Sight Unsound: VilleBillies come home, Ladybirds sing, a lone ’Wolf howls

You get two immediate clues from Caddle, who open for the VilleBillies tonight at Coyote’s. First, the band’s album cover art is dominated by a skull with a cowboy hat (the hat’s black, of course). Second, their Web homepage boasts of “County Rock,” so these guys are obviously moving forward too fast to bother with either subtleties or niceties. But this shotgun marriage of Southern rock and punk has gotten off to a genuinely spirited start, as revealed on Raise ’Em High. Phillip Hyde sings about overwork and demanding women with an experienced wryness, but he’s plenty smart enough not to press himself as a smart-ass. Meantime, the band also knows how to blast past the overused boogie moves, so expect something that’s got sharp potential to go way beyond any Skynyrd reenactment.

That kind of “Southern rock is just a launching pad” attitude fits well alongside the phenomenon that is the VilleBillies. They seem to be enjoying themselves thoroughly after getting a fair portion of their considerable range and depth captured on last fall’s self-titled disc. It’s a good thing that they like performing together, because there’s hardly a club stage around that can hold all 10 members. Any stretching-out has to be artistic rather than literal, or else elbows will fly into eye sockets. When you consider how the VilleBillies probably just set a record for the amount of banjo on a Motown disc, they clearly know how to unify and realize their ambitions, and now it’s time to see if they have the ensemble chops to take off to even higher heights. Let’s just hope they don’t try to put the string section from “Greatest Moment” onstage, too, or the fire marshal will have something to say about the capacity at Coyote’s.

Tickets for this are $10 in advance. If you wait until day of show, or you have the unmitigated gall to be between the ages of 18 and 20, you’ll have to pay more. Coyote’s is part of the O’Malley’s Corner complex at 133 W. Liberty St., and doors open at 8 p.m. Call 589-3866 for more info.

The Ladybirds: The Ladybirds’ new record, Whiskey and Wine, features an MC5 cover.

The Ladybirds: The Ladybirds’ new record, Whiskey and Wine, features an MC5 cover.

I know it’s flu season, but I’d like you to consider getting some mono instead. The Ladybirds recorded their new full-length Whiskey and Wine in mono, which isn’t out of step given the band’s rockabilly/old-school punk leanings. On Saturday, Jan. 20, you can see what vocalist Sarah Teeple, bassist-songwriter Jaxon Swain and guitarist Max Balliet cooked up last year. The Ladybirds (in a quintet format that came together since the record’s sessions) are going to be at Headliners along with Johnny Berry and the Outliers and Woodrow on the Radio. For the Ladybirds, it took a while to get the discs done and out, and they’re practically in a fever to get to share them with the crowd at the release party. (The album sells for $8 — same as the price of a ticket to the show.) Whether they’re adding new spins to Phil Spector and Chuck Berry (“Problem Child”), reinventing a bad-girl anthem (the MC5’s “Teenage Lust”) or coming up with their own combination of the two (“Magic Fingers”), this local act looks to the past with fresh eyes.

Now they’ve got Anthony Fossaluzza on a big Hammond organ pushed through a Leslie speaker, which adds to their onstage versatility. But any time they summon pure rock spark, like when the guitar and Teeple’s voice charge in on competing gallops through “(I’m Gonna) Spin Those Reels,” the Ladybirds make for the most danceable sound around. Now they’ve finally got the proof on disc. Call 584-8088 for ticket info.

Now that he’s about to turn 60, Texan Joe Ely has a lot of stories to tell. He can certainly make a worthwhile evening just by turning a few stories into wise and roadworn country-rock — but you won’t get anything so straightforward from him these days.

Joe Ely: Photo by Gary Goldberg    Joe Ely has a lot of stories to tell.

Joe Ely: Photo by Gary Goldberg Joe Ely has a lot of stories to tell.

First of all, Ely’s appearance at the Kentucky Center (Sunday, Jan. 21) isn’t as a solo act. He’s coming in as part of a quartet of classic songwriter-performers. Ely, John Hiatt, Guy Clark and Lyle Lovett came up with many of the benchmarks of Americana music before the genre was named. If you’ve never seen the way these men perform together, imagine a musical Mt. Rushmore lined up on four stools, each in turn plucking or strumming an acoustic guitar and delivering a song of passion and wit. Once Lovett is done with the fourth song, the grand cycle comes around to Clark again, and four more great tunes ensue — only this time, somebody might improvise a harmony or a solo, and somebody’s “how I wrote this song” introduction might be as entertaining as the music.

As Ely says, this all-star concert format (you can’t really call it an ensemble) goes way back to the early 1990s, when Marlboro sponsored three nights of them playing at the venerable Bottom Line club in New York. The four enjoyed themselves so much that over the years they’ve gotten together regularly — though not with a consistent, full-fledged tour until they did one about five years ago. Through it all, Ely says, “I kinda get to know the three guys all over again.” He adds, “It’s always new and inspiring — everyone has traveled off in different directions.”

Ely’s own endeavors include multiple directions. Some of the songs he’ll sing at Whitney Hall may come from the first album on his own label. Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch rocks hard, including a sharp musical yarn about a smart-ass kid who gets mixed up in a love triangle — with Bonnie and Clyde. When asked why he wanted to form his own label, Ely points out that “record companies have become real careful about putting things out. They know the days of the CD are numbered.” The new album is plenty energetic and bright, and would have had labels lining up — but Ely’s also about to put out two experimental CDs, in which spoken-word excerpts of his road journal are accompanied by a soundscape with ambient music.

That road journal, by the way, was sought out by the University of Texas, who’ll bring it into print soon with illustrations featuring watercolors that Ely used to paint on tour and stuff into his guitar case. Joe Ely brings this renaissance phase of his, along with his famous friends, to play at Whitney Hall at 7 p.m. Sunday night. Tickets start at $35; call 584-7777 for more info.

Danny Johnson: has been shredding almost as long as Steppenwolf’s been around.

Danny Johnson: has been shredding almost as long as Steppenwolf’s been around.

In case you thought Kiss has been around for a long time, former Steppenwolf guitarist Danny Johnson is rocking at Stevie Ray’s to warm up for Steppenwolf’s 40th anniversary tour.

The Louisiana-born Johnson, 51, has released three solo records and played with the likes of Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper and Rick Derringer, who discovered Johnson at the tender age of 18.

I come from Louisiana, so I was rooted in the blues,” Johnson says. “When I got to be about, 13 or 14, Hendrix came out, Cream came out. I started getting into the more psychedelic bands.”

Striking out on his own was more difficult than collaborating with rock heavyweights, but then again, to Johnson, that’s life.

Everything’s an uphill battle, it seems like, in the music business,” he says. “I’ve always had a gig with a big band. In and out of those times, my solo thing is something I migrate back to.”

Johnson will play the Stevie Ray’s show by himself, with the help of a mixing board with pre-recorded drum and bass tracks.

He admits it’s odd from a stage presence perspective, but when you’ve got 67 songs in your catalog, things never get boring. Tonight’s show is 21 and over, starts at 8 p.m. and is $5. Robbie Cox opens. For info, call 582-9945.

Music Editor Mat Herron contributed to this story. You can reach the writer at [email protected]