BOBBY CONN 5/16, 6 odum; 5/20, POOP STUDIOs After glittering around the Chicago underground for almost a decade, serving as devil’s advocate and postcelebrity celebrity, at last Bobby Conn has convinced someone to put money where his mouth is. His full-length debut, Bobby Conn (Truckstop), features some sterling guests letting their ya-yas out–and didn’t you suspect all along that the Antichrist would sound more like Donovan than Johnny Rotten?

STILLSUIT 5/16, FIRESIDE BOWL On its first full-length release, At the Speed of Light (Building/TVT), this New York hardcore quartet speeds it up and slows it down with lurchy avant-gardisms and squealy heavy metalisms, sounding something like the Rollins Band without Henry. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Cherry poppin’ daddies, sPRING HEELED JACK 5/17, HOUSE OF BLUES Nearly every member of the Connecticut ska band Spring Heeled Jack–not to be confused with the electronica duo Spring Heel Jack–thanks George Lucas and various actors and characters from Star Wars in the copious liner notes to its Static World View. The music’s more like Luke than Han, eschewing rude-boy poses in favor of a pop-punk sensibility that requires little suspension of disbelief. The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, on the other hand, are zoot-suit mannequins with all the excitement and freshness of a Battlestar Galactica rerun.

STAR VEHICLE 5/17, FIRESIDE BOWL Front woman Cyndi Elliott is a rock writer, and it shows: there’s something very studied and annotated about her trio’s sludgy anarchy. But nobody’s done New York-style narcotigrind like this since Live Skull broke up, and it feels great–though I don’t think it’s supposed to.

ME’SHELL NDEGEOCELLO 5/19, METRO; 5/21, VIC The measure of any genre’s vitality lies in its capacity to reinvent itself, and the industry hacks rushing with such eagerness to proclaim hip-hop moribund based on flagging sales of gangsta rap are about as far off target as their predecessors who said that rock ‘n’ roll would die when Elvis went in the army. What will save hip-hop–and everything else–are independent-minded shape-shifters like Me’Shell NdegeOcello. Her debut, Plantation Lullabies, introduced her swirling blend of rap, jazz, and urbane soul; last year’s Peace Beyond Passion added gospel, funk, and Afro-pop to the mix and spelled out her feminist, humanist, and spiritual agenda without any coy ambiguity or bad-mama posing. She can belt love lyrics right out of the Song of Songs on the street corners and she can croon calls to revolution in the uptown lounges.

ROBYN HITCHCOCK 5/21, HOUSE OF BLUES Having just finished a lengthy tour with Billy Bragg, Hitchcock continues to milk the hell out of last year’s Moss Elixir–as well he should, because it’s his best record in years. His performance at the Vic last October presented him happily deferring to no one, having ditched his increasingly unwieldy backup band, the Egyptians, and his apparently unwieldy A&M contract. With an upcoming Jonathan Demme concert film, this melodically gifted bard of the organically strange might be poised to finally catch the star status that’s just barely eluded him over his 20-year career, and that’s exciting to watch. But of course, the real reason to see him live yet again is the monologues.

LISA ST. ANN 5/22, ABBEY PUB; 5/25, borders on Clark She’s not just another pretty face–she’s got trite arrangements and forced emoting loaded like landmines on her Conversations from the Sidewalk (Pax), strategically calculated to blow up whenever she lurks too close to a good line or a possible insight. You’ve got to have a sort of genius to sabotage genuine potential this thoroughly.

CHRIS WHITLEY 5/22, DOUBLE DOOR There’s absolutely no reason to think that Chris Whitley can’t make it really really really big with his latest batch of husky ‘n’ heartfelt and just a bit edgy singer-songwriter rock…except that the frequent bursts of oddball guitar spaz (Pat Place from the Bush Tetras guests on the new album, Terra Incognita) might alienate the chick market, and his straining-for-clever lyrics might drive away the air-guitar boys, leaving him between the same rock and hard place that trapped Ben Vaughn.

–Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Chris Whitley by Karen A. Peters.