Amid the usual South Florida classic rock concerts in 2014-2015, plus a couple shows by popular indie stars like The Black Keys, it’s a surprisingly singer/songwriter-oriented season that ranges from blues and pop to country and folk.
In addition to rootsy crossover artists Lyle Lovett, Jimmy Webb, Leon Russell and Emmylou Harris, and various blues incarnates like Robert Randolph and Keb’ Mo’, there are worthy throwbacks like venerable folk-centered artists Tom Rush, John Prine, and the twin billing of Tom Paxton and Janis Ian.
It’s enough to push onto the back burner the usual slate of classic rockers, although that term practically requires an asterisk now. Veteran singer/songwriter James Taylor made the cut here by practically being an inimitable mix of pop, folk and roots music, and Ringo Starr did so largely on the strength of the all-star touring band he recruits. But if having been around for 20 years or more is a qualification, then Southern rockers Gov’t Mule and San Francisco alt-rock trio Primus are also starting to look pretty classic.
When guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes formed the band Gov’t Mule in 1994, it was a side project for himself and bassist Allen Woody, both also members of a reunited Allman Brothers Band for the previous five years. A lot has changed since. The group’s original trio lineup with drummer Matt Abts released four of its best CDs between 1997 and 2000, the year Woody mysteriously died (autopsy results were inconclusive) in a New York City hotel room. Haynes and Woody had already left the Allmans to concentrate on Gov’t Mule, but Haynes returned to playing with both bands after the bassist’s death (only recently leaving the Allmans, as did guitarist Derek Trucks, hastening anything from another hiatus to retirement by the venerable Southern rockers). Bassist Andy Hess replaced Woody until 2008, when current member Jorgen Carlsson took over, and keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Danny Louis has been integral for 10 years — especially on Shout!, the band’s latest release from 2013. See Gov’t Mule on Oct. 10 at the Fillmore (8:30 p.m., $49-60.50).
The groups Heart and Rush had to endure long waits to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so is it Cheap Trick’s turn? Formed in Rockford, Ill., in 1973, the quartet’s barnstorming live performances have more than overshadowed the trick of pairing two long-haired rockers (lead vocalist/guitarist Robin Zander, bassist Tom Petersson) with two short-haired geeks (lead guitarist Rick Nielsen, drummer Bun E. Carlos). Nielsen’s son Daxx replaced the popular and talented Carlos as the group’s touring drummer in 2010, with no drop in live intensity from the late-blooming band. Cheap Trick’s first three studio albums in the late ’70s failed to chart in the United States, but all three went gold in Japan, which led to the wildly successful 1979 live LP Cheap Trick at Budokan. Initially intended for release only in Japan, the album went triple-platinum in the U.S. after requests for the import version (many due to its hit single, “I Want You To Want Me”) went through the roof. Cheap Trick plays on Oct. 12 at the Broward Center’s Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale (7:30 p.m., $46.61-76.70).
Typecast 56-year-old singer, guitarist and songwriter Lyle Lovett at your own risk, since he’s always seemed to live too large for categorization. The Texas-born artist has earned four Grammy Awards; three in the country category and one in pop. But the native Texan’s sense of humor has always seemed to look more toward Austin than Dallas, as evident by him calling his long-standing big band Lyle Lovett and His Large Band (and releasing a CD titled It’s Not Big It’s Large in 2007). Very few country artists lead a big band in the first place, or have appeared in TV series like Castle and Dharma and Greg or left-of-center films like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and The Player. Or, for that matter, collaborate with R&B vocal great Al Green (Lovett’s duo partner on “Funny How Time Slips Away,” their Best Pop Vocal Collaboration Grammy-winner in 1994). The enigmatic artist’s latest effort is 2012’s Release Me. Expect a surprisingly big, er, large sound, from his acoustic ensemble. See Lyle Lovett and his Acoustic Group on Oct. 16 at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami (8 p.m., $39-95).
