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BOUKAN GINEN 2/10 Wild Hare Started by former members of the popular Haitian group Boukman Eksperyans, Boukan Ginen deliver on their domestic debut, Jou a Rive (Xenophile/Green Linnet), a similar modernist take on the island’s musical traditions but with a sharper political bent and more Western borrowings. Singer Eddy Francois’ Bob Marley-esque vocals, guitarist Vladimir “Jimmy” Jean-Felix’s psychedelic flourishes, and slices of straight-up reggae combine with the album’s slick production and pop glosses to temper the Haitian ra-ra rhythms and voodoo chants with an overt crossover appeal. Francois sings in his native tongue with a gorgeous lilt, but Boukan Ginen’s music isn’t held by tradition. The group has a terrific live reputation. UPPER CRUST 2/11, Empty Bottle There’s usually no reason to pay attention to joke-rock bands, but Boston’s Upper Crust bolster their shtick with a three-guitar attack that spits out high-octane rock a la AC/DC and Motorhead. Donning Victorian clothes and powder wigs, this quintet one-ups Paul Revere and the Raiders by being true to its garb–covering topics loosely related to the 19th century. But as song titles like “I’ve Got My Ascot ‘n’ My Dickie” and “Friend of a Friend of the Working Class” suggest, the band’s debut, Let Them Eat Rock (Upstart), is crammed with lower-class humor. Led by Nat Freedberg (aka Lord Bendover), formerly of the Flies, the Upper Crust have plenty of quips–like “Hey everybody, look what I found / Simply the best manservant in town” and “They said we couldn’t rock, we were too rich / But we can dig it just like any peasant in his ditch”–but they’ve got the big riffs to ever-so-slightly transcend the jokes. I doubt making the Upper Crust a habit would be wise, but a onetime encounter couldn’t hurt. AIMEE MANN, SEMISONIC 2/12, Park West Years after ‘Til Tuesday, Aimee Mann is still trying to shake off an embarrassing past. Her brand-new second solo effort, I’m With Stupid (DGC), marks a shift both stylistically and businesswise (Mann claims Epic, ‘Til Tuesday’s label, tried to control her sound and image, and Imago, the label that released her solo debut in 1993, went belly-up, leaving this new record unreleased for more than a year). Mann cites Beck’s Mellow Gold and Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville as shaping her current direction, and though their influence is palpable, it also reinforces Mann as an ordinary popster still playing catch-up. The album does have some hooks, and there’s plenty of lyrical bile directed at all the ex-boyfriends, music executives, and other mean people who’ve hurt her, but far more interesting is guessing where her career will go next. Known originally as Pleasure, Semisonic feature Dan Wilson and John Munson, who previously helped form the core of Trip Shakespeare. On its recent debut, Pleasure (CherryDisc), this Minneapolis trio fits neatly into the current Twin Cities fixation on the loud, wiggy, and slightly psychedelic pop best represented by the music of Polara. But Semisonic’s pop is far more conventional, with less adventurous song structure, less sonic trickery, and less solid hooks. DANDELION 2/13, Lounge Ax On their second album, Dyslexicon (Columbia), Dandelion continue to fuse hooks and riffs swiped from some anonymous 60s garage band with rudiments of that dreaded post-Nirvana phenomenon, grunge. Though this Philadelphia quartet’s music is tuneful and tightly executed, there’s little setting it apart from the boredom- and greed-driven junk filling mod-rock airwaves. ADD TRIO 2/13, Lunar Cabaret A group featuring Swiss guitarist Christy Doran, British percussionist Steve Arguelles, and New York flutist Robert Dick, the Add Trio artfully sets Dick’s mind-bending percussive overblowing and fascinating harmonic investigations within an accessible framework. Exploiting a variety of delay and distortion effects, Doran expands his guitar’s range, stretching between propulsive riffing to swirling textures, while Arguelles alternates between the drummer’s traditional rhythmic role and filling in space with a light touch. Though Dick (who belongs to the excellent reed trio New Winds in addition to releasing solo recordings) has been in town recently, Doran (who’s made fine recent recordings with trombonist Ray Anderson) and Arguelles rarely make it to Chicago. This is the Add Trio’s local debut. CHEVY HESTON 2/15, Lounge Ax This Boston duo exudes a certain charm through the simple playing of guitarist Matt Martin and drummer Chic Curtis, but based on its eponymous 1994 debut, the charisma quickly wears thin. Though Martin has a keen pop sensibility he fails to recognize his limited vocal abilities, transforming something that could be clumsily appealing into something downright irritating. –Peter Margasak

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tony Maciag/Tracy Storer.