JARBOE 12/10, THE NOTE Singer, keyboardist, and performance artist Jarboe took a lot of heat when she joined Swans in 1986 and dared to exert a complicating influence (or "woman's touch") on Michael Gira's most excellent heart-of-darkness grind. In fact her 13-year collaboration with Gira pushed both of them in directions they never could have imagined: his songwriting grew more nuanced and she honed her natural sense of drama to a dangerous edge. Jarboe's first post-Swans solo album, last year's Anhedoniac, was a psychologically punishing gothic drone that drew on her pursuit of extreme physicality--she's been a boxer, a bodybuilder, a sex worker, and a yoga practitioner--and it bore some interesting similarities to Gira's Body Lovers/Body Haters project. Her newest, Disburden Discipline, is a bit funkier and friendlier, fueled by rhythms and tones drawn from a recent trip to the Middle East, but it's still no light ride. Live Jarboe is captivating: I once saw her collapse onstage, and then get up a few minutes later to finish the song. NINE DOLLAR MELON BALLER 12/10, CUBBY BEAR Good name--and judging from this Iowa trio's self-released CD, I'll Give You Something to Cry About, the best place to enjoy it is outside the club, where you can chuckle at the marquee at a safe distance from their spirited but generic funky frat rock. ASHTRAY BOY 12/11, BEAT KITCHEN This bicontinental indie-pop amalgamation, led by Aussie scene veteran Randall Lee (Cannanes, Nice), is back in town for the first time in two years. The band, which has different rhythm sections here and down under, is planning a new release for next year, in slightly different versions for Germany, Japan, Australia, and the U.S. This show will almost certainly preview some of the forthcoming material. The lineup includes drummer J. Niimi, bassist Andy Creighton, and Baltimores trumpeter Dave Werner along with Lee and his wife, ex-Sabalon Glitz singer Carla Bruce-Lee. SLICK PELT 12/11, BETTY'S BLUE STAR LOUNGE So, let's see a show of hands: who's been waiting with bated breath for another stylishly trashy rockabilly band? Yeah, me neither. But I did get a kick out of hearing these NYC rednecks, who released their XXX Rodeo on their own MMM records, drape both Louis Jordan ("Chick's Too Young to Fry") and Alan Vega ("Magdalena") in leopard skin. MICHAEL W. SMITH 12/11, UNITED CENTER The relentless wholesomeness of Christmastime (Reunion), the latest release from bazillion-selling Christian singer Michael W. Smith, is so over-the-top that it's almost pleasurable: the gee-whiz swinging, chiming bells, gloppy strings, and angelic choirs are kind of awesome in the same way as the Ice Capades or the Wisconsin Cheese Castle. But its immediate predecessor, This Is Your Time, is a whole other flavor of sinister: Smith, in his pastel cloak of good cheer, swoops down on Littleton, Colorado, like a pathos-sucking vampire to twist the words that Cassie Bernall may or may not have said. Whoa now, you say; what would Jesus do? Well, I suspect that even a nice Jewish boy from Galilee might be tempted to pop a cap in Smith's sanctimonious ass. DEBORAH HOLLAND 12/12, SCHUBAS Singer-songwriter Holland is best known as the unknown who fronted the "supergroup" Animal Logic--the other two members were jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and Police drummer Stewart Copeland--but for me this Cal State music professor's high-water mark is her 1997 solo album, The Panic Is On (Gadfly). A collection of songs from the Great Depression ranging from the obvious ("Brother Can You Spare a Dime") to the not so obvious (the Carter Family's "Worried Man Blues") to the obscure (Victoria Spivey's harrowing "Detroit Moan"), this potentially dutiful musicology project is redeemed by the unconventional but gloriously effective arrangements, which use keyboards, bass, mouth harp, and a wide array of percussion, including kalimba, trash-can lid, and Chinese finger cymbals--but no guitar. Neither Holland's first album, Freudian Slip, nor her new one, The Book of Survival--both collections of original material--displays quite the same sensitive magic, but in her songwriting there's still evidence aplenty of a fresh musical intelligence. KEN VANDERMARK'S JOE HARRIOTT PROJECT 12/15, EMPTY BOTTLE High-powered local reedist Ken Vandermark seems to have received his MacArthur grant this summer as much for his work in supporting other musicians as for his own music, and upon learning of the award, he im-mediately began telling anyone who'd listen about the Europeans he wanted to bring to Chicago or archival projects he wanted to work on. His current release, Straight Lines (Atavistic), takes four of the Vandermark 5 (Vandermark, trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Kent Kessler, and drummer Tim Mulvenna) deep into the sound world of the Jamaican-born alto saxist Joe Harriott, a player of vast passion and range who was often--and unfairly--compared with Ornette Coleman in the early 60s. (He died in 1972, at age 44, before "history" could catch up with him.) While the potential for ecstatic blowout is high, bandleader Vandermark focuses on the dramatic power of Harriott's unpredictable but lovely tunes and gives the flashiest solo spots to Bishop--who rewards his generosity thoroughly. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James F. Dean.