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RED FIVE 12/20, METRO Guitarists-vocalists Jenni McElrath and Betty Carmellini demonstrate an able way with a power chord and a punky pop zaniness reminiscent of the B-52's on this LA quartet's debut album, Flash (Interscope). Now if the band could just write a decent song or two. The deplorably soppy Sponge headlines. C-CLAMP 12/21, EMPTY BOTTLE On its first full-length, Meander and Return (Ohio Gold), this local threesome keeps the tempos slow, the mood dark 'n' dreamy, and the frequencies low. A healthy respect for balance and dynamics pays off in moments of brilliant, angular beauty, such as "A Stand Still," which oddly suggests a quiet Burt Bacharach-Dionne Warwick soul kiss; elsewhere, it at least prevents the thing from turning into sludge. EKOOSTIK HOOKAH 12/21, HOG HEAD McDUNNA'S This six-piece hippie-rock ensemble based in Columbus, Ohio, jams to the point of excess on a recent self-titled and -distributed double-live CD. Though the red-hot guitar break on their "Washboard Annie" would have tickled Jelly Roll Morton, these craftsmen seem content just to bring a twinkle to the eye of anyone nostalgic for a time when musicians were judged primarily by how fast they could play. HIDDEN CHRONICLES 12/21, LUNAR CABARET In-house artists Beau O'Reilly and Michael Greenberg (on piano) mostly avoid stuffy pretentiousness in this hardy cabaret-style project, thanks especially to the expressive range and sensitivity of O'Reilly's warble. Though by no means classifiable as rock, it's often reminiscent of early Bowie, a common influence no doubt being the stark music written by Kurt Weill and others for the plays of Bertolt Brecht. They're performing every Saturday this month; this bill includes a trio featuring Ken Vandermark. HONEYDOGS 12/21, SCHUBAS Not surprisingly this Minneapolis quartet's sound somewhat resembles that of the Jayhawks and Wilco (country-rock supergroup Golden Smog includes members from all three bands). Yet its second album, Everything, I Bet You (October), curiously echoes distinctive aspects of various Beatles tracks: "Miles Away" gets its rhythm from "Anna (Go to Him)" and "Moth" from "I Call Your Name," while "Kandiyohi" rocks a lot like "One After 909"; whenever guitarist Adam Levy intones the title name in "Miriam," he recalls Lennon's "Julia," and "Over You" ends on a conspicuously fancy chord, just like "She Loves You." Who woulda thunk it?--the Fab Four as forefathers of No Depression. ETHANSWING 12/26, EMPTY BOTTLE A brace of tracks from the compilation Beluga...on the Rocks finds this Libertyville band trying to wriggle its way out of a straitjacket. But jagged rhythms, dissonant riffs, and disgruntled vocals--energetic but unoriginal--prove no match for whatever's keeping it down.

--Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): C-Clamp photo.

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