A couple of great (and polar opposite) tours hit Chicago this week. Tonight, Carrie Newcomer, a heartland folk-rock singer-songwriter from Indiana, brings her definitive storytelling style to Schuba's at 8 p.m.

Matt HaimovitzAlso tonight (and a little closer to home), renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz, helped out by Romanian violinist Andy Simionescu, plays at FitzGerald's in Berwyn, in support of Haimovitz's new CD, Goulash. Touted as "Bartok meets America," the disc melds classical, pop and Middle Eastern themes, including an instrumental cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." Haimovitz has played with greats like Yo-Yo Ma and Isaac Stern, and has made a name for himself by bringing high-brow music mixed with a goulash of pop themes to rock, jazz and folk clubs around the country. You can hear a sample under the audio tab at sonicbids.com.

Finally, next Wednesday, Oct. 12, Nashville Pussy will bring their Atlanta-bred “Southern discomfort” hard rock show to Double Door. The band is touring to support their fist-pounding new CD, Get Some on Spitfire Records, which includes a host of irreverent, lascivious anthems (I can't seem to get it out of my car CD player!) The band's fourth CD includes a cover of Ike and Tina Turner's “Nutbush City Limits” and a dozen original high-octane whiskey-drenched rock tracks which they'll be spotlighting at the Double Door. The band's self description of their music as “AC/DC making out with Motorhead while Lynyrd Skynrd watches” is apt; when I caught them live this Spring in Austin, my ears were left ringing for a week!

Queen + RodgersQueen fans have had a lot to celebrate this year. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Queen tribute album Killer Queen. Now Hollywood Records has issued Return of the Champions, a live concert recording featuring the remaining members of Queen with Bad Company's Paul Rodgers taking the mike in lieu of the late Freddie Mercury. Original Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor have been touring Europe over the past year as Queen + Paul Rodgers, and will play two U.S. shows at New Jersey's Meadowlands and at Hollywood Bowl this month. Return of the Champions documents a May show in England. Anyone familiar with his work with Free, Bad Company or the Firm knows Rodgers sounds nothing like Mercury. Consequently, all the tracks performed here have a much lower blues-rock feel than Queen's originals. But every track bristles with live energy. Clearly everyone on stage (and in the audience) was having a ball with these songs, which include the hits "Another One Bites the Dust," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "We Will Rock You," and "We Are the Champions."

Natalie Merchant has been solo for 15 years (which makes me feel old indeed; it seems like just a handful of years ago she was the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs). The singer has compiled a two-disc collection of the best of her solo work, called Retrospective: 1990-2005. It includes her three mid-1990s pop hits "Carnival," "Wonder" and "Jealousy," along with 25 more songs from her studio albums and other compilation discs. The set, out on Rhino Records, also includes a booklet of Merchant's recollections.


Stiffed Stiffed
Burned Again

I've been waiting for Stiffed's full-length debut ever since I saw the band play live in support of a self-released EP a year and a half ago. And it was well worth the wait. The Philadelphia group is led by spitfire singer Santi White, an electric presence both on stage and recorded. While the band members call early punk bands Bad Brains and the Clash as their main influences, it's No Doubt that comes to mind when you hear their infectious blend of pop hooks, punk guitar and ska/reggae rhythms.

Most of their tracks last less than three minutes, and all 15 songs on "Burned Again" leave you thirsting for more.

The CD opens with "Run," which finds White shifting from cooing smooth vocals to rapid-fire lyrics while a synthesizer, raucous drums and surf guitars fill in the space behind her. "Straight Jackers" begins to show the harder side of Stiffed, with a stomping bass and guitar riff and call-and-response vocal parts between White and the rest of the band. And the Bad Brains punk fury comes out in "What It's Like."

"Burned Again" sounds like early No Doubt with its tribal, pounding drums and sing-song vocals. A slower dub beat takes over in the stop-start sway of "Your Voice," which finds White taking on a seductive Debbie Harry flavor. Then it's back to punk guitar and a hint of a Missing Persons' vocal squeak on the straight-ahead rock of "Ain't Got Enough."

That's a thumbnail description of more than half the songs, and the rest are equally as diverse and catchy. If you like the catchy rock and girl pop meets punk and ska sounds of classic No Doubt, you'll love this raw and refined debut CD.

You can check out the label's Web site for more information at www.outlookmusic.com.