Obscure and underrated, Sam Roberts' honest, earthy, classic rock 'n' roll features some of the finest balladry in music today. His debut, The Inhuman Condition, was the best-selling independent record release of all time in his native Canada. We Were Born in a Flame from 2003 is one of the best records of this decade, and 2008's Love at the End of the World earns its accolades.
"About a month after the tour of our previous record, [2006's] Chemical City, I took a month to gather the ideas marinating in my brain," says Roberts via phone from a tour stop in Portland, Maine. "It just happened to coincide with the birth of my little girl in early 2007. It was a collision of musical ideas and a huge change in my life. I had a lot to draw on for this record."
Love is a spiritual journey through 13 songs that wrestle with faith ("Stripmall Religion"), fatherhood ("Lions of the Kalahari") and the changing landscapes of life and love ("Oh Maria"). The single "Them Kids" basically rebukes this new generation's apathy towards classic rock. "I listen to the music today and don't feel it in the same way," he says. "You begin to realize that you're not the young driving force behind change any more. In fact, you're holding on to what came before. You take a step back and realize there's a pattern with your parents who say the same thing about your music. I think that's what the song is trying to address - that cycle, that generation gap and that fear."
Catch Roberts' ode to vintage rock before it's gone at the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Hts., 216.321.5588). Mother Mother opens up at 8 p.m. Tickets: $8 advance, $10 day of show. - Keith Gribbins
Originally from upstate New York, Grammy-nominated bluegrass singer Claire Lynch moved to Alabama during her formative years, where she fell in love with southern music and was inspired to write her own material. Soon after, she was fronting the Front Porch String Band. That lasted until 1981, when she started her solo career (the band would regroup a decade later for another nine years). Lynch's songs have been recorded by singers like Patty Loveless and Kathy Mattea, and she's done session work as a background singer with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and Linda Ronstadt, among others. She's also broken new ground in playing diverse venues: In 2007, her band was the first bluegrass outfit to perform in a German opera house. Lynch is currently working on her next release, her first new recording since 2006's New Day, while touring incessantly, backed by Toledo-raised guitarist/banjoist Jim Hurst, bassist Mark Schatz and fiddle player Jason Thomas. The show starts at 8 p.m. at the Kent Stage (175 E. Main St., 330.677.5005). Tickets: $20 advance, $25 day of show. - Ernest Barteldes
As a recording engineer and producer, Martin Bisi boasts a staggering résumé that includes projects with Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, John Zorn, White Zombie, Herbie Hancock and countless other music gods. As a recording artist and performer, Bisi has just released a fearlessly demented album of original songs called Sirens of the Apocalypse. Bisi's fierce, assured delivery of his cryptic and periodically goofy material demands serious, attentive respect. The darkly tongue-in-cheek, stylistically schizophrenic rock album veers between deliriously bouncy melodies and Cake-like talk-singing. Sirens sounds in spots like a severely warped Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood 45, but the disc's dominant vibe more resembles a combined Shane MacGowan/Leonard Cohen hangover. Michael Kaminski, Dirt and veteran local luminaries Home & Garden open at 9 p.m. at Now That's Class (11213 Detroit Ave., 216.221.8576). Tickets: $5. - Michael David Toth
Matthew Houck is Phosphorescent. One of the primary advantages of a one-man-band is that you can follow your muse with no concerns about bandmates, switching sounds and cities as you choose. Houck has done this, veering from the fairly straightforward folk-rock of his debut EP The Weight of Flight to the disarmingly awesome and simultaneously jaunty/despondent Aw Come Aw Wry (if you've never heard "Joe Tex, These Taming Blues" then you've missed one of 2005's best songs). Houck also moved his home base from Athens, Georgia to Brooklyn, and it's from there that Houck dropped the jaunty part of his sound for 2007's excellent Pride. It's encouraging that Phosphorescent's just-released album of Willie Nelson covers, To Willie, brings back a bit of it; the ease of "Pick Up the Tempo" and "I Gotta Get Drunk" show that Houck still knows how to have fun. But Willie's best moments, like the majestic "Can I Sleep In Your Arms," find Houck infusing Nelson's songs with his own sensibility. The show starts at 9 p.m. with Mike Bones and Brian Straw at the Beachland Tavern (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124). Tickets: $8. - Chris Drabick
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell spent six years as a key member of southern-rock powerhouse the Drive-By Truckers. In terms of songwriting, however, he was something of the George Harrison to the band's Lennon and McCartney, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. After landing just a few tunes per DBT disc, Isbell moved on to a solo career. The kudzu-covered rock on his own records, 2007's Sirens of the Ditch and a recently released self-titled CD, reflects his Alabama upbringing, near music mecca Muscle Shoals. Ably backed by his new band, the 400 Unit, Isbell delivers a doublewide load of rock rave-ups ("Good"), country ballads ("Cigarettes and Wine") and Southern soul (the Stax-like "No Choice in the Matter." While he might not favor the Truckers' concept-album approach, he too tackles big topics, as the haunting "Soldiers Get Strange" and the smalltown saga "Streetlights" demonstrate. Leaving a successful band often is a risky proposition, but Isbell is showing that he made the right choice. This ex-Trucker is confidently charting his own route on the Americana highway. Deer Tick opens at 9 p.m. at the Beachland Ballroom (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124). Tickets: $12 in advance, $14 at door. - Michael Berick
These Arms Are Snakes
From the beginning, Seattle-based These Arms Are Snakes has walked the shivery line between punk's chaotic intensity and math-rock's cool control, promising much and delivering just enough. Its 2003 debut EP, This Is Meant to Hurt You, and the full-length follow-ups, 2004's Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home and 2006's Easter, were post- rock nuggets flecked with shades of prog bombast and punk dissonance - like a chain-gang escape by Girls Against Boys, King Crimson and Public Image Ltd. On its latest album, last fall's Tail Swallower and Dove, TAAS integrate all its diverse but not so disparate sonic threads into a unified pattern. Perhaps the quartet's five-year plan has come to fruition, or perhaps it's just grown into the sound it's been hinting at since rising from the ashes of Botch and Kill Sadie. Either way, Tail Swallower and Dove represents These Arms Are Snakes' ability to find the commonality within its influences while maintaining its own sonic identity. Darker My Love and All the Saints open at 8 p.m. at the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216.321.5588). Tickets: $8 advance, $10 day of show. - Brian Baker
Don't dismiss old man Tom Jones yet. His latest album, 24 Hours, kicks off with the ecstatic "I'm Alive," an uptempo number buoyed by his screaming, "I'm alive and I'm doing my thing and singing my song," before busting into a series of "baby, baby, baby" chants. Things subsequently settle down a bunch. "If He Should Ever Leave You" features strings and horns, as Jones croons about a woman he's got a thing for. Jones' voice sounds strong on tunes like the soulful "We Got Love," "In Style and Rhythm" and "Give a Little Love," the album's punchiest number. While the CD suffers from too many ballads, you can bet that Jones will emphasize his more upbeat material (you know, "What's New Pussycat?," "It's Not Unusual," material from his two albums of covers) in his live show, which comes to House of Blues (308 Euclid Ave., 216.523.2583) at 9 tonight. Tickets: $50 advance, $55 day of show. - Jeff Niesel