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Local H clears decks with favorites, Lucas goes solo

Local H with drummer Brian St. Clair (left) guitarist-vocalist Scott Lucas will appear tonight Cubby Bear North. The twosome has

Local H, with drummer Brian St. Clair (left) and guitarist-vocalist Scott Lucas, will appear tonight at the Cubby Bear North. The twosome has a new disc of cover songs, "Local H's Awesome Mix Tape No. 1," due out Tuesday.

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Scott Lucas, to my surprise, is talking about Tom Jones. With more than a little awe.

"Have you heard that new Tom Jones record- " he asks. "You can see some of what we're talking about in this record. You can see an artist, even at his level, trying to propel himself in a new direction. I saw him on Letterman, doing that Black Keys kinda thing -- with a two-piece!"

What we're talking about: the motivation behind the new Local H album, "Local H's Awesome Mix Tape No. 1" (out Tuesday), a set of covers. Jones' new album, too, is a rootsy set of spiritual covers, one of which (John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell") he performed on "Late Night With David Letterman" last month, backed by only a wicked guitarist and a drummer.

For 15 years, Local H has been a stalwart fixture of Chicago's bar scene, a two-piece featuring Lucas at the mike and on guitar, paired with drummer Brian St. Clair.

And after all those years writing and performing some truly inspired rock gems, why did the two yield to the covers-album cliche- "It's a way to collect songs that have been lying around, that we've been toying with at shows -- to clear the decks a little," Lucas says.

"Mix Tape" finds Local H rocking TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" ("the best rock song of the last 10 years," says Lucas), Concrete Blonde's "Joey" ("the best alcoholic love song ever"), Jesus Lizard's "Puss" and even Pink Floyd's "Time" ("an endurance test -- for the listener"). Local H attracted attention five years ago with a grungy cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic." "I'd still like to do an MGMT song. Maybe that'll be on 'Awesome Mix Tape No. 2.' "

This set must have cleared the decks, because Lucas says Local H is already writing a new album. "We're 10 songs in," he reports. Some of them were trotted out at a recent Beat Kitchen show.

Lucas' new side project, a six-piece Americana band dubbed Scott Lucas & the Married Men, also has a fresh recording out. It's an EP, "Absolute Beginners" (also out Tuesday), with just four songs: a fiddle-filled take on the David Bowie title track, plus two songs from the first Married Men CD and a "cover" of Local H's "Hey Rita."

The Married Men fill in one open space Local H has avoided. While that duo bashes through smart, sardonic takes on life and love, the Married Men were born out of a set of just-shy-of-sentimental songs Lucas wrote, recorded and e-mailed to a woman he was wooing. (They worked. He's not a married man, but they're still dating.)

"[The songs] were personal. I had to stand by them on my own. They couldn't be a Local H record."

There's a new Married Men album in the works, too. "I'm feeling good now creatively," Lucas says. "The floodgates are open, and I'm just trying to ride the wave."

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