ALEUTIAN 8/13, EMPTY BOTTLE On its debut album, Frame Dragging (-Esque), this combo, which moved to Chicago from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, incorporates samples of Wagon Christ, Aphex Twin, and even the defunct local outfit Rome, but the dominant components of Aleutian’s music are the twangy atmospherics of Brad Prenda’s guitar and his breathy, occasionally insufferable vocals. KENDALL PAYNE 8/13, NEW WORLD MUSIC THEATRE Nineteen-year-old Kendall Payne is the latest in a long line of sensitive, post-Lilith Fair warblers. The saccharine hooks on her recent debut, Jordan’s Sister (Capitol), ought to appeal to fans of both Sarah McLachlan and Elton John, and a poetry slam between her and Jewel (who headlines this event) would end in a draw: “I read the paper and I drank all the juice in my refrigerator,” she coos on “Wonderland.” “Now I’m starved for knowledge, thirsty for the truth.” CHELY WRIGHT 8/13, STAR PLAZA On “Picket Fences,” one of only two songs Chely Wright wrote on her recent Single White Female (MCA), she raises doubts about the happily-ever-after of marriage, a house in the ‘burbs, and kids, but just about every other tune on the record suggests that a woman’s life ain’t worth shit without a man in it. Her petty melodramas (in a moment of extreme gumption, one narrator walks out on a guy because he only wants to watch sports on TV) are set to bland, fiddle-streaked soft rock. Wright opens for Tim McGraw. SPLIT LIP RAYFIELD 8/14, LOUNGE AX The sheer velocity with which Split Lip Rayfield whips through the bluegrassy tunes on its new In the Mud (Bloodshot) is all some folks will need to love this Wichita quartet–that and Jeff Eaton’s one-string “gas tank bass.” But whether they can play or not–and these guys do have chops–a novelty act is still a novelty act. This is the kind of hammy piffle that gives “insurgent country” a bad name. FRIENDS OF DEAN MARTINEZ 8/14, EMPTY BOTTLE On the recently released Atardecer (Knitting Factory Works), Bill Elm and Dave Lachance of Friends of Dean Martinez have packed up the southwestern-cocktail mix of their first two albums and launched it into outer space. You can still hear occasional Morricone-esque clippety-clop or the muted clinking of martini glasses, but on pieces like the title track and “Twilight Sleep,” where the guitars are downright gooey with reverb, glittery silver synthetics edge out the burgundy crushed velvet. ME’SHELL NDEGEOCELLO 8/17, MARTYRS’ For the forthcoming Bitter (Maverick) Ndegeocello joined up with Cassandra Wilson producer Craig Street, leaving behind the sleek soul and funk of her first two albums for languorous ballads dominated by piano and acoustic guitar. At first the absence of her bass-popping virtuosity seems awkward, but the easy grace of her songwriting slowly makes sense of the spare instrumentation. VERBENA 8/17, METRO This Alabama combo used to strut its raggedy stuff with an infectious Stonesy swagger; on the terrific Souls for Sale, its 1997 debut LP on Merge, Scott Bondy and Anne Marie Griffin sparred as fiercely on guitar as in their John-and-Exene vocals. But the reigning muse on Verbena’s first major-label outing, Into the Pink (Capitol), is decidedly Nirvana; Dave Grohl even produced the album. Admittedly it creams the not-insignificant Nirvana-wannabe competition, thanks to Bondy’s snotty nasal snarl and drummer Les Nuby’s pile-driver rhythms. But it’s hard to see these fine hard-rock tunes for what they are beneath all the blinding Cobainisms, and when I saw Verbena in Austin earlier this year, Bondy and Griffin seemed to be blasted out of their gourds, verbally abusing each other and grappling with their instruments as if they were Rubik’s cubes they had no chance of solving. –Peter Margasak

Monica Kendrick is on vacation.

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