CAFE R&B 1/9, BUDDY GUY'S LEGENDS My hackles stood up immediately at the idea of this careful, James Cameron-esque evocation of postwar electric blues and early R & B (from, where else, LA), but if we must tolerate retro, I'll take it this way. In the blues, it's not what you say so much as how you say it, and on Black & White (It Works), front woman Roach says it very well. She's a full-throated singer who knows when to back off, when to swoop and flutter around a phrase instead of bellowing through it, and reliable sources say she's even better live. The band's willing to get heavier and dirtier than a lot of electric blues purists, and unlike a lot of blues rockers, it can roll too. It's been a long time since anybody's come this close to conquering "Smokestack Lightning." CHAMBERLAIN 1/9, JOE'S This Bloomington (Indiana) quintet's third album, The Moon My Saddle (Doghouse), has all the hallmarks of the post-Pearl Jam midwestern emo-indie rock I hear way too much of: husky, hungry vocals, guitars that sweep and chime in all the right places, and lots of lyrics about stars and streetlights that lack the sense of place of even the most mediocre tune on American Fool. That said, this is about as good as this kind of thing gets--well-structured, restrained when appropriate, catchy, nicely arranged. But listening to it is like watching some cheap Hollywood tearjerker for the third time: even as you get all choked up, you know it's more Pavlovian response than genuine emotion. UNIFORM 1/9, LOUNGE AX A local band that's been gigging around for about a year, including a brief stint with a drum machine, Uniform has recently filled out into a full-fledged Britpop quartet. (Their excuse is that one member, guitarist-vocalist James Ryan, is British.) Their debut, Populous (Planet Soon), is a decent start, but the hooks are a hair too light to reel me in. You should never have to listen to a tune more than twice to get it insufferably stuck in your head. The single "Alexandra" is included on the local Beluga label's compilation On the Rocks: Volume II; the band appears here as part of a showcase for that label. CRY CRY CRY 1/10, OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC Veteran songwriter Richard Shindell leads this aptly named acoustic trio, but its debut features only one of his originals, "The Ballad of Mary Magdalen." The rest are covers plucked from the songbooks of mostly contemporary songwriters, including Minnesota troubadour Greg Brown and Buddy Miller's better half, Julie Miller. It's all fairly mopey, but the group does better the closer it sticks to traditional folk sounds: James Keelaghan's firefighter ballad "Cold Missouri Waters" is sufficiently chilling and Robert Earl Keen's "Shades of Gray," a tale of youth gone wrong, is relatively hard-hitting--but Ron Sexsmith's "Speaking With the Angel" is drowning in sap, and R.E.M.'s "Fall on Me" gets Fleetwood Macked to death in the choruses. Still, if it's three-hankie music you want in this weather, you could do worse. ENSEMBLE NOAMNESIA with malcolm goldstein 1/10, HOTHOUSE Composer, bass clarinetist, and new-music champion Gene Coleman and his Ensemble Noamnesia will be joined in this afternoon performance by composer and violinist Malcolm Goldstein, an experimentalist who works to expand the vocabulary we consider "musical." Goldstein turned in a stunning performance at Xoinx Tea Room in the spring, using his instrument to breathe, hiss, and whisper and working with instead of against the sounds of that space--including the spasms of rain outside that could have augmented his lovely "Gentle Rain Preceding Mushrooms (In Memoriam John Cage)" beautifully, if they'd only fallen while he was playing it. This time he and the ensemble (with percussionist Steve Butters, oboist Kyle Bruckmann, violist Shelley Weiss, and Hal Rammel on electronics) will perform works by Coleman and Goldstein, as well as by their perennial ghost presence Cage. JULIE KOIDIN, JEFFREY KUST, EMILY LEWIS MANTELL & HEITOR GARCIA 1/14, CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER This Brazilian-American alliance has, collectively, experience in the CSO, the Illinois Philharmonic, and the Brazilian-music groups Jazzmineiro and the Mirandas. For this installment in the Cultural Center's "Classical Cabaret" series, flutist Koidin, guitarist Kust, cellist Mantell, and percussionist Garcia will focus on the Latin American classical repertoire, including work by Heitor Villa-Lobos; they'll also take the obligatory walk on the folk side.
Critics of all stripes wake up in a cold sweat every first of January, and it's not just because they're hungover as hell. It's because they've just realized that they've got to sort through the towering stacks of records (or books, or movies) they've accumulated over the last 365 days, pick 10--not 11, never 17--and hold them up to the world as the best. So, in the spirit of perversity, here are my top 13 of 1998: Handsome Family Through the Trees (Carrot Top); Arnold Dreyblatt The Sound of One String (Table of the Elements); Boukman Eksperyans Revolution (Tuff Gong); You Fantastic! Homesickness (Skin Graft); Ghazal As Night Falls on the Silk Road (Shanachie); Alan Licht & Loren MazzaCane Connors Hoffman Estates (Drag City); PJ Harvey Is This Desire? (Island); High Rise Desperado (P.S.F.); Kali Fasteau Comraderie (Flying Note); Godspeed You Black Emperor! F#A#° (Kranky); Dock Boggs His Folkways Years 1963-1968 (Smithsonian Folkways); Ladybug Ladybug (Shock); Fushitsusha The Wisdom Prepared (Tokuma). I'd also like to note that my decisions this year were heavily influenced by great live shows I saw; in fact, good as the records are, many of them fall into (or straddle) genres that are really meant to be experienced live--you know, improv, Haitian trance music, rock 'n' roll. Oh, and one more thing: the order is emphatically arbitrary.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Cry Cry Cry photo by C. Taylor Crothers.