The last thing I expected from Jean Smith was a mostly instrumental solo album: in Mecca Normal, her punk rock duo with guitarist David Lester, her words–bluntly political or private and allusive–are integral to her singing. But her voice has always served as an instrument too, not just as a way to deliver lyrics; one of the things that makes Mecca Normal such a sensational live band is the way she and Lester fluidly trade the roles of rhythm and lead. For the brand-new Jean Smith (Kill Rock Stars) she improvised all the parts in the studio or at home on a four-track, blowing plaintive, slowly unraveling saxophone lines–which recall the melodies she sings in Mecca Normal–over layers of slide guitars, static keyboard textures, and wordless vocal drones. The music’s improvised nature and stratified construction bring to mind 2 Foot Flame, Smith’s ensemble with New Zealanders Peter Jefferies and Michael Morley, and her pensive piano on “Root Smooth Sapling Whips” sounds a lot like Jefferies’s. But while 2 Foot Flame’s albums radiate cool horror, the unvarnished beauty of Smith’s resonant guitar makes this the most user-friendly record of her career. These shows debut her new trio with guitarist Bob Massey (Telegraph Melts, Tsunami) and drummer Shannon Morrow (formerly of Special Agents of Her Majesty’s Secret Cervix). They’ll technically be playing material from the new CD, but Smith hopes the group will translate the spontaneity of her recording techniques to the stage–it’s probably more appropriate to say they’ll improvise music based on the album. Friday, 10 PM, Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton; 773-486-2700. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont; 773-281-4444. BILL MEYER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Zubkoff.