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MERCY RULE (Buy CDs by this artist)
100 MPH EP (Pravda) 1992
God Protects Fools (Caulfield) 1993 (Caulfield/Relativity) 1994
Providence (Relativity) 1994
The Flat Black Chronicles (Caulfield) 1998
THIRTEEN NIGHTMARES
Shitride (Pravda) 1989

On the powerful and provocative Shitride, Thirteen Nightmares — an insidious left-wing quartet from Lincoln, Nebraska led by singer/guitarist Greggory-David Cosgrove — demonstrates an extraordinary balance of rawness and subtlety. The band's bracing slam-dance of Midwest rock generations — the MC5, Cheap Trick and Soul Asylum are the record's spiritual forefathers — is hindered only by a distorted take on radical politics that undercuts the music's fist-in-face power.

In Shitride's wake, Thirteen Nightmares bassist/singer Heidi Ore and guitarist Jonathan Taylor bade farewell to Cosgrove and formed Mercy Rule with new drummer Ron Albertson. Following a 7-inch with four songs (none of which have since resurfaced on album), the band made the ferocious God Protects Fools. The raucously oblique "My Mouth" — with a catchy hook, nagging guitar lick and Ore's raggedy Chrissie Hynde-like vocals — is a killer kickoff; if nothing else on the album achieves that level of immediacy or impact (though the similar-sounding "Summer," with an eleven-word text, comes close), the claustrophobic meltdown buzz, plastered with Ore's righteously inflamed singing of intriguing lyrical sketches about personal achievement ("We Know") and romantic discord ("Dare Me," "Pale," "Time of Day"), adds up to a rewarding nerve-rattler.

The creative progress of Providence fine-tunes Mercy Rule's assault, coordinating the guitar, bass and drums into a driving engine of well-shaped aggression. The measure of musical sophistication, expedited by producer Brian Paulson's cleaner, better balanced mix, however, has the unfortunate effect of revealing the monochromatic inadequacies of Ore's voice. When the band runs its dynamic meter at medium, she can be artlessly effective, but she overpowers the folky "Which Road" with soulful bravado. Conversely, in high gear, her husky caterwauling-more like the frantic side of Janis Joplin than anything else-is too much of a distraction. Oddly, Mercy Rule also shows the mark of the '70s rock beast, countering the modernism of punk belligerence with the implicit nostalgia of dated reference points.

[Ira Robbins]