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ALBERT HILL 1/17, EMPTY BOTTLE Signed briefly to the local Fuse label, this South Carolina quintet just graduated to the big leagues. With their rudderless blend of Hootie ooze and Pearl Jam lordliness Universal's new signees should cruise right onto mainstream rock radio. What I'm wondering, though, is how, after playing the Cubby Bear last November, they got booked into a respectable joint like the Empty Bottle.

GOURDS 1/17, SCHUBAS This rootsy, mainly acoustic Austin quartet augments its guitars and rhythm with prominent accordion and mandolin. Despite a tendency to play up the rusticity--titling its debut album Dem's Good Beeble (Munich), laying on the southern accents extra thick, gratuitously hootin' an' hollerin', occasionally forcing sparseness of arrangement and repetitiveness of tune--the group's breezy manner, assured playing, and lilting harmonies render favorable comparisons to the Band inevitable.

HARROD & FUNCK 1/17 & 18, COVENANT PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH This Boston-based acoustic folk duo hooked up seven years ago in Chicago, where previously both members had been performing solo. Their tasteful fretwork supports a polished vocal approach that suggests a pairing of Bono and Art Garfunkel, while the songs bring to mind the more pedestrian Chad and Jeremy.

JOHNNY PAYCHECK 1/18, FITZGERALD'S A one-time sideman for George Jones, Paycheck still intones with a style and richness comparable to that of his old boss. After the flush of international success in the 70s from his country anthem for the working man, "Take This Job and Shove It," he took his career and nearly blew it, narrowly surviving years of substance abuse and a prison term for shooting a man in a bar. His newly adopted theme song, "There Lies the Difference," from The Difference in Me (Playback), convincingly bespeaks a sinner's atonement. It was penned, ironically, by David Nowlen, one of Brian Wilson's old cohorts from the one-off group the Survivors.

MINT CONDITION 1/20, HOUSE OF BLUES The recent success of these Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis proteges' single, "What Kind of Man Would I Be," from Definition of a Band (Perspective), reflects a resurgence on the pop charts of 70s-style sweet soul group balladry; its surging guitar break confirms the enduring influence of Isley Brothers axman Ernie.

WACO BROTHERS 1/23, HOUSE OF BLUES With players hailing from Wreck, Revolting Cocks, KMFDM, and Jesus Jones, this Chicago sextet serves up hard country, rollicking and undiluted, in line with the long-evident leaning of its leader, the Mekons' Jon Langford. A new full-length album, Cowboy in Flames (Bloodshot), incorporates licks from T. Rex and Bo Diddley but focuses on finding the punkish ferocity at the core of standards like "White Lightning" and "Big River," which appear alongside like-minded originals. Smithereens headline. --Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Harrod and Funck photo.

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