Granola Funk Express -- Yeah, I know. The name doesn't necessarily strike fear in your heart, even as it offends the stomach. However, these NC-mountain bred lads can still kick a meaty verse even as they prefer to rock the tempeh in the kitchen. Unlike the hip-hop the majors are still feeding you, the GFE are all about breaking down the barriers between band and audience instead of building them up, brick by golden brick. The Room (Davis)

Del McCoury Band -- In an age where many of his compatriots have either severely limited their touring schedules, stopped touring altogether, or have crowded around the mic in the Great Beyond, Del McCoury and his band reign. McCoury has paid his dues in all the right places (Bill Monroe), shown a willingness to try new things (an ill-fated record and tour with Steve Earle), and, most importantly, has continued to pen album after album of rock solid, creek-clear bluegrass. Recently, McCoury got to add a feather to his cap with probably the greatest honor a traditional musician can receive -- membership into the Grand Ole Opry. Neighborhood Theatre (Davis)

Pyramid/The Rosebuds --- At long last, Pyramid are about ready to release their debut album proper. The band, all eight members strong, have been together since 1997 and just might be the best Charlotte act you've (n)ever heard. An early sampling of the as-yet-untitled disc reminds one of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but that's only really useful for Recommended If You Like purposes. The band, gearheads all, would probably be happy if they could just invite everyone over to their home studio instead of playing out. No matter, as the experience is always intimate, and no sound -- no matter how eclectic -- makes it in if it doesn't serve the song. Some bands follow the leader, and some bands follow their heart. Pyramid subscribe to the latter, and as such posit themselves as the former./Raleigh's indie pop wonders, The Rosebuds, headline -- see our story in this issue. The Room (Davis)

Beyonce/Missy Elliott/Alicia Keys -- As package tours of major-label superstars go, this titillating trio takes the cake. The icing? They also have something to say, something that's becoming exceedingly rare in the Soul and R&B world. See our story in this issue. Charlotte Coliseum (Davis)

Danu -- Danu is a young, hip and neo-traditionalist group from the world of Irish music. Road Less Traveled (Shanachie), the group's most recent record, cements their position as one of the next generation of Celtic music catalysts. Thoughtful arrangements and uplifting melodies do the trick for their take on all things Celtic. Neighborhood Theatre (Shukla)

Earwig -- Operating just off the radar for a decade now, this Columbus, OH, trio has been compared to the Foo Fighters, Built to Spill and Pavement -- the last two are a stretch, and Superchunk is a lot closer to the mark, methinks. Live, they kick up quite a storm, if their last release Bored In Chicago is any indication. It also suggests that this is their strongest milieu. Catchy hooks, loud guitars, snotty lyrics -- hell, there's plenty worse ways to spend a weekend night. The Room (Schacht)

Vienna Teng -- With oodles of crossover appeal, Teng has already appeared on NPR, CNN and, six months after the start of her professional career, the Letterman show. The 25-year-old San Franciscan took classical piano lessons beginning at the age of 5, but wound up in Silicon Valley as a computer programmer for two years before returning to music. Her new record, Warm Strangers, veers from string quartet to chamber folk, with a little Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan thrown in for good measure. The music sounds exceedingly polished at times, but Teng is young, talented and photogenic; she won't be playing venues this small much longer. The Evening Muse (Schacht)

The Crystal Method -- Their newest, Legion of Boom, isn't going to shock anyone who's heard the band's Tweekend and Vegas discs -- like a train barreling down the tracks, it's somewhat obvious stuff, but so confident in its crankin' that you just don't give a shit where it's going. The songs on Boom are mostly slow-cooked mashers, perfect for movie chase scenes or Nissan commercials, but containing enough ghosts in the machine to make it interesting. Tremont Music Hall (Davis)

Deep Fried -- A jam-funk supergroup of sorts, Deep Fried includes members of The Funky Meters, brothers Allman and Neville, and Gov't Mule: Brian Stolz (guitar), George Porter, Jr. (bass), Johnny Neel (keys) and Matt Abts (drums). The musical blend has been christened funk, intricate funk, deep swamp funk, and improv funk. (If you know of any other funks, please let us know so we can fill out our Types of Funk scorecard.). Neighborhood Theatre (Schacht)

The Desert Fathers -- The Spirituality (Three Spheres) is the latest record by this band of sound deconstructionists. Experimental jazz, math rock, indie dissonance -- they've got it all. Steve Albini produced this record, and there are many tunes where they salute Philip Glass-style repetition while others mimic Big Black storming out of the gates. The guitar can be fluid or fall lazily into a stop/go cycle. The tape loops sound like marching drums accompanied by guitars scratching their way out of foxholes. The track "Pitbulls" can probably answer most questions with its sharp notes digging deep into the band's musical psyche. The Evening Muse (Shukla)

Himsa -- Ahimsa is a Hindu/Buddhist doctrine preaching non-injury (even to insects) and non-violence. But this Himsa sound like the dark side of that philosophy, as evidenced by the removal of the objective "A." The singer gargles bits of metal above the din of hardcore guitars and rumbling percussion, as one strains to make out the rapid-fire lyrics. Perhaps the answer lies in the dichotomy of the tune "Kiss or Kill," where the band takes a mature, analytical view of their youthful angst. Tremont Music Hall (Shukla)

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