JILL DAWSON 8/4, ABBEY PUB Here's something you don't see every day: in the liner notes to her debut CD, First Time Around, local singer-songwriter Dawson thanks Andersen Consulting and Oprah Winfrey. After seeing an Oprah segment about "living one's dreams," her bio elaborates, Dawson gave up the corporate life and turned to music like she'd always wanted. A corny story, yes, and musically she colors inside the lines like a good little girl, but as a mature woman with a bit of experience in moving between worlds she brings a different inflection to the usual tales of hope mildly fulfilled or mildly denied. DISTURBED 8/4, NEW WORLD MUSIC THEATRE; 8/6, Alpine Valley Music Theatre Most bands that think they can tap into metal's power without sacrificing radio playability wind up sounding just like all the other bands trying to do the same thing. This local quartet, which takes the second stage at Ozzfest just before Kittie, is gathering raves nationally, but I don't hear la difference: its debut, The Sickness (Giant), features the usual wall of detuned guitars, menacing Hetfieldian vocals, a lot of those improbably tight start-and-stop surges, and the occasional proggy flourish. DAVID GRUBBS 8/4, EMPTY BOTTLE Grubbs's work has always had a milk-in-the-refrigerator quality to it: he's technically accomplished and he's had his moments as a sideman or collaborator (he holds a drone just fine along with Tony Conrad and Pauline Oliveros on Oliveros's latest release for Table of the Elements), but his own solo work lacks some essential human element. A few weeks ago I saw him perform material from his forthcoming Drag City release, The Spectrum Between, at the Transmissions festival in Chapel Hill; he actually joked with the crowd and at a few points he looked like he was enjoying playing his guitar. But after a while the frosty neomodernist tension between his music and his lyrics is more boring than intriguing, and even when he writes about sex he sounds like he's quoting someone else's artful abstractions of passion. DOUG HOEKSTRA 8/4, HIDEOUT On last year's Make Me Believe (One Man Clapping) Chicago native and Nashville resident Hoekstra paints from a broader palette than many of his heartland-soul brethren. The arrangements, which incorporate electric and acoustic guitars, drums, bass, piano, organ, melodica, strings, harmonica, and sleigh bells, range from brittle to bloody to downright trippy, and Hoekstra's not afraid to whisper or linger well behind midtempo. And like John Mellencamp, he's discovered there's no roots-pop tune that can't be bolstered by judicious use of a gospel singer. His forthcoming fourth LP, Around the Margins, features guest appearances by Guillermo Gregorio and Jeff Kowalkowski; his band for this performance will include Kowalkowski on keyboards, Colleen Burke Kave on vocals, Allison Stanley on clarinet, Sam Bradshaw on upright bass, Mark Fornek on drums, and Pat Meusel on guitar. KENNY ROBY 8/4, SCHUBAS Roby's previous band, Six String Drag, which released one album on Steve Earle's label at the height of the Americana craze, never really rocked my cockles. It wasn't for lack of honest effort--it's just that honest effort isn't always enough. On his first solo album, last year's Mercury's Blues (Rice Box), three of his former bandmates help him craft half an hour of pleasant, vaguely swampy twang rock. If Roby has a real gift, it's his ability to inhabit the cliches of the genre like a native: he manages to write lyrics worth paying attention to about whiskey, baseball, washed-up small-town heroes, and star-crossed lovers ("Cleopatra and old Tony / Now she's just a mummy / And Rome ain't a country / Oh wasn't he the dummy / Always trying to feed the lady grapes / When she didn't like grapes"). SUGARMAN THREE 8/4, DOUBLE DOOR This New York instrumental band is actually a quartet and sometimes a quintet, not a trio. Bandleader Neal Sugarman spent time in New Orleans studying jazz, then moved back to New York to form this tight, slick boogaloo unit, whose main goal is to reproduce the sound of James Brown's mid-60s organ records. They've recorded two albums, Sugar Boogaloo and the new Soul Donkey, for New York's Desco Records, whose raison d'etre is only slightly broader, and as with their best-known labelmates, the Fela-worshiping Daktaris, their presentation is frighteningly flawless. HUUN-HUUR-TU 8/5, OLD TOWN SCHOOL A performance by these Tuvan cowboys is always an interesting twist on world-music tropes: the group often travels with an ethnomusicologist who explains the otherworldly art of throat singing and translates the folktales upon which the songs are based. But once the music starts, the alien drones and powerful rhythms fall into song forms that are instantly recognizable, even to the most isolationist ears, as rousing or playful or lonesome--rendering the spiel almost superfluous. EXZOSKELETON, TITAN ClASH 8/8, FIRESIDE BOWL Former Skin Graft staffer Billy Sides has started his own label--B. Sides Records--and its roster so far is small but eclectic. Last year he put out Exploring Biology, a solid hour of skree from his own destruct-o-matic free-noise unit Exzoskeleton; like most projects involving Weasel Walter (who plays sax and clarinet on the recording), it runs the gamut from exhilarating to numbing. Sides has also midwifed a seven-inch by Titan Clash, a slinky and sinister north-side hip-hop duo whose mesmerizing flow is interrupted by nary a jarring sample or jolting beat. Their upcoming full-length is a smooth ride by night on well-oiled shocks through a neighborhood that looks good but feels bad--a place where guys fight over girls, money, and attitude but still also live ordinary and sometimes illuminated inner and outer lives, where there are "gigabytes of light, shining white bright" even as "your girl be my alibi, screaming, 'Why, why?'"
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Duncan Yost.