Mic Harrison and the High Score
10:30 p.m. July 20 at the Green Lantern, 497 W. Third St. $5. (859) 252-9539.
The traits of a master songsmith are often revealed with the first few moments of a tune or recording. Take, for instance, Still Wanna Fight, the new album from Knoxville's Mic Harrison.
In the introductory licks of the opening Don't Change Your Plans, we receive a blast of jangly, hook-happy pop that sounds like vintage Warren Zevon slammed up against 1966-era Byrds. Then, on Bigger Place to Hide, a commanding guitar melody kicks in at the onset, only to be overtaken by a harmony-rich chorus that is even more infectious. But by the time the record makes its way to Ruin of My Days, its most abundant inspiration, the Midwestern roadhouse rock of the Bottle Rockets, slips into the driver's seat. That's when the album takes a turn, both vocally and thematically, down a dark rural path.
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One should expect no less from a stylist like Harrison. He was cranking out expert power pop with the late, lamented V-Roys through the latter half of the '90s. But his current band, High Score, offers a more muscular variation of that sound. Country is still at play. But the drive is all learned rock 'n' roll.
Friday night, Harrison and the High Score take their Fight songs to The Green Lantern. Nashville's Fancytramp will open.
Here comes the son
Kentucky has few finer "favorite son" country artists to boast of than Steve Wariner. An Indiana native who grew up in Russell Springs, Wariner achieved country stardom with a series of country hits during the '80s and '90s that included Some Fools Never Learn, The Weekend and the Poco-esque Life's Highway.
A singer with an amiable country-pop singing style, Wariner has been an equally distinctive guitarist throughout his career. The instrumental side of Wariner's music has dominated the spotlight in recent years. He won Grammy Awards for Cluster Pluck (a jam from Brad Paisley's album Play) and for Producer's Medley, a track from his 2009 recording My Tribute to Chet Atkins.
Wariner devotes all of his 2011 album, Guitar Laboratory, to string sounds that frequently depart from country in favor of blues, jazz, classical and more.
The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame inductee returns to his adopted home state for a performance Saturday at the New Barn Theatre of Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, Interstate 75 at U.S. 25 (Exit 62) in Renfro Valley. Bryan White will open. (8 p.m. $20-$35. 1-800-765-7464. Renfrovalley.com.)
For the past decade, Murder by Death has shown off music that reveals elements of progressive folk (especially in the dark story lines of the band's songs), chamber-style frenzy (with colors supplied by cellist Sarah Balliet) and, for lack of a better term, Goth-flavored country (the 2003 album Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left for Them). There also have been a few unanticipated successes to brag about during that time, notably the inclusion of the 2008 neo-country nugget Comin' Home in the Oscar-nominated Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds.
A new Murder by Death album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, is due out on Chicago's acclaimed Bloodshot label in late September. Until then, catch the band's surrealist Americana music onstage with a concert Sunday at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Ave. (9 p.m. $13 in advance, $15 day of show. (859) 309-9499. Cosmic-charlies.com.)
Back in the HighLife
Capping a pair of midsummer performances in the Outside the Spotlight Series on Thursday will be Jason Ajemian and the HighLife.
Bassist Ajemian is a veteran of several previous OTS shows with improvisatory-based ensembles (most notably Triage and Dragons 1976) and local bills with contemporary folk stylist Josephine Foster. Not surprisingly, punkish folk elements sit side by side with spacious jazz explorations that recall the late-'60s music of saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders on the HighLife's 2011 album Riding the Light Into the Bird's Eye.
Ajemian and the HighLife will perform an all-ages show in the back room of the Void Skateshop, 518 East High Street. (8 p.m. $5.)
To many, the Steve Miller Band remains tied to a string of elemental pop tunes that whipped through the charts during the '70s. No doubt, many on hand for Miller's return to the region next week will be holdovers from that era. But Miller's late-'60s/early-'70s recordings — from Children of the Future through Your Saving Grace — represent his best music. All trace a journey from contemporary blues to politically tinged psychedelia that resulted in the career-defining songs Living in the U.S.A., Space Cowboy and Going to the Country.
Miller will perform Wednesday at Riverbend Music Center's PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati. (7:30 p.m. $25.50-$49.50. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.)