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BAD LIVERS 8/12, LOUNGE AX On their second album, Horses in the Mines (Quarterstick), these Austin oddballs continue to breeze through bluegrass and old-timey music with a punkish irreverence and energy. This fast-moving banjo, guitar, and double bass trio escapes the dreaded rootsy jokehole syndrome epitomized by yahoos from Mojo Nixon to the Rugburns with its surprisingly fluid, buoyant, and lyrical playing, both on traditional material and some striking originals--I'd rather ignore the "wacky" punk covers. Their stylistic breadth sounds a bit studied at times, but their raucous live shows prove they're anything but academics. Their only great weakness: their forcibly nasal singing. HEATH CHAPPELL & JAMES OWENS 8/12, BOP SHOP Based on the short demo tape I've heard, this instrumental bass-drum duo--bassist Owens played in the late Hal Russell's NRG 3--pounds out a lean, ferocious groove with the facile expressiveness of the Japanese duo Ruins, but eschews that group's hard-core energy and mayhem in favor of a more fluid, if slightly overbusy funk-based attack. SARA HICKMAN 8/12, SCHUBAS Last year Austinite Sara Hickman found herself dropped from her label, Elektra, after two releases with a third in the can. The label was willing to sell her the unreleased album for $100,000, and though the fee was eventually cut in half, it was still far more than the singer-songwriter could afford. So she appealed to her fans. The response was so enthusiastic that she not only got her album back but contributed a hefty sum to a Romanian children's fund. That album, augmented with some newer material, is the recently released Necessary Angels (Discovery). It's a nice story, and it proves Hickman has generous fans, but the record's highly crafted, overripe, VH-1 adult pop hardly seems rousing enough to elicit such philanthropy. MO FUZZ 8/13, DOUBLE DOOR Blending sloppily articulated guitars and uncomfortably stuttering rhythms with a low-rent sense of melodrama, Mo Fuzz represent your basic local alterna-whatever rock band, yet another of the "too manys." On their recent The Great Unwashed (Lunch Money/Moot), vocalist Crush't Velour attempts to offset the hard instrumental attack with sweet singing, but she's so miserably flat that she merely comes off as another opaque hue in a strictly dullsville swirl. An absolutely horrendous cover of Devo's "Mongoloid" only adds insult to injury. FREEDY JOHNSTON 8/15 & 16, SCHUBAS New York-based, Kansas-bred Freedy Johnston continues to churn out appealing, endearing, and softly hooky guitar pop with subtle intelligence and wit. On his major-label debut, This Perfect World (Elektra), he sounds a little more settled and accepting, but his gently delivered tales of inner turmoil and rocky relationships remain sharply perceptive. More compelling, though, is the way the words navigate the gorgeous, languid melodies and the soft but insistent rhythms, like a skiff hugging the gentle swells of a calmly rolling bay. While the new record lacks some of the peaks of his previous album, Can You Fly (Bar/None), its stunning overall consistency clearly establishes Johnston as a mature popster of the first class. GEORGE FREEMAN 8/16, HOTHOUSE The lesser-known guitar-player brother of saxophonist Von Freeman makes one of his infrequent live north-side appearances under decidedly unusual circumstances: he's sharing the bill with a couple of experimental rock bands, Gastr del Sol and Tortoise. His forthcoming album on a new, as-yet-unnamed Chicago label, a spare quartet outing that features drummer John McEntire (of Tortoise and the Sea and Cake), finds the jazzman digging deep into bluesy, often funky grooves, his rough-hewn solos emerging organically out of his highly rhythmic playing. What this combo lacks in finesse is compensated for in body-shaking exuberance. MANU DIBANGO 8/16, NEW REGAL THEATER Cameroon-born saxophonist and bandleader Manu Dibango was instrumental in spreading African music around the globe, scoring a massive international hit with "Soul Makossa" in 1972. But while he hasn't altered his busy schedule--at age 60 he's got more than 20 albums to his credit--his groove-heavy genre splicing lacks the edge it once had. His new Wakafrika (Giant) features a veritable who's who of Afro-pop stars--Youssou N'Dour, King Sunny Ade, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Papa Wemba, among others, to say nothing of ubiquitous non-Africans Peter Gabriel and Sinead O'Connor--but just sounds like the world in a high-tech blender. There's something perverse about an African covering songs written by white guys trying to sound African, but Dibango nevertheless hands in sterile treatments of Gabriel's overwrought "Biko" and Paul Simon's wan "Homeless." Surely his exuberant, gritty funk will sound a lot better without all the guest stars. Hugh Masekela headlines. TRIPMASTER MONKEY 8/18, DOUBLE DOOR Spunky, forgettable rock music for think-alike college students made by four guys who would probably have been more successful as accountants, lawyers, or insurance salesmen. If you're not part of the solution, you're surely part of the glut.

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

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