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Mercy Beat 10/11, Thurston's Christian and Justin Webb, sons of 60s pop songwriter Jimmy (the one responsible for "MacArthur Park"), formed this quartet in Boston, then last year moved it to Chicago. The knotty mid-tempo rock of the just-released Extended Play (Indie City) shows that they've inherited their dad's flair for churning out better-than-average mainstream material. Prescriptions, Cash Money, Notwist 10/11, Metro Ex-Smoothie Sarah Contorer's new band, Prescriptions, sets her bright voice against blistering dual guitars propelled by ex-Motorhome drummer Laura Ann Masura, but with the notable exception of the neatly revolving "Your Tinyness," the songs on their demo tend to buckle under arty ambitions. Touch and Go just signed Cash Money, a duo spun off from the local Late Great Danes. On a recent single, "Oil Can" (Tugowar), sotto voce crooning insinuates as a blues-riffin' bayou guitar exerts tensile strength over Bonham-esque bashing. The Notwist is a German prog-metal trio that dabbles in avant-gardism rather tediously at spots on its Only in America (Zero Hour), but Markus Acher's sad, gentle vocals can be quite affecting, especially on an epic version of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary." Spoon, Venus Cures All 10/11, Lounge Ax When Britt Daniel, singer-guitarist of Austin's Spoon, gets an urge he lets out with it ("So put the notebook down / And take off your dress"). His jarring, spasmodic songcraft and delivery animate the band's debut full-length, Telephono (Matador). The women of Toronto's Venus Cures All seem primarily interested in how much of a feedback-streaked guitar racket they can summon over their drummer's frequent time changes, but the semblance of a song peeks through occasionally. Scrawl headlines (see Critic's Choice). Dirty Dozen, Squirrel Nut Zippers 10/16, Fitzgerald's; 10/17, Martyrs Maybe their feet can't fail them, but the Dirty Dozen's studio instincts sure do on Ears to the Wall (Mammoth), which heralds the dropping of "Brass Band" from the New Orleans octet's moniker. All horns are still present--the shake-up was in the rhythm section, which now meets the specifications for a conventional funk band. Yet another lousy album isn't necessarily cause for alarm though, since the Dozen's forte has always been its jubilant live sets. Labelmates the Squirrel Nut Zippers cross sassy Fats Waller jive with flaming Charleston zest of the 20s, intermittently breaking for torch ballads sung distinctively by banjoist Katharine Whalen. The combination may baffle purists, but the Zippers' vaudevillian knack holds it together. Sub Rosa 10/17, Phyllis' Musical Inn This local quartet enthusiastically reprises familiar mid-60s styles on a recent demo tape, employing Byrds-ish harmonies on "If You Go Away," going existentially batty ("Should I have some faith when I don't believe / That I love what I despise?") on the Donovan-esque "3/4," and whooping it up on the psychedelic soul shouter "Forget Me Not" like neighborhood kids practicing for an upcoming sock hop.

--Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Prescriptions photo.

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