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The guide to the week's concerts 

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This week's guide contains:

YES, PLEASE: J.D. Souther; Aloud, Strange Faces; M-1 Platoon, Carlitta Durand; Mahjongg; Pontiak, Tooth; Son Volt

VS.: Jorma Kaukonen, Robben Ford, Ruthie Foster vs. Arlo Guthrie vs. Ladysmith Black Mambazo

VS.: The Hwy54 Band vs. Gunslinger, Jenny Wood

INTRODUCING: Firehouse Rhythm Section

SONG OF THE WEEK: Pontiak's "Shell Skull"


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John David Souther might be as well known for something he didn't do—that is, join longtime pal and former duo mate Glenn Frey in the Eagles—as he is for what he's done. The what's-he-done list includes being the first name in the star-stocked Souther-Hillman-Furay Band and enjoying a solid Roy Orbison-styled solo career. Last year's teriffic If the World Was You found Souther still at the top of his songwriting game, serving as a reminder of his skills for those who might have forgotten "Heartache Tonight," "New Kid in Town" and the other songs he contributed to the catalog of that aforemention, semi-famous country-rock band. $23-$25/ 8:30 p.m. —Rick Cornell


Singer Jen de la Osa's powerful voice keys Boston quartet Aloud. Henry Beguiristain shares vocals, keys and guitar with de la Osa, harmonizing his reedy tenor over slinky alt-rock whose chunky mid-tempo roar recalls Concrete Blonde. Mostly it's subdural proto-boogie with echoes of Thin Lizzy underscoring a bim-bam-boom attack. $5/ 10 p.m. —Chris Parker


On New Year's Day, 9th Wonder posted a press release of sorts on the prominent hip-hop Web site and message board, Okayplayer, entitled "2009th Wonder." In it, he detailed his plans to launch two labels at once (The Academy/ Stones Throw and JamLa/ Duckdown) this year, all an attempt to "put more music into the atmosphere with the artistst that I believe have what it takes." One of those acts will undoubtedly be D.C. implants M-1 Platoon, who—along with soul-vocalist Carlitta Durand—comprise 9th's NCCU-based hip-hop collective, The Academy. But does M-1 really have what it takes? Or is it all just young-buck swagger plus super-producer co-signage, minus the sweat and tears? Tonight, the judgment is yours. 11 p.m. —Eric Tullis


Mahjongg messes with rhythmic experiments and rock juxtapositions, which may sound trite. After all, the Chicago band gets playful with similar elements as the Talking Heads or post-punk bands like Ike Yard used. But Mahjongg applies the same sense of adventure to today's rudimentary electronics, jumbling them with jumpy rock, rough jewels in a gem tumbler. Sounds awfully messy, but listen for the solid pulse of tempo in each of their songs. In fact, its song title "Free Grooverider" could be its mission statement, too. $5/ 9 p.m. —Chris Toenes


The blööz-breaking union of three countryside brothers from Virginia, Pontiak sits close to the top on my list of new bands deserving notice. Perhaps that attention will come with Maker, the trio's second LP for Thrill Jockey Records and—like last year's barnstorming, organ-heavy Sun on Sun—one of the year's best rock records. Whether on the 14-minute title track or the 74-second "Headless Conference," Pontiak grabs hold of sounds you know—guitar, bass, drums—and bends them, like Dead C building an Expressway to Yr Skull from the Blue Ridge Parkway up to the streets of South Chicago. The feeling is overwhelming, but key in on the small things, too: The Dead harmonies of "Wild Knife Night Flight," the Om-like patience of "Wax Worship," the stop-time tease of "Laywayed." Tooth—five Durham brothers from different mothers—beat the same horse with a different stick, poking the electric sounds of the South with a trident, not a hammer. Tonight moves from heavy to thick and back again. $5/ 9:30 p.m. —Grayson Currin


In the mid '90s, if your musical world (like mine) revolved around alternative country, then you probably felt (like me) that Uncle Tupelo spinoff Son Volt was one of the best things orbiting. Leader Jay Farrar would unfold slightly modernized dustbowl ballads and then blow away the dust with urgent-guitar rockers, both somehow presented with his stoic demeanor intact. He was good for vocabularies, too. Come on, did anyone know the word "caryatid" before that Straightaways song? I moved on, but Son Volt memories linger like a long-ago crush with the potential for flare-up—especially when Farrar breaks out the big words and the big chords. $18-$20/ 9:30 p.m. —Rick Cornell


click to enlarge Jorma Kaukonen
  • Jorma Kaukonen


From: Washington, D.C., Northern California, Texas
Since: 1964, 1969, 1994
Claim to fame: Pair of blues masters and a relative newcomer

You mean Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna? Sure, but while the latter group still tours 40 years after its start, Kaukonen's pastoral fingerpicking stands tall on his solo work as well. The week-old River of Time includes a nod to his psychedelic San Francisco days with a cover of the Dead's "Operator." Robben Ford has wielded his stinging guitar for brief stints alongside Jimmy Witherspoon, George Harrison and Miles Davis, incorporating their influence into his jazzy blues-rock. Fiery contributions from Ford, along with Jim Dickinson and The Memphis Horns, give The Truth According to Ruthie Foster a hard-edged soul that'll do little to temper the comparisons to Aretha that stem from Foster's expressive pipes. At CAROLINA THEATRE on FEB. 17. $30-$35/ 7:30 p.m.


