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Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise 9/27, Cubby Bear Bradley’s voice is so authoritatively soulful and smoky it seems like faint praise to say he sounds like Joe Cocker, Stevie Winwood, or the Band’s Levon Helm; rather, he sounds like he might have influenced them. But in reality he’s a little younger than they are, and after years of singing on streets in Detroit, he’s only now gaining exposure to a wide audience. The Surprise is the inspired young band he’s recruited to help recapture the vitality of vintage Stax burners and Motown ballads on a self-titled set of originals (RCA). Catherine, Placebo 9/28, Metro A cheery bubblegum sound and soft-rock production drew me into Catherine’s new Hot Saki & Bedtime Stories (TVT), but that happy track that sounds like the Cowsills covering Sly & the Family Stone is called “It’s Gonna Get Worse,” and boy, does it ever. By the time I got to the line “With all the drugs I’ve been droppin’ / Day after day / Feel like a corpse without a coffin” (“Punch Me Out”), I felt like I’d been cornered at a party by the village junkie. Opening actor Brian Molko of Placebo would have us think he’s a woman (nail polish, lipstick, high voice), or at least not much of a man (“I’m a fool whose tool is small / It’s so minuscule it’s no tool at all”). But with the possible exception of the pleasant throb of “Nancy Boy,” nothing on his London-based trio’s self-titled debut (Elevator Music/Caroline) could induce me to care. Charm Farm 9/28, Double Door Berklee School of Music grad Dennis White cultivates slick, predictable pop rock on Charm Farm’s Pervert (PRA/Mercury). Though the Detroiter’s vocals convey earnestness, he admits that “I never listened to the words of my favorite songs,” and it shows in his artless lyrics about pain, suicide, dirty feelings, and the shallowness (gasp!) of the long-gone Factory and Studio 54 scenes. Flying Luttenbachers 9/28, Empty Bottle Chicago’s instrumental noise specialists remove most of their previously characteristic jazz-horn bleating on the recent Revenge of the Flying Luttenbachers (ug EXPLODE/Skin Graft) only to crank up the wattage for an all-out death-metal guitar fracas. Yet there remains an enlivening spontaneity, with occasional humorous touches like the “na-na na-na” chorus borrowed from the Batman theme and the water-bubble-blowing interlude on “Storm of Shit.” They open for Japan’s Zeni Geva. Velmas 9/28, Lounge Ax When, on the Velmas’ recent Landscapes (Beluga), guitarist John de Moulpied and violinist Jessica Billey’s vocal and instrumental lines entwine in a dizzying, exuberant swirl, these frequent visitors from Indiana recall the sloppy charm and intense pop of 80s bands like Let’s Active and the dB’s. They open for Motorhome. Speedball 10/3, Double Door Before starting this four-piece Motor City answer to Motorhead, singer-guitarist Chuck Burns was a drummer. Kickin’ out the jams with more aplomb than Foo Fighter Dave Grohl on Drive Like Hell (Energy), Burns shows a penchant for dumb titles (“Operation Get Down,” “Ass, Gas, or Grass”), but the band’s unaffected delivery is downright refreshing.

–Frank Youngwerth

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Robert Bradley by Ian Glitter.