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BRAXTONS 2/7 & 8, ROSEMONT THEATRE A whopping nine producers working on their debut album, So Many Ways (Atlantic), failed to make these three gals with average voices sound like anything beyond a blatant attempt to ride the coattails of fab elder sister Toni. They open for Luther Vandross.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY 2/7-9, HORIZON Formed as a hardcore unit in the early 80s, this North Carolina quartet blew through a variety of styles and players until 1994, when it settled on the current lineup and the concise swamp funk and hard rock of its fifth album, Deliverance. The similarly palatable follow-up, Wiseblood (Columbia), includes a guest backing vocal by James Hetfield of headliners Metallica, which amazingly retained enough fans forgiving of Load, the band's recent mainstream-aimed misfire, to fill the Horizon for two nights and prompt the addition of a third.

DROVERS 2/7, DOUBLE DOOR Memories of my sheer annoyance at one of this local Celtic-rock quintet's earlier releases left me unprepared for the undeniable melodicism of its latest, Little High Sky Show (Tantrum). Though a regrettable penchant for long-winded jamming persists, plenty of inspired passages recall the charming, low-key British psychedelia of early Bee Gees and Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd.

MOUNT PILOT 2/7, LOUNGE AX These Bucktown-based country rockers trekked all the way to Athens, Georgia, last October to record their self-released full-length debut, Help Wanted, Love Needed, Caretaker. It's a fitting title, for despite a vast improvement over the wobbly ensemble heard on an earlier demo, they're yet wanting for some real inspiration. Singer Matthew Weber handles melodies like it was a chore (especially on the drawn-out waltz "Walk Alone"), while guitarist Jon Williams seems content merely to flex his quick-pickin' technique instead of using it to reach for anything deeper.

BOBBY CONN 2/8, EMPTY BOTTLE This Ween-ish prankster's new seven-inch for the local Truckstop label, "Never Get Ahead," employs a small but fully arranged string section and borrows funk rhythms from the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." Though Conn's Bowie-meets-Barry Gibb singing is a hoot, the repetitive lyrics make me wish he'd spent more time on them. A nifty wah-wah organ solo by Jim O'Rourke highlights the bossa nova-tinged b-side, "Me, Most of All."

THRALL 2/13, EMPTY BOTTLE Former God Bullies frontman Mike Hard returns with this relentless, riff-driven five-piece. On Chemical Wedding (Alternative Tentacles), lengthy sound clips of obscure oily religious orators set the stage for Hard's own dizzying mock sermons, which are rife with paranoid rhetoric ("Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia were secretly used by the CIA to recruit patients for government mind-control experiments") and reminiscent of that one-hit wonder of the 60s, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. --Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Thrall photo by Joe Marshall.

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