CD RELEASE PARTIES
FORMER CP COVER models the Rank Strangers are finally out with their second disc, Mystery Spot (Veto). True to the advance hype, Spot captures the Strangers' live fury more than their debut did--it manages to sound better, even though it was made cheaper. The soulful and down-home Strangers sound is by no means incompatible with the literate, karmic ravings of leader Mike Wisti. Paired with Punchdrunk's disc, A Message from the Cockpit (from the same label and basement studio), Mystery Spot is one of the year's great self-releases. The Rank Strangers play Thursday at 7th St. Entry with Slim Dunlap, Peoria's Dollface, and Hut Hut Hike. ($5. 8 p.m., 338-8388)... At the 400 Bar on Friday, power poppers Steel Shank celebrate their cynically titled CD-EP, Let the Bidding War Begin, produced by Matt Wilson at Planetmaker Studio. After joining the Shanks for a couple of tunes, Wilson will play a solo set; the night wraps up with the also-Wilsonified Wonsers. ($4. 9:30 p.m., 332-2903) (Groebner)
MORE GIG NOTES...
YAY! HOORAY! FOR Syd Straw--the Lily Tomlin of indie rock, ex-Golden Palomino, and keeper of one of the more miraculous voices around. She's relocated to Chicago and, seven years gone, she's finally followed up her eclectic Surprise (which enlisted the help of pals like Richard Thompson, Michael Stipe, Ry Cooder, John Doe, Daniel Lanois, Don Was, and Mark Ribot) with the modestly titled War and Peace (Capricorn). Her crew this time is country-tinged rockers the Skeletons, and the songs are a hearty, aromatic blend of tragedy and absurdity. Welcome back, sweetie. Also on Straw's bill is Ed Hamell--a.k.a. Hamell On Trial--returning for another round of his high-tension urban folk. And opening the Friday show is San Francisco's Richard Buckner, a simply great singer-songwriter who records for Texas alt-country champions DejaDisc. Last year's Bloomed was a critics' fave (it turned up in Spin's top 20, fer chrissake), and at his best, Buckner can near about rip your heart out of your chest. If you have any taste for the alt-country of Son Volt and Wilco et al., this whole bill is worth investigating. ($8. Doors at 8 p.m. 7th Street Entry; 338-8388)
The oblique lyrics and bent/beautiful melodies on Sparklehorse's impressive, enigmatic debut release, vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, place songwriter Mark Linkous in the fraternity of overtalented and underappreciated guitar-loners: Built to Spill, Giant Sand, and Palace. And while a 4-track aesthetic is working here in full, lazy-ass force (overdriven/underwater vocals, gee-tar noodling, lo-fi tape FX, and plenty of slack), if you added some redneck rhythm tracks, you might just get country. Right down the road from the Linkous ranch is the Richmond studio where David Lowery and Cracker have created The Golden Age, full of 15-piece string sections and pedal steel smoothness. It seems that after selling a miraculous million copies of Kerosene Hat, Cracker has been given a key to the Virgin Records vaults. The result is a surprisingly uncatchy collection that fails to capture Cracker's already limited pop charms... either that, or it's the best Tom Petty album of the year. They join Sparklehorse for a Monday double show (6 p.m. all-age show, 9 p.m. ID show) at First Avenue ($12/$15 at the door; 338-8388. (Hermes/Tortorello)
AND LAST MINUTE BOOKINGS
ON SATURDAY, CHAMPAIGN band The Suede Chain plays the Loring Bar in support of Piloted by Ghosts (Mud). Not unlike the Drovers or the defunct Big Hat, this driving six-piece masters an Illinois-specific tradition of eclectic rock instrumentation (including violin and cello), blissful textures, and socially indignant lyricism. In other words, it has and should continue to go over well with both the Loring's ethnic-folk set and the dream-pop clique. (No cover. 1624 Harmon Place, Mpls.; 332-1617) (Groebner)
Maybe it's the product of an Anglo culture's exile in a remote paradise, but New Zealand has an uncanny knack for exporting obscure sounds of godlike perfection. Christchurch's heavenly creatures Space Dust take their dirgy, improvisational, no-fi cues from the likes of The Dead C, infuse them with the sweet stylings of singer Violet, and add the medieval-sounding guitarist Brother Love. Sunday night they'll be playing at Oarfolkjokeopus Records (for lack of an available stage--thanks, Uptown Bar), along with Northeast Minneapolis's ambient-noise act Lost in Translation and the new & improved Powerful Stardrag. The Space Dust LP First to the Future and a LiT single are available on local Carburetor Records, courtesy of Stardrag's Clint Simonson. (If you dig, also try out the new Prospective 7-inch from Mankato duo Obscura.) (All ages. $4. 7 p.m. Oarfolkjokeopus, 2557 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.; 872-7400) (Groebner)
Dancehall reggae hits the Midwest at the Red Sea Friday with the Champion Bubblers. The acclaimed Cleveland six-piece has a strong backbone comprised of R&B, ska, funk, and hip-hop; they blew through town with Burning Spear last year, and they're semifinalists in Musician's Best Unsigned Band competition. Catch their dance party while it's still on the street level--if only for their cover of Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight." (Red Sea, 320 Cedar Ave., Mpls.; 333-1644)
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