8 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Mercury Ballroom, 611 S. Fourth St., Louisville. (502) 583-4555. Mercuryballroom.com. Sold out.
8 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Madison Theater. 730 Madison Ave., Covington. (859) 491-2444. Madisontheateronline.com. Sold out.
It's not entirely a homecoming. This weekend, Sturgill Simpson will be a bit removed from his Breathitt County beginnings, his self-described "second childhood" in Versailles and his performance apprenticeship in Lexington with the alt-country troupe Sunday Valley. But his concerts in Louisville and Covington are the only scheduled Kentucky stops on his current tour. They will be the closest that the artist, now one of today's most critically lauded country stylists, will get to his Bluegrass-area stomping grounds.
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Simpson began making national noise in June 2013 with the release of his indie solo debut album High Top Mountain. A blend of pre-bluegrass country and hard-core honky tonk, the record typified the kind of roots-driven music he was determined to create upon moving to Nashville after Sunday Valley dissolved.
"I told my producer I wanted to make a pure, traditional country record," Sturgill said before the start of a Cosmic Charlie's show in May 2013. "I wasn't trying to get rich. I didn't care if I got signed. I wanted to pay homage to the past, but I didn't want the record just to be some retro novelty niche thing."
Last year's follow-up, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, expanded Sturgill's rustic profile with a panoramic sound that echoed Waylon Jennings, Billy Sherrill and Pink Floyd. Lexington has yet to receive a return performance since the record's release, but Sturgill has been visible around the rest of the country. That will continue throughout 2015 with confirmed bookings at such major festivals as Coachella, Bonnaroo, Stagecoach and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Sturgill's rapidly advancing popularity also coincides with the end of his indie status. With Metamodern Sounds in Country Music up for a Grammy next weekend, the singer has signed with Atlantic Records for his third album.
It comes as no surprise, then, that this weekend's concerts, as with most of the headlining dates on Sturgill's current tour, are sold out. Don't give up completely on taking one of them in, though. Single tickets often become available close to show date. A visit to Ticketmaster.com will tell you what, if anything, is available.
"I'm from Eastern Kentucky, but I made a very conscious effort at a young age to go out, do a lot of living and see the world," Sturgill said in our 2013 interview. "My grandparents and my mother went through hell to give me these opportunities. In a way, it would be like spitting in their face to stay in one place my whole life."
Lone Stars Monday
Speaking of country in strictly traditional, non-commercial terms, Monday brings Texas honky-tonk champ and trucking-song magistrate Dale Watson back to Lexington with his band Lone Stars. Watson began forging a local fan base with Lexington close to 20 years ago with performances at the long-defunct Lynagh's Music Club. There have been high times and hard roads since then, but Watson is back in pristine "Ameripolitan" (his term) condition on his outstanding 2013 record El Rancho Azul. Watson, along with Southern songsmith Minton Sparks, perform at Monday's taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street (7 p.m, $10). For reservations, call (859) 252-8888.
Few bands defined the ragged indie power pop that ran alongside a tidal wave of early-1990s grunge more exactly than the Lemonheads. Similarly, no album better depicted the band's overall restless sound than 1992's It's a Shame About Ray. The record possessed beautifully battered pop reflections rooted in tradition (it was even re-released with a cover of the Simon and Garfunkel clasic Mrs. Robinson, for crying out loud) but delivered them with a detached, punkish immediacy.
Ever since the Lemonheads' fourth album (and first major label release), Lovey, that sound has revolved around the songs and singing of Evan Dando, an artist who could be as detached or as involving in performance as he chose. Perhaps the title of a 2003 solo recording sums up his relationship with the pop mainstream: Baby I'm Bored.
Dando still tours with the Lemonheads. He performed in Australia with the latest quartet version of the band as recently as December. On Tuesday, however, he will be on his own for a solo acoustic run through his storied pop past at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Ave. (9 p.m., $15). Sara Johnston will open. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to Cosmic-charlies.com for tickets.