As frontman and primary songwriter for the onetime alt-country-identified Old 97's, Rhett Miller emerged as about the most underrated songsmith of his era, a clean-cut collegiate version of Paul Westerberg. Miller's subtly literate songs are as likely to be inspired by Raymond Carver as by Gram Parsons. (How many other pretty faces get a lyric like "There is a world inside the world that you see/I read it in Delillo like he'd written it for me" onto commercial radio?) But his songs are also so sweetly sexy and hook-filled that he never comes across as a smarty-pants.
Miller's band bid adieu to the roots scene with 2001's Satellite Rides, a blissed-out collection of raging guitar-pop anthems. Then Miller bid adieu to his band (hopefully only temporarily) with last year's solo debut, The Instigator, a straight-up pop record that didn't have nearly the punch of his best work with the Old 97's but still displayed his whipsmart pop instincts and razor-sharp lyrical eye, perhaps most of all on the sardonic, straightforward "This Is What I Do": Miller the lothario-next-door (or "serial lady killer," as he described himself in the Old 97's' one-night-stand classic "Barrier Reef") sings, "Jennifer once was a race-horse rider/Heidi was a house on fire/Bernadette kept her distance/We got tangled up in telephone wires/I'm gonna sing this song forever/About a girl that I once knew/And how she is always leaving/This is what I do."
And that's what he'll do Thursday, February 27th, at an 8 p.m. show at the Capriccio Bar at The Peabody. The concert is sponsored by radio station 107.5 FM The Pig. The only way to get tickets is to register online at RadioPig.com, which you should do fast if you wanna be one of the few to hear Miller's great songs about ex-girlfriends and post-college rootlessness in the flesh. My fave of the former? "Victoria," which opens like this: "This is the story of Victoria Lee/She started off on Percodan and ended up with me/She lived in Berkeley 'til the earthquake shook her loose/She lives in Texas now where nothing ever moves." --Chris Herrington
Flesh Vehicle, fronted by former Superdrag bass player Tom Pappas, can switch gears in an eye blink. One second they sound like Sebadoh at their fuzziest (sonically and mentally, if you know what I mean), next thing you know they are tearing it up like AC/DC on a cocaine binge. Then, as if from nowhere, they'll deliver a pop confection that would make Cheap Trick's Robin Zander sick with envy. Their subject matter runs from gap-toothed strippers with lots of money and a runny nose to a poor slob trying to make excuses for the inexplicable wounds he has developed. This is a group not to be missed, so catch them when they play the Hi-Tone Café on Friday, February 28th.
I've given former Blue Mountain ringleader Cary Hudson quite a bit of grief about his solo recording career, but you know what? His work with the aforementioned proto-Americana band could forgive a dozen yucky solo releases. He's back at the Hi-Tone Café on Saturday, March 2nd. And while on the subject of Americana, the Athens roots-rock group Dodd Ferrelle & The Tinfoil Stars will be at Young Avenue Deli on Thursday, February 27th. From the sound of their most recent album, Always Almost There, Ferrelle and company seem to have an '80s college-rock fixation. They aim for the Replacements, but land somewhere between the Bodeans and the Waterboys. It's straight-ahead rock with a folkie flavor. It's not my cup of bitter brew, but for those who like such hybrids, it's certainly worth a listen.
Lastly, if you miss Memphis' own Bloodthirsty Lovers, you are dumb. Yep, it's that cut and dry. This collaboration between former Grifter Dave Shouse, former Satyr Jason Paxton, and former DDT member Paul Taylor has yielded angsty, atmospheric, keyboard-laden pop with a punk heart and an electronic brain. It's music you can take a bath in. They are at Young Avenue Deli Friday, February 28th, with Mouse Rocket. --Chris Davis