There have been a few different Al Stewarts through the years. His first few albums were ambitious folk operas with a tendency toward epic historical storytelling. Then producer Alan Parsons helped the Scottish-born troubadour tap into his FM groove, with several radio hits that pretty much anybody old enough to remember phone booths, Freakies, and Pong can still sing by heart, especially the tracks making up 1976’s Year of the Cat, with the title single hitting number eight on the U.S. chart, and the album itself reaching number five. The ’90s found him shifting toward topical and even philosophical songcraft, including a concept album covering early-20th-century historical events, followed by an almost new-age period of acoustic experimentation, such as an early 2000 project solely chronicling his love of wine. His January 8 appearance at the Belly Up is one of a handful of dates on his current tour where he’ll be performing the entire Year of the Cat album, backed by the Empty Pockets and guest saxophonist Marc Macisso. It’s hard to believe Stewart never performed the complete record until a 2013 showcase at London’s Royal Albert Hall, given the increasing popularity of live-album re-creations, and he’s been pretty sparing about doing the whole thing too much, usually offering concertgoers his greatest hits (and the occasional full-length flashback of his other blockbuster release, Time Passages).
Although he threatens to close down his concert series at least once a year due to unpredictable ticket sales, Carey Driscoll’s Acoustic Music San Diego continues to fill out their upcoming schedule with world-class acts, usually ones who’ve played AMSD several times. John Gorka and Mary Gauthier return in March. The series (which has been staged at various venues, most recently the acoustically excellent auditorium at National City’s Sweetwater High) will see some fresh blood on February 9 with the first AMSD appearance of San Francisco’s Front Country, a 21st-century Americana-inspired string band that blends roots music with progressive bluegrass and techno-electro pop. Driscoll’s promo blurb describes the players as including “a mandolinist with a degree in composition and classical guitar, a guitarist trained in rock and world music, a bassist equally versed in jazz and bluegrass, a violinist with technique that could seamlessly hop between honky-tonk and electro pop, [and] a female lead singer with grit and soul that was also a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter.” It’s quite a booking coup, given the band’s newest release, Other Love Songs, has been their most successful full-length to date, with multiple spotlights on NPR that helped it debut at number two on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums chart. The same venue will also host new year concerts featuring folkie legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (January 12) and cowboy songwriter Dave Stamey (January 27).
Often performing with upwards of a dozen people onstage, Portland, Oregon indie rockers Typhoon can sometimes come on like an Oingo Boingo revival populated by members of Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend. They’ve released three full-lengths and a couple of EPs since forming in 2005, as well as a 2015 live album, but it’s their rollicking stage shows that have earned them wall-to-wall opening slots for supportive headliners like the Decemberists, the Shins, and Portugal. The Man. Their tunes build on frequently bleak themes with an indie-pop sheen made all the more bombastic by live violins, horns, vibes, xylophones, and even the occasional keytar. Earlier this year, frontman Kyle Morton (whose lyrics about mortality and fragility are said to be inspired by childhood bouts with lyme disease) released a solo album, prompting many to speculate that the band might be on the verge of splitting. However, they just announced their fourth full-length, Offerings, due to drop shortly before the band takes the Music Box stage on February 10. According to Morton on the band’s website, the character-based concept album about amnesia is “a seventy-minute exploration of memory and sacrifice in multiple movements…it’s a record from the perspective of a mind losing its memory at precisely the same time the world is willfully forgetting its history.” The first movement, “Floodplains,” is streaming free, with a video backdrop created by surrealist designer and videographer Nevan Doyle.
Man-of-all-genres Dan Auerbach sure seems to pop up in a lot of places outside his famed Black Keys duo. His bio sheet includes nearly 50 collaborative projects between 2006 and this year, including production turns on A-list albums from Cage the Elephant, Dr. John, Ray LaMontagne, and Nikki Lane. His guitar has been gracing recent tracks by A$AP Rocky, the Pretenders, and Lee Fields, among others. His side bands include the Arcs and the Fast Five (the latter mainly members of Hacienda, whose records he has also produced); and his Blakroc project paired he and fellow Black Key Patrick Carney with various hip-hop and R&B performers, including Mos Def and Q-Tip. His track “Standing in the Rain,” recorded with Action Bronson and Mark Ronson, was probably the only good thing in the 2016 multiplex mess known as Suicide Squad. Auerbach’s second solo album, Waiting on a Song, was released this past summer on his own Easy Eye Sound label, and the supporting Easy Eye Sound Revue Tour he’s bringing to Observatory North Park on February 19 will include several of its featured Nashville studio stars, including Gene “Bubba” Chrisman, Russ Pahl, Bobby Wood, and Dave Roe. The bill also features several signees from Auerbach’s label, including Robert Finley, Shannon Shaw, and Shannon & the Clams.
Fronted by husband-and-wife duo Murray Lightburn (guitar, vocals) and Natalia Yanchak (keys), Montreal-based indie pop rockers the Dears is touring in support of Times Infinity Volume Two, which continues their 20-plus-year penchant for orchestral, anthemic pop akin to ’70s and ’80s Canadian prog acts, somewhat watered down for post-modern ears and post-millennial singles consumers. Two singles are streaming online, “To Hold and Have” and “Of Fisticuffs,” and social media posts indicate that the band will have some new unrecorded tracks to break in during a road trip that includes the Casbah on March 1, with sessions for their next studio album set to start as soon as the tour wraps.