Johnny & the Apple Stompers
The self-proclaimed "hardest-drinking band in Northeast Ohio" is used to pro bono performances, often taking to the streets of their hometown of Kent — presumably to scrounge together enough cash to pay the night's bar tab. Johnny & the Apple Stompers play a folky, bluegrass style of music, complete with banjo, washboard, and fiddle. But this isn't old-timey music. These youngsters avoid the traditional slower rhythms in favor of upbeat, raucous tunes. And like most music of this kind, it tends to sound better and more alive onstage than it does on record. Credit the quartet, which brings relentless energy to every performance, regardless of the setting or circumstance. Their show this week at the Grog Shop is free, but that doesn't mean you can't buy the guys a beer or two. The donation can only increase the band's bravado and vigor, making their squawking performance all the more awesome. — Scott Smith
With Shouting Thomas Torment, Crooked River Blues Band, and Wolfboy Slim. 8 p.m. Thursday, January 5. Grog Shop. Free; call 216-321-5588 or visit grogshop.gs.
Iris DeMent seemed to come out of nowhere when she released her 1992 debut, Infamous Angel. She actually came from Kansas City, but her timeless, ethereal twang originated in rural Arkansas, where she was born. Drawing on the old-time traditional sounds of the Carter Family and other Dust Bowl balladeers, DeMent was inspired by Emmylou Harris and set the stage for new traditionalists like Gillian Welch. The exquisite timelessness of "Let the Mystery Be" and "Our Town" led to a major label and a Grammy nomination for her second album, 1994's My Life. She disappeared after 1996's political The Way I Should, save for a few sporadic appearances on other people's records. She put out an album of country gospel covers in 2004 ... then disappeared again. She now lives in rural Iowa with her husband, folk singer Greg Brown. Rumor is she's working on a record. With any luck, we'll hear some of those new songs at the Kent Stage this weekend. — Michael Berick
8 p.m. Friday, January 6. Kent Stage. Tickets: $25.50; call 330-677-5005 or visit thekentstage.com.
Wish You Were Here
Wish You Were Here founders Jim Tigue and Eric "Eroc" Sosinski were recently honored with a Resolution of Congratulations passed by Cleveland City Council recognizing their musical accomplishments of the past 25 years. But the Pink Floyd cover band isn't just a Cleveland favorite; their care, precision, and proficiency with the Waters/Gilmour catalog has made them one of the nation's premier tribute acts. Over the years, they've offered track-by-track reproductions of The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, and the 1977 Animals show at Cleveland Stadium's World Series of Rock. This weekend they're playing the 1975 album that gave them their name. If you're still tweaking over the recent gargantuan Experience reissue of Wish You Were Here you scored as part of your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus loot, you'll definitely want to be at House of Blues on Friday. — Peter Chakerian
9 p.m. Friday, January 6. House of Blues. Tickets: $16.50-$25; call 216-523-2583 or visit houseofblues.com.
The Jamaica-born Aiken brothers (drummer "King David," singer Wayne, and bassist Paul Aiken) brought the word of Jah from Kingston to Cleveland more than a quarter-century ago. Jah Messengers' message is a simple one involving roots, rock, and reggae. Even with Bob Marley as a major influence, these rastas aren't pot preachers. The group emphasizes smoking struggles by other means, mainly through faith in the Rastafarian prophet Jah. And their reggae emphasizes beat over all else. Even though they've been making music since the '80s, Jah Messengers didn't get around to releasing their debut album — the tightly played Long, Long Way — until two years ago. It features simmering sax solos (courtesy of Lloyd Pearson) flanked by choppy reggae rhythms. "Sista Tee" Dean tickles the ivories, while the Aikens fill in almost everything else. It's a great combo that pulsates with power onstage. — Phil Barnes
With Doc Enigma and Red Strype. 9 p.m. Saturday, January 7. Beachland Tavern. Tickets: $8; call 216-383-1124 or visit beachlandballroom.com.
Washington, D.C. rapper Wale made his name with a 2008 Seinfeld-centric mixtape called (what else?) The Mixtape About Nothing. If you haven't heard it, you should — it's crazy good. But his official debut album, 2009's Attention Deficit, lacked the wit and bite that made his mixtapes so excellent. After a two-year break, Wale resurfaced late last year with a new boss (Rick Ross), a new album (Ambition), and a slightly revamped sound. He's more conventional these days, rapping about the good life of strippers, champagne, and sweet rides. But there's still a little bit of the self-effacing nerd lurking in his rhymes. For all of his boasts, Wale doesn't seem all that comfortable with the spoils of the game, even as the beats (supplied by top-name producers like Diplo) celebrate days and nights filled with girls, cash, and clubs. And he can still flow with some force. Our fingers are crossed he'll break out some of those old Seinfeld rhymes when he comes to House of Blues this weekend. — Michael Gallucci
With Black Cobain and Casey Veggies. 8 p.m. Sunday, January 8. House of Blues. Tickets: $25, $20 in advance; call 216-523-2583 or visit houseofblues.com.
Under the Radar
Theophilus London was born in Trinidad, but he now lives in the hipster epicenter of the world: Brooklyn. Accordingly, his hip-hop takes on the hue of his achingly cool neighborhood: He drops retro-leaning lines over old-school beats on his debut album, Timez Are Weird These Days, which follows his breakthrough record, 2009's This Charming Mixtape. Yep, the dude's a Smiths fan, and at the head of the hipster-rap class. He plays the Grog Shop on Wednesday, January 11.