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LIQUID SOUL 12/25, DURTY NELLIE'S; 12/27, DOUBLE DOOR; 12/31, the roxie If you weren't inclined to see this hard-gigging, upbeat local funky-jazz outfit earlier in the year, you're probably even less so now, since there's already enough good cheer in the air to choke a reindeer. But a Liquid Soul set could be just the thing on, say, Christmas night--especially if you're already in the suburbs and looking to escape the family for a few hours. Among the bits that won me over, from this past spring's mostly live Make Some Noise (Ark 21): a witty intro that addresses "the expectorant crowd," a slinky hip-hop take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" with a cameo by Kurt Elling, and "Cookie's Puss," an original that incorporates a sample from 70s freak-funk fave du jour the Jimmy Castor Bunch.

TERRY CALLIER & BEYOND, SWIMMER, FUNKADESI, PELVIC DELTA 12/26, DOUBLE DOOR Terry Callier, one of the few real soul men in acid jazz, started out by bringing a little swing to the Old Town School folk scene--and warm fuzzy memories of the 60s notwithstanding, his role as a mold breaker wasn't always easy. But the world has caught up to him at last: in perhaps his lowest-profile gig of the year, he headlines a release party for Novo Records' Chicago Rapid Transit compilation, which features one of his tunes as well as slightly stiffer second-gen contributions from acts like the others on this bill.

REALITY SCARE 12/26, MORSELAND Skokie's Reality Scare have lingered on the fringes of the local dark-ambient scene for years, fronted by a revolving cast of usually female media poets and high-tech performers. Their current diva, Mary Chase, is the best yet; on the band's recent The Feather E.P. (which includes a promising cover of the Legendary Pink Dots' "Sleeso"), she sounds like a meaner, leaner Lisa Gerrard or a more soulful Siouxsie. And her lyrics display solid goth-pop instincts--though on "Tell Me Tell Me" her simply snarled "Don't fucking touch me" is a hundred times more effective than all those wordy vomit references.

MARY CUTRUFELLO 1/2 & 3, HOUSE OF BLUES In the very long time that's elapsed since the last good Springsteen album, "heartland rock" has become a catchall category for the worst of the worst sub-Mellencamp hackwork. But if anyone I've heard recently is going to redeem it, it'll be Mary Cutrufello. Yes, it does make a difference that she's an African-American woman: she's confounding expectations before she even opens her mouth. And once she does, as on her high-energy Mercury debut, When the Night Is Through, her deep but bendable voice and raw sound--the riff on her "Miss You #3" is vintage ZZ Top, and her band features loose-limbed Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff--give her music an immediacy that a boneyard like the new Brooooce box set sorely lacks. She opens for Gregg Allman.

SUGARBUZZ 1/2, METRO The good news is that on its second album, Submerged (Parasol), this Chicago indie-pop duo achieves the sound of a full band; the bad news is that the full band it sounds most like is Bryan Adams's. There are a few nice but obvious moments--like when on the line "You set your sights incredibly high," from "Halo," vocalist Brian Leach hits a cracking falsetto--and the harmonies are sweeter than average. But like cotton candy this stuff melts away before you can really get the taste of it. Less sugar and more buzz is what I'm after. The bill features three other acts on the downstate Mud and Parasol labels, including the Great Crusades, described by Rolling Stone's usually sharp David Fricke as a "roughneck Tindersticks" whose singer has "the tubercular pipes of Tom Waits and Axl Rose's love child."

LAND OF THE EL CAMINOS 1/7, EMPTY BOTTLE Garage fans, don't be fooled by the name: the pinched guitar wails, thundering drums, and throaty anguished vocals on this local trio's LOTEC sound more like Dinosaur Jr than anything that ever came out of Detroit.

--Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Mary Cutrufello photo by Marina Chavez.

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