Dwight Yoakam Sideman Brian Whelan Heads Off On His Own

Photo by Evan Lane
Brian Whelan in the studio
After four years of road-dogging with Dwight Yoakam's band, multi-instrumental utility man Brian Whelan has quit and struck out on his own. He rolls into McGonigel's Mucky Duck Saturday for a song swap with old Los Angeles running buddy and local songwriter extraordinaire Mike Stinson.

Whelan has a new album that he'll unveil later this year that rocks hard and occasionally opens a can of whup-ass on the Americana genre on a hard-charging tune called (...drum roll...) "Americana." In the lyrics, Whelan tells someone "you look great but you sound like shit."

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Houston's Five Best Concerts This Week: Eric Church, Helmet, Ledisi, Miranda Lambert, etc.

Photo by John Peets/Courtesy of Essential Broadcast Media
Eric Church
NRG Stadium, March 3

RodeoHouston kicks off its 2015 season with a first-time entertainer whose appearance says as much about the changing times as it does his hosts' unending need to stay in tune with what's hot. Once all but blacklisted by radio programmers for a hell-raising attitude that sometimes spilled over into his lifestyle, Eric Church now sits at the very top of Nashville's A list thanks to The Outsiders.

One of only two country albums released in 2014 to go platinum -- and the furthest thing from some focus-grouped album-by-committee stitched together in some big-label boardroom -- Outsiders is instantly recognizable as the work of an artist with an axe to grind who is firing on all cylinders, from No. 1 single "Talladega" and eight-minute stream-of-consciousness rant "Devil, Devil (Princess of Darkness)" on down. (Concert begins after rodeo is over.)

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Sarah McLachlan's Fans Aren't Shy About Hugging Her

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Photos by Kharen Hill/Courtesy of ID-PR
Sarah McLachlan enjoys surfing.
Whenever the subject of the greatest Canadian singer-songwriters in history comes up, as it often does, Sarah McLachlan deserves a seat at the same table as Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. McLachlan's music is so beloved in her homeland that in 2010 she was asked to write the theme song for the Olympic Winter Games in her adopted hometown of Vanouver, B.C., delivering the typically inspirational "One Dream." She hasn't had much trouble connecting south of the border, either, selling an estimated 20 million albums in the U.S.

McLachlan's songs radiate a kind of snug intimacy, swimming in lush arrangements that swirl emotion and intrigue. Approachable but also a little aloof, that style clings to her best work, from 1994 breakthrough single "Possession" through last year's Shine On, her first album in four years and eighth overall. It's made her an essential artist to adult-contemporary radio since the '90s, and inspired an almost otherworldly level of devotion in many of her fans.

But we'll get to that. The Houston Press was lucky enough to speak with McLachlan, now 47, earlier this week after she had just returned from a quick tour Down Under.

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The 10 Best Concerts In Houston This Weekend: Aaron Watson, Robyn Ludwick, Cursive, etc.

Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media
Aaron Watson's The Underdog is one of 2015's surprise-hit albums.
World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest
NRG Park, February 27 & 28

Never mind the Hideout during the rodeo itself, but critics who gripe that the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo embraces the likes of Fall Out Boy at the expense of the boot-scootin' talent in its own backyard must have overlooked the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. This year the contest spreads an even dozen top Texas country and like-minded acts over its three days, down to "Hound Dog" howler Bri Bagwell mini-residency at the "Rockin' Bar-B-Que Saloon."

After everyone has slept off last night, the fun continues Friday with headliner Aaron Watson, whose new album The Underdog hit the No. 1 spot on iTunes country chart last week, alongside Baytown's Breelan Angel; Houston's Justin Van Sant and the Bart Crow Band. Saturday brings a full plate of finger-licking tunes Saturday with Cameran Nelson, Clare Dunn, Max Stalling, Uncle Lucius and the Turnpike Troubadors. As for the food, even if you don't score a pass to one of the invite-only tents, each ticket comes complete with a yummy chopped-beef sandwich. See the rodeo's Web site for a map and more info. CHRIS GRAY

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Jordan Donald Comes to "Lay the Funk on Heavy"

Photo by Ron Coleman, Jr.
They don't call Jordan Donald "Chili Sauce" for no reason
Two years ago, Jordan "Chili Sauce" Donald came to our attention via TSU faculty member Dr. Horace Alexander Young and the great jazz pianist Joe Sample of Crusaders fame. Donald was one of the soloists in Sample's select orchestra, and even college president John Rudley, an avid jazz fan, mentioned Donald when I spoke with him about outstanding students in the TSU jazz program.

