OLIVER MTUKUDZI & THE BLACK SPIRITS
The story of 60-year-old bandleader Oliver Mtukudzi is very much the story of Zimbabwe, a land that, at his birth, was under British control. A teenager when the country declared its independence and a musician several albums into his career when that decree was finally recognized, Mtukudzi emerged as one of the country's biggest and most consistent pop stars. In large part, his appeal stems from the combined weight and lilt of his voice; while his singing fits well within the nimble rhythms behind him, there's a hardened resolve to his baritone, a safeguard against stylistic foppishness. His quick guitar cuts add flair, too; while on tour, his longtime band, The Black Spirits, add the force. FRIDAY, JAN. 18, AT DUKE'S REYNOLDS INDUSTRIES THEATER. $10–$32/8 p.m.
THE MOUNTAIN GOATS
At this benefit for the pro-choice activism of NARAL NC and celebration of Roe v. Wade's 40th anniversary, instant attraction meets infinite intrigue: The Mountain Goats constitute the former category, as John Darnielle leaves his rock band behind for a night to snap up requests from the audience. If the sweat beads down his brow at an alarming rate tonight, attribute it to a combination of the crowded conditions and the work it takes to instantaneously (try to) remember the most obscure selections from a long-crowded songbook. In the opening slots, permutations of local bands take on covers: Mount Moriah and Hiss Golden Messenger join in the classic-rock-covering Blooz Traveler, while Midtown Dickens' Kym Register co-leads the Fogerty love of Creedence Queerwater Revival. The show sold out in a matter of hours, but a limited number of tickets will be available at the door. SUNDAY, JAN. 20, AT THE PINHOOK. $20/7 p.m.
The four-piece Loincloth lineup you'll see onstage is different from the trio configuration that recorded the band's 2012 debut of mathematic metal maul, Iron Balls of Steel. Raleigh's Tomas Phillips has replaced Cary Rowells on bass, while longtime area shredder Craig Hilton now supplements Tannon Penland's kinetic intricacy on guitar. Essentially, Loincloth has added more force to an already brutal formula, giving Loincloth's swiftness new and necessary thwack. On a recent West Coast tour with drone giants Sunn O))), Loincloth sounded masterfully pugnacious. Chapel Hill's excellent Solar Halos opens with headlong, sludgy ire, as well as the paragon metal of Raleigh's Demon Eye. Phillips, who doubles as a composer interested in brooding abstractions, starts with a solo set. SATURDAY, JAN. 19, AT KINGS. $8–$10/9:30 p.m.
Four years ago, when Oklahoma songwriter Samantha Crain debuted with her Confiscation EP, her incoming stardom seemed inevitable. With a voice that combined Beth Orton's soft beauty and Joanna Newsom's idiosyncratic folds, Crain's songs (and an association with labelmates The Avett Brothers) felt bound for big rooms. But on "The Pattern Has Changed," the creaking piano stunner at the middle of her forthcoming album, Kid Face, Crain confesses the extent of her penury: "Changing my clothes/ Though they're the only thing I own now." Indeed, three records and a half decade into her career, Crain's public spotlight is still on a dimmer, though Kid Face could yet again change that. Produced by sonic mastermind John Vanderslice, these arrangements treat Crain's songs with a dash of irreverence, turning Crain's singer-songwriter core as an invitation to push the tunes further. At last, the eccentricity of her singing and the entreatment of her writing have found support just strange enough to fit. With Sumner James. WEDNESDAY, JAN. 23, AT BERKELEY CAFE. $10/8 p.m.
"By the time I was 12, I had a Tennessee accent." So quipped Switzerland-born bluegrass guitarist and singer Uwe Kruger in April, during a tribute to banjo revolutionary Earl Scruggs, who died a month before. Scruggs' records served as transcontinental textbooks for Uwe and Jens Kruger who, in the decades since, have formed one of the best bluegrass bands in the world. But the Appalachian sound has long worked more as a wellspring than an endpoint for the Kruger Brothers, who alternately incorporate bebop, free jazz and rhythm & blues into their dervish music. In 2010, Jens even composed Appalachian Concerto, a long-form sentimental piece that bolstered the banjo, guitar and bass with the elegance of a string quartet. Strange thing is, those flourishes surprisingly work to highlight the basic strength of the Krugers—the complex and considered playing of both brothers. FRIDAY, JAN. 18, AT CAROLINA THEATRE. $27–$34/8 p.m.
