John Mayer has helped bring the iconic, sensitive, male singer-songwriter back into vogue with his smash No Room for Squares album and its hits, "No Such Thing," "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and "Why Georgia."

Now, fans who haven't seen him in concert can get a feel for his live delivery of those hit songs and a dozen more on the two-CD set Any Given Thursday on Aware/Columbia.

The disc was recorded last fall in Alabama, and the concert is also available as a DVD.

Hayseed Dixie - Kiss My GrassMy guess is that the market for those who love both bluegrass banjo music and the hard rock hits of KISS is a somewhat limited pool. Nevertheless, Hayseed Dixie, who previously gained notoriety by recording a porch-thumping tribute to AC/DC, has just released its third album, Kiss My Grass: A Hillbilly Tribute to KISS on Dualtone Records.

Frankly, I'm not a big fan of KISS or banjo music. But this CD is a lot of fun. There's something perversely amusing about "Calling Dr. Love" and "Rock & Roll All Nite," played with a fast-paced fiddle and backwoods vocal twang. And "Let's Put the X in Sex" offers the Hayseed Dixie boys plenty of room for fast-paced, hoe-down picking. If KISS had ever played TV's "Hee-Haw" variety show in the '70s, it might have sounded like this.

Or not.

The CD also includes covers of "Detroit Rock City," "Christine Sixteen," "Love Gun," "Lick it Up" and more.

The band will bring its offbeat show to Durty Nellie's in Palatine May 3.


The Ataris - So Long, Astoria The Ataris
So Long, Astoria

The Ataris put out three successful independent albums and an EP before getting signed to Columbia to release their latest disc. The tours and woodshedding paid off; The Ataris arrive on the scene with their major label debut fully formed and ready to storm the rock charts.

So Long, Astoria (named after the town in the movie The Goonies), is an intelligent dose of modern rock, a la the Goo Goo Dolls and Jimmy Eat World. Singer/songwriter Kris Roe writes of pop culture nostalgia for '80s songs and movies, as well as referencing the writings of Richard Hell, Kurt Cobain and Emily Dickinson.

Roe offers a perfect mix of angst, hope and melancholy in the songs on So Long, Astoria, from the crunch-rock riffs of the titletrack ("sometimes I still see myself playing my guitar and singing songs of hope for a better future") to the disc's quietest offering, "The Saddest Song," a moving apology to his daughter for being away from her so much as he tours with the band.

Most of the CD moves along at a pounding pace, from the electric "Takeoffs and Landings" ("if only you could be right here by my side/home wouldn't seem so far from here") to the inspirational "In This Diary" ("The only thing that matters is following your heart/ and eventually you'll get it right").

But even when Roe is expressing very personal, introspective feelings (as in "Unopened Letter to the World" where he asks "if I die tomorrow/would this song live on forever") the band keeps up a fairly steady wall of electric guitars behind him. "Summer '79" is a driving singalong that begs to be played loud in the car with the windows rolled down as Roe sings "cruising down Pacific Coast Highway/put the top down/crawl into the backseat/let's create anthems of our own tonight."

The album includes two unlisted bonus tracks, one of them an acoustic mix of "The Saddest Song" and the other a new version of "I Won't Spend Another Night Alone," originally released on their 1999 independent album Blue Skies, Broken Hearts... Next 12 Exits.

With their Columbia debut, The Atari's have delivered a memorable blast of modern rock with lyrical heart and guitar muscle.