LUTHER WRIGHT & THE WRONGS 10/31, FITZGERALD'S I'm afraid this Canadian alt-country band will always be remembered for one uncharacteristically bold move--last year's amazing Rebuild the Wall, a brilliantly executed down-home reworking of Pink Floyd's infamous dystopian angstfest. The charms of their original material, as heard on their new album, Guitar Pickin' Martyrs (Back Porch), are a lot more subtle: Wright's straightforward, almost conversational songwriting ("See that rusty old crank at the top, it's so picturesque / That's just what I've become, in a nutshell I gave up more or less," goes a snippet of the punnish "Wish Me Well"); the lonesome near yodel of his voice; the tight, richly ornamental playing of the band. BLACK KEYS 11/1, ABBEY PUB For the first 40 of its roughly 50 years, rock 'n' roll was moving fairly steadily away from the blues. Maybe Jon Spencer was more pivotal than I gave him credit for being, or maybe what goes around really does come around (or however that Ratt song has it), but right now blues-based rock seems as pure an expression of youthful longing as you'll find. Dan Auerbach, singer and guitarist in this Akron duo, swears to the world the record that made him wanna play was by Son House, and I believe it. Their puppyishly slobbery idea of "primal," refined to a groan on their second album, Thickfreakness (Fat Possum), plays better to Stooges fans than to purists, but that's kind of the good part--they're not really aping Delta bluesmen of the 20s so much as they're redefining the blues for the kids, with all the weird fantasies and inarticulate longings that entails. KILLING JOKE 11/1, METRO Half-mad, pointedly political rage is at least as reasonable an artistic stance now as it was 20 years ago, but we're not seeing it so much from the young 'uns as from a previous generation coming back out of the woodwork. Killing Joke--who perfected a tight, slightly gothic postpunk with beats that landed like punches--is the latest to reemerge, with a suitably brutal and frightening new Andy Gill-produced album on Epic. Most of the original members are in on this (but not drummer Paul Ferguson, who's replaced by Dave Grohl), and from moment one it's a mightily charged rant session, turning Book of Revelations imagery back against those in power who think in such terms and harnessing the forces of metal, punk, and industrial to evoke war for the sake of protesting it. MIRANDA SOUND 11/2, SUBTERRANEAN The thing you notice on this Columbus quartet's second full-length, Engaged in Labor (Standard Recording Company), is the thickness of the sound--the kitchen-sink arrangements and sweet harmonies generate an atypical level of hooky rock power, and the bass tones (though not the lines) sound like they've blundered in from a funk album. When things settle down a trace of archness creeps in, but fortunately the band's natural tendency is to step on it. GUS BLACK 11/4, SCHUBAS Think "wan." Or "languid," or any other fin-de-siecle-before-last kind of word. On his new Uncivilized Love (Immergent) this LA songwriter sounds like he's reclining on a chaise longue and dictating his ethereal musings to the winds, perhaps gesturing dreamily with an absinthe spoon. (Surely some Aubrey Beardsley draw-alike could have been found to do the cover art.) For all his Nick Drake-ish swooniness, though, I'm not the least bit surprised Black claims Cat Stevens as an influence; add a pinch of Bono (or is that Jim Kerr?) and you've got the mix. ACOUSTIC STRAWBS 11/6, FITZGERALD'S While these English veterans continue to tour as an acoustic trio, they've plugged back in on their new album, Blue Angel (Witchwood); it's classic electric folk rock in all its melodious, slightly medieval formality, played with a triumphant earnestness, as though the last 35 years had turned out to be a bad dream. Predictably, the track that tries to rock the hardest ("Rhythm of the Night") is the only real dud. Steeleye Span's luminous diva Maddy Prior contributes vocals to the closing hymn, "The King." JENNY TOOMEY & FRANKLIN BRUNO 11/6, SUBTERRANEAN If former Simple Machines co-owner and Tsunami member Jenny Toomey seems less than 100 percent focused on her own recording career, well, she's got a lot on her mind; through her Future of Music Coalition (futureofmusic.org) she's been speaking out on issues like intellectual-property law and media consolidation. As valuable as her voice is in policy debate, it's nice to hear her sing once in a while too--Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno (Misra) is her most confident-sounding performance yet. Her delivery of Bruno's urbane compositions is warm and supple, and the cabaret flavor picks up a little south-of-the-border sway from accompanists that include Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.