Lucero frontman Ben Nichols has an aggressive punk energy that could incite even the most upstanding citizen to break a law or two. He also has a soulful rasp that could break hearts from a mile away. Along the way, his ever-expanding band matches him step for swaggering step. Lucero's just-released Women & Work is a love letter to the music and atmosphere of their hometown of Memphis — a sonic sample platter of everything the group has been doing infinitely well for more than a decade, alternately roaring and purring like street-corner buskers occupying the intersection of Al Green Street and Alex Chilton Boulevard. Lucero are on the road two out of three nights a year, and every place they play is like a church being saved from shingles to boiler room — every audience is a congregation in the throes of something much bigger than themselves. Praise the Lord and pass the Stax; Lucero are tearing up the countryside again. — Brian Baker
With William Elliott Whitmore. 8 p.m. Thursday, April 12. Grog Shop. Tickets: $18; call 216-321-5588 or go to grogshop.gs.
Howlin Rain's San Francisco looks a lot like the one of four decades ago. The quintet uncorks all kinds of retro sounds on its third album, The Russian Wilds. Mixing a galactic dose of heavy blues with its sludgy psych-rock, Howlin Rain come on like any number of bands that could and quite possibly have played the Fillmore West back when drugs were mandatory and showers were optional. Ghosts of hippie rock's past roam free — everything from Blue Cheer's metallic crunch to Humble Pie's blustery boogie to Crosby, Stills & Nash's super-tight harmonies to the Grateful Dead's, um, adventurous spirit can be heard in Howlin Rain's music. Cynics could dismiss them as stoner rock, but there's more to it than that; the riffs and grooves spread much broader. Twee-poppers Belle & Sebastian picked them to play their music festival, which says a lot about their appeal. So do the songs, which are more restless than the band's shaggy appearance lets on. — Gallucci
With Buffalo Killers and Broncho. 9 p.m. Friday, April 13. Beachland Tavern. Tickets: $10; call 216-383-1124 or visit beachlandballroom.com.
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