JUNIOR BROWN, 1/14, SCHUBAS, 1/15, FITZGERALD'S Inventor of the guit-steel (an electric guitar and a steel guitar fused into one instrument), Austin's Junior Brown sings with the deep, warm drawl of Texas Troubadour Ernest Tubb, but he also plays with the urgent frenzy of lid-flipping pyrotechnician Speedy West. His richly variegated repertoire of songs is embedded in the nonsappy traditionalism of the 50s, exhibiting that period's droll, timeless humor and wordplay ("I'm just doing what comes easy / And it's not that hard to do"). On his recent Guit With It, for example, he swivels gracefully from the rocking George Jones-ish lilt of "You Didn't Have to Go All the Way" to the revisionist-blues twang-guitar showcase of "Guit-Steel Blues," closing the album with the affecting old-timey ruralism of "The Gal From Oklahoma." Avoiding both the rock flourishes and cloying ballads that infect most contemporary country, Brown has created a music that's respectful of the tradition without being bound to it. Billy Joe Shaver opens (see Critic's Choice). HARDVARK, 11/14, METRO This Champaign trio features Bob Rising, former drummer for both Poster Children and Seam, both of which covered similar ground. Slammed, ringing guitars, pummeling rhythms, and pleasant, half-formed melodies collide as much as combine. Hardvark is thoroughly enmeshed in indie rock's seven-inch culture (although its debut album is a few months away), in which bands seem to strive for only middling success (say, drawing 200 people in Chicago), and that only as long as they don't have to try very hard. You might call it punk rock without any social agenda. SECOND ANNUAL HOTHOUSE MUSIC FESTIVAL, 1/14-1/16, HOTHOUSE Considerably scaled down from the fortnight fete HotHouse organized last summer, this weekend of music nonetheless continues to proselytize for the ideal of healthy diversity. An intriguing blend of rock bands, jazz groups, and other less taggable acts intermingles on any given evening with genre consistency paid little heed. Among the more notable participants are vaguely rockish bands like the Sea and Cake, Falstaff (both spin-offs of Shrimp Boat), and Gastr del Sol; solo jazz bassist Tatsu Aoki (see Critic's Choice); the Fareed Haque Trio; flamenco guitarist Tomas de Utrera; and the Last Kwartet, an AACMish group transplanted from Boston that features Jeff Parker, guitarist from New Horizons Ensemble. MAESTRO SUBGUM & THE WHOLE, 1/15, EMPTY BOTTLE Fans of that elusive strain one might label "cabaret art rock" are surely aware of Chicago's premier purveyors of the form. Rabid followers take note: this performance is the last for longtime trumpeter Bobby Ray Jacobson and singer Colm O'Reilly. LORDS OF THE UNDERGROUND, 11/16, OAK THEATRE Cramming their music with--surprise surprise--goofing and bragging, Lords of the Underground are a solid hip-hop threesome whose Marley Marl-produced Here Come the Lords reaches toward pounding old-school grooves. Don't expect too much more than that. PITCHBLENDE, 1/20, LOUNGE AX This Washington, D.C., quartet drills hard into a noise-sodden variation on catchy, dissonant rock. While heavily indebted to old-time noise merchants like Sonic Youth and the Ex, Pitchblende's jarring stop-start lunges and almost robotic, chanted slivers of melody fight a compelling battle amid the semicaustic din. Their debut Kill Atom Smasher falters at times with purposeless runs of formal flashiness, but when these tidy grime-guzzlers stumble upon the sharp marriage of tunefulness and controlled chaos, they're rather convincing.