Monster Magnet
Friday, Feb. 5; Mississippi Nights

If you're one of those folks who believe that rock is dead, buried by its own increasing irrelevance, or by whatever the latest trend may be -- ska, swing, electronica, teenybopper pop, whatever -- Monster Magnet may just be the band that will restore your faith in the music. The group's latest release, Powertrip (A&M), rages from end to end with heavy-metal thunder and is filled to the brim with tales of frontman Dave Wyndorf's hedonistic urges -- there are lots of sex and drugs to go with his rock & roll. Throughout the album's 13 tracks, Wyndorf is alternately lazy ("I'm never gonna work another day in my life," he boasts on the title track), philosophical ("Some people go to bed with Lucifer, then cry when they don't greet the day with God," he muses on "Bummer," quite content with the side of the line he stands on), and frightfully honest ("When you get tired of their crap, baby, move over here and maybe buy some of mine," he offers, also on the title track). There's also some first-class riffage to be found on songs like "Crop Circles," "Space Lord" and "See You in Hell." It may have had precious little competition, but there's little doubt that Powertrip was the finest hard-rock album of 1998.

Monster Magnet, of course, has not been a stranger to St. Louis in recent months. They played on the second stage at Pointfest a while back, a performance during which Wyndorf was memorably lap-danced by an overenthusiastic member of the audience. (He didn't seem to mind.) They also opened for Rob Zombie a few months back. Now they're back with a full headlining set, which is all the more reason to see them when they perform at Mississippi Nights. Kid Rock and (hed)pe open. (DD)

Vanilla Ice
Friday, Feb. 5; Galaxy

Vanilla Ice, a.k.a. Robert Van Winkle, once sat on top of the rap world. He sold millions of records, made two movies, made a sex book with Madonna, all the while earning dumptrucks full of money. Then his 15 minutes were up, and the man who put the V in VIP lost millions to rap kingmaker Suge Knight in a shady deal, churned out laughable cheese-rap ballads and got heavily into drugs. It seemed that His Vanillaness had melted under the heat of superstardom.

Now the Iceman is trying to thaw his frozen career with a new album, Hard to Swallow (Universal); a new look; and a new-found belief in God. Gone are the parachute pants, the 6-inch pompadour and the gold chains. Instead of sporting Filas, Vanilla Ice wears ripped shirts, tattoos and a close-cropped haircut that screams for the street cred he's never going to get. His new sound, a funk/metal hybrid reminiscent of Korn, forgoes the inane bad-boy rap, the bitch-dissin' and the frontin' of his earlier work and is more on the introspective tip. All of this begs the question of whether we really want to know what's going on inside the Iceman's mind. That indeed could be hard to swallow. Once he let himself be typecast as a clown, the image became indelible.

Oh, yeah, if you must ask, he still does "Ice Ice Baby." (MH)

Blind Boys of Alabama
and the Persuasions
Saturday, Feb. 6; Edison Theatre

The classic gospel groups of the '40s and '50s -- the Soul Stirrers, the Pilgrim Travelers, the Golden Gate Quartet and the Blind Boys of Alabama -- created soaring, powerful music built on finely tuned vocal harmonies and the emotional call-and-response between lead singer and supporting voices. These soulful gospel groups proved an inspiration for doo-wop, rock & roll and rhythm & blues, in addition to providing early training for legendary singers like Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, Wilson Pickett and Johnnie Taylor.

You can hear the best of both sacred and secular harmonizing when the Edison Theatre's Ovations! series presents a double bill comprising the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Persuasions.

The Blind Boys of Alabama recorded for the first time in 1948, but the roots of the group actually go back a decade earlier, when Clarence Fountain and six of his friends at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind decided to form a gospel-singing group. They originally called themselves the Happy Land Jubilee Singers -- a name they would keep until changing it to the Five Blind Boys of Alabama in 1950. Amazingly, the Blind Boys still feature three founding members: Fountain, George Scott and Johnny Fields. Perhaps that continuity explains why the group has kept its popularity over the decades and continues to gain new fans.

