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The Annual Freshman Class Cypher put out by XXL Magazine is something like a rap world debutante ball — a chance for the genre’s most promising hopefuls to prove their mettle in rap’s oldest battle tradition. 

Jessica Lea Mayfield is a chameleon. From her first folk-country release With Blasphemy, So Heartfelt (produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys) through her grunge-alternative record Make My Head Sing, Mayfield’s rural music, tinged with a Liz Phair sound, is ever changing — like a pink-haired glittery punk rocker with the heart of a country singer. 

Another musical family, banjo masters Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, perform duets on Feb. 10 at The Shedd. Fleck’s incomparable skill, 15 Grammies and wide range of musical explorations, along with Washburn’s singing and songwriting promise a show that’s more than just pickin’ and grinnin’, although there’ll be plenty of both.

PWR BTTM is a self-identified queer-core duo from upstate New York that now resides in Brooklyn. 

Last year the band gained massive critical buzz with the release of its debut LP Ugly Cherries, a collection of punk and power-pop tunes subverting heteronormative guitar rock reminiscent of Weezer.

Saintseneca’s guitar-based music is sweetly earnest, exhibiting the infectious melodies and charmingly snotty lo-fi sensibilities of Pavement. In other words, Saintseneca are quintessential college rock.

Yes, technically speaking, Shabazz Palaces is a rap group. But that sort of classification is about as accurate as calling Bitches Brew a jazz record or Captain Beefheart a rock star. Sure, it gets you in the right galaxy, but it does nothing to describe the bizarre constellation of fractured beats, warped vocals and occult imagery the group has formed during their six years together. 

Music News & notes from down in the Willamette valley.

Most people think of the University of Oregon’s contribution to our community’s creativity as primarily educational. But many of its faculty members perform, and this Thursday, Jan. 14, at 7:30 pm, a passel of them will be strutting their onstage skills at the school’s Beall Concert Hall for MASSIVE: A UO Megarecital.

Songwriter Vanessa Carlton’s 2015 release Liberman is partially inspired by her grandfather. “He was a painter,” Carlton tells EW. Carlton’s family changed its surname from Liberman to Lee after World War II “because of anti-Semitism,” she says.

Carlton hangs her grandfather’s work near the piano where she writes her music. “The swirling, beautiful, crazy colors ended up being the inspiration for the type of music I was writing. I wanted to honor his work as a painter,” she recalls.

San Francisco band The Shanghais have never been to Eugene. Lead vocalist Natalie Sweet is wondering if we have any good vegan food here.

“I’m always on the hunt,” Sweet tells EW via email. Based on that question alone, the quartet should feel right at home in our fair city with its verdant veggie foodie scene.

Music News & notes from down in the Willamette valley.

Music News & notes from down in the Willamette valley.

The New Year opens with a series of ace instrumentalists strutting their chops around town. At 4 pm Sunday, Jan. 3, First United Methodist Church (13th and Olive) brings a renowned instrumentalist, uilleann piper Eliot Grasso, to its annual handbell concert. That unusual ensemble is alone worth seeing, but this year’s show also features trumpeter Chris Peters and the church’s own organist, Julia Brown, an accomplished recording artist. Grasso is one of the acknowledged masters of the haunting Irish bagpipes and has performed all over the world. 

Music News & notes from down in the Willamette valley.

The year 2015 is when pure pop scored serious artistic cred: Ryan covered Taylor, Adele smashed all kinds of sales records and even Justin Bieber garnered some pretty decent critical notices.

So whither goes the rock band? In no particular order, here are ten of 2015’s most interesting, challenging and intriguing releases (and perhaps last-minute gifts for the rocker in your life) from young guitar geeks to mysterious pop auteurs just outside the mainstream.

For the past four years, the husband-and-wife team of singer and guitarist Jen Johnson and drummer Mike Latulippe have fronted Velah, a rather excellent Boston-area indie-rock outfit. Johnson went on record saying that Pale Hands, the duo’s barely year-old electronic band, came about after they wrote a bunch of songs that just couldn’t work for Velah. It’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to say when launching an electronic side project (see: Broken Bells, Postal Service), even if it’s not altogether true. 

“I met Sam Cooke and his wife Barbara, and he turned to her and said, ‘Why don’t you bring her to America with us? We like her,’” Norma Fraser recounts, bursting into laughter.  

Fraser has lived in Eugene for a decade and has a lifetime of stories like this, including recording with Bob Marley.

The last chance for Eugeneans to hear Patchy Sanders live in all its folksy glory will be this Saturday, Dec. 19. The popular and critically acclaimed indie troupe with Eugene roots is calling it quits after three years.

If it’s fiddles you fancy, this holiday season will be merry and bright, because we’re seeing a phalanx of fine fiddlers on Eugene stages to close out 2015. 

For all the fringe, Western flair and Loretta-Lynn inflection, Jenny Don’t — of Jenny Don’t and The Spurs — is a punk rocker at heart. 

Friday at Hi-Fi Music Hall will showcase a fantastic fuzzy spectrum of garage rock, from the surf pop of Seattle’s Tacocat to the ever-evolving punk-rock soul of Portland’s Sallie Ford.

Angela Webber, one-half of Portland nerd-folk duo The Doubleclicks, says we’re living in a golden age of geek culture. “The creation of the internet definitely helped nerds find each other,” Webber tells EW.

The Conjugal Visitors’ M.D. “Maz” Elsworth is from Kentucky — the Bluegrass State. He says he considers his Eugene band to be the “Cascadian” equivalent to the Appalachian sound he grew up around.

“The epitome of Cascadian, whiskey-land jazz,” Elsworth tells EW, describing his band’s old-timey music, “Cascadian party music.” 

When unimaginable horrors are in the headlines — as they are far too often these days — it’s easy to feel helpless and to wonder what one person can do about so much pain in the world.

“About a week after the UCC shooting [in Roseburg] I was driving my kids to school,” says Eugene writer Rachael Carnes. Carnes, a regular contributor to EW, says the benefit was the brainchild of her daughter, Jane Brinkley. Brinkley, 13, is in the 8th grade at Roosevelt Middle School. Carnes and Brinkley are coordinating “Music Heals: A Benefit for all Victims of Gun Violence.”