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BLACK FAMILY 2/20, DOUBLE DOOR This Chicago trio's demo tape, Dolly Horrorshow, is a solid debut of grim, spitting cowpunk--a little bit Texas Playboys and a little bit Geraldine Fibbers, a little bit rockabilly and a little bit revival tent. Singer Danny Black puts the words across well enough, but it's the duets with his Amazonian ex-wife, bassist Gina Black, that really shatter those whiskey glasses. One more thing: it's a grand old tradition for songwriters to claim traditional tunes as their own, but it's also a grand old tradition for critics to call 'em when they hear 'em, and "Dear Little Girl" is known as "Willow Garden" where I come from.

DuVALLS 2/20, METRO "There ain't no joy like a honky-tonk uptown," sing Hinsdale's DuValls, pompadoured and string-tied keepers of the rockabilly flame, on their debut, Introducing...the DuValls (Sophisti-Cat). Actually this Illinois Entertainer showcase at Metro is stretching the definition of "honky-tonk," and there's not a single note on this album you haven't heard before, from Buddy Holly's jerky ooh-a-hoos to the ring of Eddie Cochran's hollow-body guitar--but then you don't come to this stuff looking for originality. You come looking for purity and faith, and the DuValls genuflect in all the right directions. r16 HORSEPOWER 2/20, SCHUBAS Back in 1995 A&M hadn't a clue what to do with this Colorado trio's first LP, Sackcloth 'n' Ashes. A riotous, twangy tangle of guitar, banjo, and bandoneon, it was too down-home for the alternative nation and too dark and anarchic for the country market. Whether their moment has passed them by in the time it's taken them to get out the new Low Estate remains to be seen, but if half the bands that claim to have "country heart with punk spirit" had half as much of either as these guys, I wouldn't be half as depressed by No Depression.

R.L. BURNSIDE 2/21, DOUBLE DOOR Posing with an old southern bluesman is classic white rock hucksterism--megastar Mick Jagger did it with blues legend Willie Dixon, and now indie-rock egomaniac Jon Spencer has done it with Mississippi unknown R.L. Burnside. But sometimes if the chemistry is right the old cliches come to life, and there's certainly plenty of life left in septuagenarian Burnside. His collaborations with Spencer and the Blues Explosion have yielded some fine, gritty, yes-I'm-experienced moments. But though the JSBX guests on several tracks, on 1997's Mr. Wizard (Fat Possum/Epitaph) Burnside's strongest moments are his to share with his longtime trio, which includes his grandson Cedric on drums. Were it not for the Spencer connection he'd more likely be at Buddy Guy's or Rosa's, but in fact his unruly fits and starts and long, muddy slides into home plate are just as far from mainstream Chicago blues as they are from mainstream alt-rock.

GAUNT, USA 2/21, LOUNGE AX The barrage of Pavement comparisons USA endured after its debut EP last year had the band threatening to "dumb down" for its next release. But if anything, this Chicago outfit has upped the arty ante on its forthcoming Little Birds (Drag City), playfully mangling song structures and pleading for the brotherhood of man to be made manifest on Ashland Avenue. Headlining the four-band bill is Gaunt, the cranky Ohio pop punks who defected from Thrill Jockey to Warner Brothers over the summer. A label publicist admits that Gaunt's wholehearted garage flail has been "polished" for the record that's due out next month--ain't that always the way--but I can't imagine that will have any effect on its delightfully sloppy live shows.

FONDLY 2/24, METRO The PR slobber about Fondly's second album, F Is for...Fondly (Scratchie/Mercury), which wants me to draw comparisons to Wire, the Minutemen, Devo, and Yo La Tengo, is enough to make me rethink that truism about imitation having something to do with flattery. These locals make pleasant art pop with neither the delirious highs nor the abrasive surprises of those truly inventive bands--they converse passably in the language without adding new words to the vocabulary.

DUBLIN CITY RAMBLERS 2/26, ABBEY PUB The sea chantey, the emigration ballad, the fuck-the-English fa-di-oh, and the drinking song--in a nutshell, the Irish pub-song tradition is heartwarming and homey to those who know the tunes, annoying to those who don't. Fortunately the choruses are easy to pick up. The Dublin City Ramblers blow off the instrumental flourishes, the better to focus on the sing-along. On their Raise the Roof (the title track of which is an original that could almost pass for a traditional) due gratitude is given to the Guinness company for producing a brew that facilitates quick learning. --Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): R.L. Burnside.

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