BLACKS 3/11, EMPTY BOTTLE On Just Like Home, its second release on Bloodshot, this local "family" act has toned down its Appalachian cabaret shtick in favor of a more straightforward roadhouse-rock vibe, losing some distinctiveness in the process. Though they're all precisely arranged, none of the songs are all that special--except for Tom Waits's "Goin' Out West," which doesn't necessarily benefit from the melodramatic treatment it gets here. With the departure of songbird Nora O'Connor, whose biting harmonizing probably will be sorely missed live, the Blacks are stripped-down to a trio; both Gina and Danny Black play half a dozen instruments on the record, but onstage it usually comes down to Danny's spare, ringing rockabilly guitar and Gina's mesmerizing dance with her upright bass. This is a CD-release party. KEN NORDINE 3/11, OLD TOWN SCHOOL Since his very first album, Word Jazz, from 1957, Nordine has straddled the fence between music and poetry--and been marginalized on both sides of it. The scat-derived free-associative rhythmic style he pioneered, where words can walk like a bass and tinkle like a piano, has left its mark on artists from the Grateful Dead to Soul Coughing, not to mention the world of TV and radio advertising, but actual performances by the master of the form are rare, precious, and well worth seeking out. Nordine will be accompanied here by versatile multi-instrumentalist Howard Levy. The 7:30 show is sold-out, but at press time tickets were still available for the 10 PM show. PETER MURPHY 3/14, RIVIERA Theatre The real reason for fans to pick up Murphy's new compilation, Wild Birds: 1985-1995 (Beggars Banquet), is for Greg Fasolino's slavering liner notes, which trace the frosty imp's progress from slinky bat boy to sincere Sufi to the kind of guy who thinks getting the reunited Bauhaus to do a Dead Can Dance cover is the height of spiritual romance. NOMADS 3/14, EMPTY BOTTLE On Big Sound 2000, their first full-length for Estrus but their tenth since 1983, the Swedish trash rockers acknowledge that it's all been done before--"All the news are yesterday's," they charmingly lament on "Going Down Slow"--even as they do it again, with feeling. For songwriting about a depressing depressant, their "The King of Night Train" (penned with Scott McCaughey, no longer such a young fresh fellow himself) trumps Guns n' Roses' "Nightrain," and for sheer sonic dirt, not much can beat "Screaming," on which Hans Ostlund's guitar solo is shadowed by a track of actual screaming. But of course the proof of this sort of pudding is in the eating; this is a rare stateside appearance. Also on the bill are the Bouncing Balls, strong candidates for Most Improved Local Band of 1999. EXTREME MUSIC FROM WOMEN 3/15, VIADUCT THEATRE As much as I hate to see interesting female artists pigeonhole themselves (or lazy boring ones get over by playing the gender card), there are some genres where girls-only nights are still a necessary evil. Though the packaging and promo of this group tour has something of the dog-on-hind-legs stink about it, with Whitehouse's William Bennett playing patron, the accompanying compilation CD--featuring tracks by 16 female electronic-noise musicians from Europe, the U.S., and Australia--transcends the chick factor. Noise music is both brutally physical and coldly cerebral--it's all about grinding friction at the point where mind and body meet, and it really is too powerful a form of expression to be left solely in the hands of overgrown boys who never got over their first glimpse of porn (or their first autopsy video, whichever made the stronger impression). Contrary to popular belief, it's not always an angry medium: the tracks on this compilation range from the most obvious screaming statements to cackling bubbling playfulness to cold analytical studies of every loose thread in a fraying mind. A few of the more interesting artists here (Mira Calix, Dolores Dewberry, Frl. Tost) won't be appearing on this leg of the tour, but others, notably Australian Cat Hope, Karen Thomas of Lockweld and Psywarfare "fame," and Chicagoan Diane Nelson, will. Bennett will DJ between sets. MATANA ROBERTS 3/15, EMPTY BOTTLE; 3/16, VELVET LOUNGE Up-and-coming alto saxist Roberts, a Chicago native who was a regular at the Velvet's Sunday-night jams when she lived here, is getting her master's in composition at the New England Conservatory of Music but has found the extracurricular environment in Boston lacking compared to the Chicago free-jazz and improv scene. For these homecoming shows, she'll perform with her old trio, drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Josh Abrams. BLACK 47 3/16, HOUSE OF BLUES This long-suffering cult band, which includes veterans of Dexy's Midnight Runners and the Irish rock band Major Thinkers, as well as a former New York City cop on the uilleann pipes, plays such a relentlessly populist merger of Irish folk, British ska, and rock on its latest, Trouble in the Land (Shanachie), that I really wanted to like it. But between the unfunny sex jokes, the superfuzzy politics, a road song that incorporates a bad rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In," and front man Larry Kirwan's god-awful squawky emoting--well, I'm only human and I take full responsibility for my moral failure: yuck.