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In the clubs 

The Cave in Chapel Hill continues to offer the best bluegrass bands you've never heard before with The Sons of Ralph Featuring Ralph. Asheville's Ralph Lewis that is, the lead singer for Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys for most of the 1970s. He's a master of traditional bluegrass. His sons Marty and Don, who've been playing since infancy, live on the cutting edge of original progressive bluegrass. The combination rocks with hard driving 'grass, new songs and old standards, all of which you can hear Saturday, Feb. 19, at the 10:30 p.m. show. For info: 968-9308. --Art Menius

DiamondDiamondDiamondYeah, he still gets compared to Dylan once in a while, but maybe writers are just confounded when they see a guy armed with just an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. (Dylan can't even be compared to Dylan anymore.) Steve Forbert (pictured below) is bringing a band, the Rough Squirrels, through for this tour; he just released his ninth album, Evergreen Boy, for Koch Records. The Mississippi-born singer-songwriter lapsed into cult fame after his early-80s hit phase (remember "Romeo's Tune," which he still plays live) but his lyrics are as keen as ever. Winston-Salem's Jeffrey Dean Foster (The Pinetops) opens the show. Their Don Dixon-produced debut last year, Above Ground and Vertical, is a fine album of country-rock tunes. Foster credits Forbert as an influence, so it'll be a songwriterly kind of evening, Wednesday, Feb. 16, at the Cat's Cradle. --Angie Carlson

DiamondDiamondDiamondOne of the best groups to come out of the whole N.C. alt-country explosion a few years back was Six String Drag. Only, they weren't exactly alt-country (bluesy gospel-jazz is more like it). And they weren't really from North Carolina; singer-guitarist Kenny Roby and singer-bass player Rob Keller were originally part of Raleigh's sizable Clemson contingent. Nevertheless, there was considerable disappointment among alt-country lovers when the group disbanded. Now, Roby (pictured right) is back with a new group, Kenny Roby & the New Electric Combo, and a new album, Mercury's Blues, which, thankfully, retains the best elements (fabulous songwriting, Roby's scratchy, slightly nasal voice) from his previous band, with a little more rock 'n' roll thrown in. Mercury's Blues has been out in Europe since last summer, but was just recently released on Rice Box records--the label Roby started with Lakeside Lounge owner Van Alston--in the United States. Help Roby and his friends celebrate the CD's domestic release at Raleigh's Humble Pie (829-9222) this Friday, Feb. 18, and at Local 506 (942-5506) on Saturday, Feb. 19. At both shows local jazz combo The Countdown Quartet will open. Call for show times and ticket information. --Karen A. Mann

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