The Five Best Concerts in Houston This Week: Atmosphere, Rich Hopkins, Merle Haggard, etc.

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Atmosphere House of Blues, November 10

Atmosphere's rather successful label, Rhymesayers Entertainment, has steadily churned out rappers from all around Minnesota and the surrounding Midwest including Aesop Rock, Freeway, MF Doom and many others -- basically a bunch of smart free-thinkers who have serious talent in the flowing department. DJ and producer Ant and rapper Slug have been doing their thing together since the end of the '80s and at this point have become somewhat of a classic act, one that's well worth catching at least once in your life. JIM BRICKER

Carnival Music Night McGonigel's Mucky Duck, November 11

If you watched last week's CMAs, you might have glimpsed Frank Liddell onstage with Miranda Lambert when the latter accepted her Country Album of the Year award for Platinum, which Liddell co-produced. The native Houstonian earned a reputation as one of Nashville's sharpest ears during his days in Decca Records' A&R department, and since 1997 has been one of the brains behind Carnival Music, a music-business umbrella company that looks after the interests of about a dozen artists and writers. (Liddell retains strong ties to Houston, as his sister is local singer-songwriter Lise Liddell.)

The most recognizable name Tuesday will no doubt be Mando Saenz, the longtime Houstonian who showcased both his writing and performing talents on sturdy and versatile 2013 LP Studebaker. But also worth a look is Aubrie Sellers, Liddell's stepdaugher with wife Lee Ann Womack, who has already duetted on fellow Carnival artist David Nail's "Brand New Day" and could be about to blow up in a big way -- just check that clip of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell On You" above. Rounding out the evening are two songwriters who define the word "veteran" to a "T": Adam Wright, a former Best Country Song Grammy nominee for Alan Jackson's "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore" (and co-producer of Sellers' upcoming debut, with Liddell); and Craig Dillingham, a semi-retired Carnival staff writer who also cracked the country Top 40 himself with 1983's "Have You Loved Your Woman Today."

Rich Hopkins & the Luminarios Under the Volcano, November 12

Rich Hopkins is one of those artists sometimes referred to as a "cult act": a performer whose relatively brief brush with mainstream popularity nonetheless earned enough fans who continue buying records and coming to shows years later. (See also: the Plimsouls' Peter Case, who happens to play the Mucky Duck Thursday.) In Hopkins' case, his Tucson-based band the Sidewinders hit the college-radio charts with the songs "Witch Doctor" and "We Don't Do That Anymore" around the turn of the '90s before a copyright dispute with another band forced a name change to the Sand Rubies.

As with most cult acts, Hopkins' creativity hardly dried up once the hits did, and the Sand Rubies went on to become one of the most respected Southwestern bands of the '90s, known for an arid, Morricone-meets-Neil-Young guitar style aptly dubbed "desert rock." After the Rubies disbanded, Hopkins partially relocated to Austin and rebooted his fomer side project the Luminarios, who add a healthy dose of power-pop on the group's brand-new LP Tombstone. CHRIS GRAY

More shows on the next page.

Merle Haggard Stampede Houston, November 13

If you haven't had the chance to catch Merle Haggard in your lifetime, right now might be the best time. While he's rather gray and weathered, that's what makes now the best time to see him. His stories could never have a deeper meaning than they do now. He's truly lived a life full of fascination and amazement, and it shows during his live shows now. Many classic acts just go through the motions to continue their paychecks, but Merle still seems to actually enjoy what he's doing.

With his youngest son along for the ride, who's worth seeing for his lead-guitar skills alone, it's a true family affair - one that allows you to live out your bucket-list dream of shouting along to "Okie From Muskogee" and "Mama Tried." JIM BRICKER

Kim Richey McGonigel's Mucky Duck, November 13

Like Kelly Willis, Kim Richey is another fine singer-songwriter who just wouldn't fit the Nashville mainstream mold no matter how much styling her label wanted. Richey wasn't some American Idol lump of clay willing to be molded into something she wasn't, so after several albums with Mercury she opted out for one of the boutique labels where she could sing her songs her way.

It may not be as glamorous, but Richey has had a dignified career without the claptrap and headaches of artists like Miranda Lambert and Martina McBride. She's a mesmerizing performer, but her songs are what makes Richey a go-to writer for artists in pop and country alike. Power-pop auteur Peter Case (ex-Plimsouls/Nerves) plays the late show at 9:30. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH


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