YES, PLEASE: John Howie Jr., Magnolia Collective, Jon Shain Trio, Lizzy Ross Band, John Dee Holeman, Whatever Brains, Day Creeper, The Toddlers, Urban Sophisticates, Sea Wolf Mutiny, Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition
VS1: Benji Hughes vs. Old 97’S
VS2: Acoustic Syndicate vs. Yarn
01.27 JOHN HOWIE JR., MAGNOLIA COLLECTIVE @ THE CAVE
John Howie's tales of heartbreak (and the ensuing getting on the road and moving on) possess enough roadhouse rollick for those having a Friday night on the town to get up and dance. But when Howie sings "you don't want me" on "Last Great Guitar Slinger," the plaintive cracks in his voice speak directly to the down-and-out lifer, nursing a beer at the end of the bar. Magnolia Collective—a septet featuring members of Gambling the Muse, The Whiskey Smugglers, Red Collar and The Pneurotics—offers a jangle-oriented counterpoint to Howie's truckstop country. Dirty Little Heaters powerhouse vocalist Reese McHenry, who only recently returned to live music, plays with her relatively new band Lake & Hennepin. Free/ 10 p.m. —Corbie Hill
01.27 JON SHAIN TRIO, LIZZY ROSS BAND @ CASBAH
Before attending Duke, Jon Shain grew up in the Northeast; you can hear the folkie in him, mixed with a variety of other influences, notably the indigenous bluegrass and folk-blues he discovered while living in the South. Over the course of the last 12 years and a half-dozen studio albums, Shain's dampened the blues and country influences in favor of a folk-pop, singer-songwriter style that's blossomed alongside a sharpened lyrical acumen. (His paean to petty personal trials and our moldering political system, "Poetry & Sin," is a personal favorite.) His vocals have also settled into a reedy timbre reminiscent of Randy Newman, goaded by a dramatic delivery that recalls John Hiatt. $10/ 8 p.m. —Chris Parker
01.27 JOHN DEE HOLEMAN @ BLUE NOTE
Influenced by the piedmont style of Blind Boy Fuller, octogenarian Orange County native John Dee Holeman has been singing and playing the blues since the early '40s. Holeman has since incorporated the electricity of Texas blues into his repertoire, and his weathered wail works regardless of whether he's plugged in, alternately conjuring the feel of a lively juke joint or a casual back porch set. Traditionally-minded Raleigh blues and folk guitarist Andy Coats sits in with Holeman for this show. Preceding the show is a free performance by the Duke Street Dogs, a Durham quartet whose multitude of instruments creates an alchemy that spans idioms. $5/ 8:45 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
01.27 WHATEVER BRAINS, DAY CREEPER, THE TODDLERS @ KINGS
If tickets were $10 for this three-band bill, it would still warrant a hearty recommendation; as it's free, you've got everything to gain. Deep into the follow-up to last year's border-blurring debut LP, Whatever Brains are in top form, injecting their paradoxically skuzzy and sleek anthems with a perfect amount of piss-off aggression. Ohio's Day Creeper doesn't match the Brains in variety or invective, but they do brandish shapely pop hooks that have been galvanized in ample sneer. Their "Women of Age" is a woozy young man's lament that counters a raised middle finger with sincerely puckered lips. Chapel Hill's wild, contorted The Toddlers open. Free/ 10 p.m. —Grayson Currin
01.28 URBAN SOPHISTICATES @ THE POUR HOUSE
The Pour House website recommends Urban Sophisticates for fans of Jay-Z, Wiz Khalifa and Kooley High. Well, one out of three's pretty good, if you're playing baseball. Bearing little resemblance to the commercial bangers of Hov and Wiz, the Greensboro hip-hop band sticks closer to its Tar Heel brethren in Kooley, punctuating canny, club-friendly rhymes and original organic beats with soulful hooks and brass instrumentation. Three years removed since releasing its impressive third album, Classic Material, the group of seasoned performers is at the top of its game when playing to a packed house, as it should be on this night. Durham rapper Toon delivers uneven bars in the opening slot. $8/ 10:30 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
01.28 SEA WOLF MUTINY @ THE PINHOOK
Columbia, S.C., band Sea Wolf Mutiny know how to follow pop procedures; then they bend them slightly. The title track of the foursome's debut album, The Last Season, frolics through guitar swirls and an enthusiastic sing-along chorus, but the song's Flannery O'Connor-inspired lyrics add extra punch to the harmonies. The chord progressions are simple, but Bobby Hatfield's roving vocals are unrestrained and sometimes chaotic. This is piano-driven folk for the wild. Fellow South Carolinian trio Joie build hushed ballads reminiscent of Warpaint, while Durham duo Steph Stuart & the Boyfriends create backwoods Appalachia. Stuart's clear voice pairs nicely with Tim Stambaugh's dobro. $5/ 10 p.m. —Ashleigh Phillips
01.28 JIMBO MATHUS & THE TRI-STATE COALITION @ LOCAL 506
Jimbo Mathus' pedigree is as colorful as the sounds ranging from his past—his Triangle days in the Squirrel Nut Zippers, as a Buddy Guy sideman, as an Elvis Costello producer or founding the South Memphis String band with Alvin Youngblood Hart and Luther Dickinson. Mathus has cultivated the persona of a lovable musical crank willing and able to pull off just about anything, with a special emphasis on gritty hill country folk blues and narcotized soul funk. His latest effort, Confederate Buddah, bends that bloozy Southern mien toward '70s country and classic rock. It's rollicking enough, even if a good bit less idiosyncratic than previous releases. $10–$12/ 9 p.m. —Chris Parker
FRIDAY, JAN. 27
SINCE: Mid '00s
CLAIM TO FAME: Looks like an Allman Brother, sounds like MGMT trapped in the '70s
Benji Hughes is idiosyncratic to the extreme, displaying obvious affection for the sumptuous warmth of '70s rock, only refracted through laid-back Jackson Browne balladry, greasy blues/soul-funk grooves and a Tusk-like sense of adventure. While his 2008 debut, the double album A Love Extreme, feels 35 years old, there are nods to modern music from bubbly, textured keyboards that hint at the Flaming Lips to sputtering electro-psych club beats. But just about as suddenly as he appeared, he returned to ether. Three and a half years later, he's yet to release anything else. Flaky creative geniuses have a hard road in front of them. With Wylie Hunter & the Cazadores. At LOCAL 506. $8/ 10 p.m.
