This bill presents a pair of artists who might be tagged “alternative country,” stylistically and geographically operating outside of the Nashville machine, yet both having albums on Billboard’s country chart. Miami’s fabulous Mavericks have been the more successful of the two, tapping into a strong retro-countrypolitan vibe on the strength of Raul Malo’s sublime vocals. The group’s third album, Music for All Occasions, embraces a level of kitsch–an ironic emulation of 50s suburban utopianism, capped by a cover of “Something Stupid,” the schlocky Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet–that would typically sail right over the heads of mainstream country’s constituency. Yet the album has fared well anyway, and it’s a testament to the group’s music, not its packaging. While the record lacks the variety of the band’s second album, What a Crying Shame, the lilting grace of the rich arrangements, strong songwriting, and Malo’s irresistible quaver make up for it. On the other hand the Mavericks dabble in a bit of Tex-Mex on “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” with guest Flaco Jimenez, and they continue to perfect rock-tinged twang with “Here Comes the Rain.” Austin’s Ernest Tubb inheritor Junior Brown sings about being a trucker, a janitor, and a convict, among other things, on his third album, Semi Crazy (Curb). While Brown and his band may look like Republican staffers, his witty, jaunty music is anything but conservative. Brown’s dry, Tubb-like vocals hark back to an earlier age, but his wiggy guitar playing–on his custom-built “guit-steel”–is strictly postmodern. Though his “Surf Medley” strings together “Pipeline,” “Secret Agent Man,” and “Walk Don’t Run” with flashy aplomb, it’s the lightning-fast Speedy West-on-whippets steel-guitar runs that really distinguish him. Ultimately, compared with the Mavericks he’s a minor artist who can play guitar like a demon, but live he’s a blast. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 525-7793 or 559-1212.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Mavericks by Mark Tucker; photo of Junior Brown by Peter Nash.