Shows of the Week: Back-to-Back Nights of Roots-Music Royalty

Toyota Center, April 28
With American Idol recently going off the air, Carrie Underwood stands as the best example of the show’s original subtitle: "The search for a superstar." Lots of her fellow former contestants have gone on to successful showbiz careers, but the 33-year-old Oklahoman and Season 4 winner is the only one who can rightfully be called a superstar. Her performance of 2014’s “Something In the Water” on the Idol series finale was enough to put the song back on Billboard’s Christian Digital Songs chart, where it reached No. 1 this week, more evidence that Underwood possesses not only country music’s most powerful voice but its most wholesome girl-next-door image — even today, when it's closer to young-mom-next-door, that's about the most potent combination there is in Nashville. Tonight's Houston stop of her “Storyteller” tour — taken from the 2015 album of the same name, Underwood's sixth No. 1 country LP and source of Top 5 hits “Smoke Break” and “Heartbeat” — was postponed because of last week’s historic flooding.

Under the Volcano, April 27
The younger brother of punk pioneer and Austin icon Alejandro Escovedo, Javier Escovedo has recently relocated from California to San Marcos just in time to drop his second solo record, Kicked Out of Eden, on Jeff Smith’s Saustex label. A veteran of legendary California punk band the Zeros as well as his collaboration with Alejandro and Jon Dee Graham in the short-lived Austin sensation True Believers, Javier has held hard to the rock-till-you-drop New York Dolls ethos throughout his career. Backed by Thierry Le Cos (Eve Monsees Band), Michael “Cornbread” Traylor, Hector Munoz and Henri Herbert, Escovedo stands a good chance of rocking Under the Volcano as hard it has ever been by artists like Chuck Prophet, Barrence Whitfield and the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra. This should be a true rock and roll free-for-all. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

Revention Music Center, April 28
Considering the band has been around since the late ‘90s, and during that time has managed to chart exactly one song (“I’m Amazed”) on Billboard’s U.S. Rock chart, it’s an impressive feat that My Morning Jacket continues to sell out large venues and headline major festivals. If anything, enigmatic front man Jim James and his bandmates have proven that lack of radio play doesn’t necessarily beget commercial failure. Or maybe MMJ is simply the new Phish, a band that never really resonated commercially but whose live shows are among those of legend. The quintet is similarly known for its jam-band ways, often rolling one ten-minute song into another, making for a catalog that's among the most unique in rock over the past 15 years. Some tracks scream for mainstream acceptance, some couldn’t care less and others, to put it mildly, are bizarre as hell. With the Barr Brothers. CLINT HALE

House of Blues, April 28
Already descended from Southern literary royalty — Clinton-era U.S. poet laureate Miller Williams — Lucinda Williams has lately assumed another title: Empress of Americana. Last year, the long-ago Houstonian won Album of the Year at the Americana Music Awards for 2014’s Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, a leisurely but emotionally knotty double album that showcases Williams, now 63, at the peak of her abundant talents. But Spirit was also the inaugural release on Williams’s label Highway 20 Records, meaning that after a lifetime of sometimes butting heads with more business-minded music-industry folks, now Williams calls all the creative shots. For proof, look no further than February’s followup, Ghosts of Highway 20. Another double-length effort, it finds Williams’s vocals a little throatier; the arrangements a little more haunting than usual (no easy feat); and her stripped-bare vignettes about thorny romantic entanglements, hardcore grieving and naked loneliness shining brighter than ever.

Revention Music Center, April 29
Local roots-music fans will have to wait till next time for that dream Lucinda Williams/Bonnie Raitt double bill, but back-to-back nights ain’t so bad, either. Raitt is coming off a scene-stealing appearance at February’s Grammy B.B. King tribute alongside Chris Stapleton and Gary Clark Jr., plus a new record: Dig In Deep, her first since 2012’s Slipstream and sixth since 1989’s Grammy-sweeping “comeback” Nick of Time. No reason for Raitt to reinvent the wheel since then, so Dig In delivers another reliable mix of subtly funky soft-rockers, gritty R&B shuffles with plenty of B-3 and a last-call lament or two (“Undone”) that proves consistency is its own reward. She’s not above tucking in neat surprise covers of INXS’s “Need You Tonight” and Los Lobos’ “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” to draw a few extra smiles, too.

Sam Houston Race Park, April 30
After some pretty bleak years, bands like Blackberry Smoke are helping restore the good name of old-school Southern rock with none of the messy political baggage tied up in certain symbols employed by their brethren a generation or two ago. Long-haired, mostly bearded and in love with every Rolling Stones album between Beggar’s Banquet and Black and Blue, the Atlanta quintet is practically country music these days, and so much the better. Enlisting the services of top producer Brendan O’Brien — and thus instantly conjuring memories of one of O’Brien’s greatest clients, the Black Crowes — BBS have made a career record with 2015’s Holding All the Roses. Only their fourth full-length LP since 2004 (which should be a clue to how much time they spend on tour), Roses is a little hazy, a little rude, and loaded with swaggering guitars and good-ole-boy attitude. In other words, it’s everything great Southern rock should be.

Continental Club, April 30
Songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Jon Crain has the ideal dual citizenship — he splits time between his hometown of Houston and Austin — and he’s used it to good advantage on his latest album, Part of My Days, which he is releasing via a special early show at the Continental. Crain, who owns a construction company, has been making records (“one every ten years”) since the Eighties; his latest is a bone-jarring mess of blues-funk featuring Austin aces like bassist Yoggie Musgraves and drummer Brannen Temple locking down the bottom. Crain can burn the strings, but his songwriting deserves equal attention. Crain is backing out of his day job to concentrate on music and plans to be playing Houston more in the future. If he can keep this band together, look for him to make waves around town wherever people are rocking — to the blues and the funk. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
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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