DEVIL IN A WOODPILE 7/7, Pops Highwood; TUESDAYS IN JULY, THE HIDEOUT This local quartet's relaxed brand of pan-Americana recalls a time when people used to play music on their porches and wave at whoever walked by--hard to envision in this city of locked black iron gates and flat-faced condo developments. On their new Division Street (Bloodshot), Rick Cookin' Sherry, Paul Kaye, Tom Ray, and Gary Elvis Schepers (who produced the album in addition to playing tuba) mix classics from Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, and the Reverend Gary Davis; public-domain treasures; and trad-influenced originals with an easygoing instrumental fluency that provides a nice contrast to Sherry's stiff declamations. These shows are all free. TISH HINOJOSA 7/7, FITZGERALD'S San Antonio-born singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa found her voice in New Mexico and did some time in Nashville, but eventually she came back to Texas and her Mexican-American roots, which she's explored regularly since, incorporating Tex-Mex and conjunto into her relentlessly tasteful bilingual balladry. Though she's got a bit of a reputation as a political activist, based on a few songs about acid rain and battered women and some cycles of playing a lot of benefits, she's also a cheerful careerist: "Although it is flattering to be asked to help, it's easy to fall into the 'cause circuit,'" she says in the bio for her new album, Sign of Truth, which is mostly a personal statement about her split with her husband and manager of 20 years. "I frequently have to re-prioritize my career profile, which will ultimately better help the causes I believe in." Who can blame her: politics got her a gig at the White House in 1996, the year her last proper album came out, but that apparently didn't impress execs at Warner Brothers, who kept her on a string for four years before releasing her to make this new record for Rounder. Los Super Seven accordionist Joel Guzman, the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, and pedal steel wizard Lloyd Maines (who appears with collaborator Terri Hendrix at the Hideout on Saturday) are among the 13 supporting musicians on the record; here Hinojosa will perform solo. DOLLAR LOVE PLUS 7/8, BEAT KITCHEN The self-released, eponymously titled debut by these three Chicagoans, 34 minutes and 17 songs long, is as lo-fi as it gets--at points they sound like a Muppet Babies version of early Yo La Tengo. The squeaky hesitancy of some of the singing can really test one's tolerance for the pleasures of amateur music making, but there's potential here: a foundation of playful pop luv and a good sense of structure. SILKWORM 7/8, DOUBLE DOOR Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett, the two songwriters in Silkworm, have more or less grown up in the band, which started in 1987 in their native Missoula and migrated to Seattle at the start of the 90s. Both men have delayed their "real" lives at various times to keep the project going--both returned to school in 1998--and are still at it, despite a mixed bag of relationships with record labels and a fair-size gap between critical acclaim and record sales. Their forthcoming seventh LP, Lifestyle, due from Touch and Go on August 8, seems to be about choices, sacrifices, and the proverbial inability to go home again--themes hammered home by the penultimate track, a cover of the Faces' wistful "Ooh La La." This certainly isn't the same band whose fiery guitar interplay drew comparisons to Television in the early 90s, but Cohen's quiet acoustic "Roots" ("If I leave work early one day on the 31st floor / You can stand aside or call the cops / As I break for the door") is as bittersweet and seething as anything he wrote back then. His strangled voice and Neil Young-derived electric guitar embody the struggle to transcend angst and exhaustion on "Slave Wages," and the restrained buildup of Midgett's "Plain" makes a 1984 reminiscence sting like it happened on the way to the session that morning. THINGY 7/12, SCHUBAS The most distinctive trait of the mid-90s southern California band Heavy Vegetable, the high-pitched octave singing of Rob Crow and Elea Tenuta, has been carried over to their new band, Thingy, which just won $40,000 from the Web site Gigmania to tour behind the new To the Innocent (Absolutely Kosher). What sounded so good to Gigmania, which seems to be trying to become the Starbucks of on-line concert promotion, is probably exactly what I can't get into: chiming, brooding, mildly rocking songs about the inner lives of scruffy postcollegiate boys with lyrics like "Sold off all my CDs and I / Still can't find any work and / I've been living Top Ramen and popcorn / For so long I can't feel my tongue anymore" and "Spent the whole Sunday hungover / But the Simpsons will be on soon." TARBOX RAMBLERS 7/13, SCHUBAS; 7/14, fitzgerald's This Boston quartet, led by guitarist and vocalist Michael Tarbox (ne White), evolved out of an "unruly" ten-piece "gospel orchestra." That's promising: even more than the blues, which has suffered from decades of watering down the stew, gospel is the best way to understand the sentiments at the heart of American music--sin, terror, exile, redemption. But the Tarbox Ramblers are not a gospel band; in fact their rapid and virtuosic shuffling of gospel with blues, country, folk, and swing makes Andrew Bird the closest analogue, though the Ramblers prefer earth and fire to the local fiddler's bubbly air and water. On their eponymously titled Rounder debut, Tarbox's dirty guitar and Daniel Kellar's slinky violin drive the tunes, while Jon Cohan's rockish drumming makes them sound a little more familiar.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Weston.