Of the two surviving members of The Beatles, singing drummer Ringo Starr comes in a distant second to the prolific Paul McCartney in popularity. Yet the 74-year-old artist formerly known as Richard Starkey has always had legions of admirers, which have grown post-Fab Four through his All Starr Band, the current incarnation of which includes guitarist Steve Lukather (from Toto), renowned singer/songwriter Todd Rundgren, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey) and drummer Gregg Bissonette (Maynard Ferguson, David Lee Roth). Of course, Starr will lend the vocal and percussive duties that made him a star in the first place 50 years ago. Fans can expect gems from that era (“With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Octopus’s Garden”), plus a surprising array of hits from Starr’s 40-year solo career like “Photograph,” “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Back Off Boogaloo” and “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine).” See Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band on Oct. 21 at the Broward Center’s Au-Rene Theater in Fort Lauderdale (8 p.m., $55-150).
Like a modern roots music version of Superman, mild-mannered, Los Angeles-born Kevin Moore’s cape is the stage name Keb’ Mo’. When he puts it on, he’s capable of most anything musically — perhaps except for seeming like a guy who’s from glitzy L.A. His look owes more to the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans; his sound draws from both of those roots music tributaries, the California acoustic singer/songwriter pop era of the ’70s and beyond. Moore’s 2004 CD Back By Popular Demand featured some of the great protest songs of the Vietnam War era by Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Buffalo Springfield, and John Lennon. On his 2011 release The Reflection, the 63-year-old vocalist and guitarist brought in guest stars from the seemingly divergent genres of R&B (singer India Arie), country (singer/songwriter Vince Gill) and jazz (bassist Marcus Miller). A three-time Grammy winner, Moore will play tunes from a new, to-the-point CD, BLUESAmericana. See Keb’ Mo’ on Nov. 8 at the University of Miami’s Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables (8 p.m., $45-65).
In between Jimi Hendrix and grunge, Heart was a sensation from Seattle. Singing sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson (who’s also a guitarist) have seemingly had a Led Zeppelin penchant since the band’s inception, but found ways to parlay early mimicry (on hits like “Magic Man” and “Barracuda”) into late-’70s creativity on the Motown-influenced singles “Straight On” (from the 1978 LP Dog and Butterfly) and “Even It Up” (1980’s Bebe le Strange). Ann Wilson still possesses practically unlimited, leather-lunged vocal range, and the Wilson sisters sound every bit like siblings who have been singing harmonies together for 40 years. Members from the band’s heyday reunited to play together for the first time in nearly 35 years at Heart’s 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and while that unit won’t appear in Hollywood, a blazing encore cover of Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” is always a possibility. See Heart on Nov. 9 at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood (7 p.m., $42.85-85.35).
“Most of my career,” writes singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris on her website, “I’ve been a finder of songs, a gatherer of songs.” It’s a mindset that resonates through folk and country traditions, and those are two of the tributaries the 67-year-old Alabama native has navigated during her 45-year recording career. Her 13 Grammy Awards span nearly that entire time, ranging from country nods in the ’70s and ’80s to Best Contemporary Folk Album for her 1995 CD Wrecking Ball, an Album of the Year” win for her participation on the soundtrack to the rootsy film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the Best Americana Album award for her latest release, the Old Yellow Moon collaboration with fellow singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell. The distaff vocalist and guitarist was also part of this year’s memorable Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of an ailing Linda Ronstadt, in which Harris sang several of the absent singer’s hits with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood, Stevie Nicks and Bonnie Raitt. See Emmylou Harris on Nov. 9 at the Arsht Center (8 p.m., $29-125).
As Seattle bands signaled the dark, ominous grunge era in the early ’90s, something entirely different was rising further south along the West Coast. The goofy San Francisco trio Primus, with vocalist/bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander, actually debuted with the 1989 live album Suck On This before cresting in popularity with the studio releases Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese in 1990 and 1991. Claypool’s nasal vocals revealed a sense of humor akin to Frank Zappa’s, along with a complex tapping, slapping and strumming bass style; LaLonde’s alternate tunings and love of noise often bordered on atonal, and Alexander’s hyper-kinetic drumming showed the influence of Neil Peart of Rush. For better or worse, no one has ever sounded exactly like Primus, which will play tunes from its new Primus & the Chocolate Factory With the Fungi Ensemble release — and maybe even its 1996 TV show theme from South Park. See Primus on Nov. 11 at the Fillmore (8 p.m., $49.50-62.50).
Sixty-six-year-old singer/songwriter James Taylor was born in Massachusetts, raised in North Carolina, and moved to California to become a prominent part of the West Coast sound that dominated the ’70s pop charts. And there’s always been a well-traveled, every-man feel to Taylor’s songwriting, which was largely introduced to the world through his 1970 breakthrough sophomore album Sweet Baby James and its memorable single, “Fire and Rain.” It’s one of a handful of Taylor hits that seemingly everyone knows, including the Carole King-penned “You’ve Got a Friend” and the Grammy-winning artist’s own compositions “Mexico,” “Shower the People,” “Your Smiling Face” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” Most, but certainly not all, of his achievements harken back to the ’70s — Taylor earned his first Best Pop Album Grammy Award for his 1998 CD Hourglass, and received a National Medal of Arts from President Obama at the White House in 2011. James Taylor performs Nov. 15 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise (8 p.m., $48.75-116.50).
In an otherwise slim South Florida season of hip-hop artists, Usher refuses to stand in the aisle. Born Usher Raymond IV in Dallas, the 35-year-old has come a long way since appearing on the TV show Star Search at 13 and attending high school in the hip-hop hotbed of Atlanta after moving there with his mother. Since the release of his 1997 sophomore CD, My Way (and its chart-topping hit “Nice and Slow”), Usher has been one of the top-selling artists internationally, with a reported 65 million records sold and multiple Grammy Awards. Increasing his profile by appearing as an actor in more films over the past 20 years than he has as a vocalist on CD releases, Usher performed with Stevie Wonder and Shakira at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in 2009. He’s also deftly, and purposely, crossed over between pop and R&B styles within his hip-hop foundation, thereby increasing his fan base through his latest CD, this year’s UR. Usher takes the stage on Dec. 13 at American Airlines Arena in Miami (7:30 p.m., $35-150).
The name of popular blues/rock duo the Black Keys incites several different visions, from the keys on a piano that make its sound less homogeneous to the sounds favored by the African-American bluesmen who influenced vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. The two lived in the same neighborhood in Ohio, and eventually became the Black Keys in 2001. And the humble beginnings of their independent 2002 debut The Big Come Up led to signing with the blues imprint Fat Possum Records and a snowball effect during touring and subsequent releases. Everything aligned in 2010 with the CD Brothers and its hit “Tighten Up,” the two of which collectively won three Grammy Awards. Its 2011 follow-up El Camino won three more, and this year’s Turn Blue became a number-one record in both the United States and Australia. Another indie sensation, St. Vincent, sweetens the pot for fans by opening this show. See the Black Keys on Dec. 15 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise (8 p.m.,$48.50-91.25).
At the very least, Phish may be the second-most popular export from Vermont to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. But the quartet of guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman has also proven to be a contender to U2 for cultural pop/rock supremacy since starting its recording career 25 years ago. All four members sing, which has allowed for concert performances of The Beatles’ White Album, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, and The Who’s Quadrophenia. Some of the uneven quartet’s best original efforts came in the ’90s: A Picture of Nectar (1992), Hoist (1994) and the live Slip, Stitch and Pass (1997), but Phish has lured legions of Grateful Dead fans over with its estimable jam-band sensibilities, and been a huge concert draw for 20 years despite taking the occasional hiatus. Anything goes live, obviously, including tracks from the new Fuego release. Jerry Garcia would be proud. Cherry Garcia already is. See Phish on Dec. 31 (8 p.m., $90.30) and Jan. 1-3 (7:30 p.m., $80.10) at American Airlines Arena.
Oklahoma-born singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb may be the least well-known composer of numerous platinum-selling hits alive today. But that’s a risk, and occasionally a purposeful one, that songwriters take when selling their songs to performers, especially successful ones. And this 68-year-old has enjoyed the fruits of Top 10 country and pop renditions by Glen Campbell (“By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman”), Donna Summer (“MacArthur Park”), Art Garfunkel (“All I Know”) and the Fifth Dimension (“Up, Up and Away”). The latter 1967 hit won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year, and Webb is the only artist ever to win Grammys for music, lyrics, and orchestration. The list of additional artists who’ve covered his material is more like a scroll, including Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Joe Cocker and R.E.M. A singer and pianist, Webb has upped his profile as a performer in recent years, touring to support guest star-studded solo releases Just Across the River (2010) and Still Within the Sound of My Voice (2013). See Jimmy Webb on Jan. 14 at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse in West Palm Beach (7:30 p.m., $45).
John Prine was rightfully inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, but he practically deserves a special wing there. The Illinois-born singer, guitarist and songwriter will turn 68 on Oct. 10, so he’s old enough to have influenced practically every non-classical composer alive today, and even some who aren’t. Star songwriters from country (the late Johnny Cash), folk (Bob Dylan), roots music (Kris Kristofferson) and rock (Roger Waters of Pink Floyd) are on record singing Prine’s praises, creating an inimitable top-shelf following. Kristofferson was one of the first notable artists to recognize Prine’s talent when he heard him in Chicago in the late ’60s. Always a reticent talent, Prine was a mailman at the time, yet he certainly delivered on his self-titled debut album in 1971. It featured the classics “Angel From Montgomery,” “Paradise” and “Sam Stone,” and practically gave the future multi-Grammy-winner little choice but to continue. He’ll likely play tunes from his latest, 2011’s The Singing Mailman Delivers. See John Prine on Jan. 15 at the Parker Playhouse (8 p.m., $43-63).
Few performing artists are as linked to one hit song as singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie is to “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” The 18-minute song took up an entire side of the 67-year-old New York native’s 1967 debut LP Alice’s Restaurant, and the unaccompanied talking blues number may be rivaled only by Don McLean’s “American Pie” since on the love-it-or-hate-it scale. But like his father Woody Guthrie, the folk protest singer who died the same year his son’s debut album was released, Arlo is a social critic. His most famous song — one that he’ll perform in its entirety at this show for the first time in 10 years — is less about the restaurant that gives the tune its name than Guthrie’s draft rejection for military service in the Vietnam War. The part-time Florida resident in Sebastian has had other hits since: “City of New Orleans,” “The Motorcycle Song” and “Coming Into Los Angeles,” which was featured in the concert festival documentary Woodstock. He’s also become an actor, author, producer, and film and television composer. See Arlo Guthrie on Jan. 25 at the Parker Playhouse (7 p.m., $40.50-50.50).
Seventy-two-year-old singer/songwriter Leon Russell has seemingly had a cat-like nine lives during his 50-year career. The Oklahoma native moved to Los Angeles in the late ’50s to start a career as a session musician (primarily a keyboardist, but also a guitarist or bassist) while still in his teens. By the late ’60s, he was appearing on landmark roots music LPs like Accept No Substitute — The Original Delaney & Bonnie and Friends (as both pianist and arranger) and recording his self-titled 1970 debut album. Many more solo releases, sessions (notably as keyboardist and musical director for Joe Cocker’s 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour), and compositions that became hits for both Russell and others followed, including “A Song for You,” “Superstar,” “This Masquerade,” “Tight Rope,” “Delta Lady” and “Lady Blue.” Russell’s 2010 CD with Elton John, The Union, jump-started his latest musical life. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a year later, with John as his presenter. Leon Russell plays on Jan. 30 at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale (8 p.m., $35.20).
From the instrument’s twangy stereotype, you might expect a pedal steel guitarist to be an aging Caucasian who plays country music and was raised in the Deep South. Yet none of that applies to 33-year-old Robert Randolph, who was raised in Philadelphia and has taken his instrument’s “Sacred Steel” origins out of the church and into an invigorating mix of funk, rock, blues and soul. Pedal steel guitars have been used in African-American churches as substitutes for more costly organs for as long as they’ve been used in secular music, a fact lesser known because church elders frowned upon their use in non-sacred settings. Yet when Randolph heard iconic blues guitarist/vocalist Stevie Ray Vaughan, the singer and instrumental virtuoso set a course to combine the two that started with his group’s 2002 CD Live at the Wetlands. Randolph has since been named one of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” He and his band of friends and family members is likely to play tunes from its latest CD, 2013’s Lickety Split. See Robert Randolph and the Family Band on Feb. 21 at the Culture Room (8 p.m., $32.10).
From his earliest gigs around the Boston area while still a student at Harvard University, it was obvious that singer/songwriter Tom Rush was ahead of the curve. The 73-year-old New Hampshire native had even released two albums by the time he graduated. Subsequent releases like Blues, Songs and Ballads (1963), Tom Rush (1965) and The Circle Game (1968) gained the scholarly young vocalist/guitarist a wide array of followers, from future folk/rock luminary James Taylor to country star Garth Brooks. After a handful of ’70s releases culminating in a Best Of collection on Columbia Records, Rush took a hiatus before returning to his roots. One of his steady gigs while at Harvard has been at Club 47, where the fledgling songwriter learned from established artists who also performed there. In 1982, he started the Club 47 Concerts series at Symphony Hall in Boston, introducing then-unknowns like Alison Krauss and Mark O’Connor. It’s also where he recorded his latest CD, the self-explanatory Tom Rush: 50 Years of Music. See Tom Rush on Feb. 24 at the Rinker Playhouse (7:30 p.m., $39).
When you think of Los Angeles rock bands, excess is a thread that runs through disparate acts from The Doors to Van Halen to Jane’s Addiction. Maroon 5 has thrown a curve into that formula since the band’s 2002 debut, adding pop and dance music elements that have helped them appear more safe (and popular) than even a current L.A. peer group like Incubus. The five-piece band has retained most of its original members, but let’s face it, if not for lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Levine, it might have disbanded by now. Some of the band’s biggest hits, like “Makes Me Wonder” and “Moves Like Jagger,” hit the charts before Levine started his ongoing gig as a coach on the reality TV vocal competition show The Voice, which has made both his and the band’s popularity soar. He and guitarist/vocalist James Valentine, bassist Mickey Madden, singing multi-instrumentalist Jesse Carmichael, singing keyboardist PJ Morton and drummer Matt Flynn will play tunes from a brand-new CD, V. See Maroon 5 on Feb. 24 at the BB&T Center (7:30 p.m., $25.25-120.75).
Tom Paxton’s 1964 LP Ramblin’ Boy was one of the prime folk releases of that decade, and Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” one of the most memorable and introspective hits of the ’70s. The thematic compositions of the Chicago-born Paxton, now 76, earned him a beyond-reproach list of artists who’ve covered them — from Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez to Harry Belafonte, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson — and furthered the reasons behind Paxton’s 2009 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The New York City-born Ian, now 63, may be best-remembered for her biggest hit, a 1975 Grammy-winner for Best Pop Vocal Performance, but she’s no one-trick pony. Ahead of her time, she took most of the ’80s off after becoming disillusioned with the recording industry; re-emerged in the early ’90s as one of the early independent, label-free recording artists; come out as a lesbian, and started writing science fiction. There will be plenty for these two iconic singer/guitarists to reminisce about on the Kravis Center’s beautiful, under-utilized outdoor stage. See Tom Paxton and Janis Ian on April 11 at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater (7:30 p.m., $45-$69) and on April 12 at the Kravis Center’s Gosman Ampitheatre (7 p.m., $20).
Boz Scaggs appears in the pop previews as much on reputation as for his recent work. The 70-year-old singer/guitarist’s latest release, last year’s Memphis, is a rootsy R&B effort that follows a previous decade of mostly jazzy efforts. But Beautiful was a 2003 collection of standards; Speak Low a more textured effort inspired by the late arranger Gil Evans in 2008, and Scaggs spent the following years touring infrequently with other iconoclasts Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald as the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue. Seemingly in another life, Scaggs was a part of the Steve Miller Band in the late ’60s, and released one of the great pop albums of the ’70s in Silk Degrees, the 1976 disc that spawned the hits “Lido Shuffle,” “We’re All Alone,” “Lowdown,” “What Can I Say” and “It’s Over.” It proved a tough act to follow through the decade, as well as the ’80s and ’90s (decades where Scaggs released only a few CDs combined), but the musical chameleon can now play practically any song from his career in any style. See Boz Scaggs on April 13 at the Au-Rene Theater (7:30 p.m., $29-$109.50) April 15 at the Kravis Center (8 p.m., $25 and up).