Pierre Bensusan - The master steel-string guitarist has a new album set for May, Altiplanos, that is a fine primer to his world-without-borders style. Equal parts classical, Celtic, jazz and African and Brazilian influences, it's yet another in a long line of critical successes for the world-renowned Frenchman (Bensusan was born in Algeria, and it shows in the subtle texturing of his fretboard runs). Bensusan also cuts loose on vocals throughout the show, alternately in French or English as the song dictates. However, it's his guitar that inevitably sings the loudest. The Evening Muse (Davis)
Dark Star Orchestra - I swore like Al Swearingen when I drew this straw. Then I thought I'd play it straight and just describe the phenomenon DSO tries to recreate based on a Dead show I attended in 1979. Then I remembered what an excruciating experience it was : the acid burnout/Jim Jones Kool Aid vibe, and the improv-lite that literally sucked the musical life from the cover songs and even managed to castrate the Dead's bstter songs. And I remembered the invasion of wannabe hippies and trustafarians fucking up Berkeley's progressive vibe, and how they thought if they just flashed a peace sign at you while they pissed in your stairwell you'd go all flower-child on them and buy their bullshit. I guess I feel the same about the music; it's a con job. Of course, if you're a fan, you'll disagree with that assessment. So, by all means, attend. (Suckers). Neighborhood Theatre (Schacht)
Thad Cockrell - The son of a Baptist preacher, Cockrell attended seminary at Wake Forest, and didn't even have a stereo until well into adulthood. But since setting to it five years ago, he's proven to be a remarkable songwriter with a gift for the kind of honest tune that has always been true country's great gift. Sometimes metaphor obscures truth where the heartfelt hits the mark. Cockrell's lingering tenor camps out there, in the sad eye of the storm. With the Starlight Country Band and Drew Holcombe. The Evening Muse (Chris Parker).
Danielle Howle - An eclectic talent, the husky-voiced Howle can deliver everything from delicate folk to tumbling alt-country to edgy rock crunch cut with lively, punk spirit. Whether enticing with a slinky drawl or unleashing muscular guitar, Howle has a great sense of what her songs need and delivers them with a stylish flair reminiscent of Shannon Wright. The Evening Muse (Chris Parker).
Sparta - The promise of At The Drive In exploded outward yielding Mars Volta and Sparta. The products of this big bang sped in opposite directions: one toward a marketable alt-metal niche, the other toward psychedelic experimentation. But while the navel gazing duo of Mars Volta had produced some ahh-worthy moments, Sparta's proved the more durable rock outfit, combining scratchy, angular post-punk guitar with a muscular rhythmic crunch. Tremont Music Hall (Chris Parker)
Hot Vegas - This Charlotte-based quartet will play as part of the Indie Rock Fest. Hot Vegas have been honing their melodic punk chops for a couple years and are slated to release their debut batch of tunes in the near future. Think Superchunk with contemporary rock mores. Also on the bill are Yay Hooray, Something Jed, Roman Adai and others. Liquid Recordz (Shukla)
Shadowflag - The Charlotte trio are obviously pointed on a path to stardom, if they keep their focus and latch on to the benefits of perseverance. The band members gelled after performing together as the rock band that backs up Hedwig in the local theater production of the rock & roll musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Shadowflag have, although, now moved out of that initial shadow and are ready for the grander scheme of rockdom. Smokey Joe's Cafe (Shukla)
Tinsley Ellis - This guitar slinger once played with blues rockers the Heartfixers and has been burning up the blues trail from coast to coast as a solo artist for years. Ellis' blues are time-tested and remain true to tradition whether the strings are caressed by fingers or chomped on by teeth. He is an all-around contemporary blues master. Double Door Inn (Shukla)
De La Soul - The Long Island rappers are a creative force remaining steadfast while brushing aside all the one-hit wonders and knee-jerk trends so common in the world of hip-hop. The trio's newest recording, The Grind Date, features a usual rotation of guest artists that are now requisite for such recordings. The good news is that De La Soul have not lost the bite and the groundbreaking paisley rap they helped create over a dozen years back remains intact. See our story in this issue. Neighborhood Theatre (Shukla)
Lenny Kravitz - Kravitz has never been bashful about wearing his influences on his sleeve for the spare, yet guitar-driven rock that's always a touch funky and has become his signature. Baptism is the latest collection of Kravitz tunes laced with blues, soaring guitar riffs, lonesome ballads and hints of contemporary urbanism. Ovens Auditorium (Shukla)
Jim Bianco - This Long Island native moved to Los Angeles recently and has been winning over the Tinsel town cognoscenti via his theatrical songs, most of which bear the stamp of an artist deeply enamored with swing jazz and country blues. His most recent full length, Handsome Devil, is no mere nostalgic mood piece though; it features richly detailed stories about the dark and lonely side of those men whom women can't resist and average men wish they were. Bianco is a Berklee-trained pianist and one-time session bassist, so the chops are there, too. With Dean Fields. The Evening Muse (Schacht)