LOS LOBOS/JORMA KAUKONEN
Long before Americana had a name, Los Lobos were playing it. Their celebrated 1984 album, How Will the Wolf Survive?, drew from both sides of the border, laying down sounds of soul, blues, country, and traditional Mexican strains. Blessed with three talented songwriters, Los Lobos' identity emerged through an eclectic mix from the very start. The band's personality survived and thrived over a dozen-plus records, three Grammys, and a number of high-profile collaborations. That's certainly the case with their latest album, Tin Can Trust. Like flavors in a slowly simmered stew, the group's signature elements merge into each other, further distinguishing one of the most characteristic sounds of the past few decades. Opener Jorma Kaukonen's legacy is just as strong. In 1969, the Jefferson Airplane guitarist swam against the electric current and spun off the acoustic side project Hot Tuna, shifting his focus from San Francisco psychedelia to traditional folk and blues. Kaukonen is firmly dug into that acoustic turf these days: Last year's River of Time is an engaging set of nicely crafted ballads, graceful instrumentals, and plenty of back-porch pickin'. — Duane Verh
8 p.m. Thursday, November 4. Cleveland Masonic Auditorium. Tickets: $35; call 216-701-0809 or go to ticketweb.com.
Originally planned as a side project to keep John Stirratt busy during Wilco's infrequent downtimes, the Autumn Defense eventually became a time-consuming gig for the bass player. Anchored by Stirratt and Wilco guitarist Pat Sansone, the band plays a pretty mix of '60s-style rock and '70s AM pop. Stirratt did most of the songwriting on the Autumn Defense's 2001 debut, The Green Hour, leaving Sansone to focus on the more technical details. But they're now sharing duties on their new album, Once Around, a collection of folk-rock tunes with well-crafted melodies that sound like they could be 35 years old. You can expect to hear a bunch of songs from Once Around — as well as fan favorites "Revolutionary Mind," "Written in the Snow," and "Spend Your Life" — when the Autumn Defense come to town this weekend. — Aaron Fowler
With Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion. 9 p.m. Sunday, November 7. Beachland Tavern. Tickets: $16; call 216-383-1124 or go to beachlandballroom.com.
The tradition of the piano-pop troubadour is long and varied — from Tom Lehrer's bawdy satire to Todd Rundgren's whimsical gravity to the emotional and commercial weight of Elton John and Billy Joel to Ben Folds' new-generation makeover. Currently at the end of the evolutionary chain sits Hugo (born Jon Hugo Unger), a keyboard craftsman with wickedly honed senses of humor and melody. One listen to his mash-up of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" reveals the essence of Hugo's quirky gifts. (His recent cover of "99 Problems" is equally glorious.) Like Folds, Hugo invests his songs with irresistible swing and swagger that incorporate the fundamental elements of piano pop through the ages, while weaving hints of Eels, Spoon, and Weezer into the mix. It's all tied together with pinches of Tropicália and drama-to-comedy Broadway storytelling. Like the best pop music, Hugo encompasses a full range of emotions in four minutes, never forgetting that the laughs, tears, and thoughtful reflections must also be entertaining. — Brian Baker
With One Eskimo and Scars on 45. 8 p.m. Sunday, November 7. Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $15; call 216-383-1124 or go to beachlandballroom.com.
Azure Ray's Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have traveled a twisty path since meeting as teenagers at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and forming their first band in the mid-'90s. The pair eventually headed to Athens, Georgia, where they realized their dream-pop aspirations as Azure Ray almost a decade ago. They finally settled in Omaha, where they fell in with Conor Oberst and pals. Azure Ray released three albums before dissolving in 2004. Taylor and Fink went on to other projects — including solo albums from Taylor and records by Art in Manila and O+S for Fink — before reuniting for a one-off show in 2008. That led to a full-blown reformation and a gorgeous new album, Drawing Down the Moon, which quivers somewhere between the best work of Aimee Mann and Stephin Merritt. Although they never really went away, there's something exquisitely beautiful that happens when Taylor and Fink come together as Azure Ray. Just ask any of the rabid fans who'll be lining up for this long-overdue show. — Baker
With Tim Fite, James Husband, and Bethesda. 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 9. Grog Shop. Tickets: $12, $10 in advance; call 216-321-5588 or go to grogshop.gs.
Mose Allison is in a class all by himself. The veteran jazzman (who'll turn 83 next week) pretty much set the tone for laidback singers everywhere — from rock and R&B to jazz and country. Allison doesn't sing so much as he sorta talks his way through songs, while his equally chill piano playing coasts breezily alongside. His songs have been covered by the Who, Elvis Costello, and the Clash. Van Morrison recorded a whole album of his work. And he's influenced dozens of other artists over the years (including the Pixies, who named a song after him). Earlier this year, Allison released The Way of the World, his most durable album in decades. He still sparks, combining a bit of mischievous grandpa with his old-school jazz-hipster act. The music legend's song titles say everything you need to know about him: "I Don't Worry About a Thing." "Your Mind Is on Vacation." "Swingin' Machine." Allison is a funny, warm, and engaging performer onstage, taking audiences on a guided tour of his catalog. He's accommodating and gracious — they really don't make them like him anymore. Go see him while you still have the chance. — Michael Gallucci
Mose Allison. 7 and 9 p.m. Tuesday, November 9. Nighttown. Tickets: $25; call 216-795-0550 or go to nighttowncleveland.com.