Early Quintron albums were noisy, anarchic affairs, but time has healed this musical open wound into something relatively accessible, even danceable, and Organ Solo is distinguished by multilayered production courtesy of garage-punk legend Tim Kerr. Somewhere between modern Electro and a 1940s roller-rink accompanist on his last brain cell, Mr. Quintron continues to take the whole novelty thing to new heights. -- Scott Faingold

Saturday, May 29, Fat Cat's, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.

Gary Jules/Matthew Ryan

Gary Jules: A star.
Gary Jules: A star.
The Damnations
The Damnations

Sometimes your lucky break can come in the most unlikely of ways. When musician-producer Michael Andrews couldn't afford U2's "MLK" for the Donnie Darko soundtrack, he asked an old high school pal, singer-songwriter Gary Jules, to sing a cover of Tears For Fears' "Mad World." The spare, haunting rendition became a slowly building phenomenon, eventually topping the pop charts in the UK and helping Jules to get his self-released disc Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets reissued on Universal. (Ironically, Jules was dropped from the Universal-owned A&M Records following his 1998 debut, Greetings from the Side.)

While "Mad World" is Snakeoil's drawing card, Jules's originals reveal his exceptional songwriting gifts. His introspective, literate sound recalls such singer-songwriters as Paul Simon and Cat Stevens, and he proves particularly adept at penning bittersweet portraits of his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. While tunes like "DTLA," "The Princess of Hollywood Way" and "Something Else" essay life at the fringes of glamorous Hollywood, they speak to the universal truths of broken dreams and bruised hearts.

Co-headliner Matthew Ryan also is an A&M refugee; however, he hasn't yet had Jules's big commercial break. Not that he isn't deserving of one. His most recent album, Regret over the Wires (Hybrid Recordings), stands as not only his best disc yet but also one of 2003's finest offerings. The husky-voiced Ryan makes judicious use of synths, guitar trickery and ambient organ to give an invigorating jolt to his muscular heartlands rock. If something can be called "joyously melancholic," it's a song like "Little Moments," which delves into life's desperate moments while still holding out the possibility of hope. On the superb "Long Blvd.," Ryan hints at his idols Dylan, Earle and Westerberg but never smothers his song's own powerful sense of heartache and loss. Although Texas is home to many talented troubadours, it is well worth the effort to check out these two gifted singer-songwriters from Yankeeland. -- Michael Berick

Tuesday, June 1, Rhythm Room, 1815 Washington Avenue, 713-863-0943.

The Damnations

Back in the late '90s, the Damnations appeared to be a band on the verge of big things. They had made a name for themselves in Austin's fertile and competitive musical hotbed. In 1997, the Austin American-Statesman named them the city's best new act. The following year, the band, fronted by sisters Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly, recorded their major-label debut on Sire Records. But the road to success is treacherous, and Sire stuck an awkward "TX" at the end of their name because there was already another group around called the Damnations.

Despite a well-received record (Half Mad Moon) and a successful round of touring, the band became an unwilling participant in Sire's ill-fated alt-country experiment. But, hell, at least their record got released, unlike those of fellow signees Tim Carroll and Dale Watson.

After Sire severed ties with them, the band sliced the "TX" off their name and soldiered on. They self-released Where It Lands in 2002, and the terrific disc highlighted their strengths: an engaging sound that encompasses both raging cowpunk and quieter folksy stuff, the sisters' potent harmonies and the group's infectious spiritedness.

The Damnations' impressive stylistic range has proved to be double-edged. They can crank up the twang just as well as they can serve it up gentle, but this musical diversity makes them difficult to conveniently pigeonhole.

The recent addition of former Ministry/Scratch Acid drummer Rey Washam to their fold might make you think that the band is exploring even broader musical avenues, but rest assured, the Damnations haven't gone industrial. Even better news: The group has been recording again, and they're in the process of shopping around their demos. -- Michael Berick

Saturday, May 29, Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9899.

Annie Lin, with Bonfire Madigan

Rice grad Annie Lin lets her well-crafted songs do the talking for her. She knows that playing too many local gigs becomes a curse, so she has used a low-key approach while -- get this -- getting out of Houston for national tours and winning raves from the likes of Lisa Loeb and Sarah Harmer. While Lin has drawn myriad comparisons, we'll go with Poe Lite as our wonky little label. The diminutive singer packs a melancholy and delightfully snarky edge in her newer offhand tales of relationship snarls, with lines like "I'll break you like a habit 'cause you keep me comin' back," from "In the Waiting Room." This gig, a homecoming after a show in Chicago in May, will find Lin joined on stage by pal Henna Chou on cello, banjo and guitar. -- Greg Barr

Sunday, May 30, Aurora Picture Show, 800 Aurora, 713-868-2101.

Todd Rundgren

Call him genius, visionary or musical pinball, but Todd Rundgren has bounced through most modern musical styles and media technologies with an ever-present flash of light and sound. Throughout a career of more than 35 years spent producing and performing -- production credits include Grand Funk's We're an American Band, Patti Smith's Wave, XTC's Skylarking, Psychedelic Furs' Forever Now and Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell, as well as his own 1972 double-album masterpiece, Something/Anything? -- Rundgren's ongoing, never-bashful experiments have been equal parts self-indulgence and exploration, unquestioningly supported by a base of near-cultish fans.

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