People love using words like "wholesome" and "classy" to describe 21-year-old Disney Channel graduate Selena Gomez. Compared with her pop-culture counterpart Miley Cyrus, Gomez certainly is the more family-friendly car-ride CD choice. I have a hard time believing that there's anything beyond marshmallow fluff between Gomez's ears. The starlet's latest record, Stars Dance, is filled with polished pop songs that lack personality. Maybe we'll find it in her live show, tucked away somewhere between her moderate vocal talent and chastity.
Sunday, November 17, at Sprint Center (1407 Grand, 816-949-7000)
Janelle Monáe is weird. You might not notice because she's so pretty and has such a big, soulful voice, but this Kansas City–born diva has an elaborate plan to reinvent R&B. On Monáe's latest album, The Electric Lady, she fuses funk beats and bombastic vocals with a vaguely dystopian story line that she has been building since her 2007 debut, Metropolis. Monáe's talent has been endorsed by OutKast and Prince — His Purpleness has essentially crowned her R&B's newest princess — and her strange star seems to keep on rising.
Friday, November 15, at the Uptown Theater (3700 Broadway, 816-753-8665)
Little Howlin' Wolf
Saxophonist James Pobiega has multiple aliases — Little Howlin' Wolf is just one of the many under which he performs, sometimes as a blues street musician in Chicago, sometimes as a recording artist of experimental, improvisational jazz. He's one of those artists who probably did too many drugs in the '70s, but damn if he doesn't have some fantastic stories to share.
Friday, November 15, at FOKL (556 Central, KCK, foklcenter.com)
Trevor Terndrup, lead singer of Nashville alt-rock five-piece Moon Taxi, has got quite a set of pipes. His voice sidles up next to you, as casual as an afternoon bike ride on a warm summer day, nonthreatening and friendly, and sucks you in. Moon Taxi's latest release, Mountains Beaches Cities, traipses through genres like a child playing hopscotch: We hear country-rock power anthems, gentle folk songs, and even splashes of electronica. Somehow, it seamlessly folds together.
Saturday, November 16, at the Riot Room (4048 Broadway, 816-442-8179)
Wiping Out Thousands
Alaine Dickman and Taylor Nelson make up the Minneapolis duo Wiping Out Thousands, an experimental electronic band for all the nerds out there. They take their name from the Alvin Toffler novel Future Shock, if that tells you anything. Dickman and Nelson make music that sometimes sounds like agitated robots at a peace conference — in a good way. Dickman has a pop voice, but maybe that's what makes it so entrancing, mashed up against abrasive electro-rock and computer bleeps.
Tuesday, November 19, at RecordBar (1020 Westport Road, 816-753-5207)
Athens, Georgia's Dead Confederate makes dark Southern-rock music that goes down like an acid cocktail. The band's recently released In the Marrow sounds equal parts Kurt Cobain tribute (thanks to lead singer Thomas Hardy Morris) and Murder By Death (with more edge). Five years ago, consensus was that Dead Confederate was on the verge of a huge breakthrough; retrospectively, it probably should have just added suspenders and a banjo to its gear.
Thursday, November 14, at the Riot Room (4048 Broadway, 816-442-8179)
It's rare when "hillbilly music" sounds even remotely appealing, but exceptions must be made in the case of Mountain Sprout. The Arkansas four-piece features bass, guitar, banjo and fiddle, and the band's unpretentious twang sounds like a throwback to the riotous days of moonshine and shotgun weddings. With songs like "Screw the Government" and "Town Drunk," it's clear that Mountain Sprout cares very little about making a good first impression, which is probably why the band is so much fun.
Saturday, November 16, at Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club (3402 Main, 816-753-1909)
Nora Jane Struthers
Singer-songwriter Nora Jane Struthers makes sweet, apple-pie Americana for the ages. Her easygoing songs carry elements of comfortable bluegrass and old-timey nostalgia, with plenty of room for Struthers' warm vocals to nestle in. On her recent Carnival, Struthers proves that even though she may not have the brassy charm of Dolly Parton or the Grammys of Alison Krauss, she does possess a timelessness that makes her an emerging leader in an old category.
Tuesday, November 19, at Knuckleheads Saloon (2715 Rochester, 816-483-1456)