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ANNE O'MEARA HEATON 3/20, UNCOMMON GROUND; 3/21, SCHUBAS Heaton, a former Chicagoan, plays her piano and sings her open-hearted platitudes like a stream in spring thaw, crisp and overflowing--and so swollen with emotion I wonder if she's aiming at musical theater. The effect is that all the original tunes on her Spoke From the Heart (Spill), even the one called "Sting of Mortality," come off as relentlessly uplifting--she sounds at times like a New Age Rickie Lee Jones, without Jones's beatnik sardonicism or her feel for story and character.

HERON 3/20, LOUNGE AX This local quartet is hampered somewhat by a certain rhythmic sameness in the four tracks on its current demo (not to mention some vocal moments that make Kim Gordon sound like Maria Callas), but its promising sense of guitar interplay is definitely a redeeming factor. The hot-as-shit Nerves (see Critic's Choice) headline.

LEONARDO 3/21, UNCOMMON GROUND Leonardo, who recently moved from Chicago to northern Indiana, maybe to get closer to the broken industrial dreams he writes about, has made a concept album inspired by Lustron homes, those postwar prefab houses made of enameled steel. Leonardo says in the liner notes to Lustron that he learned to play in one, and I bet it's in better shape at 50 than any of those quick-and-dirty yuppie town houses are gonna be at the ten-year mark. Still, prefab is prefab, and musically the Lustron home is a darn near perfect conceptual setting for Leonardo's music. Neither a bad poet nor an inventive songwriter, he's hoping you'll be listening for the real folks living inside his straight-from-the-factory jazz-pop. In that respect, his tune about a retired steelworker, "Local Legend," is genuinely moving: "Hey you kids wearing black / I got a picture of me with Kerouac / A book of poems from '62 / Buy me a round I'll sign a copy for you / 'Cause I was once a local legend too."

SYLVAIN SYLVAIN 3/21, BEAT KITCHEN Uh-uh, not the guy who shot Bobby Kennedy. The punk-nostalgia circuit doesn't have to be such a sad thing if one approaches early punk the way many of its practitioners did: as a street-level reclamation of basic, heartfelt, and sometimes threateningly primal rock 'n' roll. Ex-New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain's brand-new Sleep Baby Doll (Fishhead Records), his first record in ten years, is a surprisingly vital blend of blowouts (including a remake of "Trash") and sweet cornball ballads. While he can't quite recapture the Dolls' fertile chaos--who could without Johnny Thunders?--Sylvain does strut out snorting and cackling and tossing off flaming ragged riffs like the true believer he is. He's touring with label mates Bop Dead, who do double duty as opening act and backup band; unreleased video footage of two Dolls gigs will be screened between sets.

FASTBALL 3/25, METRO Such is the state of the biz--cute young guys are writing grim songs about how stardom grinds them down long before anybody's even heard of 'em. Not that this Texas power-pop trio is likely to stay obscure; the glossy sound of its sophomore album, All the Pain Money Can Buy (Hollywood), is pure summer radio, and songs about methadone and the urge to kill people don't necessarily make life difficult for PR people anymore. Speaking of PR--if, as front man Miles Zuniga claims, this record is "about taking risks," it's hard to imagine what their burnout stage will be like.

FAIRPORT CONVENTION 3/26, FITZGERALD'S Of course this venerable folk-rock institution is a long way from its epic heyday, when it served as training ground and showcase for transcendent talents like Richard Thompson, the late Sandy Denny, and the underrated Ian Matthews. But Fairport Convention celebrated its 30th anniversary last year with a loyal cult following and a respectable new record on Green Linnet, Who Knows Where the Time Goes?, which revisits some old turf (the title track is a remade Denny tune) and some old friends (Thompson lends vocals to a version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"). This tour features the first lineup change in ten years, as original drummer Dave Mattacks has left to pursue his own interests; the group continues with lifers Simon Nicol on guitar and Dave Pegg on bass, as well as violinist Ric Sanders (formerly of Soft Machine) and new member Chris Leslie, who plays an intimidating array of exotic strings.

JOHN WESLEY HARDING 3/26, Borders on Clark English troubadour Harding, who sounds more homegrown than most locals, joins the list of artists using Chicago as a pit stop to raise funds for indie-rock spring break in Austin this weekend. At this underpublicized, intimate coffee-corner gig, he'll play solo and sign CDs.

SUZZY ROCHE 3/26, SCHUBAS I really thought I had been creating my own reality again when I had a vague memory of three wisecracking and harmonizing cartoon cockroaches named Suzzy, Maggie, and Terre. But no, the press release kindly reminds me, in addition to pioneering smart feminist folk, the Roches were also cartoon heroines, long before the Simpsons coaxed Sonic Youth into the two-dimensional universe. Why it's taken Suzzy Roche, the youngest of the three sisters, so long to launch a solo career is anyone's guess; her debut, Holy Smokes (Red House), is gritty, bubbly, sad, and smart, and reports from the road say she doesn't scuttle away from the spotlight. --Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Heron photo/ uncredited.

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