Critics' Picks: Robin and Linda Williams, Valet, and more

Robin & Linda Williams and Their Fine Group

Landmark Center on Friday 12.16

Veteran troubadours Robin and Linda Williams hail from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, a hotbed of the Civil War also known as Stonewall Country. That too is the name of the couple's latest album for St. Paul's Red House Records. It consists of songs they wrote for a musical chronicling the life and times of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, which is still performed annually more than 25 years after its debut. Tapping historical facts as well as universal themes of strife, duty, and endurance, the Stonewall material also glows with the Williamses' fine harmonies and the group's adeptly picked mix of country, folk, bluegrass, and gospel. And this being the holiday season, the evening's repertoire also will include original, traditional, and unusual yuletide tunes drawn from the Williamses' The First Christmas Gift album. This is the finale of Red House's series at the Landmark Center, and the performance will be preceded by a cocktail hour. All ages. $15. 7 p.m. 75 W. Fifth St., St. Paul; 651.292.3293. —Rick Mason

Mickey Hart Band

Robin and Linda Williams (center) with Their Fine Group
courtesy of the artists
Robin and Linda Williams (center) with Their Fine Group

Cedar Cultural Center on Thursday 12.15

Erstwhile Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart also has enjoyed a lengthy, thriving career in world music. In fact, he was a pioneer in exploring global frontiers even before the genre had a name, and won the first world music Grammy some 20 years ago with his Planet Drum percussion project. Hart's currently leading a full band most notably featuring Nigerian talking drums master Sikiru Adepoju, a member of Planet Drum. He's also reportedly working on a new album inspired at least partially, he's said, by "sampling light waves from the cosmos," suggesting his ethnomusicological forays now stretch to infinity and beyond. At the same time Smithsonian Folkways is releasing a slew of past Hart projects as the Mickey Hart Collection. On this tour, Hart is promising new material, presumably from the cosmic plane, an array of his greatest hits, and even some Dead tunes. All ages. $45. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Rick Mason

Valet

Turf Club on Saturday 12.16

My pick for the most criminally overlooked Twin Cities band of the early 2000s, melodious mid-tempo indie-rockers Valet never quite got their fair shake on the national stage despite a deservedly strong local following. Listening to their two albums today, it's still a head-scratcher they didn't break big. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie rode a similar formula of literate story-songs and angular guitar ear worms to mainstream stardom, and Valet sound every bit their equal on cuts like the mesmerizing "Air-Hostess" from 2001's The Glamour Is Contagious and the early 89.3 the Current folk-pop staple "Tony Hornes and Johnny Ace vs. Elvis Presley" from 2004's swan song Life on the Installment Plan. Although it's admittedly a long shot as Valet's members have moved on to other projects since amicably going on hiatus in 2007, one can't help but hope that tonight's reunion gig at the Turf Club leads to a full-on reformation and new recordings from a band that still merits wider recognition. With Story of the Sea and Magic Castles. 21+. 9 p.m. 1601 University Avenue, St. Paul; 651.647.0486. Rob van Alstyne

James Leg and Molly Gene One Whoaman Band

Bayport BBQ on Friday 12.16 and Saturday 12.17

This latest pair of deep blues nuggets to visit the Southern barbecue joint on the St. Croix should provide a fine antidote for an overdose of holiday malling. Tennessee's James Leg is the alias of Black Diamond Heavies chief growler and keyboards pounder John Wesley Myers, touring behind his solo release Solitary Pleasure. His gravelly rasp sounds a bit like Tom Waits with terminal tonsillitis, and there's no denying his passion as he moans about drink and women and, inevitably, fire and brimstone. Sometimes he conjures up a whiff of honky-tonk on his Fender Rhodes, and the odd inebriated horn weighs in, seemingly escaped from a Bourbon Street strip club, as on "No License (Song for the Caged Bird)." But generally Leg's drift is hard blues left out in the garage for a few weeks. He'll be accompanied by a drummer here. Missouri's Molly Dyer will take care of the drumming herself, along with the dirty, slashing bottleneck guitar work and harrowing, hell-hound taunting yelps and withering yowls she coaxes from her vocal cords. She negotiates blues as ravaged and gritty as a back-country road on her latest album, Folk Blues and Booze, which kicks off with a killer a cappella version of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "When the Train Come Along." $15. 9 p.m. 328 Fifth Ave. N., Bayport; 651.955.6337. —Rick Mason

The Book of Right On

Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday 12.17

This lineup, ladies and gents, is what we call a shoe-in: four persistently underappreciated, masterful live acts that represent the wide array of styles and sounds being made in the Cities these days. The Book of Right On is the latest project from David Joe Holiday (Kentucky Gag Order), whose clamorous blend of highly technical, percussive punk rock and beat poetry is without many peers in contemporary rock 'n' roll. Kill the Vultures is the noir hip-hop project of MC Crescent Moon and DJ Anatomy; Gay Witch Abortion is a blistering punk duo that'll leave your ears ringing and mind spinning for days; and instrumental group Wizards Are Real find the unlikely similarities between the early days of jazz fusion and the muscular alt-rock of the '90s. The local scene has more to offer than one might expect at a cursory glance, and these four bands are prepared to take you on a guided tour. All ages. $10. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. Andrea Swensson

 
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