunuchs!), recorded at Chicago's Truckstop with a cast that includes Aluminum Group keyboardist Liz Conant, Pinetop Seven bassist Ryan Hembrey, Boxhead Ensemble leader Michael Krassner, and Lambchop saxophonist Deanna Varagona, is an astounding achievement--an absolutely beautiful double CD of darkly folkish, imagistically overripe singer-songwriter pop that never even comes close to wearing thin. The self-assured songs are densely populated by holy men and thieves, crows and canaries, sailors and skeletons, poets and angels; and the debt Joyner owes Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan is clear. But as you settle down on his creaky front porch, with the rusty traps hanging overhead and the mysterious things creeping around underneath, it's easy to end up watching the sun go down and come up again. Portland's Birddog, who've just released their second full-length, Ghost of the Season, on Sugar Free, the Chicago label co-run by Schubas talent buyer Doug Lefrak, open. At their most robust, front man Bill Santen's songs struggle to evoke Buddy Holly; at their most brittle, only Chris Tesluk's steady cello keeps them from blowing away like cottonwood fluff.

APRIL MARCH 10/19, METRO LA-based pomo chanteuse March, formerly known as Elinor Blake, aspires to be the best 60s Europop kitten of the 90s, or perhaps the best-ever American French pop singer. Either way it's an eccentric ambition, but March, a former member of the Pussywillows and the Shitbirds who's also sung with Ronnie Spector, Jonathan Richman, and on the Dust Brothers' treatment of the X-Files theme, is thoroughly committed to it. On her forthcoming Chrominance Decoder (due in February on the Brothers' Nickelbag label), she blows a big pink bubble of knowing swank that's so perfect in every glamorous Eurotrash detail that it comes off as a slightly hyperreal version of the original, just like the color in those swinging 60s movies always seems a teeny bit too sunny and bright.

SUPERJESUS 10/21 & 22, METRO This Australian band's new Sumo (Warner Brothers) is another shovelful of alt-poop destined to stink up the airwaves for months: sometimes brooding in a college-town coffee-shop kind of way, sometimes innocuously rocking, fronted by a vaguely Garbage-y chick...dear God, where did they find a pop critic addlepated enough to compare them to Soundgarden? I hear Quarterflash myself.

CAUSTIC RESIN 10/22, SCHUBAS & reckless on broadway Listening to the "psychedelic-dirt-ass rock 'n' roll" these Boise parking-lot burnouts deliver on their new The Medicine Is All Gone (Alias) is a little like being trapped in a windowless room full of mud-colored Saran Wrap. Though it's less likely to be mistaken for featureless grunge of the sluggish-equals-soulful school than previous releases--"Man From Michigan" is kind of a catchy, trashy gem--these guys would still do better to rescue Brett Nelson's fire-starting guitar work from the murk. They can't get over on being friends with Built to Spill forever. --Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): April March photo by James Minchin.

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