- - Monday, April 6, 2015

We don’t have long to wait for the big country arena shows to hit the D.C. metropolitan area.

Florida Georgia Line hit Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 9. Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes and Sam Hunt play Jiffy Lube Live on June 6, and that’s just for starters.

But now is the time to get into the clubs and hear renowned artists play their latest music.

Here are two don’t-miss shows:

John McCutcheon, Joe Hill’s Last Will: Leave it to folk artist extraordinaire John McCutcheon to beautifully revitalize the songs of Joe Hill, the Swedish labor immigrant whose work and songs for the Industrial Workers of the World inspired Woody Guthrie and countless others. In the hands of Mr. McCutcheon, these songs weep with the passion of laborers who battled to form unions after immigrating to the United States. The songs move from the feisty, fiddle-filled fighting song “The Connaughtman’s Rambles” to “Stung Right,” an up-tempo workers’ battle cry. But the standout on this 13-track album must be “Joe Hill’s Last Will,” one of the saddest yet most heartening songs in the folk canyon. Legend has it that Hill handed the song through the bars of his jail cell hours before his execution.

Mr. McCutcheon is one of only a handful of contemporary musicians who could do Hill’s work justice. The much-heralded folk singer, songwriter and internationally recognized multi-instrumentalist has spent his life musically crusading for political and social causes. In true folk spirit, he performs others’ songs as reverently as his originals. He last proved that in 2012 with the release of “This Land: Woody Guthrie’s America,” which dusted off some of the folk icon’s most compelling and unknown music. This latest album shows why Mr. McCutcheon is a folk hero in his own right.

BlackBerry Smoke: Holding all the Roses: When I spoke with Charlie Star, the frontman of Blackberry Smoke, in 2012, he told me that the band had matured to the point that it was “clicking on all cylinders.” The group had just released “The Whippoorwill,” and anyone who heard that album or attended a show on that tour would have been hard-pressed to refute that statement.

In the jam-packed world of Southern rock-country, where ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd and other established heavyweights rule arenas, Blackberry Smoke is right on their tail. Miss the chance to see the band on its club tour behind its just-released “Holding All the Roses,” and you’ll likely have to settle for nosebleed seats in arenas the next time they come through town.

Fans fretted that the band’s switch from Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label and teaming up with producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen) would kill the band’s gritty Southern sound. No fear. If anything, the band sounds even more self-assured in its country rock skin than ever before.

Standout tracks include “Woman in the Moon,” a soulful, Southern, midtempo love song, the lilting, acoustic guitar-driven “Randolph County Farewell” and the rocking “Fire in the Hole,” which mixes and matches guitar, fiddle and pounding percussion into a feast of Southern country sound.

Stand back, fans. BlackBerry Smoke is on fire.

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: John McCutcheon

WHEN: April 23, 8 p.m.

WHERE: The Barns at Wolf Trap, 1635 Trap Road, Vienna, Virginia

INFO: Tickets $25-$28; call 877/ 965-3872 or visit WolfTrap.org

 

WHAT: BlackBerry Smoke: Holding All the Roses Tour, with The Temperance Movement and The Ben Miller Band

WHERE: Fillmore Silver Spring, 8656 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, Maryland

WHEN: Friday, 8 p.m.

INFO: For tickets, call 301/960-9999 or visit FilmoreSilverSpring.com

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