BIG SMITH 4/23, FITZGERALD’S; 4/24, THE HIDEOUT These college-edumacated Ozark boys go to great lengths to convince us of their authenticity–according to their bio, they’re genuine hillbillies and cousins to boot, descended from a fiddler grandpa who “couldn’t stay away from where the moonshine was.” The band photo is even done in nostalgic sepia. I’d have a ball skewering them for all this self-conscious crap if they didn’t have a pretty good grip on the music itself. On their debut CD, produced by Lou Whitney of the Skeletons, leader Mark Bilyeu’s vocals don’t exactly cut to the bone, but his zingers are zingier than average (“I’m gonna burn down the house / And leave by the light of the fire”), and the cousins pull out some remarkable 40s-radio-style hillbilly harmonies every now and again. Unfortunately the one real traditional they do, a tasteful version of “Long Black Veil,” pales next to the honest-to-God ragged glory of Johnny Cash, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, and even–ugly truth be told–Nick Cave. ROBB ROY 4/23, TOWER RECORDS ON CLARK; 4/24, TOWER RECORDS IN SCHAUMBURG This funky Detroit hard-rock quartet, whose singer is really too young to be so ensconced in the as-the-70s-wear-on-I-just-sound-whiter tradition established by Paul Rodgers and Lou Gramm, is pushing its new Heroes and Cocktails (Caos) with a tour of Towers. Because nothing makes ’em sweat like a brightly lit room that reeks of Eternity. TAIL DRAGGER 4/23, ROSA’S; 4/25, 5105 Club It’s hard to believe that after a quarter century performing everywhere from the west-side Delta Fishmarket to the European festival circuit, James Yancy “Tail Dragger” Jones is only now putting out his second record. Then again, according to the liner notes, he got his nickname from his hero Howlin’ Wolf, with whom he often sat in during the 70s, because of his tendency to be late. (Before that he was Crawlin’ James, for his tendency to crawl between bar patrons as he sang.) The album, American People (Delmark), is already topically dated–the title track is a plea to let Bill Clinton, whose mother apparently knew Jones’s aunt in Hot Springs, do his job, seeing as “we all done wrong.” But Tail Dragger’s sound is the classic sound of Chicago in the 40s and 50s–the sound of a generation that still remembered the south but was adapting rapidly to the cold rain and snow. MISS MIDORI & THE JAZZ INQUISITION 4/24, LIQUID KITTY The real proof of American desensitization to violence isn’t in action flicks or hip-hop: it’s in the way cabaret revivalist Miss Midori sings about getting a shotgun to do in her two-timing man with the same wax-museum affectation she brings to standards and originals alike on her eponymously titled Southport debut. THE STRIKE, REAL McKENZIES 4/24, FIRESIDE BOWL Lately I’ve noticed a resurgence in lefty rhetoric among young trad-punk bands, and I think it’s heartening: I mean, strip this kind of music of its conscience and all you’re left with is three chords. On the Strike’s Shots Heard ‘Round the World (Victory), these Chicagoans wear their politics on their sleeves, their blindingly earnest tributes to labor martyrs shot through with incongruously folksy harmonica. Of course the inevitable questions arise–does just playing in a band, albeit a promising one, really earn you the right to pose on the Haymarket Memorial? And what will you do with the money? But I suppose that, like their heroes, they’ll burn those bridges when they get to them. Also on this all-ages bill are the Real McKenzies, a sextet of rowdies who sport their politics squarely on their merkins. As Celtic punk fusions go, the McKenzies are still leagues behind Chicago’s own Ballydowse in the righteous-rage department, and in the songwriting department they’re still slipping on the Pogues’ vomit, but they nonetheless make me want to eat haggis–raw. On their Clash of the Tartans (Sudden Death), these Vancouver “Scots” (the bass player’s name is “Angus MacFuzzybutt”) remind us that even AC/DC had a soft spot for the bagpipes. And though they don’t get much more political than “King O’Glasgow,” the story of a working lad who flips his kilt to the Queen, they do play what may be the world’s only moshable version of “Auld Lang Syne.” SHANNON WRIGHT 4/25, SCHUBAS This singer-songwriter used to front the Florida pop band Crowsdell; on Flightsafety, her solo debut on Chicago’s Quarterstick label, she’s her own band, playing guitar, drums, piano, organ, and “noises.” They’re nice, sad noises, but they don’t add up to much more than a little Leonard Cohen bedroom apocalypse here, a little Suzanne Vega life in the third person there–melancholy echoes of melancholy echoes. Eric Bachmann, formerly of Archers of Loaf, plays a little piano on the record; he’ll also accompany her here. MARYANNE AMACHER 4/28, film center, school of the ART INSTITUTE In a recording-dependent age, sound artist Maryanne Amacher is a woman of mystery: the former collaborator of John Cage and Merce Cunningham is best known for her overwhelmingly physical site-specific installations, but she’s never done one in Chicago. Descriptions I’ve read are tantalizing: in his own rapturous homage in a recent issue of the Wire, improv guitarist and fledgling installation artist Alan Licht quotes deafening minimalist Rhys Chatham saying that when he first met Amacher, in his teens, she “became a kind of role model for me of what a composer should be.” The bones that have been tossed to the rest of us–her tracks on Asphodel’s Swarm of Drones compilation and now her first CD, Sound Characters (Tzadik)–are dense, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes enervating electronic swells that can set off car alarms from across the street. But here she’ll be teasing us some more–this is a lecture, not an installation. BON LOZAGA 4/29, MARTYRS’ Guitarist Bon Lozaga makes much of his membership in the legendary space-rock band Gong, though he joined in 1978, well after the inspired “Radio Gnome Invisible” trilogy–The Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg, and You–had already laid out the group’s freaky interplanetary mythology. His subsequent Gongzilla projects (with fellow latter-day Gong guitarist Allan Holdsworth) and his 1996 solo album To the Bone (Lolo) sound as if not only the 90s but also the 80s never happened; he’s the sort of guitar demigod whose fans need to know exactly what equipment he’s using to be able to enjoy what he’s playing. Here he’ll be backed by Gongzilla bassist Hansford Rowe and drummer Vic Stevens. –Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.