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Major inhale... With a band name like Superdrag, it shouldn't come as a surprise that someone among this Tennessee foursome has a passion for tobacco. That someone is professed nicotine fiend John Davis, who also happens to be the band's lead singer and primary songwriter. Davis litters Superdrag's stellar new CD, Regretfully Yours, with repeated references to his habit, most of them tucked neatly amid irony-ridden paeans to love, lust and remorse.

"That's the great part about being the songwriter," says Davis. "You get to glorify anything you want to."

Musically, the group never hesitates to stain its gleaming power-pop melodies with a crummy layer of distortion, all the while keeping things minty fresh underneath with pinpoint choruses and hooky refrains. From the inspired downpour of guitars that envelops the CD-opening "Slot Machine" to the cavity-causing hard rock candy of "Whitey's Theme" to the plaintive, mid-tempo whining of the Weezer-esque single "Sucked Out" (on which Davis poses the timely question, "Who sucked out the feeling?" in a throat-shredding howl too embarrassing to ignore), Regretfully Yours soothes more than it inflames. Even the irritating parts are fun.

"John and [lead guitarist] Tom [Pappas] are big Beatles fans, but they're also big My Bloody Valentine fans," says drummer Don Coffey Jr. "So you've got the pop part, and you've got the noise part."

By the time Superdrag emerged from a Knoxville basement a few years back, Coffey, Davis, Pappas and bassist Brandon Fisher had already paid their dues in a variety of short-lived bands. Davis was originally a drummer, but eventually moved out from behind the set to focus on songwriting. After taking the name Superdrag, the band recorded a series of demos that were released on the small San Francisco-based Darla Records. Critics fawned over those basically homemade efforts, and all the attention helped Superdrag snag a deal with major label Elektra Entertainment. Fort Apache veteran Tim O'Heir (Belly, Sebadoh) was at the helm for Regretfully Yours to lend the group's full-length debut the proper indie-rock credibility. Wisely, he rarely indulged in any needless studio trickery, save for the occasional overdubbed guitar. As a result, the CD's production is muscular, but still pleasingly raw.

You may remember that Superdrag was in Houston just a few weeks ago opening for Echobelly. Unfortunately, that show was hampered by an array of sound problems, and whatever quandaries weren't predestined by the foul mix, Superdrag managed to create on its own. After partaking in a bit too much pre-performance imbibing, the group ground out a loud, messy set. Surprisingly, though, Davis smoked little while on-stage. What gives?

"It depends on what guitar I'm using," Davis says, explaining how his smoke intake during a performance revolves around the ease with which he can cram a cigarette under the strings while singing and playing.

Parents concerned that their pink-lunged innocents may depart Superdrag's Friday show with Dishwalla, Thermadore and The Violent Burning at the Urban Art Bar unduly swayed toward the sins of the cigarette needn't worry much. It's difficult to decipher anything Davis says over the band's dense, over-amped squall. Turning it down a tad would give Superdrag's material a better chance of registering with a live audience -- even if that means putting its alt-rock credibility at risk. Although, with songs this winning, credibility may come easier than the group thinks.

Reliving the memories -- over and over... Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion kicks off a summer of dinosaur rock this weekend with a pair of double bills sure to jog baby boomers' fogged memories. Friday, Crosby, Stills and Nash pair up with Chicago. Their harmonies still well in order, CSN are usually a safe, if predictable, live bet. Chicago, on the other hand, has polished the fun right out of its act with one too many go-arounds on the casino circuit. Saturday, Lynyrd Skynyrd shares a bill with the Doobie Brothers at the Pavilion. No doubt Lynyrd Skynyrd sells enough tickets to support its bloated roster, which stands at eight, give or take a female backup singer -- they'd have to, considering the group hasn't had a fresh release in circulation since 1994. In the Doobies' case, it's been almost a year since any new product has seen the light of day -- if, that is, you count the 1995 CD release of 1981's The Best of the Doobie Brothers, Vol. II as new product. I'll wait for the boxed set.

Etc.... Friday and Saturday, Brazos Bottom Bar and Grill hosts the Sonny Throckmorton Songwriters Festival. Throckmorton will be joined by Shake Russell, Jack Saunders and Bruce Channel, among others, for two days of performances, seminars and workshops. Get set for the annual proliferation of local Lollapalooza spinoffs. This Saturday, it's something called Magnapalooza II, featuring Pull My Finger, Secret Sunday, 30footFALL, Cedar and sundry others in an afternoon and evening of festive moshing at a four-acre plot north of downtown (off I-45's Tomball exit) that also doubles as the yard of Pull My Finger's Jason Minus. Also Saturday, the Velvet Elvis hosts its first rooftop party of the year, headlined by the Toasters. -- Hobart Rowland

 
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