When: Sun., Jan. 29, 8 p.m. 2012
Reliable artists tend to be workmanlike: they can be depended upon to release a record every year or two that stays within an acceptable range of stylistic experimentation and then tour behind that material, leaving them and their fans comfortably happy. Then there's a rarer type: the artist who delivers a consistent stream of work that's guided only by his own eccentric instincts. Take Cass McCombs, a nomadic singer-songwriter who pops up on my radar so frequently I sometimes forget he no longer lives in Chicago. In April he released the lovely Wit's End, which explores the love affair between country music and pop in 70s LA—and ranks as one of my favorite guitar-band albums of 2011. His second effort of the year, November's Humor Risk (Domino), is significantly darker and heavier, but with its own subdued beauty. Listening to those two records back-to-back is like enjoying a sunny afternoon suddenly invaded by storm clouds, except you don't get drenched. —Miles Raymer
Last year LA songster Frank Fairfield took something of a leap toward modernity with his second album, Out on the Open West (Tompkins Square); unlike his debut, which is packed with antique songs from the public domain, it's mostly original material. But no matter who wrote the tunes, Fairfield's performances have few meaningful points of comparison in the past seven or eight decades. He's still a devotee of old-time music, switching among acoustic guitar, banjo, and fiddle (guest musicians help thicken the sound on several tracks) and evoking the styles of yore with soulful austerity. He dresses the part too, with a fat mustache and Brylcreem hairdo. The results are unapologetically anachronistic, but alongside his irresistible vitality, that's a big part of what Fairfield has going for him: in 2012, in-the-flesh opportunities to hear mountain soul, with its pinched yawp and brittle snap of strings, are very rare indeed. —Peter Margasak Cass McCombs headlines; Frank Fairfield and Gabriel Wallace open.