Performances by New Orleans rapper, dancer and pied piper-at-large Big Freedia unroll scrolls of hot-button cultural issues worth a few semesters of studies: sexuality in hip-hop, sexuality in the South, the exploitative voyeurism of entertainment, the transference of alien experiences and so on. But Big Freedia shows are also fun, whether you're the bearded dude posted in the corner (Hello!) or the person clad in booty shorts onstage, letting it all jiggle and pop (Hello!). Everyone owes themselves at least one Big Freedia show, so good thing he has made North Carolina a frequent stop. TUESDAY, JAN. 22, AT CAT'S CRADLE. $15/9 p.m.
THE SOFT MOON
The music of San Francisco's The Soft Moon is a dizzying darkness. Distant drum machines and consistent quakes of noise unite within tunes that dance in spite of, or because of, the doom they espouse. On record, that despair is amplified by Luis Vasquez's insistence on performing and recording these songs solo; live, a band adds force to that agitation, growling and purring like Suicide missionaries. Montreal pair Majical Cloudz has earned as much attention for its Grimes associations as its own work, but the deliberate song structures and cascading harmonies do have the capacity to woo. THURSDAY, JAN. 17, AT THE PINHOOK. $10–$12/9 p.m.
When bands are forced to change their names for reasons legal or otherwise, they often lose momentum and begin a slow fade. But Philadelphia duo Bleeding Rainbow, formerly Reading Rainbow, doesn't seem to mind. Their Yeah Right LP is a luminous blast, serrated guitar and wounded drums climaxing in songs that seem more emphatic than ever before. If Japandroids, 764-HERO, The Violent Femmes and Bikini Kill work in your wheelhouse, perhaps make a little space for Yeah Right. The considerably more nuanced Jenny Besetzt opens. FRIDAY, JAN. 18, AT DUKE COFFEEHOUSE. $5/9 p.m.
Scott Miller writes deceptively simple songs. He largely ponders the problems of drinking too much and spending too much time dwelling on emotional pitfalls, as if trying to perpetually reckon the quest to adulthood in three country-rock minutes. But lean in a bit more and listen for the minutiae and the images. Miller renders his portraits with a pen that is equal parts poet, historian and barroom romantic, meaning he has plenty of stories to tell with possibly exaggerated details. With Caleb Caudle. SATURDAY, JAN. 19, AT BERKELEY CAFE. $15/9 p.m.
Don't expect Pittsburgh singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale to land on many of the music press's must-watch lists. Her brisk, crisp folk-pop, after all, is willfully anachronistic, the sort of stuff that would have landed her on a Lilith Fair side stage 15 years ago. Still, she treats her feelings with aplomb, turning would-be coffee lounge fare into innocuous but nevertheless irresistible confessions. Randy Dean Whitt and Geoff Koch open. WEDNESDAY, JAN. 23, AT CASBAH. $5/9 p.m.
Remember Diamond Rio, the maudlin modern country act that buffed and cleaned its sound into unlistenable schlock as it entered its second decade? (Does the title "One More Day" make you hum horrible things?) Sister Hazel, once a zealous and earnest college rock group from Gainseville, has become the mirror image of Diamond Rio, polishing its sound (epitomized by early hits "All For You" and "Champagne High") until, these days and too many years into an expired career, it's become a mushy mess. With Breaking Laces and Russell Howard. TUESDAY, JAN. 22, AT LINCOLN THEATRE. $17.50–$20/7:30 p.m.
Dead Meadow without the death, The Seeds without the branches above, The Black Lips without the big mouths: California's The Growlers are an incredibly insouciant garage rock troupe, their songs drifting until they refuse to swing, much less punch. Atlanta's The Coathangers open. Their unbridled garage rock blasts are rudimentary and rude, in essence getting right what The Growlers don't. Maybe pop in early and pop out quick? SATURDAY, JAN. 19, AT DUKE COFFEEHOUSE. $5/9 p.m.