SOUL HITS

           SPEAKING FROM HIS hometown of NYC last week, Soul Coughing's guitarist and wordsmith M. Doughty was at something of a loss to explain the group's rabid following in the Twin Cities. "It's really, really peculiar," he says. "We get these Soundscan reports in the mail that tell us how many people are buying our record in different places, and I remember one week in Minneapolis we outsold Stone Temple Pilots."

           He does acknowledge a couple of factors in this weird justice: the early and intense support of REV-105, and a number of wicked local shows, including their now-legendary debut at 7th Street Entry (which Doughty still counts as his all-time favorite Soul Coughing gig), and a headlining set at last year's Cedarfest.

           It's partly due to this history that the band kicks off its U.S. tour behind their new LP, Irresistible Bliss, in Minneapolis this Tuesday. Due to hit record shops the same day, Bliss is another masterpiece of groove knowledge, powered by upright bassist Sebastian Steinberg and drummer Yuval Gabay, with Mark De Gli Antoni's mad samples and keyboard flavors and Doughty's intrepid verse--a mouthful of well-read free association, school-yard chant, hip-hop flow and scat-style rhythms. Soundwise, there are no radical departures from the first record, just subtle refinements: more seamless sample work, more song-like structures. But a recurring theme of Bliss is heartbreak and its emotional fallout, which does mark a shift from the more free-ranging Ruby Vroom, whose linguistic excursions were filled with sidetrips touching on dislocation (Doughty was an Army brat whose family moved constantly) and, not surprisingly for a white group profoundly informed by hip-hop, race.

           "Race is the issue in America right now," says Doughty. "It's as significant as economics are. And obviously there's a level at which we have to deal with it--because we're white kids who grew up listening to black music, [and it] inspires us to do what we do. I mean, I abandoned rock music entirely in 1990 and just full-on switched my life to hip-hop."

           Despite rap's influence, Doughty considers Soul Coughing a band without a genre--though if pressed, he'll label them "a rock band--mainly because that's the business culture we deal with." Of course, this dichotomy is no doubt part of their appeal. Like the Beastie Boys, Soul Coughing manage the neat trick of making hip-hop-influenced music without coming off like a black-face act. Partly it's because their music is so smartly mongrelized, and partly it's because they have a healthily bent sense of humor (see Bliss's "White Girl" or Ruby Vroom's "Blue-eyed Devil").

           But mainly, it's because of the way they represent. "I believe that "soul music" means you express the deepest part of yourself culturally and socially and personally and emotionally," Doughty says. "And that means that when you hear my voice you should go, 'this is a white man who grew up in the suburbs'--I'm always trying to get across the clearest representation of who I actually am." (Hermes)

          

           Soul Coughing will perform with Trans Am and DJ CX & Hackmaster Zobop at First Avenue on Tuesday; see A-List, p.36. The group will also make an in-store appearance at Let It Be Records Monday night at 11 p.m.; call 339-7439 for information.

LOCAL NOTES

           MARK THIS UP as the local-music miracle story of the year. On March 30, Twin Cities-based jazz singer Liz Forester was lounging in a friend's condo in a comfortable section of Rio de Janeiro, gearing up for a concert tour of Brazil--the homeland of the samba, bossa nova, and jazzy pop music that inform the singer's repertoire. Suddenly there was the sound of gunfire, and a stray bullet entered the window and struck Forester in her mouth, barely missing her pallet and exiting through her cheek.

           Unlike many of the daily victims of violence in Rio, Forester, 29, was able to obtain quick and competent medical attention; unlike many musicians, she was insured. Now she's back in Minneapolis, her vocal capacity intact, to perform a benefit concert for the Citizens Council Victim and Mediation Services, which specializes in violence prevention and aiding victims. The show, with her quintet, takes place Wednesday at the Artists' Quarter (366 Jackson St., St. Paul; 292-1359) 9 p.m.-1 a.m.; suggested donation is $4. Should you miss that, Forester will sing Saturday at Tachio! in Minneapolis. After that it's off to Athens, Georgia to perform at a five-day Brazilian party after the Olympic soccer finals, followed by a few months of national touring and, eventually, a return to Brazil.

           Summer means music outdoors and it also means free music. And on a really good day it means both--as in the case of A Taste of Minnesota, featuring 50 bands on four radio-sponsored day-long stages. There will be nothing like last year's weird sight of Alanis Morissettewarmed up by Slim Dunlap (Dunlap does play Sunday at 8:30), but the bad, overpriced food should suffice. This year's big names include Henry Rollins Band, War, Del Amitri, Jefferson Starship, and Sonia Dada, but the locals will make the biggest noise. Before fireworks on the Fourth, see Shalita (noon), Milwaukee's Exotics (6:00), and Ipso Facto(8:00) at the Cities 97/Ritz Crackers stage; Thursday's Edge stage will host Dog Tooth Violet (noon), Dwindle(3:00), The Curbfeelers (5:30), and Mango Jam (8:00). Saturday is appealing with The Found at noon and The Wonsers at 3:00, followed by visiting bands Super Deluxe, Super 8, and Imperial Drag (not to be confused with Drag, Superdrag, or Imperial Teen) until dark. Sunday resumes with Medium (noon), The Rugburns (3:00), and Rollins Band (4:00), ending with the one-two local knockout of Balloon Guy (5:30) and Run Westy Run (8:00). Free. State Capitol, St. Paul; 228-0018.

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