Red Pens, Danzig and more

THURSDAY 11.4

Greg Laswell

Turf Club

With a nearly obsessive tendency to ruminate about a succession of doomed relationships, matched with lush, minor-key melodies that billow and hover like the memory of a dream, Greg Laswell has regularly placed songs on small and big-screen soundtracks, ranging from Grey's Anatomy to CSI Miami. Although pervasively moody, Laswell's contemplations of heartache manage to skirt depression, sometimes stopping just short of the brink, but somehow finding an even keel. For instance, when a departing lover threatens to "take everything from me and more" on the lead track from his latest album, Take a Bow, his "I don't mind" refrain, crooned with a touch of moroseness, nevertheless seems perfectly true. Similarly, Laswell's prevailing atmospheric pop is as deeply layered as the psychological struggles built into his lyrics. A crescendo of portentous synths can suddenly cut to a sparse piano figure, as in "Around the Bend," or a mounting sense of dread is quickly leavened by an optimistic melody plucked on banjo. One exception is "Come Clean," in which quiet intensity spasms into a metallic stomp. Laswell played virtually everything on Bow himself while secluded in the Arizona desert. And although he often laments desertion, he's ultimately okay with that. With the Rescues and Harper Blynn. 21+. $12. 8 p.m. 1601 University Ave., St. Paul; 651.647.0486. —Rick Mason

Don Williams

Medina Ballroom

This is a relatively rare sighting of "Gentle Giant" Don Williams, whose laid-back baritone repeatedly carried him to the top of the country charts throughout the 1970s and '80s. Williams's twangy croon on a succession of ballads epitomized the crossover countrypolitan nature of the era, racking up hits like "I'm Just a Country Boy," "I Believe in You," and "Tulsa Time," the last covered later by Eric Clapton. At the height of his popularity Williams started acting as well, mostly in the films of buddy Burt Reynolds. Williams had apparently retired several times, in part due to lingering back problems. But he continues to resurface, here with a full band, undoubtedly to revisit his lengthy string of nuggets. With Trailer Trash. $29-$47. 7 p.m. 500 Hwy. 55, Hamel; 763.478.6661. —Rick Mason

Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band

Cedar Cultural Center

Back in the dim recesses of the '60s, Peter Rowan moved from his native Massachusetts to Nashville and landed a coveted spot with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, playing guitar, blending his high-tenor voice into the Boys' close harmonies, and even writing future classics ("Walls of Time") with the father of bluegrass. Rowan's subsequent career roamed far afield. Along with Richard Greene and David Grisman he helped launch the progressive newgrass movement, dabbled in a variety of eclectic progressive-rock projects, rode with the cosmic cowboy revival (writing about the notorious "Panama Red"), and explored such rootsy tangents as Tex-Mex and reggae. But Rowan periodically always returned to pure bluegrass, and he's done so again with a fine new album—Legacy, produced by Alison Brown—and quartet featuring mandolinist Jody Stecher, banjoist Keith Little, and bassist Paul Knight. The picking is inspired, the harmonies transcendent, and all the tunes—mostly Rowan originals—solid, easily slipping into a classic bluegrass repertoire. There's a gospel streak in several of Rowan's songs, but he can't resist a progressive jab at fundamentalist fanatics in "Jailer Jailer" ("My god does the job your god is just odd"). And "Across the Rolling Hills" incorporates a swirling Eastern sensibility, nicely bookending "Jailer" with an espousal of freedom in the form of Tibetan Buddhist deity Padmasambhava (who rides up like one of Rowan's cowboys). With Boulder Acoustic Society. All ages. $22/$25 at the door. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Rick Mason

FRIDAY 11.5

Azure Ray

Cedar Cultural Center

With a sound balanced delicately between straight-up acoustic radio pop and a range of indie-rock sonics, from electronic beats to chamber music, the Birmingham-to-Los Angeles duo Azure Ray always keep a redeeming hint of twang in their dreaminess, which makes the harmonies more than the sum of their parts. The new Drawing Down the Moon, on Saddle Creek, marks a reunion after six years in two overlapping careers highlighted by collaborations with or in Now It's Overhead, Bright Eyes, Japancakes, and Moby. But they seem catchiest together. With Tim Fite and James Husband. All ages. $12/$14 at the door. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. Peter S. Scholtes

Brad Mehldau

Walker Auditorium

Probably today's most prominent under-50 jazz pianist, Brad Mehldau has worked most frequently in the trio format, mixing his sophisticated originals with a broad repertoire that includes Monk and Gershwin along with dorm-room favorites by Nick Drake and Radiohead. His most popular album to date, though, is 2002's Largo, an excellent neo-fusion collaboration with movie composer and pop producer Jon Brion. Mehldau reunited with Brion for last year's Highway Rider, a double album of complex, linked originals written for orchestra and a jazz band featuring tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman. Though he has one foot in the classical world, Mehldau has a pop sensibility too, and here his tunes often stick in one's head—sometimes, alas, by way of syrup, though not distressingly often, and the album as a whole successfully evokes a moody automotive picaresque. Redman and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will be on hand at Walker, making this a rare chance to hear the music given the full treatment in concert. All ages. $25. 8 p.m. 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.375.7600. Also Saturday Dylan Hicks

SATURDAY 11.6

Red Pens (EP-release)

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