This week's guide contains:
YES, PLEASE: Free Electric State, Embarrassing Fruits, Veelee, The Great Unknown, Jeremy Blair from Effingham, Tanya Morgan, Kooley High
EH, WHATEVER: Denison Witmer
VS.: Carolina Chocolate Drops vs. Kenny Roby vs. John Howie Jr.
VS.: The Loners vs. The Bottle Rockets
VS.: Megafaun vs. Piedmont Blues
INTRODUCING: The Small Ponds
SONG OF THE WEEK: Emery's "Butcher's Mouth"
08.28 FREE ELECTRIC STATE, EMBARRASSING FRUITS, VEELEE @ LOCAL 506
If multiple music blogs are to be believed, this summer has been about wispy mirages of lo-fi pop branded seasonally appropriate for their dreamy haze and nostalgic tones. But this all-local triple-header earns the summer soundtrack tag, at least as much as anything else. Between Veelee drawing bittersweet melodies from heavy reverb, gentle synth and spacious arrangements, Embarrassing Fruits building on '90s bands (Pavement, Sebadoh) to think about teenage firsts (beers, bikes, girls), and Free Electric State jumping through amplifier buzz to hit the middle ground between My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, there's plenty of memory, melody and humidity here. $7/ 10 p.m. —Bryan Reed
08.29 TANYA MORGAN, KOOLEY HIGH @ THE POUR HOUSE
After bringing LA underground hip-hop sensations Blu & Exile to the Pour House for its mixtape release show, Raleigh's Kooley High lands another coup with the Questlove-approved Brooklyn/Cincinnati trio Tanya Morgan. Though they lack the charisma of forefathers De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, Tanya Morgan harkens back to that early '90s sound with lighthearted, soul-sampling jams that get just a bit mischievous. Our own Kooley High will give them a run for the money, though, by mining the same record bins for playful throwbacks from a unique triple-MC attack. 9th Wonder protégé Rapsody sports a silken voice, while Tab-One and Charlie Smarts are witty and hard-hitting. Greenville's Blount Harvey features the sweet-and-sour vocal attack of soulful songstress TyKee and rapid-fire emcee Rudolph Lyrics, backed by a five-piece live band. $7-9/ 10 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
08.30 THE GREAT UNKNOWN, JEREMY BLAIR FROM EFFINGHAM @ THE CAVE
This double-bill presents restrained roots rock from a pair of bands more concerned with crafting a song than cranking their amps and blasting through a batch of disposable booze tunes. Philadelphia's The Great Unknown coaxes gentle, nuanced alt-country from the convergence of five voices, riding atop a plethora of stringed instruments that gracefully dance in and out between an amiable backroads shuffle. When it cuts loose, the quintet rocks convincingly, adding soundtracks of rowdy to postcards of roadside attractions. Durham-based quartet Jeremy Blair From Effingham is named after its soft-voiced frontman from small-town Kansas. The docile Blair offers sensitive odes to the opposite sex. Donations/ 10 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
09.01 DENISON WITMER @ LOCAL 506
If summertime revelry has kept you up late too many nights, a set from pedestrian Philadelphia troubadour Denison Witmer might induce a nap better than melatonin. Lyrically blanched, melodically blasé and texturally basic, Witmer's music is so nice it's irritating, drifting along on a complacent tide of folk-pop clichés and tidiness that has more to do with a lack of imagination than minimalist design. Imagine 1972's Paul Simon without any exploratory enthusiasm or a melody to put in your pocket, and you've done more imagining than Witmer has on his albums over the last 13 years. Keep an eye on opener Brooke Waggoner, though. Go Easy Little Dove, the debut from the adventurous Nashville songwriter, reaches for the grandeur of Kate Bush's Lionheart and the wordplay of Joanna Newsom's Milk-Eyed Mender. Even if she doesn't get there just yet, at least she's trying (Ahem, Mr. Witmer?) $8/ 9:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin
THURSDAY, AUG. 27
CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS
From: the Piedmont and points elsewhere
Claim to fame: entertaining and educating
For those entering late, the Carolina Chocolate Drops story: Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson are three young African-American musicians who, when not engaged in other musical pursuits, join forces to both keep the string band tradition alive and celebrate its heritage. The trio (often joined by banjo vet Sule Greg Wilson) continues to be inspired by Mebane's Joe Thompson, famed fiddler and a direct link to that heritage, even as its own sphere of influence grows. Next up for the Drops is a Joe Henry-produced record, the group's first for the longstanding and adventurous Nonesuch label. Free /6 p.m. At the AMERICAN TOBACCO AMPHITHEATRE.
From: Raleigh by way of Clemson, S.C.
Since: late '80s
Claim to fame: "just a folk-pop singer"
For those entering late, the Kenny Roby story: Roby started out as the front teen for punk outfit the Lubricators. In the mid-'90s, he traded in the dress he occasionally wore as a Lube for a porkpie hat as leader of Six String Drag, a frequently horn-blessed ensemble that held court at the intersection of the Band, Doug Sahm, the Stanley Brothers and Neil Young. Post-Six String, Roby continues to write sturdy, grabby roots-pop songs that go down well whether presented stripped down and solo or in a full-band setting with the Revenue Stamps. Shawn Luby of local Americana duo Humble Tripe follows at 10 p.m. No cover/ 8 p.m. At BROAD STREET CAFE.
JOHN HOWIE JR.
