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Spot Check 

JACK BRUCE & THE CUICOLAND EXPRESS 12/14, PARK WEST Jack Bruce's new solo album Shadows in the Air (Sanctuary) reanimates two moldy oldies by his most famous band, Cream: "White Room," which gets an incongruous but effective bit of sexy Latin sway, and "Sunshine of Your Love." It also leans heavily on guest stars of varying notoriety, including Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, British blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore, New Orleans cult hero Dr. John, and oh yeah, Eric Clapton, possibly the most overrated classic-rock god of all time. Listening to the flabby former quarterback re-create his most glorious moments, which came and went by the time he was 24, I had the shameful thought that he probably should have died young. The nine new tunes on the disc are agreeable and catchy soul rockers with a Latin tinge and a whiff of prog--he's not trying too hard to recapture his youth, but he's not resigning himself to old-fart status either. For this tour he'll be accompanied by Reid, keyboard genius Bernie Worrell, percussionist Richie Flores, and drummers Robbie Ameen and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez. EVIL BEAVER 12/15, EMPTY BOTTLE; 12/17, FIRESIDE BOWL Still Smells Like Christmas Spirit (Frooty Nation/Johann's Face) is the second Christmas record by this local bass-and-drums duo; the first, the Smells Like Christmas Spirit EP, was actually their first release. Their legit debut, Lick It, demonstrated that they do sexy and mean even better than corny and funny, but the holiday shtick is better than usual here: "HBJC," which stands for "Happy Birthday Jesus Christ," is delivered Marilyn Monroe-to-JFK style; "Christmas in Hollis" recalls Licensed to Ill-era Beastie Boys; James Brown's "Soulful Christmas" is stripped to funky essentials; and the disc ends with a cover of everyone's favorite holiday chestnut, Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." Recommended to cut the nasty aftertaste of every other Christmas album out there (except the .38 Special one, which I perversely like). CHARLIE ROBISON 12/15, FITZGERALD'S The songs on Charlie Robison's new Step Right Up (Columbia/Lucky Dog) have a tight and flawless country-rock rip and groan to them--think Alabama with grit or the Georgia Satellites with soul. And yet there's something about this record that feels insubstantial. Maybe it's just that this longtime crowd pleaser is altogether too smooth and likable--the Anti-Robbie Fulks. The most affecting number here is probably "The Wedding Song," a duet with Natalie Maines (his wife's bandmate in the Dixie Chicks) that actually lets in some irony and is all the more moving for it. STEEPWATER BAND 12/15, GUNTHER MURPHY'S; CRACKER, Steepwater band 12/16, METRO I must say I never thought I'd hear Allman-flavored country blues done this well by anybody in 2001, much less by a Chicago band. Formed in 1998, the Steepwater Band released its excellent debut CD, Brother to the Snake, this summer; the highlight of its windswept, dusty, bittersweet rawk is the spicy-sweet molasses guitar sound of front man Jeff Massey. Cracker, fronted by ex-Camper Van Beethoven singer David Lowery, has a new album due on Virgin next month, but in the meantime has issued a new live disc, Flash Your Sirens (on Lowery's Pitch-a-Tent label), that documents a series of shows that incorporated a partial Camper Van Beethoven reunion. BIOHAZARD 12/19, METRO These guys were bleeding testosterone back when today's Slipknot fans still thought Alice in Chains were the shit, and their collaborations with Onyx and members of Cypress Hill in the early 90s laid the foundation for the Johnny-come-latelies and Johnny-cum-too-soons who dominate the nu-metal circuit today. Their new Uncivilized (Sanctuary) is an album I like in a genre I've come to hate: I'll never understand why people need to resort to this kind of thing in a world that has Cannibal Corpse and Emperor in it, but if I have to listen to full-throttle crunge with clumsy "urban" touches, I'll take it with a dose of Biohazard's political savagery and genuine metallic density.

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