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From: Coney Island
Since: 1967
Claim to fame: "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (all 1,114 rambling seconds)

You mean Woody Guthrie's son? Sure, but this isn't Julian Lennon we're talking about. While folk storyteller Arlo follows in his father's massive footsteps with protest songs and talking blues, his long-winded anti-draft satire "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" is an iconic work of '60s counter-culture. Since then, the younger Guthrie hasn't changed his ways, recently adding Tom Paxton's re-imagined "I'm Changing My Name To Fannie Mae" to his repertoire, nestling it alongside his definitive take on Steve Goodman's "The City of New Orleans" and wistful, finger-picked originals. At CAROLINA THEATRE on FEB. 14. $29-$34/ 8 p.m. POSTPONED (see below)


click to enlarge 02.11mushearingaid_vs_ladys.gif


From: South Africa
Since: 1960
Claim to fame: Couple of Grammys and guest spots on Graceland

You mean those guys who did the Lifesavers commercial? Sure, but while many Americans are familiar with the majestic sound of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, it's not always in the appropriate context. Founded by Joseph Shabalala nearly 50 years ago under apartheid rule, Ladysmith has been a diplomat of the isicathamiya and mbube Zulu vocal styles—and world music in general—since Paul Simon's Grammy-winning Graceland broke them to a global audience. Since then, the 67-year-old Shabalala, who still directs the a cappella group, has led Ladysmith to a pair of Grammy-winning albums, while also collaborating with icons as diverse as George Clinton, Dolly Parton and Vusi Mahlasela. At CAROLINA THEATRE on FEB. 13. $20-$28/ 8 p.m. —Spencer Griffith

Thursday, Feb. 12

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From: Chapel Hill
Since: 2006
Claim to fame: Named after road connecting Raleigh to Burlington

Starting off as a blues band, HWY54 hasn't left its roots far behind. Vocals slide up and down a traditional blues structure with a rock feel. Guitar, bass and drums balance out, creating a groove before one breaks away. Even with the occasional laid-back funky swing, the most interesting thing about HWY54 is its lyrics. While not sounding like traditional folk, the songs recall a Civil Rights Movement protest-song aesthetic—less personal, more societal. Topics of reflection include the issues facing a wife whose husband is off to war and a defense of migrant workers. Opening for funky pop rockers Nine Mile Road at 6 p.m. at MANSION 462. Free.


click to enlarge Gunslinger
  • Gunslinger


From: Nashville
Since: 2007, 2008
Claim to fame: Has performed with belly dancers and a hip-hop group

Gunslinger throws listeners into the unnerving shadows of extended rock jams with beautifully crafted hooks. Drums keep any hope for rest at bay with driving, emotive fills and crashes even amid drones. Recently turned into a trio through the additon of bass, Gunslinger eschews vocals for an immersive sense of timelessness. When the band backs vocalist Jenny Wood, the darkness doesn't go away. Wood's clear, cold vocals provide a stark contrast to the instrumental Gunslinger. But even when the group takes a gentler, acoustic alt-rock turn, minor dissonances are reminiscent of what is to come and offer little comfort. With fellow purveyors of enveloping rock FURrrrr and Goodbye, Titan. At THE RESERVOIR. Free/ 10 p.m. —Andrew Ritchey


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"Swing is a debaucherous, scandalous, very sexual music," says Joe Troop, bandleader of the Firehouse Rhythm Kings, who will offer the perfect set for Valentine's Day. Bass and drums provide the backbone to a 1930s Southern-musicians-gone-urban-North quintet that includes piano, violin and rhythm banjo. With backgrounds in bluegrass and jazz, members identify as Southern. "There's a lot of lonesome raw power in Southern music," says Troop. Upbeat swing translates songs from the juke joint to the club with the clear-cutting tenor scatting of Troop and solos that exude pure happiness.

Remembering the group from when he attended UNC-Chapel Hill, Troop rekindled the Firehouse Rhythm Kings this past summer after about four years of dormancy with the help of original keyboardist Charles Cleaver. After several years of playing in swing bands abroad in Japan and Spain, Troop brings his experiences with him to the group. Recently returned from a month-long gypsy-style tour of Spain, he reflects, "The nomadic spirit of European swing really inspires me." But in the end—whether it descends from Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt or Stuff Smith—swing is about letting loose, being yourself and dancing. While the Firehouse Rhythm Kings plays the occasional ballad, Troop says, "For the most part, our music is really raucous and in your face, and people dancing is the best thing for swing... We want people dancing to our music. That should be in bold letters, with exclamation points." 10 p.m. —Andrew Ritchey

Feb. 13 press release from Carolina Theatre:

Due to the illness of Arlo Guthrie, the Lost World Tour show originally scheduled at the Carolina Theatre in Durham at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 14, has been postponed. The new date for the show is Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. Mark Smith, Guthrie's agent, released the following statement: "I am writing you on behalf of Arlo Guthrie and Rising Son Records to inform you that Arlo is ill and has temporarily lost his voice. Therefore, he has been forced to cancel the February 14, 2009 performance at the Carolina Theatre of Durham, as well as dates in Hampton, V.A. and Newberry, S.C."

Ticket holders to the February 14th performance can exchange their tickets for the new show date by mailing them to the Carolina Theatre or by dropping them off at the box office. Tickets may also be returned for a full refund.


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