NRG Arena, December 5
If there are any more beloved living personalities in country music than Dolly Parton, they are probably Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn, but after that the drop-off is pretty steep. (Witness the famous lookalike contest in Urban Cowboy.) But the other two still tour fairly regularly, while Parton is now on her first full-scale U.S. outing in 20 years; Monday will be her first visit to Houston in five. That’s a lot of catching up to do between Parton and her fans, and both the emotions and the heels will be running high. Musically, Parton is promoting August’s Pure and Simple, a relatively modest album in keeping with her turn back towards traditional country that began with 2014’s Blue Smoke, but also worth noting is Rhino’s The Complete Trio Collection, an expanded version of the platinum 1987 album (and its 1999 sequel) she recorded with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.
Warehouse Live, December 8
Countrified offshoot of ‘80s college-rock icons Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker is the less quirky, but no less acerbic, vehicle David Lowery rode to much success on the ‘90s rock charts through singles like “Teen Angst,” “Low” and “I Hate My Generation.” In more recent times, Lowery has taken to bringing both bands out on tour with him (and why not?), but not in Houston this time, meaning Warehouse’s cozy Studio room is in for an up-close whiff of uncut Cracker soul. Lowery and faithful partner/badass guitarist Johnny Hickman most recently planted their flag with 2014’s Berkeley to Bakersfield, a double album that explores the reaches of California far away from Sunset Boulevard or Silicon Valley. Here Cracker is fully able to explore their beautifully split personality, allowing plenty of room for Lowery’s trademark sarcasm (“March of the Billionaires,” “Reaction”) and Hickman’s honky-tonk genius (“King of Bakersfield,” “Get On Down the Road”).
Satellite Bar, December 8
Young Mammals have put in more than a decade as one of the Bayou City’s most exciting and energetic live bands, so it’s not at all surprising that people far beyond Houston have begun to take notice. Last month All Music Guide, the exhaustive online encyclopedia and essential resource for those in the music-writing trade, premiered the quartet’s third full-length LP, Jaguar, the Mammals’ second release on their own Odd Hours Records. Named for French-born director Jean Rouch’s 1967 film about three young men from the country who seek their fortunes in the cities of Ghana’s Gold Coast, Jaguar plots a similar coming-of-age trajectory; the heightened degree of confidence and maturity in the Mammals’ songwriting allows them to conquer every shade of the power-pop spectrum, from exuberant rockers “Auroras” and “Morning Vice” through the soothing, dreamlike “Turfed” and “Rat In the Summer.” With US Weekly and Planet Manhood.
Dosey Doe, December 8
Brand-new mom Amanda Shires has been one of Americana's most in-demand fiddle players for many years; her long résumé includes the Texas Playboys, Thrift Store Cowboys, Rod Picott, John Prine and ex-Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, whom she married in 2013. Due later this month: the Lubbock native’s fifth solo LP, My Piece of Land (another Dave Cobb production), a tasteful and charming reflection on the gentle surrender to domesticity and “Pale Fire” that persists long after you have.
BRUCE ROBISON & KELLY WILLIS
McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, December 8 & 9
Known as “the first couple of Texas Country” the rest of the year, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis spend most of December starring in the most popular Lone Star holiday production this side of A Tuna Christmas. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, the show includes plenty of songs from their albums together (the latest being 2014’s Our Year) and copious solo catalogs, but fans line up for the warm glow that appears whenever they unwrap “Santa Baby” or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” (Note: both evenings are sold out at press time; see twitter.com/theduckhouston to monitor any last-minute availability.)
BLACK JOE LEWIS & THE HONEYBEARS
White Oak Music Hall, December 10
His beloved Dallas Cowboys are riding high atop the NFL, so Black Joe Lewis already has plenty of reasons to puff out his chest nowadays. But he’s also got a new album on the way, February’s Backlash, so if he seems a little extra excited on Saturday, it could be that, too — although considering the boiler-room intensity levels of his gigs with the Honeybears, it might be tough to tell the difference. The dynamic singer and guitarist is one of Texas’s most explosive front men, bootstrapping his gutbucket R&B in Austin’s finest punk dives before capturing his raw angst and off-the-charts energy on the albums Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! and Scandalous. Considering it’s going on four years since Lewis’s last record, 2013’s Electric Slave, there must be a whole bunch of new pent-up frustrations just screaming to surface. Certainly there are if brand-new single “PTP” is any evidence. With Buxton and DJ Fat Tony.
Toyota Center, December 11
Italian tenors whose voices and fans can fill American sports arenas are hardly a dime a dozen, easily making Andrea Bocelli one of the most prominent pop-classical singers of his time. Much of the 58-year-old Tuscany native’s reputation rests on Romanza, the 1996 album that helped introduce him to American audiences with songs like “Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye).” Bocelli has gone on to sell more than 80 million albums worldwide, and his latest Houston appearance arrives on the heels of the recent 20th-anniversary reissue of Romanza as well as 2015’s Cinema, his collection of songs made famous in more than a dozen films, among them West Side Story, Life Is Beautiful and The Godfather. Joining him onstage Sunday will be the Houston Symphony & Chorus and two featured vocalists, Houston Grand Opera soprano Ana Maria Martinez and Katherine McPhee, the former American Idol finalist now appearing on CBS’s espionage drama Scorpion.