The Persuasions began performing vocal harmonies a cappella on the street corners of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in the early 1960s, and more than three decades later the group's motto is "still ain't got no band." Like the Blind Boys, the Persuasions have remained a remarkably stable group. Original member Herbert Rhodes died in 1988, and the Persuasions worked as a quartet for the next eight years before adding Bernard Jones (a former member of the Drifters) in 1996. The Persuasions have released such classic recordings as We Came to Play, Chirpin' and Street Corner Symphony, and they haven't lost their ability to make beautiful music a cappella. (TP)

Herbie Mann
Saturday, Feb. 6; Sheldon

Although Herbie Mann has recorded more than 100 albums as a leader over the past four decades, he's still best known for classic '60-era recordings such as At the Village Gate and Memphis Underground. Both recordings featured Mann's flute in settings that successfully blended jazz with other musical genres (percussive Afro-Cuban rhythms on Village Gate and soulful R&B on Memphis Underground). Mann's ability to cross-pollinate jazz with diverse musical styles continued to be his calling card over the years, and he enjoyed considerable success with recordings that incorporated everything from reggae, rock and disco to African percussion, Middle Eastern sounds and even Japanese court music with his jazz flute.

But no matter how eclectic Mann's approach, he always seemed to return to one primary touchstone -- the music of Brazil. Mann was actually one of the first American musicians to record and perform Brazilian music. On a tour of South America in 1961, he met great Brazilian musicians such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and an 18-year-old pianist named Sergio Mendes. He also discovered bossa nova, and he found the lyrical style a perfect match for his jazz-flute style.

Mann makes a rare local appearance at the Sheldon Concert Hall, and it's a good bet that his performance will be highly eclectic -- but will also focus on Brazilian music. After all, Mann himself labels his recent music "Jasil Brazz." (TP)

Jack Hardy
Sunday, Feb. 7; Focal Point

Jack Hardy was raised in Indiana and wound up in New York City, where he undertook an all-but-singlehanded reinvigoration of the '70s folk scene. He mentored singer/songwriters, young and old, and offered his apartment as a workshop for song. Those workshops still continue: Their focus is neither on the creation of Nashville confections nor on polishing into professionalism, but rather, as he explained to me a few weeks ago, on the discovery of what each song needs to grow.

It's frustratingly appropriate I should lose my tape recording of our conversation, during which Hardy explained the Celtic influence on his work -- he has learned Gaelic and spent years studying Irish verse -- the development of the songwriter workshops, his vision of a good song, his passion for writing, always writing, and his reluctance to perform in public. Hardy may be well-known by other songwriters, but he values the freedom of his anonymity. He says he lives sparely, has never owned a computer or television, buys his clothes in thrift stores and, after 30 years, still writes to pay his bills.

He has penned too many extraordinary, mythic songs to discuss here. He is like a more literate, Celtic Townes Van Zandt, grave in his tone and generous in his ideals, as rooted in the present soil and sky of Ireland and America as he is fascinated by the legends of the past. His triumph is a slyly simple song called "The Zephyr," with its chorus as timeless as only folk or country songs can be: "Take it slow, take it easy, take it any way you can/Take it all, take it freely, take it like a man/Take it down a lonesome highway, down a lonesome railroad track/Take it any way you want to, but never take it back." Come see Hardy at the Focal Point. You may never get another chance. (RK)

Abyssinians
Tuesday, Feb. 9; La Onda

If you're a reggae fan, I shouldn't have to give you any reasons to go see the Abyssinians, because you no doubt already know them from their seminal roots masterpiece Satta Massagana and its dub counterpart, Declaration of Dub, both of which rank as pillars of reggae. The Jamaican trio has been making records since 1969, and the hit single from their debut of the same name, "Satta Massagana," has since become an oft-covered standard (sadly, the album was out of print until it was re-released by Heartbeat Records last year). Early in their career, they were known primarily in Jamaica, but they later exploded onto the world stage with 1978's highly acclaimed Arise. One of the most fiercely Rastafarian bands around, the Abyssinians may not be the tightest vocal trio to emerge from Jamaica, but they are one of the most intensely natty; virtually every track they've recorded is a compelling exploration of the deepest, darkest, ganja-stoked reggae. (MH)

Contributors: Daniel Durchholz, Matthew Hilburn, Roy Kasten, Terry Perkins

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