Sound Bites BLACK'S BACK: One of the true pioneers of modern alternative rock, Frank Black, will grace our burg this week with a show featuring his new band the Catholics. Their self-titled album was released on September 8, on hipster indie spinArt Records. Don't be frightened--it's not a religious album or anything; it is, however, a nice return to form from a guy whose creative juices seemed to be tapped out upon release of his previous solo outing, the abysmal The Cult of Ray.

Black used to call himself Black Francis, and under that moniker, was leader and primary singer/songwriter for the Pixies, one of the greatest and most influential bands of the late '80s and early '90s. The Pixies perfected the soft-loud dynamics that other bands (e.g. Nirvana) adopted back when Kurt Cobain was still a scraggly little Melvins groupie. The band released four albums and EPs worth of material before egos got in the way, and Black decided to put the band to rest in early 1993.

Guitarist Joey Santiago continued to play with Black for a while; drummer David Lovering joined Cracker, and bassist/singer Kim Deal went on to release the second Breeders album, Last Splash, which ironically was more successful than any Pixies album. Three months later, the first Frank Black solo album (self-titled) arrived in stores.

While at times it seemed as if Black was trying a little too hard to recreate the magic of the Pixies, the album was stylistically more diverse than any Pixies release, and was thoroughly enjoyable. The even-more-satisfying 1994 follow-up, Teenager of the Year, was just as diverse but a little less self-conscious. Just when it seemed that Black was comfy in his role as solo artist, he released The Cult of Ray in 1996, an album's worth of crappy pseudo-metallic tunes with nary a hook in sight, which in turn alienated a sizable portion of his core audience.

If you count yourself among those disenfranchised ranks, fret not: Frank Black and the Catholics is an assured return, combining the catchy tunes of the first two solo releases with the stripped-down sound of Ray.

In fact, the entire album was originally intended to be a demo to corral a particular producer into the project; but when the "demo" was completed after three days of live to two-track recording, they were so happy with the results they decided to release it as is. One listen to the album and Black's newfound less-oblique, more-personal style of songwriting reveals the decision to be a good one, with the method perfectly matching the material.

Check out the new material live when Black and band take the stage on Thursday, October 15, for an early show at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Doors open at 7 p.m., with Grand Saloon Bus opening. Advance tickets are $10, and may be purchased at Zip's University and at the club. After the show, DJ extraordinaire Spyder Rhodes spins '80s dance tunes. Call 622-8848 for more information.

HOT PICK: Best known for his vocal work with reggae greats Black Uhuru, Michael Rose has recently released Dance Wicked, his third solo album for Heartbeat Records, along with a companion release, Dub Wicked. Black Uhuru holds the distinction of being the very first reggae group to win a Grammy Award in 1985, for their album Anthem. The band paired the unique, smooth-as-honey vocals of Rose with the legendary production/rhythm duo of Sly and Robbie, who have since gone on to work with a veritable who's-who of modern reggae artists.

After leaving the Black Uhuru stable shortly after the Grammy win, Rose took a decade-long sabbatical from music to tend to his coffee plantation in Jamaica. In 1995, Rose began his comeback by signing to Heartbeat, probably the most respected reggae label in existence today. After headlining Heartbeat's 15th Anniversary Tour, Rose had three of the Top-30 reggae hits to his name on the Gavin reggae chart. Dance Wicked pairs Rose's soulful vocal style with the in-demand production team of Mafia and Fluxy, who are often compared to Sly and Robbie for their mix of classic Jamaican sounds with a modern vibe. The production fits like a glove (unlike a lot of modern reggae albums, which end up sounding sterile), and Rose's voice has never sounded better.

Catch Michael Rose, backed by the Fully Fullwood Band, at an all-ages show at 8 p.m. Friday, October 16, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Azumah Mantiko opens the show. Advance tickets are $15, available at Twelve Tribes Reggae Shop, Hear's Music, and Yikes Toy Store. They'll be $17 on the day of the show. For details, call 740-0126.

LAST NOTES: Hailing from Manhattan's Lower East Side, The Heartdrops serve up a heady brew of '50s-influenced power pop with a punk edge. The three-piece recently released their first full-length disc, This Is The Heartdrops, on Caroline-distributed Melted Records, following two critically acclaimed singles on the same label. Fans of Social Distortion won't want to miss this show, which goes down on Monday, October 19, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. Call the club at 670-9202 for show time and cover charge info.

Entomologists and noise-lovin' rock fans alike will want to take note of a double-bill of insect-obsessed bands on the Turnbuckle Records label: Kansas' Be/Non, the "apocalyptic noise machine" specializing in the sharp guitar attack reminiscent of like-minded Midwesterners Big Black and Killdozer, will be playing selections from their debut LP, 1997's You're Playing With Children in the Land of the Bugs, as well as their upcoming EP, Meet the Person Most Responsible for Your Safety.

Brooklyn's Oneida describe their sound as "experimental noise/drone freakouts," which is pretty accurate, except that they sneak some pretty melodies into the mix every now and then, too. They're touring in support of a new single, "Best Friends/The Land of Bugs," as well as an EP titled A Place Called El Shaddai's. Be/Non and Oneida land on the basement stage of Double Zero, 121 E. Congress St., on Thursday, October 22. For more information, call 670-9332. TW

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