Brian Owens, Northside Sheiks
8 p.m. March 21 at Willie's Locally Known, 805 N. Broadway. $10. (859) 281-1116. Willieslex.com.
Like so many of the great soul vocalists who preceded him, Brian Owens grew up in church.
That's where his father, a minister, learned to sing. That's also where a young Owens discovered the power of live performance. Admittedly, the hours spent devouring records by the likes of Nat King Cole, The Temptations and Wilson Pickett, among others, also helped.
Together, those inspirations worked to formulate a talent that has won a solid fan base in St. Louis, where Owens lives.
With that audience came something of a dual career.
One avenue has been focused heavily on Owens' original songs: the '60s- and '70s-informed R&B that makes up albums including 2012's Moods and Messages and the new EP disc, Preach. The other has placed Owens alongside the pioneers he has long cherished. Through what he calls the Master Series, Owens has devoted entire performances to the music of pioneers including Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Bill Withers, and non-R&B greats including Johnny Cash.
That explains the makeup of Owens' Lexington debut performance Friday at Willie's Locally Known. One set will promote the singer's own compositions. The other will offer the Master Series in miniature by way of music popularized by another artist who discovered his passion for singing in the church: Sam Cooke.
Lexington's roots, blues and soul ambassadors, The Northside Sheiks, will open the show.
Blind Boys of Alabama
8:30 p.m. at Northern Kentucky University' Greaves Hall in Highland Heights. $30. 1-888-428-7311, (859) 572-6369. Cincyticket.com.
The prime road trip show of the weekend takes us to the campus of Northern Kentucky University on Friday for an evening with the multi-Grammy-winning Blind Boys of Alabama.
The Blind Boys have largely redefined the repertoire and visibility of spiritual music over the past 15 years.
Their musical makeup is staunchly traditional, with vocals and harmonies born of Southern gospel. But since their first Grammy-winning album, 2001's Spirit of the Century, the 70-plus-year-old ensemble — still with co-founding member Jimmy Carter — has found spiritual inspiration in select songs by Tom Waits, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, Ben Harper and other decidedly non-gospel artists.
Friday's show will probably be based on the Blind Boys' 2013 album, I'll Find a Way. It's a beautifully reserved record produced by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, and it features songs by acts ranging from the '70s soul troupe The Chi-Lites to the contemporary indie-pop outfit Field Report.
But the Blind Boys aren't above a surprise or two, either. At a taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour in November at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center in Lexington, the group offered an unassuming but powerfully emotive cover of the Velvet Underground's Jesus as a tribute to Lou Reed, who had died a few weeks earlier.
Speaking of 'WoodSongs'
Monday's taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric, 300 East Third Street, will feature the exquisitely indefinable roots music-and-more troupe Donna the Buffalo. For more than two decades, the band has playfully meshed old-time folk with pop, zydeco, reggae, Americana-leaning country and more. An overlaying groove-centric drive has made such a mix appealing to jam band audiences, too.
Pianist/composer/vocalist Eliza Rickman will round out the WoodSongs bill. (6:45 p.m. $10. Reservations recommended: (859) 252-8888. Woodsongs.com.)