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BLACK CROWES 10/5, ARAGON With their 1999 album, By Your Side (American), the Black Crowes miraculously pulled themselves out of a morass of sluggish grooves, jammy solos, and bloated production, writing a batch of concise, catchy tunes and attacking them with renewed focus and energy. As good as it was, though, the album failed to return the band to the top of the charts, and it seems that with their latest, Lions (V2), they're simply trying to please their sizable existing constituency with consistency. It's not as hooky as By Your Side, but neither is it as ploddingly overambitious as Amorica or Three Snakes & One Charm--the congas on "Young Man, Old Man" notwithstanding. Rich Robinson and Audley Freed are classic rawk riffers, and Chris Robinson's Rod-the-Mod caterwauling just gets more soulful with age. Next-generation retro rockers the Beachwood Sparks open. GRAHAM PARKER 10/5, DOUBLE DOOR On his latest album, Deepcut to Nowhere (Razor & Tie), Graham Parker works with the great Steve Goulding for the first time in more than two decades, and it's Parker's best album in nearly as long. Coincidence? Goulding, who lived in Chicago for most of the 90s, is now best known as the drummer in the Mekons, the Waco Brothers, and related projects, but from 1975 to 1981 he propelled the Rumour, Parker's longtime backing band and, on its own, one of the UK's top exponents of pub rock. On Deepcut--an unexpected return to form that's every bit as welcome as Bob Dylan's--he brings a terse power to Parker's soul-streaked rants and heartbreaking ballads that was sorely missed on many of the singer's midcareer records. Unfortunately, Parker won't be bringing Goulding on this tour; he'll be backed by the Figgs, who gave his 1996 album, Acid Bubblegum, its reactionary blast of punk snottiness. STROKES 10/5, METRO Once I managed to dig this New York quintet's debut out from under the mountain of hype that's been shoveled upon it, I found it to be a moderately good album. The forthcoming Is This It? (RCA) isn't remotely original, and it's certainly not the second coming of Television some hucksters have made it out to be. But the combination of minimalist strummed grooves, nonchalant pop hooks, and Julian Casablancas's Lou Reed-ish delivery is a cheap thrill that's hard to resist. The Moldy Peaches (see Liz Armstrong's Critic's Choice) open. YAHZARAH 10/5, HOTHOUSE Thanks to the success of Erykah Badu, Angie Stone, and especially D'Angelo, so-called natural R & B singers are cropping up everywhere. The majors have produced a few gems, like Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, and Bilal, but the real action seems to be on tiny indies. North Carolina-based Keo Music, for instance, recently released Hear Me, the debut album by Badu backing vocalist YahZarah, nee Dana Williams. She lays down serpentine, rhythmically agile melodies with elegant restraint, rarely raising her voice above conversational levels but making it count when she does--for instance, in her extroverted ad-libbing on "Friday" and her finger-wagging testifying on "Baby Love." Chip Shearin's production is a decent emulation of the stripped-down style of Roots visionary Ahmir Thompson, peppering tough funk with choice bits of drum 'n' bass and hard rock. WEBB BROTHERS 10/6, DOUBLE DOOR Christiaan and Justin Webb--the progeny of famous songwriter Jimmy, as we're regularly reminded--spent the latter half of the 90s living and working in Chicago, where they found inspiration for last year's Maroon (Atlantic)--something of a concept album about the tedious cliche of the rock-star dream. "The Liar's Club," for instance, takes its title from the Fullerton Avenue bar where a local has-been or two has been known to drink away his disappointment: "We're the liar's club / Yeah, we're getting older but we like to think we're young / And when the lights are low I look as if I'm 21." The Webbs left town in 1998 to be the toast of the UK music press--a notoriously temporary honor--and land a major-label deal. The fruit of that deal, Maroon, does harbor a few catchy melodies amid its turgid orchestral rock arrangements, but there's nothing to indicate that the brothers ought to be acting like they've won the race against time themselves. TIGER LILLIES 10/7, HOTHOUSE This arty British cabaret trio are in town through October 14, performing as part of the musical Shockheaded Peter at the Athenaeum, but for this gig they'll be playing other material, which, judging by their most recent album, Circus Songs (Red Moon), is calculatedly weird; topics include venereal disease, sideshow freaks, and whores. Vocalist-accordion player Martyn Jacques, who writes most of the songs, sings in a piercing falsetto--he claims to have trained himself as an opera singer in the castrati tradition. Depending on your level of tolerance, you may be inclined to help him become a bona fide castrato. INKBLOT 10/9, EMPTY BOTTLE At first listen the warm, gurgling electronic melodies on Inkblot's recent album, The Language Game (Tomlab), sound like they were generated on a laptop, but Austinite Jeremy Ballard creates his music without computers. Layering pretty synthesizer lines, muted beatbox rhythms, stoic bass lines, and cool reverberant electric guitar arpeggios, Ballard makes moody but radiant bedroom electronica that comes off as a more modest version of the artificial-organic style of Germany's Mouse on Mars, with moments of Tortoise-style sound-track drift. RYAN ADAMS 10/10, PARK WEST Ryan Adams, who first made his mark with by-the-numbers alt-country in Whiskeytown, has lots of boosters in the biz: the Universal-distributed label Lost Highway released Pneumonia, the final album by his old band, earlier this year, and now, just a few months later, they've released his sprawling second solo album, Gold. But I still can't get on board: the new disc, filled to capacity with overambitious music, suggests that Adams has lots of classic rock records in his collection--Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Traffic--but mostly what I hear is someone who sounds like Elton John trying desperately to sound like Jeff Tweedy. JESSE DAYTON 10/10, ABBEY PUB Texan Jesse Dayton made a big splash in 1995 with his debut album, Raisin' Cain--a country record shot through with Tex-Mex and blues--and then sort of disappeared. After an apparently unfruitful stint in LA, he returned to Texas, and last year released a sleepy singer-songwriter album. The brand-new Hey Nashvegas! (Stag) was recorded up in Nashville before he headed west, but hopefully it foreshadows his future direction too. Dayton's crack band, which includes superb pedal-steel guitarist Brian Thomas, attacks honky-tonk with rebel zeal, and Dayton himself sings with a great mix of pathos and don't-give-a-fuck. FREEDY JOHNSTON 10/11 & 12, SCHUBAS Although Freedy Johnston's moment of buzz ended not long after he released his major-label debut, This Perfect World, back in 1994, the exceptionally smart singer-songwriter has continued to release one terrific album after another. Right Between the Promises (Elektra) is the latest, and it's filled with meticulously crafted melodies that, filtered through Johnston's reedy midwestern trill, become as comfortingly familiar as grandma's doily collection. His delivery softens the bite of songs that confront heartbreak and loneliness with painful directness: "He was so alone he wouldn't have / Recognized his face," he sings in "Radio for Heartache," and an unironic cover of the Edison Lighthouse hit "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" provides a faint ray of sunshine. Johnston records with a full band but tours solo; I miss the punch of the ensemble, but the solo setting does seem to intensify the singer's connection to the songs.

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

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