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Long Live Rock 

Now a multiculti boys club and electric ladyland

First, it was the famous NYC punk club CBGB, imperiled by the rising cost of downtown hip. Now, Charlotte's own venerable version of same, the Milestone Club, is endangered. The question of whether rock is dead arises again.

Not wanting to get embroiled in endless cyclical arguments between rockists and futurists, I won't opine overmuch. But I do find it interesting that it's only now -- when rock has lost its pride of place to hip-hop in the pop marketplace -- that more than just your typical guitar god is finally expected at the party.

NYC's Living Colour, who had CBGB as its key launchpad, is amongst the Others recognized with Everything Is Possible: The Very Best of Living Colour (Epic/Legacy; HHH 1/2). Led by guitar icon Vernon Reid, this all-black quartet penetrated even farther into the core rock audience than most of the band's ilk. Reasons for this may be: A) the patronage of Mick Jagger, B) Reid being a British bro like Slash, C) Reid's love of classic rock including Rush and Santana, D) "Cult of Personality" simply had an undeniable, killer riff. Body Glove and all, frontman Corey Glover's soul-grit tones on politically charged tracks from "Glamour Boys" to "Elvis Is Dead" provided a welcome respite from the pack of bloated, aging, 60s-rock dinosaurs and contempo hair metal that made late-80s pop artistically bankrupt.

Rock Hill, SC's rising progressive soul man, Rudy Currence, is making some power moves as he prepares to unleash his forthcoming album, Here with You (due in May) and attempts to follow Living Colour's example. Currence was effectively working the room during the official Dave Chappelle afterparty at Club Tempo a week ago. Not only did the singer/songwriter serenade guest-of-honor Erykah Badu with "Happy Birthday," but he also commanded the stage in a way the other tentative local singers did not. Currence still faces challenges -- primarily the aesthetic duality reflected in two songs from the advance album sampler I received: "Open," which borrows Ying Yang beats, and the Isleys-style twangy ballad "Here with You." Here's hoping Currence navigates the sonic reconciliation well.

Shonen Knife, a double-Other due to being Japanese and female, first came to acclaim in the West via their alt-famous fans Sonic Youth, Redd Kross and especially Nirvana (they opened six Nirvana shows in 93). The duo's 12th album, Genki Shock (Glue Factory;HHH) comes as a bittersweet release -- the back cover photo of sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano being a sad reminder that the band's departed drummer, Mana Nishiura, was killed while touring the States last November. Still, the Yamano's patented blend of punk with 1960s girl-group sound has reemerged from a slump. Songs like "Rock Society," "Broccoli Man" and "Spider House" show restored creativity and energy -- "the Osaka Ramones" at their best since the early-90s heyday.

Tres Chicas -- Raleigh gals Caitlin Cary, Tonya Lamm and Lynn Blakey -- also know about penetrating the boys club and deftly mixing vintage genres. The trio's fine new Bloom, Red & The Ordinary Girl (Yep Roc;HHH 1/2) is superior to their debut, occasionally exploring jet-age western swing. True, these fo'-real Dixie Chicks' voices are more virtuosic and enchanting than the mostly subtle playing. But the blend of country, pop, jazz and folk, topped by gorgeous harmonies -- an alt-country echo of prime CSN -- is irresistible. Especially on Blakey's stunning "All the Shade Trees in Bloom" and the dark "Only Broken," which she co-wrote with Cary.

Teddy Thompson was born rock royalty, being the son of folksy British singer/songwriters Richard and Linda Thompson. The younger Thompson's albatross is that of the millennial celebutot, always framed in reference to genealogy. However, his Separate Ways (appropriately on folk and jazz label Verve Forecast;HH) is not "hot" in the manner of Paris Hilton. Sadly, Separate Ways is a tasteful and pleasant collection of songs that are well-done but not particularly memorable. At least insufficient to eliminate the weight of parental aesthetics from his shoulders. A pity, since his collaborations with similarly pedigreed Rufus and Martha Wainwright -- especially Brokeback Mountain's "King of the Road" -- have been such a delight.

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