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CL previews upcoming concerts (Dec. 3-8)

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THURSDAY, DEC. 3

The Coal Men Dave Coleman's, er, Coal Men doesn't stray far from even the most middle-of-the-road MOR. Even the band's label describes its music as meat and potatoes ... calls it "old school" music. Which could lead you to believe that listening to these Coal Men is pretty much the aural equivalent of sitting down to a tinned dinner of corned beef hash: Rib-stickin', yet redundant. Yet, to Coleman's credit, it works. The band's latest, Kids With Songs, was recorded on a 16-track analog reel-to-reel (that's good old-school), and most of it was done live in the studio. True, it's still slicker than the spit that used to seal deals on Nashville's Music Row – there's more than a bit of country in the band's country-rock – but it's an honest slick, meaning finely polished, not bowdlerized. Call it "Jeff Twitty" – equal parts early Wilco and Conway-style country, served without pretense. Double Door Inn (Timothy C. Davis)

FRIDAY, DEC. 4

The Shaky Hands It comes down to writing unpolished-yet-expansive little rock gems that flow as naturally as they were likely written. The Portland, Ore., quartet's songbook is filled with upbeat guitar numbers as well as reflective and mellow tracks, that's especially illuminated on their recent recording, Let It Die, on the killer indie label, Kill Rock Stars. This is brainy stuff with a surprising '60s folk feel. With U.S. Royalty and Foxchase. Milestone (Samir Shukla)

Slaid Cleaves The somber recent disc Everything You Love Will be Taken Away is a rolling, jazzy acoustic folk affair with a distinct Texas country twang. Cleaves turns stories into songs, sung with a narrative vibe and filled with characters that could be next-door, everyday folk. Can't complain if horrormeister Stephen King is a fan and writes the liner notes for your album, either. The Evening Muse (Shukla)

SATURDAY, DEC. 5

John Howie Jr. & The Rosewood Bluff John Howie's basso profundo deep country baritone is such that he could sing the Harrisburg phone book, and I'd buy a cot-dang ticket. What's more, he'd give some life to all those names, too, as he did for years in the great Two Dollar Pistols and as he does now with The Rosewood Bluff, an act a little less country and a lot more rock 'n' roll than his former band. Expect pedal steel, iron-fisted conviction, aluminum beer cans-a-plenty and Burritos-esque cosmic country delivered with a heart of gold. Puckett's Farm Equipment (Davis)

Birds or Monsters There's something timeless and elementary-sounding about the solo project of the Carolina Chocolate Drops' Justin Robinson, even though it adds modern sonic accents like hip-hop and indie pop to the banjos and autoharps. There's a sketch-like quality to the Gastonia native's songs, as though Robinson hasn't decided quite what Birds or Monsters is yet. But that aspect suits the music, since most of what he's throwing at the wall here not only sticks, but winds up blending into interesting mélanges. Maybe the key query is whether working with producer Joe Henry (Solomon Burke, Betty LaVette) on the last CCD record will have any effect on BoM, whose self-titled debut EP celebrates its homespun origins in aggressively lo-fi recordings. It'll be worth staying tuned for in any case. With Greg Humphreys (ex-Hobex) at the early show. The Evening Muse (John Schacht)

Rise Against Get beyond lyricist, vocalist and guitarist Tim McIlrath's extra dry vocals and you've got a heady mix of agit-punk and hard-core that evoke early Bad Religion. The Chicago band's dedication to animal rights rears its activist head in lyrics and is plastered all over its Web site. Although breakneck punkcore is the modus operandi here, the band's not afraid to pick up an acoustic guitar and plow into emotive crooning, case in point the excellent "Hero of War." With Sent by Ravens and Advent. The Fillmore Charlotte (Shukla)

SUNDAY, DEC. 6

Nico Vega The last time this trio was in town, the crowd was small, but the energy level was off the charts. Singer Aja leaves everything on the stage in a quivering mass of sweat by the time the show is over. Sure, her vocals aren't perfect, but if heart counted for a lot, she'd be swimming in Grammys by now. Add in a drummer and guitar player who also handles the bass work and you've got the formula for a great night of indie rock. The Milestone (Jeff Hahne)

TUESDAY, DEC. 8

Mean Creek The latest entry in the Next Great Band from Boston sweepstakes (Morphine would likely be your previous title-holder), this quartet's recently-released sophomore effort The Sky (Or the Underground) has won gamut-running huzzahs from the likes of Under the Radar and the staid fogies at Paste. But since their Americana-flavored 2007 debut, singer/guitarist Chris Keene must've been listening to crate-loads of Kevin Shields and Adam Franklin, because the new one is spackled floor-to-ceiling with tasty guitar reverb. And when bassist Aurore Ounjian steps up to the mic to harmonize, Mean Creek creates a pretty impressive Low-meets-Swervedriver thing for these four-minute meditations on all things natural and cosmic. With The Whigs. Visulite Theatre (Schacht)

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