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ALTAN 1/28, IRISH AMERICAN HERITAGE CENTER One of the tightest, most intricate, and best-respected Irish trad ensembles working today, Altan has never added bland New Age touches a la Clannad or invited the Rolling Stones over to jam a la the Chieftains. They still focus more or less unchangingly on the resin that grips the Irish heartstrings: the busy, the sad, the seductive, and the weird. Soprano and fiddler Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh directs the high end since the band's founder (and her husband), flutist Frank Kennedy, died of bone cancer in 1994. In addition to her formidable technical skills, her fluidity with the elegant, rhythmic Irish tongue sets her renderings of the anthems and the weepers light years apart. BOB LOG III 1/28, EMPTY BOTTLE Bob Log, formerly the guitarist in the Tucson-based slide-guitar-vacuum-cleaner-cardboard-box-washtub duo Doo Rag, is now a Tucson-based slide-guitar-crash-helmet-bucket one-man band. He's also put out two albums, School Bus and the recent Trike, on the meet-the-new-blues-same-as-the-old-blues label Fat Possum--whose dirty sounds and irreverent aesthetic tend to appeal more to indie rockers who want to dig past Jon Spencer than to the patrons of Kingston Mines. Log's answers to an earnest Japanese interviewer, posted on the label's Web site, pretty much say it all. Sample: Q: Is there any difference between the concepts of Doo Rag and your solo projects? A: Concepts? Judah Bauer's band 20 Miles (see Critic's Choice) headlines. LOVE KIT 1/28, BEAT KITCHEN These local stalwarts have been honing their quirky pop for years on any stage they can conquer. Their latest album, Who's Afraid of the Radio Tower (Ginger), features two tracks produced by Kramer in New York, and is far better that what's been coming out of that branch of the New York scene in a while: boy-girl singing, broken, lurching organ sounds, exuberantly collapsing song structures. A whole album of it gets a little too likable to actually like, but a good randomly programmed slice or two is good wake-up music for those days when you wake up feeling all right to begin with. SCOTT ROSENBERG 1/28, LULA CAFE As the title of his latest release, Meet Me on the Gastral Plane (Limited Sedition), hints, improv reedist Scott Rosenberg is not of the school that holds improv music too sacred to be tempered by humor. A recent transplant from San Francisco and a graduate of the new-music program at Mills College, Rosenberg has performed with Pauline Oliveros, Anthony Braxton, Christian Wolff, Eugene Chadbourne, and Zeena Parkins, among others, and has released a handful of well-received ensemble recordings. Gastral Plane is his first solo album, and the 20 short-and-dirty live works (on alto, tenor, and sopranino saxes and contrabass clarinet) offer up a wide range of sounds in a variety of quick arrangements, from spiraling drones to watery flutters to full-bore elephant cries. As this is a solo gig, I'd expect the same here. Rosenberg's versatility in interacting with himself is admirable, but I still think I'd rather hear him with someone to bounce off. A-SET 1/29, FIRESIDE; 1/30, roby's California punker turned Chicago songwriter Albert Menduno got some attention early last year with The Science of Living Things, the debut from his project A-Set. Featuring Joan of Arc's Tim Kinsella on guitar and Red Red Meat's Tim Hurley behind the board, it was the sort of aggressively modest basement rock that stubbornly refuses to yield any direct pleasure: the usual moaning and crescendoing, the usual planking and plodding guitars. The second outing, Songs From the Red Room (Tree), is intentionally higher-fi--which means it's "warmer" in the studio-geek sense, but not quite in the human sense. GABERDINE 2/1, SCHUBAS Two years ago in this column, I wrote that I liked singer-songwriter Mark Federighi's tape a lot, and predicted that he might work best band-free forever, a solitary voice in his own wuthering wilderness (which borders on Bill Callahan's). Fortunately, I was wrong: Gaberdine, the self-released debut EP by Federighi's band of the same name, is a desolate gem, with keyboards, cello, and drums underlining his dour groans and the long list of instruments he plays himself. Sometimes more cooks make a good bitter flavor even better. Varnaline front man Anders Parker, performing solo, headlines.

--Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Federighi.

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