Sound Checks

Juvenile
Saturday, March 20; Palace
(I-270 and Halls Ferry)

Seems the hip-hop nation just can't get enough of New Orleans. Last year Master P tore joints up with the simplistic "Ungh-h-h." Now comes another one-grunt hit from rapper Juvenile, part of the Cash Money crew from the other side of N'awlins. Called "Ha" (though to me it sounds more like "huh"), the song has gripped hip-hop-heads by the hair with its pure flow. Speaking directly to the everyman-cum-ghettoman, "Ha" opens hard and fast with a snare-drum beat; immediately Juvenile cuts to the chase with a sort of "20 Questions" for the inner-city hustler: "That's you with the big body Benz? Ha/That's you can't keep an old lady? Ha/Cause you keep nailing her friends? Ha/You gotta go to court? Ha/You got served a subpoena for child support? Ha." The questions continue in this unique conversational tone, backed by a badass Mardi Gras beat. With this cut, Juvenile's come-at-you-crazy flow stands confidently alongside rappers like DMX, Jayo Felony, Jay-Z, the Wu-Tang and Master P in its willingness to take genuine chances with lyric delivery. In fact, his entire album, 400 Degreez (Cash Money), dares to be mad like "Ha." For directions, call 355-9251. (DI)

Rosalie Sorrels and Dave Van Ronk
Saturday, March 20; Focal Point

Rosalie Sorrels has the weirdest voice in American folk music, a deadpan moan flaring into a gypsy wail. That voice has gotten stranger, less earthly, with time. Sorrels spent her youth in Idaho, at a time when fathers did not raise daughters to leave home at 19, get married, have five kids, get divorced, then pack the bunch into a station wagon and drive around the country singing folk songs. That's what Sorrels did in the late '50s (Nanci Griffith wrote "Ford Econoline" about her), eventually recording a fascinating body of original and forgotten folk songs. Her few albums muse about the storied land to which St. Louis purports to offer a gateway. But for Sorrels, the West is soaked in blood, full of struggle and tough, beautiful souls. Besides her epic treks and the depth of her songwriting and feminist commitments, her folk-dame contemporaries (e.g., Joan Baez and Judy Collins) just come across as vague and precious voices belonging to lives never lived. Sorrels has lived, and you hear it in the way she shapes every sound, constructs every line.

Her appearance in St. Louis, after what must be some five years, is both shocking and heartening. When I heard last year that Sorrels had breast cancer, I was sure that I would never get to see one of my heroes perform. She has recovered well and has lit out from her Idaho home with Dave Van Ronk to begin traveling again. To see them share a stage in a room as perfect as the Focal Point is simply an opportunity too rare and thrilling to miss. (RK)

Susan Tedeschi with Mary Cutrufello
Tuesday, March 23; Duck Room

The blues world is mostly a man's world. It wasn't always so, of course, and shouldn't be that way now, but let's face it: It takes a special kind of person to take up the blues in the first place -- to learn the tradition, develop your chops and pay your dues. To put up with being seen as a novelty -- a woman guitar-slinger and blues-belter amid a sea of men -- goes above and beyond the call of duty and would drive any but the most steadfast in search of a frilly skirt, an acoustic guitar and a spot on the second stage at the next Lilith Fair.

Thank God for Susan Tedeschi, then. A Boston native who grew up on folk, blues and rock & roll and who blew off her Catholic upbringing to sing with black congregations at local Baptist and Methodist churches, Tedeschi has a feel for the music that transcends questions of gender or race. She's a fine player (a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, to boot), a strong singer whose vocals are reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt's (and, in rougher moments, Janis Joplin's), and a terrific songwriter.

Tedeschi has been on the road almost constantly since her debut album was released in 1995, but it's only now that she's truly coming into her own. Her excellent major-label debut, Just Won't Burn (Tone Cool), was released a year ago and is still going strong sales-wise thanks to fine interpretations of songs such as Junior Wells' "Little by Little," Tom Hambridge's "It Hurt So Bad" and John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery," as well as the original tunes "Looking for Answers," "Just Won't Burn" and "You Need to Be with Me" (which cops a line or two from, of all people, Emily Dickinson). Tedeschi is reputed to be a volcanic live performer, and listening to Just Won't Burn, it's easy to believe. Check her out now and you'll still be able to say you knew her when. (DD)

Dub Narcotic Sound System, icu, Miranda July and K.G.
Tuesday, March 23; Galaxy

Calvin Johnson is one of the most important musical freaks you've never heard, a singularly tornadic presence in the independent-rock community whose work over the past 15 years, though never making it above a muffled utterance in the mainstream, has danced a crooked line and strutted a clumsy but compelling walk.

He's the founder of K Records, the Olympia, Wash., label that has released phenomenal work by, among many others, Beck, Built to Spill, Fifth Column, Heavenly, Fugazi, Nirvana, Lync, the Make-Up, Modest Mouse, the Pastels, Snuff and Johnson's old band Beat Happening. It's an impressive list of artists, all of whom are drawn to the defiant and musically diverse punk ideals of the K label and, by association, Johnson himself.

Johnson's current band is called the Dub Narcotic Sound System, and they cut a fantastic swath through R&B, dub and all things groove-based; put an indie-rock spin on it; and generate an energy that's, well, pretty great. You should check them out, if for no other reason than to witness Johnson's freakified dancing and posturing. It's funny, absurd and unpretentious.

Also on the bill is another phenomenal K band, icu; their record from last year, Chotto Matte a Moment!, mixes explosive drum & bass and hip-hop rhythms with guitar and voice, and the result is absolute inspiration in an electronic mix-and-match world that often lacks concrete energy. Their pores spew rhythm, and they should not be missed.

The others on the bill, Miranda July and K.G., I haven't heard. Sorry. The former has an album on the Kill Rock Stars label out of Olympia; the latter includes one Tae Won Yu, who, in addition to being a fantastic graphic artist, was the force behind Kicking Giant, whose performance at Cicero's basement about five years ago was one of the most transcendent and exciting I've ever seen.

As a whole, this show threatens to be a monster, and I can't imagine, given those participating, that it won't be. Crawl if you must, but by all means ... (RR)

Sarge
Wednesday, March 24; Rocket Bar

The first time I heard Sarge, I didn't know what the hubbub was all about. Spin, Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, they all raved about this Champaign, Ill., band that has been playing at out-of-the-way places around St. Louis for the past few years to not much notice whatsoever. But I didn't hear it -- big whoop: guitar rock with hooks, harmonies and a general angry quirkiness. Like we need another one of those.

Then I popped the band's album on again a few months later, with lyrics in front of me, and got drawn into the whirlpool of their words, wonderfully crafted lines that circle around a subject to create genuine narrative progression. These narratives, at least on the most recent release, The Glass Intact (Mud), are written and sung by Elizabeth Elmore, who expresses a first-person sexual confusion that's rarely self-indulgent diary-entry secret talk. Rather, Elmore presents a situation with setting and telling details ("Late at night he kissed me one too many times"; "You slipped your hand underneath my dress so last night I took you driving"; "I met this girl at a Madison punk-rock show/She made fun of all the boys") and then tries to make sense of it. And it works. The music that surrounds these situations, though by no means revolutionary and occasionally somewhat generic, provides enough context to work magic. (RR)

Contributors: Daniel Durchholz, Dunkor Imani, Roy Kasten, Randall Roberts

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