Bayou City

Shows of the Week: How Sweet It Is to See Sweet Baby James Again

Shows of the Week: How Sweet It Is to See Sweet Baby James Again
Photo by Timothy White/Courtesy of Concord Records
Toyota Center, August 1
Before This World
, James Taylor’s first album of all-new songs since 2002’s October Road, was more than a decade in the making by the time of its mid-2015 release, hence so-called "new" songs that record his unbridled joy at the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 World Series victory (“Angels of Fenway”) or brooding sympathy for one of the world’s most war-torn nations (“Far Afghanistan”). Some things are worth waiting for; Taylor’s mellow, soothing baritone and lyrical attention to detail are in fine form, and the more recent material should sit easily in the set list alongside his plethora of hits — how sweet it is indeed. As a great bonus, the dapper 69-year-old 2016 Kennedy Center honoree couldn’t have chosen a better touring partner than Bonnie Raitt, who, even with all the Grammys she won in the Nick of Time and Luck of the Draw years, may have never cut an album as funky, soul-searching, cut-loose rockin’ and altogether satisfying as she did on last year’s Dig In Deep.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, August 4
The math of summer tours can make for strange bedfellows. If you want to sell a venue like The Pavilion, you need a bill that will pull in enough people to justify the space while still making some sort of musical sense. Incubus and Jimmy Eat World do not immediately come to mind as natural tour-mates, but as survivors of early-‘00s rock radio it makes a kind of sense. Both have buckets of hits while also having new records to support, both leaned closer to the softer side of rock radio and both know how to put on winning performances. Hell, “Drive” and “The Middle” are cut from the same “Don't Stop Believin'” cloth. The bill gets an energy boost from newcomers Judah and the Lion who, like their music or not, leave it all on the stage every time they perform. CORY GARCIA

Sam Houston Race Park, August 5
A bump to Sam Houston Race Park for its sophomore year signals Beyond the Pines is a festival on the rise. Headlined by Aaron Watson and Shooter Jennings, last year’s debut at cozy Town Green Park (next to the Cynthia Woods Pavilion) proved to be everything a modest regional festival could hope for and more, but this year its star power has expanded right along with it’s lineup’s stylistic reach. Headliner Ryan Bingham, whose low-key Oscar-winning song “The Weary Kind” belies the kind of righteous roadhouse ruckus he kicks up in concert, brings the necessary wattage to hang with one of the nation’s most explosive live outfits, the Living Colour-meets-MC5 L.A. power-soul rockers Vintage Trouble. Further down the bill are a handful of solo artists who each tweak their chosen genre in interesting ways: Nashville soul singer Anderson East, Austin honky-tonk troubadour Jon Wolfe (“Baby This and Baby That”), progressive R&B/hip-hop balladeer Cody Chesnutt and even Venice Beach neo-glam rocker Stevie Starlight. For $38 general-admission tickets, Beyond the Pines promises a solidly left-of-center festival with real entertainment value. Part of the proceeds benefit D.A.W.G. Foundation, which helps place service animals with wounded veterans.

Rockefeller’s, August 5
Best known in their hometown for their marathon gigs at the Continental Club and Last Concert Cafe, Moses Guest is Houston’s most prominent entry on the jam-band circuit, where they’ve held their own alongside big guns like Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident for more than two decades. The quartet's members split time between Texas and Colorado nowadays, while their advanced musicianship is mirrored in front man Graham Guest’s multiple postgraduate degrees, which have resulted in some interesting extracurricular activities — last year he published his first novel, Winter Park, in which one reviewer detected notes of David Foster Wallace, William Faulkner and Franz Kafka. Recently Moses Guest curtailed its extensive touring activities to record Light, their first studio album in a decade, but that hiatus comes to an end this weekend with Saturday’s official album release (and 20th-anniversary show) at Rockefeller’s, plus a bonus in-store 5:30 p.m. Friday at Cactus Music.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, August 6
Somewhat like Eric Clapton a generation or two before him, John Mayer’s career has been a struggle to reconcile his chops as a serious musician (and be taken seriously as such) with his reputation as one of pop’s great ladykillers. To go with his multiple Grammys, once he also had to contend with being painted as perhaps music’s biggest jerk, thanks to a pair of cringeworthy interviews to Playboy and Rolling Stone around the turn of the decade; to say nothing of the songs Taylor Swift (allegedly) wrote about him. That in turn led to an unusual atonement period that included moving to Montana and parlaying his longtime love of the Grateful Dead (which is all over post-Playboy albums like Paradise Valley and Born and Raised) into actually joining surviving members Bob Weir, Bill Kreuzmann and Mickey Hart in Dead and Company. This spring Mayer, now 39, gamely demonstrated his newfound maturity with his first album in four years, The Search For Everything. As a soft-rock/blue-eyed soul mea culpa, it’s not half bad.

White Oak Music Hall, August 6
Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield has been tapped as one of indie-rock’s keener singer-songwriters for the better part of the decade, but new LP Out In the Storm marks a significant step forward. The Alabama-raised Crutchfield moved to Philadelphia after self-releasing her debut, 2012’s American Weekend; the next year’s Cerulean Salt won her a spot on the Merge Records roster, while 2015’s Ivy Tripp set the table for Out In the Storm, which grapples with the anxiety and relief that come when a bad relationship is at last in the rearview mirror. Besides one of 2017’s best singles in “Silver,” the album adeptly balances full-throttle rockers with softer songs; confidence and catharsis course through the bold melodies of “No Question” and “Never Been Wrong.” Not only is it practically begging for year-end best lists, with a lucky break or two Storm could double or even triple the size of the rooms Crutchfield plays. Best catch Waxahatchee on Sunday while those rooms are still relatively small. With Palehound and Outer Spaces.
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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