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Upstart acts and country heretics

Reverb

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So did you get your Carrie Underwood tickets? Me neither. But the good news is that, as of Monday, you could still find tickets for Wednesday's sold-out World Arena show online from resellers, otherwise known as scalpers, for a mere $140 each. Or you could always listen to Pueblo's KIQ'N Country (106.9-FM), which has been celebrating her appearance by playing her "Blown Away" single nonstop.

Actually, you might want to listen to the station anyway, especially if you're under the impression that contemporary country is a repository for redneck sentiments accompanied by generic pop arrangements. Sure, you'll hear Dustin Lynch drawling "I got the rifle, she's got the rack" on the thoughtful "She Cranks My Tractor," a prime example of Nashville's unflagging enthusiasm for capitalizing on chauvinist sentiments.

But there are also other young country artists moving in less hackneyed directions: Kacey Musgraves' plaintive, banjo and pedal steel-driven debut single "Merry Go 'Round" cracked the Country Top 20 last month with its unflinching critique of small-town values: "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay / Brother's hooked on Mary Jane / And Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down/ Mary Mary quite contrary / We get bored so we get married / And just like dust we settle in this town."

Which brings us back to country-pop superstar Underwood, whose no-less-impressive "Blown Away" employs the forces of nature to exact revenge on the song's abusive father. ("There's not enough rain in Oklahoma / To wash the sins out of that house.")

Granted, Mark Bright's production and arrangements have zero to do with any known form of country music, but that didn't stop it from topping the genre's singles chart. It also suggests that a growing segment of country musicians are giving their audiences far more credit than an artist like Lynch ever will.

Meanwhile, allow me to recommend some less costly live music options this week. On Wednesday, Joe Johnson will be debuting his first new band since Creating a Newsense at Front Range Barbeque, featuring Inaiah Lujan and Sean Fanning of the Haunted Windchimes, Josh Desmidt of Broken Spoke, and Jake Klock on fiddle.

"It's got a real authentic and simple feel that facilitates the songs perfectly," says Johnson of the new outfit, which will begin recording the follow-up to his A Time to Dance album later this month. "There will be folk, bluegrass, country, and stuff that's none of the above, and it all works well together."

Those with more avant-garde inclinations can catch Ensemble Peak FreQuency's "statio hiberna/winter stasis" concert at GOCA (121 S. Tejon St.) that same evening. The concert will feature Karen Bentley Pollick on violin, Colin McAllister on guitar, Jane Rigler on flute, and Glen Whitehead on trumpet. (Rigler and Whitehead also perform in Phrames of Mind, whose impressive debut at Modbo was the subject of much raving in this column last month.)

Wednesday's show will include selections from Pollick's multimedia project, "Violin, Viola & Video Virtuosity," along with compositions by Elliot Carter and Claude Debussy, plus the premiere of Whitehead's "Equipoise (breath in repose.)"

In a completely different realm, I should mention the sets I caught by a reunited Lazy Spacemen and the relatively new Rough Age at Zodiac last Friday. The former featured the best live version of Mission of Burma's "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" I've witnessed — apart from a rendition by MoB itself a few years back — as well as brilliant originals from frontman Chuck Snow.

Rough Age, meanwhile, consists of Americana-damaged duo Wild Hares backing Nathan Archer, who also plays in local neo-soul band the Sugar Hi-5. Archer's a gifted songwriter and vocalist, and the band's overall sound is reminiscent of Elvis Costello when he still had it. They cover Television's "Venus de Milo," which is never a bad thing. My only reservation, really, was the inclusion of whistling on not one, but two songs, something that no musician should ever do unless they're Otis Redding. (And just look how that turned out.)

You can catch Archer again when Rough Age opens for Monophonics at the Black Sheep on Thursday, and Sugar Hi-5 plays the Ancient Mariner on Friday.

Also look for both the Lazy Spacemen and Wild Hares sharing a bill with Chicago's bluesy Steepwater Band at the Black Sheep on Sunday.

Send news, photos and music to reverb@csindy.com; follow our updates at tinyurl.com/indyreverb.

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