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Spot Check 

WAYNE KRAMER 3/24, DOUBLE DOOR Journeyman guitarist Wayne Kramer is often credited with inventing both heavy metal and punk rock during his stint in Detroit's influential MC5 back in the 60s. Now that his more famous bandmates Rob Tyner and Fred "Sonic" Smith have died off and punk rock's suddenly become a lucrative venture, the time must have seemed ripe for a Kramer solo record, so encouraged and joined by second-gen punks who revolve around the Epitaph Records/Bad Religion axis, Kramer graced the world with The Hard Stuff, a potent testament of his ability to peel off fat, driving riffs and slashing, acidic wah-wah-drenched leads. Unfortunately the songs, several of which were cowritten with former rock journalist/punk rock stalwart Mick Farren (Pink Fairies) are missing in action. Fortysomething icon Kramer hiply bills himself as a punk founding father, but he's still got 70s hard rock in his veins, bombast and ponderous lulls included. And when Wayne begins reciting his poetry --he's surely been liberated by Henry Rollins, who wrote the gushing liner notes--it's best to head for the hills, especially during an uncomfortable tribute to Charles Bukowski. SARKOMA 3/24, DOME ROOM On its recent Integrity (Red Light) this Rockford combo delivers a competent, if unspectacular, dose of groove-heavy metal grinding. Riding hard on relentless rhythmic pockets, they manage to avoid the predictable stop-start fixations of bands like Pantera and Helmet and also steer clear of the outright funk dabbling made popular by louts like Biohazard. But although it avoids these increasingly common pitfalls, their music offers nothing particularly compelling except an abundance of samples lifted from old movies. And to these ears that's simply not enough. HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH 3/24, ARAGON Like the Dave Matthews Band, the last neohippie dullard to play at the Aragon, North Carolina quartet Hootie & the Blowfish are multiracial and prescribe simplistic, feel-good solutions to the world's problems. The band's debut, Cracked Rear View (Atlantic), includes a bunch of cringe-inducing tunes, but none more ridiculous than "Hold My Hand," which suggests that if we only turn to our neighbor and grasp hands, a deep and lasting peace will ensue. Although the strong singing of Darius Rucker occasionally transcends the abundant cliches, Hootie's music wallows in barely resuscitated 70s riffs, appropriated R.E.M. guitar jangle, and weed-infected organ textures. In other words just another chip off the old H.O.R.D.E. block. Speaking of pot-induced hippie love, the comparatively forward-sounding Toad the Wet Sprocket headline. BIG SANDY & HIS FLY-RITE BOYS 3/24, CORONET, 3/25, FITZGERALD'S Jumping From 6 to 6 (Hightone), the 1994 album by LA's Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, is far and away the most extraordinary chunk of rockabilly I've heard in years. Big Sandy sings with supreme confidence, his voice dripping with the liquor-sodden nasality of Hank Williams and the manic desperation of Eddie Cochran, to say nothing of the spectacular dips he takes into his lower range or his leaps into falsetto yodels. Stand-up bassist Wally Hersom and drummer Bobby Trimble provide a loose-limbed driving force that fully understands the virtues of spareness, while the tight weave of guitarist Ashley Kingman and steel guitarist Lee Jeffriess (whose playing calls to mind the manic runs of Speedy West) stretches across the remarkable rhythmic framework, transforming from taut to quivering in seconds. The band's music thrives from a combination of hillbilly bop, western swing, and a few flashes of Hank-styled country, yet the sheer vibrancy of the end result makes such examinations pretty darn boring. Big Sandy will force you to put musical prejudices aside. DOWN BY LAW 3/25, TUNNELS OF FUN Fronted by Dave Smalley, former vocalist for both Dag Nasty and All, Down by Law provides a fine example of how to turn persistent mediocrity into a career. The lines "When voices scream inside your head / Just turn your amp up all the way" from "Punk as Fuck"--a song off the band's Punkrockacademyfightsong (Epitaph)--may be as tepid and trite a call to revolution as there is, but that's what the kids buying their records want to hear. As punk rock becomes further assimilated into the mainstream, bands led by people old enough to parent their audiences happily (and profitably) feed the kids punk as pabulum. Appropriately enough, this alternative-rock Raffi plays at a teenager amusement center. BUCKSHOT LE FONQUE 3/25, METRO A touring version of the jazz-hip hop fusion conceived last year by saxophonist and Tonight show bandleader Branford Marsalis and DJ Premier, this Buckshot LeFonque entourage includes such jazzers as pianist Joey Calderazzo, guitarist Carl Burnett, and bassist Reginald Veal. The project's eponymous recording is an uneven affair: on an instrumental funky jazz cut like "The Blackwidow Blues" they understand hip hop's grooves but don't let them get in their way, much like the superior Groove Collective. But overall the album suffers from too much ambition: gloppy ballads and throw-in-the-kitchen-sink excesses bring down the ship. One hopes live immediacy will strip Marsalis and crew of studio indulgence. THE PROUD 3/26, DOUBLE DOOR Odd moments on Smoke (Northport), the debut album from locals the Proud, glimmer with a hint of distinctiveness--the opening two-beat salvo of "Blow Wheels" or the strange dynamic shifts that lace "Go"--but most of the album sounds like an ordinary 80s-style AOR rock band trying to get in on this "alternative thing." Despite being stripped down, the album's closer, "Scareder," is the sort of power ballad that wouldn't be out of place on a Journey album. HONEYDOGS 3/30, LOUNGE AX Country-tinged rootsy rock 'n' roll from Minneapolis. Not bad, not much more.

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