FROM: Dallas, TX
CLAIM TO FAME: Helped lead the '90s alt-country insurgence
The underground has boasted many would-be Westerbergs, yet Rhett Miller manages not only to capture the swaggering, drunken, ne'er-do-well spirit and jaded romanticism, he's also turned it into a career. Meanwhile, his band has fomented a blend of power pop and country rock that draws upon the Replacements' own touchstone Big Star, only with greater panache and musicianship. A three-album major label deal failed to cross over, although success felt imminent; Miller's post-millennial solo career seemed to strain the band. But 2010's twin The Grand Theatre albums showcase them back at the height of their powers, able to easily dispatch colorful weirdo Benji Hughes. With The O's, plus a solo acoustic set by Miller. At CAT'S CRADLE. $18–$20/ 8:45 p.m. —Chris Parker
SATURDAY, JAN. 28
FROM: Western North Carolina
CLAIM TO FAME: Jammed-out 'grass
Since dialing down its tour schedule several years ago, Acoustic Syndicate has largely remained the same, though the quintet substituted longtime sax player Jeremy Saunders with slide guitarist Billy Cardine around a year ago. They now have plans for a new album later this year. The family ties of the founding trio of Steve, Bryon and Fitz McMurry are apparent in their tight-knit harmonies, while the open-minded quintet's rootsy tunes stretch into frenzied bluegrass flurries or serve as a launching point for spacey electric-banjo explorations. Stellar Asheville quintet Town Mountain's contemporary bluegrass is lively and taut in the opening slot. At CAT'S CRADLE. $12–$14/ 9 p.m.
FROM: Brooklyn, N.Y.
CLAIM TO FAME: Urbanized roots
Prolific songwriter Blake Christiana fronts Yarn, a Brooklyn six-piece whose twang fends off the hipster notions the borough's name conjures for some. Americana stars Tony Trischka, Casey Driessen, Edie Brickell and our own Caitlin Cary served to validate the city slickers' legitimacy by recording with the band on its sophomore effort. Yarn draws apt comparisons to Gram Parsons by infusing his brand of country rock with strains of bluegrass and blues, then executing such varied arrangements with top-notch instrumental chops. Raleigh sextet the Dune Dogs open, mixing a hefty helping of honky-tonk and Southern rock classics with an occasional original that drinks from the same fountains. At LINCOLN THEATRE. $10–$12/ 9 p.m. —Spencer Griffith
01.27 YANDREW @ NIGHTLIGHT
Chapel Hill indie-folk orchestra Lost in the Trees has borne more than its fair share of fruit. Beyond that now nationally recognized ensemble, Prypyat—which pairs Trees cellist Leah Gibson with Hammer No More the Fingers frontman Duncan Webster—has been very busy recently. Now we get another bud, the delightfully avant garde duo Yandrew.
Reductively titled by combining the first names of its members—drummer Yan (or Dan) Westerlund and cellist Andrew Anagnost—Yandrew flirts with the line between classical music and minimalism and takes it for a fascinating ride. Their first performance, thankfully preserved on YouTube, flows easily from tense melodies to hyper-rhythmic bursts, fostering camaraderie between two rarely paired instruments.
"We're simply letting our combined influences filter through a duet formula, allowing us to express ourselves more clearly, as opposed to backing up a songwriter or playing a written part," explains Westerlund, who now plays in Bowerbirds after a long stint with the Trees. "We want to have the mindset of consistently reapproaching our tunes every time we rehearse or perform and have the freedom to react spontaneously."
They plan to record together later this year, but for now they're happy with a project that frees them from the more structured compositions of their main gigs. —Jordan Lawrence
Yandrew performs second on this bill, between Kangaroo and Mandolin Orange's Andrew Marlin. $5/ 9:30 p.m.