ELLEN ROSNER 1/25, ABBEY PUB Local singer-songwriter Ellen Rosner has a big voice--and on her first album, The Perfect Malcontent, she sounded like she was trying to bind its feet to fit into her brittle and introspective femme-folk tunes. But if she could really let it rip in front of a great band, she could be a sort of contemporary out-of-the-closet Janis Joplin. She'll release a new album, Count to 3, in March, and while it's not quite there yet, it's much closer: playing in front of what sounds like a bunch of tough Chicago guys trying to get in touch with their sensitive side, Rosner still sounds a little misplaced on the lighter pop songs, but she shines on throaty ballads like "Vacancy." STARBALL 1/25, METRO As a name this band's been around since 1996, but its current incarnation--original guitarist and songwriter Tamar Berk, former Material Issue drummer Mike Zelenko, former Pulsars guitarist Eric Hanna, and bassist Steve Denekas--coalesced during the recent recording of the new full-length Superfans (available at www.starballmusic.com). The album is considerably more polished and the playing more skilled than on the garagey demo I first heard by a trio lineup in '97, but in spite of this, or more likely because of it, this one makes less of an impression: the exuberant, shamelessly earnest songs sound hooky while they're flying by, but most slide out the other ear as soon as they're done. SUPERDIAMOND 1/25 & 1/26, HOUSE OF BLUES In Jeff Krulik's documentary Neil Diamond Parking Lot, the lesser-known sequel to the cult film Heavy Metal Parking Lot, the filmmaker interviews hordes of the hammy balladeer's middle-aged fans, and though they're slightly more articulate than Judas Priest's followers, they're no less loyal and perhaps more gaga. It's really fascinating to observe the unironic adoration Diamond's fans feel for a guy who wrote songs for the Monkees, cranks out Christmas albums even though he's Jewish, and is perfectly willing to add layers of cheese to an already pungent slice--most recently revamping "America" with Melissa Etheridge for the dual purpose of war huckstering and Olympic advertising. But the Bay Area band Superdiamond, whose leader, Randy Cordero, calls himself Surreal Neil, obviously appreciates him as a camp icon as well as a man, and can reel in not only real Neil fans but also the types who think it's all real funny. Though they've actually released
an album of Diamond material, touring is Superdiamond's bread and butter--they do it quite a bit more than Diamond himself, and the shows are appropriately over-the-top, awash in spangles and smoke. Both of these were sold-out at press time. JJ72 1/29, METRO This young and very cute coed trio has just won the Irish Music Award for Best New Band, which makes me wonder what the competition was like. Their eponymously titled debut, on Columbia in the U.S., is certainly ambitious--string arrangements flesh out the bombastic alt-glam tunes, and front man Mark Greaney takes every opportunity to soar out of his freakishly androgynous tenor into a sandpapered wail or a full-on falsetto. The relentlessness of their delivery, at first impressive, eventually makes Smashing Pumpkins sound deadpan--and these kids claim to be Joy Division fans? CAROL GENETTI 1/30, EMPTY BOTTLE The voice is a sadly neglected instrument in free improvisation--in part because learning to stretch it beyond its normal limits requires a very rare sort of physical chops. Once mastered, as Jaap Blonk has proved in his frequent Chicago visits, it can express a very visceral range of sensations that just can't be simulated by any instrument one step removed from the body. On local vocalist Carol Genetti's first album under her own name, The Shattering (High Zero), she holds her own in interactions with saxophonists, clarinetists, guitarists, violinists, and an electronicist, meeping like Beaker, squawking like a flock of seagulls, growling like a Tuvan throat singer, and choking out alternately guttural and sensual strings of syllables that seem like they'd make perfect sense if you only spoke her language. Here she'll perform solo, then spar with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Bay Area bassist Damon Smith.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kevin Mooney.