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VH1 fave slowly rises to fame on a wave of folksy hip-hop.

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In this iPod age of new artists making or breaking out of the gate, singer-songwriter Mat Kearney’s slow climb to radio ubiquity can be viewed as some sort of old-school triumph. The Nashville-based Kearney’s major-label debut, Nothing Left to Lose, was released a year ago. Its title track, a Jack Johnson-like shot of laid-back folk, is just now making its way to the upper parts of the charts. “There are days I wished I connected in a massive way,” says Kearney. “But I’m a big fan of keeping your head down and working hard.” (Kearney is part of the VH1 You Oughta Know Tour, which also includes the Feeling and Rocco DeLuca & the Burden.)

Nothing Left to Lose’s leisurely build could very well be attributed to its somewhat-schizoid sound. Part faith-based folk, part surfer-boy hip-hop -- Kearney’s music is tough to pin to a single genre. “Like most listeners these days, you can scan my record collection and find lots of different stuff,” he says. “For me, it’s Johnny Cash to U2 to A Tribe Called Quest.” Still, he’s confident there’s an audience that shares his diverse tastes. His packed concerts prove as much. “I’m still trying to figure it out,” he says. “I’m seeing everything from teenage girls to their snooty music-fan dads at my shows.”
Fri., April 6, 8 p.m.

Speaking of Highlights

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