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Music

Brian McWhorter is by any measure one of Eugene’s most creative artists. Before returning to town to take a faculty position at the University of Oregon, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, the trumpeter/composer/improviser earned acclaim as a member of New York’s Meridian Arts Ensemble, making guest appearances with orchestras and ensembles around the country. 

Featuring members of the popular, now-defunct Portland group Dirty Martini, Swan Sovereign plays taut, guitar-based indie pop, mixing ’60s girl-group harmonies with the sound of ’90s-era rock bands like Throwing Muses, Belly and The Breeders. 

I dare you to not bang your head to the opening strains  of White Zombie’s 1995 hit “More Human Than Human.” And yet, despite the fact that Rob Zombie crafts killer songs, at some point we’ll have to stop referring to him as a musician. In 2014, his acting, directing and filmmaking credits eclipse his musical offerings. 

Mark your calendars twice, because sister pubs Sam Bond’s and Axe and Fiddle have booked two rising Americana powerhouses this week — Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers and Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line, respectively.

If Eminem is the Elvis of hip hop — taking sounds of urban America and repacking them for the suburbs — Sean Daley (aka Slug) of Minneapolis indie-rap legend Atmosphere is Eminem in reverse: taking the subjects of suburban life and repacking them for the inner city. 

There’s a luring, mid-20th-century California cool to Natalie Gordon’s voice that sounds like it should be tumbling out of a poolside record player — part-Rosemary Clooney and part-Nancy Sinatra with the contemporary lilt of Shirley Manson and Amanda Palmer. 

With his retro greaser look, G-Eazy has cultivated a unique style for his chosen genre, earning him the title of “the James Dean of hip hop.” Caught between flattered and exasperated by this categorization, G-Eazy is trying to stake his own ground. 

Bellingham’s Polecat plays up-tempo, largely instrumental Americana-roots-bluegrass-folk-reggae — forget it, let’s just say Polecat plays dance music and they play it well. 

With its Harvest Records 2014 debut Badillac, popular SoCal pop-punk act together PANGEA take a huge sonic leap forward, beyond simple-minded garage-punk into more depth and sincerity.

“We love playing house concerts because it’s always a listening audience,” says Jeff Poynter, vocalist and accordion player for Victoria, B.C.-based indie-folk outfit West My Friend. “We’re not really a bar band, and so we like audiences that show up to hear music. 

Music News & notes from down in the Willamette valley.

“This sounds really young, it sounds like early Helio Sequence,” says Brandon Summers, the band’s singer and guitarist, of the new record. “To me, it feels like a 90-degree sunny day in Portland.”

In 2009, Shelby Earl quit her job on Amazon’s music team to record her first album. The Seattle singer-songwriter was excited; after three years of promoting other musicians at the internet giant, she was going to be the one promoted — hopefully. 

New Orleans can justly claim to be one of the birthplaces of American music, with its legendary gumbo of Caribbean, African and European music influences providing the essential ingredients for the rhythms that spread from the Gulf of Mexico and conquered the music world.

A familiar tune came on the radio: a fuzzy little snare flush followed by the cheery guitar line that leads into “If This Is It,” that maddeningly catchy ballad off Sports, the breakthrough platinum 1983 album from Huey Lewis and the News. It sounded good, in a cozy, familiar, guilty sort of way — the sort of way we seem to appreciate the smell of our own farts.

Music News & notes from down in the Willamette valley.

Bruno Mars knows exactly what he is doing, and he does it better than just about anyone in the business. Not only has he released two chart-topping albums, sold over 100 million copies of his singles and albums and won multiple Grammys, but he’d made a name for himself prior to all of this as a songwriter and producer. 

Type “Soulja Boy” into YouTube, click the video for “Crank Dat” (with more than 158 million views, mind you) and dance along as you listen to the hip-hop song that took 2007 by storm.

Tone, taste and tenacity remain ZZ Top’s motto and rationale for their lasting popularity, lead guitarist Billy Gibbons tells EW

In 2014, what does punk rock mean? “Playing as fast as you can? Playing three chords?” poses Atom Willard, drummer for Against Me! “Spiking your hair? Punk rock is doing what isn’t generally smiled upon by the masses,” Willard says. “Doing something you believe in and isn’t easy to do — basically going against the grain.” Willard says the gender transition of Against Me! vocalist Laura Jane Grace (born Thomas James Gabel) is one of the most punk rock things he’s ever witnessed. 

There’s something about Warpaint’s double music video for “Disco//Very” and “Keep it Healthy” that rings of the 1996 alt-witch flick The Craft. Perhaps it’s four badasses walking towards the camera, or Theresa Wayman’s and Emily Kokal’s ode to ’90s fashion wearing a plaid mini skirt over jeans and a Chicago Bulls T-shirt respectively.

Miranda Lambert is one of country music’s top female artists, but she has a gutsy-ness and grittiness that many women in country lack. She’s got sass and strength as well as suffering and insecurities, and isn’t afraid to reveal any of it in her lyrics.

A major attraction of the Oregon Festival of American Music’s two-year exploration of the so-called American songbook in Hollywood is rediscovering the original incarnations of stories most of us remember only from the later movies they inspired. 

Tuscon, Arizona, duo Sweet Ghosts took their name from a poem by Jack Gilbert: “Again and again we put our sweet ghosts on small paper boats and sailed them back into their death …” And listening to Sweet Ghosts’ latest release Certain Truths, it is easy to imagine “sweet ghosts on small paper boats.”