Since the late-80s heyday of bands like the Nomads and Union Carbide Productions, the Swedes have been quick to remind us that rock sounds best at its most primal and unadorned. But though the Hives, Division of Laura Lee, and Sahara Hotnights are continuing that tradition, there’s more to Swedish rock than Stooges adulation, as two recent intimate albums from former pro soccer prospect Nicolai Dunger reveal. Dunger’s been kicking around since the mid-90s, but the singer didn’t start attracting attention on this side of the pond until 1999, when he released The Cloud Is Learning, made with some of the guys from the Soundtrack of Our Lives. On Soul Rush (released here last year by Lakeshore Records) he was joined by members of the popular jazz group Esbjorn Svensson Trio, who helped him fashion a passable simulacrum of an early-70s Van Morrison album. But though Dunger tried to raise the roof a la Morrison, his voice, which often recalls Rufus Wainwright’s slack croon, too often turned to mumbly mush. He found a much better match when he traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, to record with avowed fan Will Oldham. Dunger still summons the spirit of Morrison here and there on Tranquil Isolation (recently released on the local Overcoat label), but he’s in greater control of his singing. The rootsier settings, provided by Oldham and a band that includes Chicago fiddler Jessica Billey, encourage Dunger to tone down the vocal fireworks and become more inventive melodically. It’s one of the most exciting records I’ve heard this year. For this tour Dunger is joined by Billey and Soul Rush guitarist Thomas Tjarnkvist. Calexico headlines (see Spot Check). Monday, March 10, 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408.

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