Pop music spring preview: Notable concerts and albums in the coming weeks
Shows include Lykke Li and Lady Gaga; the Kills and Paul Simon are among the acts planning album releases
The annual Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, which turns 5 this year, is always buoyed by the richly eclectic swath of music its organizers assemble. It’s a glowing example of the possibility for peaceful coexistence between the hyper-polished acts that monopolize the country radio airwaves and the grittier acts that keep the soul of country music alive.
The former camp is well represented at the top of this year’s two-day bill April 30 and May 1 in the Jimmy Buffett-soaked hits of Kenny Chesney, the relentlessly sunshiny pop-country of Rascal Flatts and don’t-mess-with-me assertiveness of Carrie Underwood.
What makes this year’s Stagecoach lineup particularly tantalizing is the first West Coast appearance in ages by country queen Loretta Lynn, who demonstrated forcefully with her Jack White-produced 2004 album, “Van Lear Rose,” that she’s still got a few surprises up those puffy ballroom-gown sleeves she adores. Another recently rejuvenated veteran who steps into the spotlight is Leon Russell, one of the first rockers to let his country-freak flag fly in the ’70s with roots albums he made under the pseudonym Hank Wilson.
Ricky Skaggs, who helped usher in a new era of traditional country in the ’80s, has focused in recent years on bluegrass and gospel music. But the multi-instrumentalist revealed recently that he’s strapping on an electric guitar this year to revisit his deep trove of country hits.
Stagecoach also typically offers up bona fide left-field delights, and this year that includes the West Coast debut of the Cleverlys. This whimsical Nashville outfit applies no-joke instrumental chops and multi-part vocals to material including Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and British prog-rock band Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Gentlemen, start your yodels. -- Randy Lewis
March 9: Lykke Li. This young Scandinavian turned heads with her 2008 debut, “Youth Novels,” a sweet pop effort with surprisingly economical, rhythmic-based arrangements. New effort “Wounded Rhymes” is a bit more ice cold, this despite largely being recorded in Los Angeles. Dance pop regularly deals with heartbreak, but rarely does it do so this primal. El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Wednesday. Sold out. www.theelrey.com. -- Todd Martens
March 22: Raphael Saadiq. One of the neglected aspects of Mick Jagger's Grammy performance last month was his backing band. During the Rolling Stones singer's take on Solomon Burke's “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” behind him on guitar was multitalented vocalist-songwriter-style icon Saadiq as well as other members of the group that helped make “Stone Rollin'” (out May 10), Saadiq's propulsive new album. The singer, who made his name in the '90s as part of new jack swing group Tony! Toni! Toné, has, over the last couple of albums, drawn from the wellspring of rhythm and blues old and new. On “Stone Rollin',” he turns up the volume. The Who used to call this stuff “maximum R&B.” In Saadiq's hands, it's more like “R&B to the max.” The Music Box, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. March 22, $29.50. http://themusicboxla/. Also at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Indio, Calif., April 16. Sold out. www.coachella.com. -- Randall Roberts
March 24-25: Abigail Washburn. Washburn is practically a world music scene unto herself: She was born in Illinois, spent considerable time in China, where she first took up the banjo before returning to the U.S. and settling in Vermont, then Nashville. Her new album, “City of Refuge,” includes more of the uncommonly beautiful songs in which she melds elements borne of her varied travels. Hotel Café, 16231/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A. 9:30 p.m. March 24, ticket price to be determined, www.hotelcafe.com; McCabe's Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. March 25, $15. www.mccabes.com. -- RL
March 28: Lady Gaga. With a new album due this spring, Gaga's pop-meets-performance art concert concept the Monster's Ball is in its waning stages. For the uninitiated, there will be fake blood, flaming brassieres and acrobatics staged around a piano. Costumes are not mandatory, but encouraged. Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa, L.A. 8 p.m. March 28. $51-$182. www.staplescenter.com. Also March 31 at the Honda Center, Anaheim. --TM
April 23: Robert Plant and Band of Joy. Though Plant's working without Alison Krauss, with whom he partnered for the Grammy-winning 2007 album “Raising Sand,” his Band of Joy explores similar shadows of American roots music. Plant's vocals are low-key with this project, and whether tackling blues, country or even the haunting rock of little-known Minnesota band Low, the emphasis is on the atmospheres. Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. April 23. $51-$110. www.greektheatrela.com. --TM
March 22: Solomon Burke, “Hold on Tight” On the soul music great's final album, Burke is backed by Amsterdam blues-rock-soul band De Dijk (The Dike) on songs the group wrote in Dutch but translated into English for him to sing on this collaboration. Burke was on his way to a concert with the band last fall when he died at age 70.
April 5: The Kills, “Blood Pressures” Kills singer Alison Mosshart may be best-known stateside for her work with Jack White as part of the Dead Weather, but she made her reputation as half of the Kills with cofounder Jamie Hince. On their latest full-length, the pair continue to create devastatingly solid — but strikingly modern — blues-based cut-and-paste rock. -RR
April 12: Paul Simon, “So Beautiful or So What” Simon teased his new album during the holiday season when he unveiled “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” a topical number that references war and recession. It also continued Simon's unique exploration of worldly sounds, melding Caribbean rhythms with a reverberating accordion to create an island-meets-gospel feel. -- TM
April 26: The Airborne Toxic Event, “All at Once” The local literate rockers had a breakout with their 2008 self-titled debut and will celebrate the release of their highly anticipated new album, "All at Once,” with a mini-L.A. residency from April 25 to 28. If first single, “Changing,” is any indication, the act continues to walk a line between epic-sized drama and concise, guitar-driven arrangements. For more details on the L.A. shows, go to www.theairbornetoxicevent.com. -- TM
Images, from top left: Mikel Jollett of the Airborne Toxic Event (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times); Raphael Saadiq (Getty Images); Lykke Li (Getty Images) Loretta Lynnn (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times); Lady Gaga (Getty Images)