This is a smart pairing of superb songwriters, both closing in on 50, who eschew flash for richly nuanced material as astute and clever in observations as deeply insinuating music. Freedy Johnston, whose "Bad Reputation" floated on the pop airwaves in the early '90s, came back last year with a gem, Rain on the City, his first album of new material since 2001. His sometimes languid, unaffected Midwestern voice closely inhabits melancholic tales tempered with glimmers of sunlight, like the title track, while riding luminous melodies in eclectic contexts ranging from folk/pop to samba to crackling power pop. Darden Smith vividly evokes the windswept grandeur of the West Texas desert on another diamond in the rough, Marathon, which like that country is as lean and hard as the lives he depicts. Smith's exquisitely spare, sculpted arrangements are flecked with steel guitar, Tex-Mex accordion, mariachi horns, and wiry guitar as piercing as the wind.
Thu., Jan. 27, 8 p.m., 2011