LUKA BLOOM 5/9, PARK WEST This Irish singer-songwriter, ne Barry Moore, cut his teeth on the folk circuit in the 70s, then spent a chunk of the 80s aping U2. Upon moving to the U.S. in '87 he reinvented himself as an edgy urban chronicler, with a new name drawn from the works of two favorites, Suzanne Vega and James Joyce. He's since returned to his native Kildare, releasing his most recent studio album, Between the Mountain and the Moon, last year on February 1, feast day of the town's patron, Saint Brigid, and recording his new Amsterdam (Evolver) there before a reverent crowd just a few days later. Except for Mike Scott's "Sunny Sailor Boy" and Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," all the songs on the disc are Bloom's own, and the clear, cozy sound of his lad-from-the-pub voice and reconstructed guitar style (developed after tendinitis prevented him from fingerpicking) creates an air of
cosmopolitan ease. DECEMBERISTS 5/9, GUNTHER MURPHY'S It's easy to mistake the sweet, pealing guitar pop of this Portland quintet's first full-length, Castaways and Cutouts (Kill Rock Stars), for the usual diffident indie-rock courtship sound track. But Colin Meloy's lyrics are something else entirely: antiquarian short stories chock-full of baby girl ghosts, mothers who whore themselves to sailors, disoriented soldiers, and candlelit prayers--their first-person narration is clearly not limited to his own experience. You have to admire a guy who can use the word "petticoats" seriously in two separate songs. Meloy's slight vocal resemblance to Robyn Hitchcock is apt given their shared sensibilities. If only some of the hooks here were as irresistible as Hitchcock's. LETTERPRESS OPRY 5/9, FITZGERALD'S Chicago has no shortage of alt-country bands, but our city relies on a periodic infusion of inspiration from the greater midwest. Stacy Webster, front man for this Iowa band, has a deep voice that cracks with the fear of God, and the fiddling of his wife, Annie Savage, roots his sometimes supernatural tales in reality. Robbie Fulks headlines. CYNTHIA DALL 5/10, SCHUBAS Cynthia Dall's new album, Sound Restores Young Men (Drag City), has been so long in the making that three of its cuts were recorded by the local duo of Jim O'Rourke and Phil Bonnet, a partnership that ended with Bonnet's sudden death in early 1999. Dall, a rare presence these days, sounds like a ghost heroically willing herself into corporeality. There's a real, terrifying fragility here--the throbbing build of "Extreme Cold" and down-tempo pulse of "Not One" make me hope for some kind of climax, yet fear it. Dall also plays an in-store at Reckless Records on Milwaukee this Saturday at 3. ZEKE, CAMAROSMITH 5/10, FIRESIDE Well, how long did you expect them to keep going? Too hard and fast and loud to last, Zeke, authors of such classics as Death Alley and Kicked in the Teeth, are calling it quits after a decade of duty. Drummer Donny Paycheck is pragmatically taking this opportunity to introduce his new band, Camarosmith. With its Jack Endino-produced debut, complete with Sabbath-parody album cover, the band yanks out any remaining punk roots and then stomps off like a greasy stoner-rock giant. MAYDAY 5/12, SCHUBAS A pity about the 1999 breakup of Lullaby for the Working Class--though a little dolefully earnest, that early exemplar of the "Omaha scene" deserved better than it got. With Mayday, Lullaby's Ted Stevens (better known for his work with Cursive) once more invokes his quiet, sad country muse. This side project (with friends from Bright Eyes and Lullaby) recorded its second album, I Know Your Troubles Been Long (Bar/None), on an eight-track for an intimate honky-tonk feel. MESHUGGAH 5/13, METRO One of my favorite paradoxes in rock 'n' roll is that while its spirit is essentially rebellious, its forms are quickly reduced to dogmatic formulas. In metal as in all genres, there's a tension between tradition and innovation, and it's always fun to watch the headbangers and moshers keep abreast of changes in time signature and morphings of style. For years, Sweden's Meshuggah has been keeping the audience guessing without losing it entirely--nothing on last year's Nothing stays still long enough to calcify. Few bands are so heavy yet so limber: it's like watching a T. rex tap-dance. TOMAHAWK 5/13, The VIC Mike Patton's latest project--featuring ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, ex-Cows bassist Kevin Rutmanis, and ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier--is pretty low-key as supergroups go. Not particularly avant-garde, and not terribly heavy by modern standards, Tomahawk seem pledged to restoring the honor of hard rock by keeping the center of gravity low while scaling fiery heights. The unfocused ideas of their self-titled debut cohere on their beautifully packaged second album, Mit Gas (Ipecac). Skeleton Key opens, followed by the Melvins. SPIDERS 5/14, FIRESIDE BOWL The hype would have it that this Austin band stole a show or two at SXSW, and no wonder: the four-song preview of their second album, Glitzkrieg (Acetate), sounds custom designed to jar an overcrowded room of hungover industry weasels into consciousness--though the rest of us might wonder what the fuss is about. The Spiders are clean, mean, and technically proficient, but there's nothing here you haven't heard before or won't hear again, and front man Chris Benedict's Bowie-meets-Ozzy mannerisms aren't quite enough to give this riffy punk-metal band personality. Guitarist Eric Shaw sure can play, though--at least as well as any nu-metal dude. CHERYL WHEELER 5/14 & 15, SCHUBAS This New England-based singer-songwriter seems to be taking a little time to reflect: Different Stripe (Rounder), her first album since 1999, culls highlights from her 16-year career and tosses in a couple of new songs. Her pastoral, plaintive folk ballads, which have been covered by everyone from Garth Brooks to Bette Midler, tie personal struggles to changes in nature. And the 51-year-old could teach younger songbirds a thing or two about subsuming lyrics to the demands of melody. Though her wordplay is nothing to ignore, the unfurling of each line is dictated by the bends of the music. ACOUSTIC STRAWBS 5/15, FITZGERALD'S As a significant part of the first English folk-music boom, the first band signed to A&M Records, and onetime home to Sandy Denny and Rick Wakeman, the Strawbs would be interesting for historical value alone. But since the 36-year-old institution reunited at Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival in the mid-90s, head Strawb Dave Cousins has been thinking comeback. The Strawbs have passed through a number of styles (their Wakeman-driven prog period is probably the most notorious), but for present purposes they've been incarnated as an acoustic folk trio. Last year's Baroque & Roll (on their own Witchwood label), their first studio album in ten years, builds anew some old folk-period classics, like "Tears and Pavan" and "Ghosts," with spare, mournful arrangements. Cousins, Dave Lambert, and Brian Willoughby (all legitimate old-school Strawbs by my reckoning) share acoustic-guitar duties and vocals; Cousins also contributes dulcimer and banjo.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Vivane Oh.