From: Chapel Hill by way of Raleigh
Since: late '80s
Claim to fame: honky-tonk persistence
For those entering late, the John Howie Jr. story: Howie Jr.'s days as a teen punk drummer (followed by days as a rock drummer, art-rock drummer...) feel like a footnote in light of the country music career that he's sustained for the past 13 years. That transition started with his Two Dollar Pistols sharing programs consisting of country gems (alt crowd, say howdy to Harland Howard) supplemented by Howie Jr.'s like-spirited originals. Post-Pistols, he continues to use honky-tonk as a starting point, sometimes going cosmic and other times veering into the country-soul that he loves so much. Free or $5 donation for wristband/ 4:30 p.m. In THE ARTSCENTER PARKING LOT. —Rick Cornell
FRIDAY, AUG. 28
Claim to fame: Garage swagger and greasy licks that muscle up like a classic Mustang
This home-cooked entry is ideally suited for long country straight-aways, where unbridled acceleration and throaty roar dare dewey-eyed would-be dragsters to offer up their pink slip. The duo shuts 'em up and shuts 'em down, thanks to Eddie Taylor's hard-cornering crunch and drummer Chris Jones' flurries of percussion. They put the "rev" in their new release, Revolution!, but are hard-pressed to repeat the feat against a touring titan like the Bottle Rockets. They're simply unmanned and outgunned. But The Loners aren't ones to go gently, locking five fingers on the stock and pulling the trigger on a pedal-mashing rumble and generating a wake of dust worthy of Pigpen. With Bright Young Things and Torpor. At SLIM'S. $5/ 10 p.m.
THE BOTTLE ROCKETS
From: Festus, Mo.
Claim to fame: Establishing a crackling country-rawk sound long before it was fashionable
The heartland howl of the engine belies their Midwestern roots, grown thick and sinewy to carry the weight of missed opportunities and many thankless miles. They've seen as much asphalt as Drive-By Truckers, rendered ruts through more backwoods than Jason & The Scorchers and copped their ragged charm from the Replacements. The Bottle Rockets have aged like wine, not pistons, getting better with age by growing leaner and sharper with each release, settling into a particularly winning groove on 2006's Zoysia and their latest, Lean Forward. They've maintained their working class sympathies while lording over the country-rock pack, winning with humility while underscoring others' faults. With Terry Anderson & the OAK Team. At BERKELEY CAFE. $15/ 9 p.m. —Chris Parker
SATURDAY, AUG. 29
Claim to fame: Integrating ancient folk song and modern experimentation
Megafaun's recently released Gather, Form & Fly is an expansive gem that finds the trio stretching across decades of influences, equally at ease with traditional-feel originals (the gentle beauty of "Worried Mind"), American Beauty-era Dead spirit (the casual lilt of "The Fade") and noisy experimentalism ("Darkest Hour," which uses a thunderstorm as percussion, then deconstructs itself before a triumphant ending). Though it may sound disjointed, the bearded three seamlessly weave together the seemingly disparate, which should make for an enchanting late summer's evening in the country grass. At SAXAPAHAW RIVER MILL. Free/ 6 p.m.
From: North Carolina's Piedmont
Claim to fame: That hardscrabble fingerpicked sound
It's your last chance for music and a movie at the Museum of Art before the next seven months complete renovations. The music focuses on the Piedmont blues of Johnston County's buckdancing blueswoman Algia Mae Hinton and son Willette. Durham's John Dee Holeman is a fine Piedmont picker (and former buckdancer) in his own right, contrasting his worn voice with easy rolls from his weathered National steel guitar. They're joined by blues harp ace Phil Wiggins, revivalist Lightnin' Wells and string band Wayne Martin and the Buggy Riders. The featured movie is Moving Midway, a Southern-scored documentary by former Indy film critic Godfrey Cheshire. The film received rave reviews for its depiction of the controversial relocation of Raleigh's Midway Plantation, Chesire's ancestral home. At N.C. MUSEUM OF ART. $9-$12/ 7 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
08.28 THE SMALL PONDS @ THE POUR HOUSE
For its debut show, new Raleigh songwriting duo The Small Ponds comes to The Pour House, the Moore Square club that played so prominently in its genesis. After a recommendation last fall from husband Skillet Gilmore, Caitlin Cary got off her bartending shift early to watch a set from Matt Douglas' mature pop/rock trio The Proclivities. "Sure enough, they blew me away," recalls Cary, a veteran of Whiskeytown and Tres Chicas and a venerable solo performer.
After meeting up to work on some collaborative songwriting, Cary asked Douglas to partner with him for Raleigh's annual post-Valentine's Day Love Hangover show, which showcases male/female duets on love songs both hopeful and jaded. The newly minted partnership plucked tunes from Lucinda Williams, Wilson Pickett and Tegan & Sara for that first gig. They've since worked together to complete each others' unfinished originals—songs that didn't fit with their main projects. "We've joked that we're each other's bridges," Cary says. "I've written a few for him. He's written a few for me. There's no lack of aesthetic trust, and that feels nice."
They've assembled a backing band of skilled Triangle hands—Douglas' Proclivities bandmate Chris Boerner, Cary's Tres Chicas pal Jesse Huebner (also of Patty Hurst Shifter) and drummer Stephen Coffman of The Beast. Still, admits Cary, "We're a little nervous." With strong support from openers Jeanne Jolly and Kennebec. $6-8/ 10 p.m. —Spencer Griffith