Janet Reno at Folk Alliance 

The Memphis-based Folk Alliance is gearing up for its annual conference, which kicks off February 20th at the Cook Convention Center. The Folk Alliance has recently announced Stax stalwart Mavis Staples as one of the recipients of the Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Award for this year's conference (other honorees: fiddler/banjo player Tommy Jarrell and Rounder Records) as well as a screening of Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, the acclaimed new documentary about the folk star. But the most interesting announcement may be one of the conference's keynote speakers: former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno.

Turns out, Reno has pursued music with the help of her singer/songwriter nephew-in-law Ed Pettersen since leaving Washington, culminating in executive producing the recent folk compilation Song of America, which features new covers of 50 classic songs meant to tell, chronologically, the story of America. (Samples: John Mellencamp doing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land"; soul/blues singer Bettye LaVette reimagining Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia").

In the Clubs: The local hip-hop scene continues to try to carve out its own niche. The latest venture in this regard is Triple Feature Saturdays, a new monthly hip-hop night at the Full Moon Club in Midtown sponsored by Hemphix Productions, which is led by Tunnel Clones and Memphix DJ Redeye Jedi. Triple Feature Saturdays, which starts January 18th, will take place the third Saturday of each month and will showcase a group/MC, producer, and DJ/turntablist at each show. The first event features M.O.S., Fathom 9, and Sol Kontrol. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $5.

At Midtown's Buccaneer this week, a couple of indie-scene veterans will showcase their current talent-laden cover bands. Jared McStay fronted one of the city's best rock bands in the '90s, the Simpletones (later Simple Ones). These days, you're more likely to see him behind the counter of Shangri-La Records than behind a microphone. But McStay will be a part of two bands on an enticing three-band bill at the Bucc Saturday, January 19th. McStay will join wife Lori McStay and Vending Machine's Robby Grant in The Glitches, a genre- and era-spanning cover band the trio initially formed to play a benefit for the school their kids attended.

McStay will also front the trio Nice Digs for a set of original rock. Rounding out the bill will be the return of the Ultracats, a rock duo consisting of Lori McStay (original Porch Ghouls drummer) and Alicja Trout (River City Tanlines). McStay and Trout haven't performed together in a while, but I still have happy memories of hearing them bash out a spirited cover of Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone" at the Hi-Tone Café years ago.

The next day, January 20th, Jeff Golightly, who fronted the local power-pop group The Crime in the '80s, will play an afternoon set with his British Invasion cover band Jeffrey & the Pacemakers, which features scene stalwarts Lamar Sorrento (guitar), Jeremy Scott (bass), and Ross Johnson (drums) backing him up. The group performs a set of "Mersey Beat, Memphis-style" from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday.

In the Racks: It's a busy couple of weeks for national releases with local connections. Memphis rockers Egypt Central complete a rocky journey with the January 15th release of Egypt Central on the indie label Fat Lady. Formed in 2001, the band built its reputation at the New Daisy Theatre and seemed poised to follow Saliva out of the local metal scene and into national consciousness after signing to Atlantic Records subsidiary Lava Records. But, with the band's nü-metal style giving way to pop punk and other genres, the band was dropped from Lava before they could complete their label debut. Picked up by Fat Lady, the band has finished the record and is currently on the road promoting it.

On January 22nd, the North Mississippi Allstars are set to release their new one, Hernando, which they'll celebrate locally with a show at the New Daisy on February 23rd.

Also in stores on January 22nd: Oracular Spectacular, the Columbia Records-released debut from Brooklyn-based alt-pop duo MGMT, a band featuring White Station High School grad Andrew VanWyngarden as principle singer and lyricist. Oracular Spectacular (made available online last fall and already a big college-radio hit) filters echoes of David Bowie and Prince (no, really) through a synth-pop sound with songs that are smart, melodic, and cheeky while still revealing palpable emotional undercurrents, especially on its fine lead single, "Time To Pretend." The band — which also features Memphian Hank Sullivant in live form — is shaping up as one of 2008's breakout alt-rock acts, which poses a bit of a dilemma for us at the Flyer, as this Memphis-connected success story hits a little close to home. Andrew VanWyngarden is the son of Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden. The group recently played Late Night with David Letterman, a performance easily found on YouTube.

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