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ARRIVALS 1/31, FIRESIDE BOWL On its second album, Exsenator Orange (Thick), this south-side quartet serves up cold meat-and-potatoes Chicago punk. Singer-guitarists Isaac Thotz and Dave Merriman spit out melodies a good deal more complex than the saccharine hooks of whatever pop punkers are hot on MTV this week. But the Arrivals lack the precision and attention to detail of their forebears Naked Raygun (or even the Smoking Popes), so their instrumental attack quickly subsides into a dull buzz-ing throb. DEVENDRA BANHART, CHILDREN'S HOUR 1/31, HIDEOUT The homemade lo-fi music on Devendra Banhart's debut, Oh Me Oh My...the Way the Day Goes by the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit (Young God), is about as self-conscious as the title would lead you to expect. Part acoustic troubadour, part outsider-art freak, the 21-year-old Californian sings in a quavery tenor that recalls folk great Karen Dalton, occasionally leaping up into a falsetto a la Daniel Johnston. His phrasing often seems improvised--in a five-year-old-kid way, not in a jazz way--but when he overdubs vocal parts (as on "Nice People") he can sound deliciously creepy. Reportedly his live performances are, like his album, erratic. No such caveat applies to the Children's Hour: the duo's eponymous four-song debut, recently released on Minty Fresh, is one of the most exciting things I've heard in months. Its simple yet heart-wrenching songs combine the austerity of British folk, the fragility of Cat Power, and the naive sweetness of Melanie. Entrance, the strident new solo acoustic project from Convocation Of... bassist Guy Blakeslee, headlines. Banhart also plays an in-store at Reckless Records on Milwaukee today at 3:30 PM. CAFFEINE 2/2, HUNGRY BRAIN This aptly named free-improv juggernaut--reedist Ken Vandermark, keyboardist Jim Baker, and former NRG Ensemble drummer Steve Hunt--revs up like a Ferrari and rolls like a tank. But the members are all careful listeners, and they interact with precision and surprising delicacy. This is the trio's first show in three years. TWINEMEN 2/2, ELBO ROOM Saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Billy Conway, the core members of this new Boston group, are best known for their work in the moody trio Morphine. On the new band's eponymous debut they overdub a mixture of piano, "low guitar," and plain old guitar in an attempt to make up for the absence of Mark Sandman, whose breathy vocals and eerie slide bass defined Morphine until his death in 1999. Laurie Sargent, who inherits the singer's role, has an evocative, suitably smoky voice. But the songs merely hover--at least Morphine's eventually drifted someplace. TERRY CALLIER 2/3, GREEN MILL Encouraged by a wave of adulation from London acid-jazz DJs, local folk-jazz-soul singer-guitarist Terry Callier staged a triumphant comeback in the mid-90s. Verve Records jumped on the bandwagon, releasing a pair of ambitious if flawed albums, but dumped Callier when they didn't sell. He's since been scooped up by the British imprint Mr. Bongo, where he's been working with many of the younger UK talents who were singing his praises a decade back--his newest studio effort, Speak Your Peace, features production work by the electronic group 4 Hero on several tunes. More brisk and airy than the Verve albums, it's his best disc in several decades, emphasizing his soul influences in a way that's reminiscent of the three classic records he cut for Cadet in the early 70s. Now if only he'd record a full album with the group of Chicago vets he works with in town every week--guitarist David Onderdonk, bassist Eric Hochberg, percussionist Penn McGee, and reedist Rich Fudoli. KIM RICHEY 2/5, SCHUBAS On her fourth album, Rise (Lost Highway), Nashville insider-outsider Kim Richey--now revealing only a trace of the rough-hewn twang and slight rasp she sang with on her early discs--continues to vie for a spot in the CD changers of discerning NPR listeners. Though producer Bill Bottrell (Sheryl Crow, Shelby Lynne) tries to drown Richey's songs in an atmospheric wash, the tunes generally have enough personality to survive the treatment. Live they just might sound great.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Galen Pehrson.

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