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BRAID 5/29, METRO With three albums and several hundred gigs under its belt, this downstate quartet just keeps on sweatin’, logging man-hours as though grace were won by sheer effort. Its third album, Frame and Canvas (Polyvinyl), is a tight slab of stop-and-start boy rock that for me evokes the lurching feeling of having two drinks too many at a party with too many exes present–in other words, it walks that line between bittersweet and just plain melodramatic.

A.J. CROCE 5/29, BUDDY GUY’S LEGENDS A.J. Croce sings more like Ray Charles than his late great dad, Jim–it’s almost as if some New Orleans roadhouse singer’s soul slipped in through one of the youngster’s nostrils while he was sleeping. Croce’s third album, Fit to Serve (Ruf/Polygram), is a straightforward collection of jukebox-ready, piano-driven R & B. Nearly all the tunes are originals, but they all sound like something that drifted by last time you were drunk in the French Quarter–vaguely good-time music you nodded to while you were thinking of something else.

RICO! 5/29, MARTYRS’ This suburban septet’s Embrace Life (Daddy What R Records) is waterbed-funky world beat, with guitars straight from wanky how-to videos, lyrics you’d hear at a Transitions Bookplace powwow, and overcooked New Age synth flourishes by keyboardist Tony Orant, who according to the band’s press has also backed the Black Crowes, Robin Trower, Phil Lesh, and Jonathon Brandmeier. But the four-man rhythm section is gifted, and live, one hopes, they might be able to do better than make-out music for the kind of guy who writes in his own check-your-ethnicity box (“human”) and goes 12-stepping to pick up women.

FREEDOM FIGHTERS 5/30, EMPTY BOTTLE It’s an ugly world, and this trio makes brutal music for its rotten core. The Freedom Fighters’ My Scientist Friends (Amphetamine Reptile) is a spiral of literate yet incoherent noise punk that proves once and for all that a high IQ doesn’t buy happiness and that muddled but suggestive poetry (“A ghost hand to hold my hand / A crow’s nest advantage / Is all for the love of land / We’ll never land,” from “Crow’s Nest”) isn’t just for folkies.

WANDA JACKSON & THE CADILLAC ANGELS 5/30, FITZGERALD’S It’s the seesawing tension between sin and salvation–Saturday night and Sunday morning–that gives southern music its vitality, and no one artist has embodied it more thoroughly than Wanda Jackson. A protege of Elvis Presley whom many believed to be his equal and a sinning saint to rival Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, the Fujiyama Mama had an all-too-brief career as a rockabilly sex goddess. In the 50s, it turned out, no matter what the King or the Killer could get away with, Americans did not want to hear a big-bosomed white girl belting out, “You can say I’m crazy / So deaf and dumb / But I can cause destruction just like the atom bomb.” (The Japanese, on the other hand, ate it up: “Fujiyama Mama” was a number one hit there for six months in 1959.) Sinking sales, pressure to tone it down, and fear of God took their toll, and in 1971 Jackson got religion; for years afterward, she refused to perform at secular events. Fortunately, after a short tour with Rosie Flores and a guest appearance on her Rockabilly Filly in 1995, Jackson seems to be over that–and, as even Christians have egos, the rockabilly revival and resurgent interest in female rockers can’t have hurt either. In the last two years Germany’s Bear Family label has released two box sets (containing a total of 12 CDs) of Jackson’s collected works, though they’re still only available as expensive imports here. She’s touring with the backing of earnest revivalists the Cadillac Angels, who must be pissing themselves.

KURT GRIESCH, CHEER-ACCIDENT 5/31, Beat Kitchen For the culmination of the Domingo Gigante festival, Perdition Plastics founder Kurt Griesch has loaded up a DAT deck and called in collaborator Aeron Autics, a veteran of the early-90s absurdist rock outfit Stelch. Griesch says their experiments will jettison the cultural baggage carried by real instruments while recontextualizing “emotionally loaded” music. They share the bill with veteran avant-gardists Cheer-Accident; filmmaker Jeff Economy will project some new loops behind the band.

TODAY IS THE DAY 5/31, FIRESIDE BOWL The devil’s practically been hanging out at the mall for quite some time now, but for the cover of its fourth album, this full-bore art-metal trio out of Nashville figured out one more way to make the pentagram scary again: surrounding it with legions of sperm. Likewise, Today Is the Day has found a way to make metal sound fresh again; the samples of country music and crying children that flash in and out of the abrasive guitar din on the new Temple of the Morning Star (Relapse) bring to mind an alternate vision of the Grand Ole Opry, with Garth Brooks sticking communion wafers up his ass and LeAnn Rimes as sacrificial virgin. –Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Wanda Jackson photo/ uncredited.