A few days later I witnessed Donald sit in with some of Houston's best players, seasoned veterans like pianist Darrell Lavigne and Horace Alexander Young, at Café 4212. He grabbed the crowd by the ears if not the throat with long, blistering, sexy sax solos. Chili sauce, indeed. I was sold.

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The Five Best Concerts In Houston This Week: Bad Suns, Meghan Trainor, Dwarves, etc.

Photo by Steve via Flickr
Bad Suns jamming at last year's SXSW
Bad Suns
Fitzgerald's, February 24

Formed all the way back in 2012, Bad Suns is another stylish, dance-friendly act jockeying for whatever fans haven't yet been gobbled up by Imagine Dragons; perhaps they're just positioning themselves as potential openers for the "Radioactive" pace-setters' upcoming arena tour. Either way, the Southern California quartet folds '80s synth-pop into Phoenix-style alt-rock the way a skilled pastry chef would whip up a tray of delicious petit fours, and quickly found a receptive radio audience with candy-coated singles like "Salt" and "Cardiac Arrest." With Coasts and Maudlin Strangers.

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The 10 Best Concerts in Houston This Weekend: Grand Old Grizzly, Big Sandy, Lights, etc.

Photo courtesy of Grand Old Grizzly
Grand Old Grizzly
Fitzgerald's, February 20

Not to be mistaken for their neighbors in the Grizzly Band -- a forgivable mistake, to be sure -- Grand Old Grizzly has modestly established themselves as one of Houston's top roots-rock units in the past few years. Drawing on familiar sources from Tom Petty and Rodney Crowell to the Supersuckers and "Ghost Riders In the Sky," the quartet makes the kind of music best enjoyed while drinking or driving, just preferably not at the same time. (Please.) Friday is the official release of the group's second album, Cosmonada, one of the finest slices of Americana cut by a Houston act in quite a while. With Thunderado. CHRIS GRAY

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Renowned Mariachi Gabriel Solis Croons at Numbers Tonight

Don't look now, but local singer and promoter Eddie de las Casas has pulled off a major coup in bringing internationally famous Mexican mariachi singer Gabriel Solis to town tonight.

Usually an artist of Solis's fame and drawing power would probably play one of the larger Latino clubs in town like Escapade, but De las Casas has Solis as the headliner on his "Mariachi Cabaret" series at Numbers, the historic club on lower Westheimer long known for its rock shows.

"For so long, Hispanics just didn't come to Westheimer or to Montrose," he explains. "Now they are coming, and this is one of the things I'm proud of about the Mariachi Cabaret."

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The Five Best Concerts in Houston This Week: Sons of Texas, Maroon 5, Pete Yorn, etc.

Photo by Chris Phelps/Courtesy of Razor & Tie
Sons of Texas are on the hunt for some "Texas Trim."
Sons of Texas
Scout Bar, February 16

An early leader in the race for the Lone Star State's breakout band of 2015, Sons of Texas have come storming not out of one of Texas' big cities but the Rio Grande Valley, as their "Baptized In the Rio Grande" has already become one of the year's most added Active Rock tracks. Drawing liberally from the power-metal grooves dug by fellow Texans Pantera -- and making absolutely no apologies for it -- the upcoming album of the same name (due in March on Razor & Tie) is muscular in just about every aspect, from Mike Morales' vocals to Jes de Hoyos' guitar work and the fraternal rhythm section of Mike and Nick Villarreal. Monday's spot ahead of Houston's Like Monroe and Massachusetts veterans All That Remains is just one of many opportunities Sons of Texas will have this year to prove they can slug it out with rock's big boys.

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The 10 Best Concerts in Houston This Weekend: Sunny Sweeney, Bob Seger, the Blasters, etc.

Photo courtesy of PuraPharm
Mixing Up the Medicine: PuraPharm's new self-titled EP is the hard stuff.
Warehouse Live, February 13

Easily one of Houston's most unique bands, PuraPharm manages to balance several imposing musical elements -- Tessa Kole's foreboding vocals; Niki Sims' palate-cleansing woodwinds; the fog of effects-mottled guitars -- to arrive at a coherent sound, whereas any one of those might overwhelm a lesser group. As it is, this town has all too few acts who have been seriously touched by the likes of Spiritualized, the Cocteau Twins and Siouxsie & the Banshees, but PuraPharm (the drug reference is no accident) makes a pretty strong case that we really only need the one.

After years of knocking around the Bayou City's finer alternative-music rooms, the band's brand-new eponymous EP has already begun charting on some college-radio stations across the country. Friday Purapharm throws a release party with three other superb alt-pop bands, Austin newcomers Casual Strangers and Houston's Glass the Sky and Jealous Creatures.

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