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BOTTLE OF JUSTUS 12/28, HOUSE OF BLUES I have no idea if this Bloomington band's new disc, America Cries, got titled before or after Recent Events, but America is certainly entitled to cry over the SUV-commercial alt-rock genre they and others are still flogging even though the last of the rotten meat has fallen off its corpse. WAYNE "THE TRAIN" HANCOCK 12/28, HIDEOUT; 12/29, FITZGERALD'S The cover of Wayne Hancock's 1999 album, Wild, Free & Reckless (Ark 21), sports a Route 66 sign; to some that signals the real thing, to others it heralds a nostalgia trip. But "real" doesn't always mean "did it first," and the stuff Hancock specializes in--the eternal happy-sad struggle as voiced by a human with a guitar--is as timeless as it gets. Earlier albums occasionally featured flourishes that seemed intended to lure commercial country fans, but his latest, A-Town Blues (his first for Chicago's Bloodshot label), is his truest so far; I bet Bloodshot's his best bet yet at finding the folks whose heartstrings will thrum to his plaintive hillbilly call. WOLCOTT 12/29, THE NOTE I'm not a native midwesterner, and I don't drive, so I've hardly been anywhere in Illinois not served by the CTA. But it seems to me midwesterners have a deeper fondness for unabashed AOR rock--Styx, REO, Survivor, and many of their ilk were from here, after all--than folks from other regions. This young band from Lansing, Illinois, breathes a little life back into the form on its first full-length, All Aboard. It's laden with corn-fed power ballads and slightly bitter nice-guy sing-alongs and executed with a complete lack of mystery or irony; the sincerity is key, but so is the attention to detail: lovely little acoustic-guitar and keyboard fills, pristine harmonies, and Rush-lite guitar runs galore. IKE REILLY 12/31, SCHUBAS Former Drover Ike Reilly, a 38-year-old Libertyvillian whose rather rugged glamour sets him a far cry from your usual twentysomething sensitive balladeer, plays up the rough and gruff on his Universal debut, Salesmen and Racists, produced by Mike Simpson of the Dust Brothers. Too many heartland rockers wouldn't know a good nasty sense of humor if it gave 'em a blow job in the middle of a Packers-Bears halftime show, but Reilly earns his parental advisory sticker with tales of "Angels and Whores," fast 'n' easy commies, "hip-hop thighs," and fear and loathing in the money wash. Probably his biggest recent gig around here was opening for his hero Joe Strummer at the Metro; his battle-scarred wit is a fair enough local analogue. 93XRT NEW YEAR'S EVE ROCK 'N' ROLL BALL 12/31, NAVY PIER Once again 'XRT demonstrates its keen ability to sniff out the bands you'd be a Scrooge to actually hate: Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise, whose very calling card is inoffensiveness; Poi Dog Pondering, who taunt critics with flickers of musical interestingness in the midst of an arm-waving happy party; and Cheap Trick, a working-class nostalgia act. With the exception of Rockford's finest, it's as hard to imagine anybody passionately loving any of these bands as it is pointless to actively dislike them--but maybe that's appropriate at a show designed for people who don't know anybody who can be bothered to throw a real party.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Minchin III.

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