Erika Luckett
Birdfish Records

Erika Luckett isn’t just another guitar player with a pretty voice. The Mexican-born, Venezuelan- and Brazilian-raised artist cut her musical teeth as a teenager playing in the subways of Paris. Perhaps it was witnessing so much of the human condition in all of her travels that earned her one of the most complex and compassionate voices in folk music today.

What’s remarkable about Luckett is the fact that she’s able to communicate such intricate emotion so effectively, not only in French, but in Spanish, English and Portuguese as well. Unlike your typical folk singer, her musical education includes a degree in film scoring from the Berklee School of Music. It seems that Luckett’s degree came in handy while producing some of the grand orchestral effects on Unexpected, her fourth album. Her spacious, wise voice is accompanied by soaring string arrangements and modern samples and loops more typical of current pop and hip-hop albums than folk records.

Her sound may be atypical, but the subjects Luckett addresses (at least the ones that appear in English), are typical folk-singer fare, with Luckett poetically trying to make sense of natural and human mysteries. If this was a soundtrack, the accompanying movie would be an epic. (Caroline Keys)

Erika Luckett plays the Crystal Theatre Friday, April 7, at 8 PM. John Floridis opens. $12/$10 in advance/$2 off for Missoula Folklore Society members.

Sound System
Altered State Records

If you, my little jammie hipster reader, profess faith that no groove is too thick or persistent, then Flathead County’s Shapeshifter is a band to set you spinning. The hypno-jazz trio plucks synthesizer tones from Herbie Hancock’s Gentle Thoughts period, grafting them onto Medeski Martin and Wood’s instrumental sensibility and improvisational ethos in constructing its jam-driven and danceable sound.

On some tunes, like “cold comfort,” this singular pursuit of groove works; splashy keyboard action and syncopated basslines combine with crisp drumming for a ditty destined to move asses and arches. Experimental interplay between bass and drums on the next tune, “footprints,” tenuously leans toward a more novel exploration, but rather than head in a fresh melodic direction, the tune veers into a glowsticks-and-gritted-teeth trance jam that turns out to be the default destination for the improvisational excursions captured on Sound System.

Top-notch improvisers work relentlessly to reinvent the basic structures of songs, not just costume them in different tempos or new keyboard effects— tactics to which this proficient-but-pedestrian trio often resorts. A little more insistence on traveling to untested—and perhaps uncomfortable—patches of rhythmic and melodic terrain could improve on Shapeshifter’s vivid, if monochromatic, debut. (Jason Wiener)

Shapeshifter plays Higgins Alley Upstairs Thursday, April 13, at 9 PM. Cover TBA.

Midwest Dilemma
The Fireside Recordings

Any Montanan can relate to Justin Lamoureux’s solitary songs about miles and miles of ghost towns and a small community called Florence. Thing is, the man who is Midwest Dilemma isn’t referencing the Bitterroot Valley, he’s talking about the heartland and, more specifically, Nebraska. The similarities of setting may sound comforting, but they don’t automatically ensure an enduring album.

The Fireside Recordings is a competent EP sprinkled with Lamoureux’s emotionally charged lyrics, like when he asks “Will you still love me when my wheels stop turnin’?” and refers to a “congregation of broken hearts.” The problem is coffeehouse folk can be a little like elevator music, if only because it tends toward unobtrusive ambiance. In the case of The Fireside Recordings, Lamoureux gravitates toward the safe and subtle, especially in the first track, “Country Song,” where he sings about the countryside’s lack of street lights. Such obvious and mundane observations do, in fact, describe the landscape, but to what end? “Stolen Car” is the only real deviation, a punchier tune with engaging hooks and graceful breakdowns that, finally, delivers something worth writing home about. (Erika Fredrickson)

Midwest Dilemma plays Higgins Alley Upstairs Saturday, April 8, at 9 PM. This is a Process of a Still Life, Mike Wanz and Small Sails also perform. $5.

Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
Rabbit Fur Coat
Team Love

After being a child star on TV shows and in several movies—including Shelly Long’s campy Troop Beverly Hills—and then rising to sweetheart status in the indie-rock world as lead singer for Los Angeles-based Rilo Kiley, what’s a redheaded rock star to do next? Why, make an alt-country album, of course!

The subdued California twang of Jenny Lewis’ solo debut begins with a reverb-laden a capella gospel refrain in three-part chick harmony. The hymn abruptly gives way to a foot-stomping, PMS-y romp that Neko Case could have written in her sleep. With the exception of a Traveling Wilburys cover, the next half-hour involves Lewis finding her own voice while wrangling personal memoirs into story-songs, all the while backed-up with loping slide guitar and unsullied sibling harmonies from the Kentucky-cum-L.A. twin sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson.

Rabbit Fur Coat is one of a handful of releases from Conor Oberst (that’s Bright Eyes to you) and his new label, Team Love. The broody singer has offered Lewis a platform for her dark childhood images and articulate theological doubts, and despite a few tiring moments, it proves that at least one child star has a narrative actually worth listening to. (Caroline Keys)

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