LANTERNA 11/13, Gunther murphy’s Guitarist Henry Frayne, a veteran of Area, was obviously the kind of kid who daydreamed a lot in class–“never his mind on what he was doing,” as Yoda would say. His current trance-rock project, Lanterna, soars high into the ether but is never quite as firmly rooted in a concrete sense of place as, say, Calexico. As a result, he and drummer Brendan Gamble (of the Poster Children, and one of Frayne’s cohorts in the Moon Seven Times) wander off in imaginary landscapes that don’t quite connect to any recognizable place on earth, despite a few token attempts at grounding with train and seagull noises. The accompanying booklet, with its misty, evocative photos of the British Isles by Kevin Salemme, lends it all a vaguely Celtic feel, making the album’s harder-rocking moments, as when Gamble’s big drums come to the fore, remind me vaguely of mid-period epic-sweep U2, or perhaps an updated Big Country minus the populist pop fire.
SAM BUSH BAND, BARRY and HOLLY TASHIAN 11/13, OLD TOWN SCHOOL The mandolin is a sort of devil’s instrument, rather like harpsichord–for the first few minutes, its tinkling, bubbling gaiety sounds like the music of the heavens, but soon you want to smash the thing. Sam Bush drips that silver-spring sound a little too long on his 1996 Sugar Hill release, Glamour & Grits–the title and the leopard-print beret he sports on the cover should tell you where he ranks in terms of taste. But his mandolin jangling and fiddle sawing hit the mark when he breaks loose of laid-back country pop (or makes some surprising turns with it–his take on Tim Krekel’s “All Night Radio” is one of the better what-hath-Van-Morrison-wrought moments I’ve heard in a while); it’s worth the price of admission for his jam with Bela Fleck, “(One Night in Old) Galway,” alone. The Nashville duo Barry and Holly Tashian, both vocalist/guitarists, stick close to old-time rural song traditions–most of the tunes on their latest, Harmony (Rounder), are actually originals, but you’d never suspect it. The Tashians also play Saturday at David Adler Cultural Center.
MILKBABY 11/14, MORSELAND This local trio built itself up from scratch scoring local independent films and plays, and honed its attention span during an 18-week stint as the musical entertainment at Rituals’ “Monologues & Martinis” event, curated by Kahil El’Zabar himself. That’s a ringing endorsement, and Milkbaby doesn’t disappoint on its debut CD, Implied Muse-iks/Self-Portrait, which sounds at points like the trippiest of trip-hop (with relatively little “hop”) and yet boasts that it features not a single overdub or prerecorded loop. The secret to this probably lies in the band’s fiendish percussion chops that, combined with Tracee Westmoreland’s wispy, eerie vocalese, occasionally brings to mind a less militantly self-conscious Crash Worship.
BHOB RAINEY 11/14, NERVOUS CENTER Soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey made a few modest but resonant waves with his crisp microtonals when he was featured at the late, lamented Xoinx Tea Room music series last spring; now the improviser from Boston has returned with a new CD release, 44’38″/5, available on Forced Exposure, and a hearty welcome from the Chicago improv scene–small waves can swell large. His trio, Nmperign, has already performed a few dates this week, and at this newly added afternoon appearance, he’ll play with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Kurt Johnson, and multi-instrumentalist Bob Falesch.
WOLFIE 11/14, EMPTY BOTTLE None of the 13 garage-pop tunes on this Champaign quartet’s debut reaches the three-minute mark, yet they still manage to wear out their welcome. Maybe it’s the relentless sameness of Amanda Lyons’s basket-weaver keyboard lines, maybe it’s guitarist/vocalist Michael S. Downey’s affected new-wave brat nyah-nyah, maybe it’s the sense that this band is punch-drunk on its own sheer cuteness–or maybe it’s the fact that this kind of pop was always meant for one- or two-hit wonders. No matter–engineer Rick Valentin acquires another small territory for the Poster Children empire.
JOAN JONES 11/16, METRO Lilith Fair veteran and former leader of the forgettable and forgotten Sun 60, Californian Joan Jones already has her sights set on stardom–the overblown lushness of the arrangements and the full-throttle blast of her voice on her solo debut, Starlite Criminal, would push audiences back against the walls in any venue smaller than the United Center, and for once I don’t mean that as a compliment. Not only does she defy the singer-songwriter ethos of “letting the songs speak for themselves,” she seems to arm each tune with its own battalion of PR flacks and lawyers, disguised as backing vocals, keyboards, horns, strings, mellotron, and the usual stagy busyness that’s supposed to sound meaningful on the radio. But at least she plays her own trumpet parts.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Milkbaby uncredited photo.