Carrie Underwood Toyota Center, April 23
Seemingly shoved off the queen-of-country throne by Taylor Swift's ascendancy, Carrie Underwood may have taken the title right back now that Swift has crossed over completely into the pop realm. No one will ever mistake Underwood for Loretta Lynn, of course, but her Oklahoma twang (and background) is still front and center in her songs, and her vocal chords are the sturdiest of her generation.
Underwood's fourth album, Blown Away, challenged for the top-selling country album of 2012 with a wide variety of material, from min-imovie "Two Black Cadillacs" to double-barreled single-gal's anthem "Cupid's Got a Shotgun." With Hunter Hayes. CHRIS GRAY
Filter Scout Bar, April 23
Filter hit modern-rock radio hard and heavy with 1995's industrial-tinged single "Hey Man, Nice Shot" from the Cleveland-formed group's debut Short Bus. For lead singer Richard Patrick, the band's 2010 album The Trouble with Angels was a step forward, but had its aural pulse on what got Filter to the big time all those years ago.
"I've felt it was important to really get back to my roots," he told Rocks Off at the time. "When I went on tour a couple years ago, all the fans wanted more of what put me on the map originally. So I made this album for the fans." Filter has now followed Angels with the upcoming The Sun Comes Out Tonight, due in June. CRAIG HLAVATY
The Lumineers Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, April 24
Boy, that was quick. Denver Americana-pop trio the Lumineers were in Houston not that long ago, at Fitzgerald's in May 2012, right about the time a maddeningly infectious acoustic song called "Ho Hey" was starting to get noticed. Not even a year later, "Ho Hey" has completely saturated pop culture, and the Lumineers have been everywhere from Saturday Night Live to the Grammys, where they lost the New Artist statuette to fellow Top 40 ingenues fun.
The band's sudden success, short songs and meager output thus far -- one album, last year's Lumineers (Dualtone) -- does beg the question of how they'll fill up a headlining set 60 to 90 minutes deep, but Lumineers' roots actually twist back nearly a decade. They'll think of something. CHRIS GRAY
Omotai Rudyard's, April 24
Seeing as how, as one of Houston's top metal acts, Omotai's live prowess is always shouted from the rooftops, I was curious how that energy translated into their first full-length album, Terrestrial Grief. The answer is that Grief, released in late 2012, translates mostly as a hard-hitting throat-punch of assaultive noise that frightens and pleases. If a controlled building implosion had Dimebag Darrell melodies woven amongst the falling debris, this is exactly what it would sound like.
For me, though, Grief sounds much more like a sped-up version of the Pixies. The distortion hides incredibly catchy, almost pop melodies that seem to throb in and out of the all-encompassing rage. JEF WITH ONE F
Paramore Bayou Music Center, April 24
It's a whole new Paramore, as an especially nasty split from the founding Ferro brothers a couple of years back has left Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis and Taylor York soldiering on as a trio with one hell of a score to settle. The sticky, bruised fruits of their labor are all over the brand-new, defiantly titled Paramore (Fueled by Ramen), which makes no bones about its origins. The album's very first lyrics, from "Fast In My Car," are "Been through the wringer a couple times/ I came up callous and cruel."
But seemingly as loaded with as many hooks as hard feelings, Paramore could wind up becoming one of the most-acclaimed and top-selling alt-rock albums of 2013. The young woman who put her band on the map with the single "Misery Business" hasn't lost her touch for candy-coated drama, that's for sure. CHRIS GRAY
Gaslight Anthem House of Blues, April 24
This Springsteen-esque New Jersey rock act released its fourth full-length, Handwritten, last summer to fan and critical acclaim. Lead singer Brian Fallon is turning into one of the sturdiest songwriters of his generation, as cuts like "Too Much Blood" unleash his Jersey growl to great effect.
Futhering Gaslight's bona fides, Boss producer Brendan O'Brien was behind the boards for Handwritten, and none other than High Fidelity author Nick Hornby even handled the liner notes. Remember liner notes? CRAIG HLAVATY