HUGH CORNWELL 3/19, SCHUBAS Hugh Cornwell's "new" solo album, Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit (actually a reissue of last year's overseas-only Guilty), doesn't have any of the vintage violence of his old band, the Stranglers, but folks who liked, say, the last couple Damned albums might appreciate his sophisticated dark pop. Between the slick cynicism and troubled romanticism he takes swipes at some easy targets (the war in the Balkans, on "Not Hungry Enough") and slips in some low-key lewdness (he describes "Snapper" as "an appreciation of eating fish"), all in an elegant voice that screams aging English gentlepunk with every syllable. SPLIT-HABIT 3/19, BIG HORSE How is it that this suburban trio has been gigging around since 1997 without any major labels sniffing at their cute little snotty-teenager-sounding butts? Their self-released debut, Rockstar 101, has a lot more personality than the big-budget version of big-guitar power pop--well, maybe I just answered my own question. TANGLEFOOT 3/19, CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER; 3/20, MAPLE STREET CHAPEL in LOMBARD Anyone who thinks of Canadian culture as a weak extension of ours should listen to this folk quartet's signature tune, "Secord's Warning," the true story of a woman who slogged across a swamp to warn a British general of an American sneak attack. The moral of the story, delivered in gleeful four-part male harmony: "There's women and men, Canadians all, of every rank and station / To stand on guard and keep us free from Yankee domination." Still, on their 1996 CD, The Music in the Wood, they also cheerfully demonstrate what traditional Canadian music has in common with its southern cousin: the sweeping Celtic fiddling, the way minor keys let you know the young lovers are doomed, the way military beats let you know it's gonna be a ripping good war story. The cast of characters is particularly colorful; my favorites are "Jack the Green," an ancestor of one of the band members, of whom the liner notes say, "He looks like the kind of guy you're glad to be four generations removed from"; the lovable klutz "Awkward Donald," who learns coordination where it counts and fathers seven children; and the "Old Broken Soldier" who finds himself estranged from his wife on top of everything. And nearly all these very traditional sounding tales turn out to be well-researched, well-executed originals. JOHNNY L. 3/20, SCHUBAS The 11 catchy hard-pop tunes on the Slugs guitarist's first solo album, Brain Pop, are virtually impossible to pin down in time--they're informed by the last four decades of rock history so equally that they belong anywhere and nowhere. There are hints of all the 60s hits that trailed each Beatles single; there are echoes of Cheap Trick's neat trick of bridging the gap between hard rock and new wave; there are moments of 90s modern-rock-ism that sound tedious now but might be sweetly nostalgic in ten years. Its clean, solid production job was one of the last by engineer Phil Bonnet. For this Johnnyfest, Johnny L. will play with drummer Mike Halston of the Slugs and bassist Clark Hayes of Boom Hank; the full Slugs lineup headlines. BANYAN 3/24, HOUSE OF BLUES Neither Jane's Addiction nor Porno for Pyros was particularly funky, but it turns out that turning alterna-heads was just the tip of drummer Stephen Perkins's iceberg. His "solo" project, Banyan, is far more maneuverable than either of those star vehicles. Its second album, Anytime At All (CybeOctave), collects the always lovable Mike Watt on fierce slap bass, the brilliant and inflammatory guitarist Nels Cline, Flea and John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LA rapper Bad Azz, and sometime Snoop Dogg producer Dave Aron, among others; the result is a clever but unfocused mess that ranges from music for soft-core porn scenes to music for car chases to music for driving aimlessly around LA. The touring band features Rob Wasserman (who's played with Lou Reed and Rickie Lee Jones as well as Bob Weir) on bass, Aron on clarinet, Willie Waldman on trumpet, Clint Wagner on guitar, and Ross Rice on keys. LOUDMOUTH 3/24, DOUBLE DOOR Purveyors of traditional head-bangery tend to feel threatened pretty easily--every new thing that's come along since A Flock of Seagulls has sent them running to reinforce the fortress with statements defensively apologizing for their lack of innovation. I'd advise them to chill out, except that chill out is exactly what Metallica did, and now they suck. They should take a lesson from Loudmouth, a straight-up mainstream metal band that both James Hetfield and Jason Newsted have heartily endorsed. After six years on the boards, these Chicagoans have released their major-label debut, Loudmouth (Hollywood), on which they rock as if it were going out of style. Which, of course, it always is. THE 1ST WALTZ FOR NEON STREET 3/25, Metro Chicago singer-songwriter Nicholas Tremulis says he's organized this benefit concert in homage to the good vibes of the famous 1976 farewell shindig for the Band, as immortalized in Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz. (No doubt the connection is clearer in his mind, since the Band's Rick Danko makes an appearance on Tremulis's latest album, In Search of Woodfoot.) The lineup pushes the concept of "supergroup" to sublime absurdity, with bluesmen Lonnie Brooks and Sugar Blue; alt-country stars Robbie Fulks, Alejandro Escovedo, and Jon Langford; the BoDeans' Sam Llanas and Bob Griffin; Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen; soul songwriter Sir Mack Rice ("Mustang Sally"); Billy Corgan and his dad, a pro guitarist; and two actual veterans of The Last Waltz, Danko and gospel legend Mavis Staples. Ticket proceeds, as well as profits from the first 1,000 copies of In Search of Woodfoot, go to Neon Street, an organization that supports runaway, abused, and homeless teens with temporary and permanent lodging, meals, education, and counseling. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Hugh Cornwell photo by Tim Kent.