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Spot Check 

Aretha Franklin 8/23, Petrillo Music Shell Like most of her recordings of the last two decades, Franklin's new single "It Hurts Like Hell" (from the Waiting to Exhale sound track) amounts to little more than evidence that she's still got more than enough voice to pull off the definitive soul classics in the box set Queen of Soul (Rhino), which covers her work on Atlantic from 1967 to 1976. With true diva temperament, Franklin's disappointed plenty of paying customers in recent years, but a mass congregation of Chicagoans ought to be able to coax a memorable performance out of this preacher's daughter. Jackson Browne 8/24, RAVINIA; 8/25, arie crown theatre Browne began in the late 60s as one of the west coast's most promising rock tunesmiths (for Nico, the Eagles, and Joe Cocker, among others), but his latest album, Looking East (Elektra), finds him splitting writing credits with all six of his backup musicians on mediocre fare like the apologetic, defensive "I'm the Cat" ("Baby I might not be all that / Your fortune cookie promised you / But I will do"). For the title song he reverts to his more recent role of concerned world citizen--morally admirable, but musically Browne's been darn near running on empty for almost 20 years. Also on the Arie Crown bill--"inspired" by California senator Tom Hayden--are Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bonnie Raitt, the Neville Brothers, the Soul Children gospel singers, and the cast of Hair. Where are the MC5 when you really need them?

Makers 8/24, Empty Bottle On the Makers' latest, self-titled album, 16 songs fly by in less than half an hour, each a sparkling, primitive, riff-driven garage original. But the Spokane quartet's chief asset is cartoon-voiced front man Mike Maker, who--though sometimes you wish he'd blow his nose--snarls with the conviction of a crazed teenage Van Morrison. Manic Street Preachers 8/27, Rosemont Horizon James Dean Bradfield's lead vocals recall Freddie Mercury's bravado on this Welsh trio's fourth album, Everything Must Go (Epic), whose occasionally catchy but mostly tedious power-chord anthems deal with topics such as the absurdity of British Elvis fanaticism ("Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier") and the mysterious 1995 disappearance of original guitarist Richey James ("Everything Must Go"). The Preachers' American distributor, Sony, has shown its confidence in the band's likelihood of success here: their 1992 debut album, Generation Terrorists, is already out of print. They open for Oasis.

Elle Burchell 8/29, Wild Hare On her self-distributed debut EP, AZ 1, Chicago singer-songwriter Elle Burchell's wispy Natalie Merchant-esque voice wafts over homegrown reggae rhythms. "All in a Day," with its gentle pop hooks, is the winner, but stuff like "Let Love Prevail" lays on the peace, love, and unity a bit thick. Thankfully Burchell resists trying for a phony Jamaican accent. Twigs 8/29, Double Door In an apparent attempt to appeal to precocious Tori and Alanis fans, these harmonizing local twin sisters have augmented the acoustic folk-based melodies on their debut CD with rock instrumentation courtesy of none other than Enuff Z'Nuff. On the self-produced Bring Me the Head of Eternity (Whirl-i-gig), "No Sympathy" sketches a rapist's biography from broken home to prison walls with all the insight and indignation you'd expect from a made-for-TV movie. A more refreshing sort of candor emerges from the line in "Revelation" that goes, "Fly across a million dollar sky"--sung like a self-told prophecy of success. Ken Vandermark 8/29, Lunar Cabaret Followers of Chicago's prolific free-blowing reedman can catch him in two rare modes in one night. He'll try out new ideas in his first solo performance this year, then join a quartet that includes Los Angeles-based drummer Al Locascio to play some of the Mingus-flavored hard bop charts they're currently recording for the sound track to an upcoming independent feature.

--Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Manic Street Preachers, by Julian Broad.

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