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JOE LOUIS WALKER 10/20, BUDDY GUY'S On the recently released Blues of the Month Club (Verve) California bluesman Joe Louis Walker continues to streamline his amalgam of soul, gospel, and hard urban blues. His improved singing--dig the convincing grit of "Lost Heart"--comes closer to matching the stunning fluency of his guitar playing, and if ultimately he's not furthering the tradition much, his punchy execution of the essentials remains top-notch. SPARKLEHORSE 10/20, PARK WEST The brainchild of Richmond's Mark Linkous, Sparklehorse purveys delicate, gauzy country rock, quavering Neil Young-ish crooning, and cathartic rock explosions. The band's terrific debut, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (Capitol), identifies them as spiritual kin to oddballs like Acetone and Latin Playboys--but doesn't sound like either. Their wiggy dynamics, catchy tunes, and ability to incorporate extraneous noises make this one of the year's more interesting debuts. Son Volt headline, playing songs from their superb debut, Trace. G. LOVE & SPECIAL SAUCE 10/20, METRO Coast to Coast Motel (OKeh/Epic) finds G. Love & Special Sauce partially succumbing to the sophomore slump. Admirably, they're eliminating many of the novel hip-hop elements that marked their striking debut last year, but G. Love's songwriting and monochromatic slurring/singing isn't varied or strong enough to pull the trio through the resulting stylistic quagmire. There are some fine moments--such as the New Orleansy single "Kiss and Tell"--but they're a bit too infrequent. Spastic Austin antifolkie Hamell on Trial opens. SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS 10/20, DOUBLE DOOR On its debut album, The Inevitable Squirrel Nut Zippers (Mammoth), this seven-piece Chapel Hill combo filters 20s and 30s swing and pop music through a modern sensibility. Unfortunately their evocation of the golden era of flappers and speakeasies plays up the goofy novelty factor at the expense of urgency or emotional potency. Singer/banjo player Katharine Whalen's transparent emulation of Billie Holiday makes her numerous shortcomings--both technical and expressive--stick out like a sore thumb. Because the band's members are young and they come out of the indie-rock scene, someone's decided that they have greater artistic credence than a wedding band playing the same material with more skill. True, SNZ play mostly original material, but the only things that separate them from Taco--remember "Puttin' on the Ritz"--is the lack of synthesizers and makeup. PERE UBU 10/21, ELBO ROOM Pere Ubu (or the band that wouldn't die) returns with a new album on a new label. On the delightfully chaotic Ray Gun Suitcase (Tim Kerr)--a decent return to form following a graceless and tacky attempt at pop stardom--band founder David Thomas is joined by only one veteran member, guitarist Jim Jones, but Robert Wheeler's squealing EML synthesizer and theremin playing clearly evoke the spirit of Allen Ravenstine. Jones isn't touring with the band, but in his stead is the band's brilliant original guitarist, Tom Herman, who hasn't played with Ubu in 15 years. 2 FOOT FLAME 10/21, LOUNGE AX A new trio comprising Mecca Normal chanteuse Jean Smith and two New Zealanders--Peter Jefferies (piano and drums) and the Dead C's Michael Morley (guitar and synth). Their eponymous debut (just issued by Matador) finds 2 Foot Flame delivering emotionally intense fuzzed-out drones and Smith playing the raw-edged siren amid undulating waves of distortion. Jefferies and Morley (as his alter ego Gate) open with solo sets. D'ANGELO 10/22, PARK WEST On his stunning debut, Brown Sugar (EMI), 21-year-old D'Angelo delivers a compelling twist on contemporary R & B. Situating easy-swinging jazz and slinky hip-hop rhythms beneath his luxuriant croon--which makes most of the stops between Marvin Gaye and Prince--he brilliantly bypasses new-jack swing with an infectious laid-back vibe that slithers between gloppy ballad styles and densely hammering beats. Some of the lyrics are weak, but between his convincing falsetto nailing of Smokey Robinson's "Crusin'," his gritty paean to marijuana on the title track, and the sleepy but violent response to finding his lover in bed with someone else in "Shit, Damn, Motherfucker," the album introduces a major new voice. Stepchild and Common Sense open. CHEMICAL BROTHERS, Ashtar Command 10/24, METRO On its domestic debut, Exit Planet Dust (Astralwerks), this British dance music duo manages to melt down a wide array of current dance-floor styles into a generic mound of uninspired samples and beats. Hip-hop and Lords of Acid-style techno rock form the core of their onslaught, but there ain't much else to this thick attack on the senses. As if the space rock he plays in Sabalon Glitz and the chamber pop he crafts in Yum Yum weren't enough, bespectacled scenester and talkative synthesizer collector Chris Holmes announces his arrival into the world of ambient techno, opening the show as Ashtar Command. Could a rural blues project be in the offing? KING KONG 10/25, LOUNGE AX The new Me Hungry (Drag City), the third collection from perpetual Louisville oddballs King Kong, is a concept album about a caveman, his woman, his friendly yak, the dangerous animals he encounters, and irritating elemental forces like snow ("Stings my skin, burns my toes"), among other Neanderthal travails. If you can get with the childlike naivete you might find it a real hoot, but otherwise you'll be left wondering whether bandleader Ethan Buckler is the idiot savant people claim him to be or just a huckster.

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