Critic's Choice for the week of May 7-13, 2003 

Say hello to a donkey, surf with a hillbilly, have a drink with the Manhattans, and get brainy with an MC.


Hello Donkey may seem to be another band with a gimmick -- the bulk of its songs are about ice skating and the Tonya Harding scandal - but the seasoned local trio of guitarist songwriters Chris Petty and Randy Colosky and Asphodel Records' drum virtuoso Phil Krummacher are on to something. Channeling Frank Zappa, reveling in overproduced riffs from Boston and Night Ranger, and delivering hilarious post rock epics in Jonathan Richman deadpan, Hello Donkey is a conceptual experience that weirdly resonates. Friday at the Stork Club in Oakland. 510-444-6170. (Matt Fisher)

COUNTRY comes from unexpected places, as this double bill of honky-tonk mavericks demonstrates. The Sadies are Toronto's best country-punk-surf band, mixing genres with wild-eyed aplomb and stunning musicianship. They'll also be backing ex-Mekon Sally Timms, formerly of Leeds, England, the low-key chanteuse who bills herself as the "laziest woman in showbiz." Friday at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. 510-841-2082. (j. poet)


Although he's not a household name, Greg Brown is probably America's best male singer-songwriter. His husky baritone and subtle guitar picking, which can be bluesy, folky, funky, or achingly poignant, weaves gospel, calypso, and bare-bones country into an emotional tapestry that touches on all human experience with humor and compassion. Box Set opens. Saturday at the First Congressional Church of Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j. poet)


This Mother's Day you can take mom and the kids out to a bluegrass festival at the Albany High gym, and help keep music in the Albany schools another year. The Albany Music Fund's final benefit of the school year, ""O Music Where Art Thou II,"" features the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, along with the reunion of two former Grisman bandmates, fiddler Darol Anger and mandolinist-guitarist Mike Marshall, plus Anger teen violin protege Brittney Haas. 510-559-8474. (Larry Kelp)


Guitarist Bill Frisell is hard to pigeonhole. His compositions are uniquely American bringing together jazz, blues, and folk into a free-flowing form that's all and none of the above. On his new album The Intercontinentals, he's added the sounds of Brazil, Greece, and Mali to his palette. His trio includes Viktor Krauss (Allison's brother) on bass and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Thursday through Sunday at Yoshi's. 510-239-9200 (j. poet)


Can they possibly look this good and play well? If a coveted Echo recording award is any indication, yes! This Saturday night, Four Seasons Concerts brings the three gorgeous Ahn Trio sisters to Oakland's Calvin Simmons Theater for a concert that includes Ravel's great Piano Trio and works by Astor Piazzolla and 21st Century composers Ron Yedidia and Kenji Bunch. 510-451-0775. (Jason Serinus)


R&B group George "Smitty" Smith, Edward "Sonny" Bivins, Kenneth Kelly, and Richard Taylor took their name from the sophisticated cocktail made with whisky, vermouth, and bitters. In the '70s, the Manhattans simply owned the charts, riding high with nine Top Ten R&B singles, two of which went Top Five on the pop listings as well. Like their peers the Dramatics and the Whispers, their style grew out of the doo-wop era, spanning the period between classic soul and disco/funk. They specialized in the romantic ballad, and are perhaps best known for their international smash "Kiss and Say Goodbye," a Top Five hit in England and Australia, which went Number One in this country as well. Bivins, the only original Manhattan left, continues to lead the group, who appear at Kimball's East (510-658-2555) for a three-night run beginning Thursday. (Eric K. Arnold)


Talib Kweli's name is an alliteration for the word "quality," and the same can be said of his lyrical style. Bridging the gap between backpack activist and club anthem author, the intellectual MC is thoughtful without being boring, concerned but not corny. Since stepping out of NYC's Lyricist Lounge scene in the mid-'90s, Kweli has been heard on Blackstar's classic debut album (which also featured Mos Def); two engaging solo albums, 2000's Train of Thought and his latest, Quality; and a host of collaborations with everybody from De La Soul to Blackalicious. While other rappers have fallen into predictable patterns, Kweli has continued to make compelling social commentaries too real to be ignored, like his recent hits "The Proud" and "Get By." He'll be at Bimbo's in SF (415-474-0365) Wednesday, along with local favorite DJ J-Boogie. (E.A.)

"It's bigger than hip-hop!!," dead prez hollered on debut album Let's Get Free, which hit the rap scene with a politically charged fury not seen since the height of Public Enemy ten years earlier. Addressing their militant messages to 'bout-it, 'bout it rowdy riders and dope rhyme-sayers alike, they reminded fans of the genre that there was a larger context connecting the Dirty South, the West Coast, and the Five Boroughs, sending shouts out to Kwame Nkrumah and Huey P. Newton and vowing to "organize the 'hood under I-Ching banners." Not all fire and brimstone, M-1 and showed their tender side on "Mind Sex," which reveled in the emotional joys of physical and mental intimacy. Although they suffered a setback when their record company, Loud, folded, they've kept busy, releasing their second album, Turn Off the Radio, on a small indie and collaborating with the Coup's Boots Riley in the as-yet-unreleased raptivist supergroup the Instigators. On Thursday, they headline a phat hip-hop bill at Studio Z (415-252-7666) with SF underground king Azeem, Anima Azul & DJ DW, and DJs Sake 1, Jah Wyzer, and Mr. E. (E.A.)


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