Shows of the Week: A Pop Star Turned Intimate Indie Songstress

McGonigel's Mucky Duck, February 1 and 2
Best known for the distinctive piano intro of her 2002 orchestral-pop hit “A Thousand Miles,” NYC-born Vanessa Carlton is now a Nashville resident, wife (of Deer Tick’s John McCaulay) and mom to a baby girl. For her fifth album, last fall’s Liberman — named after her grandfather — Carlton points her neoclassical piano stylings in a much more indie-minded direction, slowing the tempos, scaling back the production to a minimum, cultivating a mood of mystery and melancholy, and basically leaving her Top 40 past in the dust. To reintroduce herself to her fans at the most intimate level possible, Carlton is playing two nights at the Duck in favor of a larger venue, and the whispery tone of her new songs is a perfect match for the beloved Houston listening room.

Walters Downtown, February 3
Bully's full-spirited blend of '90s-alternative and garage rock will no doubt lead to a raucous performance at Walters Wednesday. After sharing bills with bands including Best Coast and Jeff the Brotherhood, this is finally Bully's first U.S. headlining tour, following its 2015 debut LP, Feels Like. Diet Cig will open. MEAGAN FLYNN

Revention Music Center, February 4
While Lamb of God just visited Houston at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion last fall with Slipknot, it’s been almost a year since Anthrax has graced the Bayou City with their thrashy holiness. The Houston Press recently spoke with cover artist, lyric writer, riff-maker and full-time drummer Charlie Benante, who promised us that this upcoming show will feature new tracks off their soon-to-be released album, For All Kings. Not only will the new tracks be played, but naturally their very best deep cuts to bring out your inner headbanging, '80s-loving metalhead self. We also fully expect Lamb of God to play selections from their own incredibly diverse latest LP, Strum und Drang, which contains some of their best songs to date. Don’t be antisocial — if you’ve got the time, come to the madhouse and get caught in a mosh in the belly of the beast. KRISTY LOYE

McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, February 5
A former member of the Trishas and Twilight Hotel, Canadian-born Brandy Zdan eventually split Austin for Nashville; the change of scenery seems to have been good for her, if new album Brandy Zdan is any barometer. With the help of producer Teddy Morgan, Zdan has dropped an interesting pop record that moves her away from the territory staked out by her former bands and nearer the realm of mainstream radio. With help from members of My Morning Jacket, the first single “More of a Man” is one of those perfect earworms that causes the request line to light up and proves Zdan is a major triple-threat talent. Her debut full-length certainly proves that she belongs in the top echelons of a crop of fresh female singers who are quickly coming into their own without any push from Music Row. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

Bruja Mansion (2275 Des Jardines), February 6
Seattle’s Mega Bog, fronted by singer/guitarist Erin Birgy, has an avant-garde take on pop music reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s experimental flirtations with jazz. The band — actually more of a collective, given the involvement of 65 musicians since it was formed in 2008 — specializes in New Age-y, purposely vague compositions that sound like a theme song for an Alice In Wonderland dream, music designed for smarty-pants stoners who groove to ambient vibes and whispered vocals. Local experimental ensemble Ak’chamel makes for a perfect pairing on this wack-job bill at Third Ward/Gulfgate alternative venue Bruja Mansion. (Hint: It's a house.) WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

Arena Theatre, February 6
A top R&B performer for decades, Charlie Wilson continues to make outstanding music today. As a member of the Gap Band (with brothers Ronnie and Robert), the Tulsa native dominated the funk scene for nearly 20 years with hits like 1982’s “You Dropped a Bomb On Me,” which, among other achievements, made the group a profound influence on the New Jack Swing generation. After going solo for good on 2000’s Bridging the Gap, Wilson (who turned 63 last week) sealed his headliner status with a succession of albums showcasing his upbeat energy, undying romanticism and stylistic diversity; most recently, he scored two Grammy nominations for last year’s Forever Charlie. Wilson has been through both Toyota Center and the Woodlands Pavilion fairly recently, but the swoons should come especially fast and furious at this Arena Theatre date billed as an “Up Close & Personal” evening with Uncle Charlie.

Continental Club, Feburary 6
The torch Jason James carries for traditional country music burns so brightly it lights up a spectrum from George Jones all the way to Kevin Fowler. But it all goes back to Hank Williams Sr. for the Texas City native; an epiphany while listening to “Alone and Forsaken” convinced the twentysomething James to throw over his punk-rock aspirations for what Hank Thompson once called the wild side of life. Unbeknownst to James, his mom had sent some of his demos to New West Records, which signed up ex-Houston honky-tonk hero John Evans to produce and released James’s self-titled debut LP last August. A few months on, James’s social calendar grows evermore crowded: Besides his monthly at Houston’s Cottonwood and this Saturday’s gig, James will perform at next month’s Ameripolitan Music Awards in Austin — he’s nominated for “Honky Tonk Male” — and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Hideout tent on March 5. With the Beaumonts and Hard Luck Revival.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray