Live Music: Craig Bickhardt, John Corbett Band, Shirlette Ammons, The Better Letters

Great live music to check out this week

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Singer-Songwriter | Craig Bickhardt
w/ Pete Ballou and Becca Bessinger of Satellite Rodeo
Fri. March 8
7 p.m.
$10
Awendaw Green

For 24 years, Craig Bickhardt called Nashville home. There he wrote songs for artists including Johnny Cash, Alison Krauss, and Willie Nelson. These were times before country stars sang about sexy tractors and sticking their boots up terrorists’ asses, and Bickhardt honed his craft with like-minded songwriters during live in-the-round sessions at Nashville’s storied Bluebird Café. “We didn’t give a shit if a song was a hit or not,” Bickhardt says. “What mattered was how good the song was, how good the story was, how believable it was, how well-written the lyric was.” In 2001, Bickhardt broke away with his first solo record, and a few years later, he moved back home to Pennsylvania and struck out on the road performing his own songs. Bickhardt is a songwriter’s songwriter to be sure, but outsiders will also appreciate the care and storytelling in his songs. And hey, you can’t hear that kind of stuff on country radio anymore. —Paul Bowers FRIDAY

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Plainspoken Country | John Corbett Band
w/ Michael Scott
Sat. March 9
10 p.m.
$15/advance, $20/door
The Windjammer

John Corbett’s probably best known as Carrie Bradshaw’s long-simmering boyfriend Aidan Shaw on Sex in the City, or if you’re old enough, philosopher/disc jockey Chris Stevens from Northern Exposure. Corbett has voiced commercials for Applebee’s and Walgreen’s and will soon be starring in his own NCIS spin-off. He appreciates the work, but music’s always been this humble West Virginia boy’s first love. Naturally, he loves country music, though he’s more Texas country than Nashville. That’s in keeping with his gloss-less homespun nature. Like the characters he plays, in person Corbett emanates plainspoken artless authenticity. His 2006 self-titled album featured the appropriately-titled single, “Good to Go.” In it Corbett confesses, “I wouldn’t want to change nothing about this roll-with-the-punches life I’ve had.” Though it might seem he’s known more rolls than punches, Corbett once worked in a steel mill with his father, and it wasn’t until he was 23 that he enrolled in a community college theater class with his dad’s encouragement. His father died recently, and Corbett admits he cried the first few times he played “Name on a Stone” before deciding to record it for December’s long-awaited second album, Leaving Nothin’ Behind. No matter how you experience him, Corbett exudes warm, irrepressible charm. —Chris Parker SATURDAY


QUEER HIP-HOP | Shirlette Ammons
w/ Sookee, Southern Femisphere
Sat. March 9
8 p.m.
Suggested donation of $5-$10
Tin Roof

Twilight for Gladys Bentley, the debut solo hip-hop album by Durham-based poet and musician Shirlette Ammons, was inspired by the biography of a Harlem Renaissance blues singer and lesbian, Gladys Bentley. “My approach was to place myself in the lineage she created, particularly as a queer artist who wears my sexuality and gender identity on my sleeve when I’m on stage,” Ammons explains. “I’m not as overt as Gladys was by any means, but I do see myself as being able to present myself so comfortably and confidently because folks like Gladys paved the way.” One track off of Twilight for Gladys Bentley, “Take a Chance,” was named one of the best songs of 2012 by North Carolina alt-weekly IndyWeek, and the tune has a really serious Missy Elliot vibe going on. Ammons is on tour with Sookee, a queer hip-hop artist from Germany who’s playing the U.S. for the first time, and they’ll come to the Tin Roof to play a benefit show for Girls Rock Charleston. “We queer rappers are at the forefront of conversations about what’s new and innovative in hip-hop,” Ammons says. —Susan Cohen SATURDAY


UNDERGROUND POP | The Better Letters
w/ Hark! The Marching Bones, Magic Camp
Wed. March 6
8 p.m.
The Sparrow

Even the most pedestrian of music fans can draw the connection between the Talking Heads and Pennsylvania band the Better Letters. They know it. We know it. Everyone knows it. “I like to say that we’re America’s No. 1 Talking Heads rip-off band — that usually gets the job done,” singer and guitarist Joe Palumbo says. “But when I feel I need to elaborate, I’ll mention that it’s a good blend of Talking Heads and the Stooges, with a little Sleater-Kinney.” And those are good comparisons too, because while the band plays undeniably poppy music, there’s some DIY-punk aesthetic underlying their catchy, dancey tunes. Case in point: The recently released three-song Play It Straight EP, which features two originals practically stolen from the late ’70s New Wave movement, plus a cool cover of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” that would fit pretty perfectly on Talking Heads: 77. “The cover is kind of an analog to the band,” Palumbo says. “We’re attempting to expand on the past rather than trying to pretend we had something to do with it. Some have said that it’s a failed cover, though I am not entirely sure why.” You’ll hear it at the Sparrow when Better Letters play with Hark! The Marching Bones and Magic Camp. —Susan Cohen WEDNESDAY

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