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GIL SCOTT-HERON 6/2, HOTHOUSE Still best known for his 1970 classic "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," polymath Gil Scott-Heron is a living link between the mid-20th-century black nationalist movement and hip-hop. Mos Def has said he's "as important to American letters and song as Ralph Waldo Emerson or Bob Dylan," yet he's a long way from that kind of canonization. Since 1994 or so, TVT Records has been doing its part to remedy this omission, and Scott-Heron is currently touring in support of the two most recent reissues in the label's ongoing series: It's Your World, recorded live at a Boston jazz club in 1976, and The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron, a 1978 anthology with a 1990 bonus track featuring, incredibly, Paul Weller on keyboards. You won't get too many chances to see someone of this stature in this intimate a venue. YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND 6/2, NAVY PIER These grinning Colorado pickers are doing for traditional bluegrass what the Grateful Dead did for the blues, stretching the form to epic lengths for hippie crowds who may not be as well grounded in the music as they are (and who probably can't get over how a band with no drums could be so danceable). Their taste in covers isn't quite as classic as the Dead's; while they do "You Are My Sunshine," they're not above grassifying Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." And bluegrass isn't the most dynamically varied music--so if their set's anything like their most recent release, Elevation, you could end up dancing to the equivalent of the Beverly Hillbillies theme all night. But I say if a little hill-country cloggin' gets integrated into the jam-band dance style, it can only be an improvement. REGGAE COWBOYS 6/3, WILD HARE So if I just tell you that the Reggae Cowboys' second album (on Tumbleweed Records) is called Rock Steady Rodeo, you pretty much get the idea, right? But these Caribbean-Canadians, who have a fascination with the little-known stories of people of color in the Wild West, aren't just peddling shtick. The cover features a photo of Jess Stahl, a great black rodeo rider of the early 1900s, and songs like "Geronimo" and "Gold Rush" bring legendary heroism and greed into the modern age. The music is lively but synthy roots reggae tinged with R & B and pop; the capable but obvious covers include Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and Marley's "Redemption Song." There's nothing here to win over more cutting-edge Caribbean music fans, but it's not the worst thing the collegiate crowd could be listening to. ROYAL CITY 6/3, SCHUBAS Like Palace and Smog, to whom they've often been compared by the Canadian music press, Toronto's Royal City have mastered the difficult art of conveying intimacy without warmth. But the sparse, pretty folk-pop songs on their At Rush Hour the Cars (Three Gut) lack the brilliant existential terror of either American analogue. PATRICK O'DONNELL 6/5, EMPTY BOTTLE The bio that accompanies Patrick O'Donnell's debut, Limbo (Skoda), sets some new standards in self-effacement--to hear him tell it, he's an aimless slacker who couldn't even manage to put together an indie-rock band. But from the outside, this D.C.-based lawyer, whose year in Prague in the mid-90s inspired him to launch the tiny Skoda label, doesn't quite fit the bill. Skoda has given the States the experience of the Czech prog hurricane Uz Jsme Doma (who, as O'Donnell puts it, "actually made a little money on their last North American tour"), and in between his two jobs O'Donnell's been assembling Limbo a song or two at a time. It's a fairly distinctive singer-songwriter record that sounds oddly, but thoroughly, Euro, nodding in places to Elvis Costello, early Cure, the Jam, and Joy Division (with a cover of "Isolation"), not to mention the sort of music he's risked his finances for: "I Just Wanna Degrade You," a sort of spiritual kin to the Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You," chugs with a dark, slow roil that sounds indefinably but utterly Czech. Backing musicians on the recording include Yanni Papadopolous of Stinking Lizaveta; here O'Donnell will perform solo. SCOTT MILLER 6/7, SCHUBAS The V-Roys were known as a band out of Knoxville, Tennessee, but front man Scott Miller is from Virginia--and if "Virginia Way," a homesick lament on the band's final album that segues into "Shenandoah Breakdown," didn't clue you in, Miller's new solo album on Sugar Hill will. The cover of Thus Always to Tyrants is the seal of the commonwealth, Miller's band is called the Commonwealth, and in the very first song, "Across the Line," he identifies with West Virginia, which, like his narrator, left the commonwealth under great duress. Now, if I may digress for a moment: Virginia's my home turf too, so I know that when folks there refer to "the War," they're as likely to be talking about the Civil War as the gulf war, Vietnam, or even World War II. Some folks think this obsession with ancient history is morbid and backward looking, but the opposing school of thought is that people who can't seriously relate to anything that happened before Reagan are just ignorant. A few weeks ago, I came across a mesmerizing factoid in Afraid of the Dark, Jim Myers's new book on race relations: two of the last known people born into slavery died in 1977 and 1978, both at the age of 118. That means, as he puts it, former slaves outlived John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. They witnessed the civil rights movement and Watergate, and might have even appreciated Jimi Hendrix and James Brown. Like Myers, Miller's making an effort to show that history isn't just some distant and dusty old bore, and I have to commend him for that. On the other hand, some acknowledgment of that most horrible downside of the ol' Lost Cause would be appreciated and so would more compelling music--most of these generic country-rock tunes just make me nostalgic for the days before the Yankee scourge called Americana.

--Monica Kendrick

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