Music roundup for July 24, 2014

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Thursday, July 24, 2014

Live on King Street: Cracker at 6 p.m. Friday, July 25, in front of Majestic Theater, 115 King St., Madison. With Hugh Bob & The Hustle, The Family Business and DJ Nick Nice. Call 608-255-0901.

The American alternative rock band Cracker features singer David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman. They are best known for their platinum-selling 1993 album, “Kerosene Hat,” with the hit songs “Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl” and “Get Off This.”

Lowery and Hickman formed the band in 1991 and released the self-titled album “Cracker,” which featured the singles “Happy Birthday to Me” and “Teen Angst,” on Virgin Records. The band has been touring almost continually ever since, releasing 10 studio albums and several compilations, collaborations and live albums. Their most recent album is “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey,” released in May 2009.

Cracker mixes influences and sounds from rock, punk, alt-country, psychedelia, blues and folk.

By the time he helped found Cracker, Lowery had gained acclaim as lead singer of the alt-rock band Camper Van Beethoven. He and co-founder Hickman are from Redlands, California, a place where punk and alternative rock thrived in the 1980s and early ’90s.

They moved the band to the East Coast in the mid-2000s. In 2005, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven started an annual three-night “Campout” at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace in California, close to where Lowery and Hickman met. Cracker and Camper band members perform their own music along with several other bands.

In 2009, Camper Van Beethoven got together for a reunion tour. Since then, Lowery has divided his time between both bands. Cracker’s music has been described as guitar-driven rock and features Lowery’s vocals over Hickman’s heavy electric-guitar riffs.

Cash Box Kings at 7 p.m. Friday, July 25, Harry C. Moore Pavilion, Riverside Park, 1160 Riverside Drive, Beloit.

The Cash Box Kings carry on the spirit of classic Chicago blues, including the 1940s and ’50s post-war blues but also the Delta blues from the 1920s and ’30s.

The band’s music is raw and stripped down—a hallmark of the music that was captured on Chess and Sun Records recordings.

The Cash Box Kings received the 2010 Blues Blast Music Magazine Sean Costello Rising Star Award and are regular headliners at Chicago venues such as Buddy Guy’s, Rosa’s Lounge, Nick’s and the Smoke Daddy. They’ve played several successful European tours and have headlined European festivals, including the Lucerne Blues Festival and the Hondarribia Blues Festival. They also have appeared several times at the Chicago Blues Festival.

Their last two CDs, “I-94 Blues” and “Cuttin’ Heads Live,” both spent three consecutive months in the Top 10 of the Living Blues U.S. Radio Charts.

The band has performed and collaborated with such Chicago blues giants as Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Billy Boy Arnold and Lurrie Bell.

Although the lineup has changed over the last 10 years, the Cash Box Kings are still anchored by founder and Whitewater native Joe Nosek, Oscar Wilson and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, son of the legendary Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who was Muddy Waters’ drummer from 1968-81.

The band now has a rotating cast of other players: Billy Flynn (guitar, mandolin, vocals, harmonica), Joel Paterson (guitar and vocals), Jimmy Sutton (upright bass and vocals), Beau Sample (upright bass and vocals), Chris Boeger (bass) and Mark Haines (drums).

Natalie Merchant at 8 p.m. Friday, July 25, The Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets: $45. Call 414-286-3663.

Singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant has been on tour this summer promoting her latest album, “Merchant,” which she released in spring.

The album debuted at No. 20 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums and No. 2 on Billboard’s Folk Albums charts for the week of May 24. It’s the singer’s first album of original material since 2001 and her sixth album as a solo artist.

Merchant became famous as the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs in the 1980s. The 50-year-old singer joined the band in 1981 as a community college student in New York.

She stuck with the band until 1993, when she embarked on a solo career. Her last recording with the band, a cover of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” at the 10,000 Maniacs MTV Unplugged performance, reached No. 11 in the singles chart. It was the band’s greatest U.S. success.

Merchant released her debut solo album, “Tigerlily,” in 1995. With spare arrangements and a Top 10 hit (“Carnival”), the album was a huge success, eventually selling more than 5 million copies.

Three years later, she released “Ophelia,” an album of lush string arrangements describing a series of women throughout time. Taken as a whole, the album was seen as a call for women’s rights and equality.

Merchant’s third solo effort, “Motherland,” returned to a folksy sound. She toured with the band Wilco, which served as her backup band on the tour. Merchant released solo albums in 2003 (“House Carpenter’s Daughter”) and 2010 (“Leave Your Sleep”) before coming out with her self-titled album this year.

Critics have hailed Merchant’s latest effort, noting that her voice is lower and grittier than in the past and her writing is sharp with figurative language and imagery.

Michael Bublé at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 27, BMO Harris Bradley Center, 1001 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. Tickets: $54.50-$99.50. Call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.

Canadian singer Michael Bublé has won four Grammy Awards in the best traditional pop vocal album category since 2008.

The 38-year-old Bublé is a big band vocalist, songwriter and actor. He grew up listening to his grandfather’s collection of jazz records and credits his grandfather in encouraging his love for jazz music.

Bublé has said he likes rock ‘n’ roll and modern music, but “something magical happened” the first time he heard the music of the Mills Brothers. He loved the romantic lyrics and decided, while still a child, that he wanted to be a singer. He never learned to read and write music, using only emotion to drive his songwriting ability.

At age 18, Bublé entered a local talent contest and won. He later was disqualified by organizer Bev Delich because he was underage. After that, Delich entered Bublé in the Canadian Youth Talent Search, which he won.

Bublé then asked Delich to be his manager, a job he held for seven not-so-fruitful years. Bublé did every gig imaginable, including talent shows, conventions, cruise ships, malls, hotel lounges, bars, clubs, corporate gigs, musical revues, singing telegrams and even the occasional singing Santa Claus gig.

Bublé’s first national TV performance was on a 1997 Bravo documentary. Beginning that year, he became a frequent guest on a national Canadian talk show where he met Diana Krall, who was already a Grammy-nominated jazz musician.

Bublé moved to Los Angeles in 2001 to pursue a singing contract. He released his first album in 2003. The album featured a range of standards from various eras, including “Fever,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “For Once in My Life,” “Moondance” and “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.”

He also recorded the Bee Gees’ hit “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” with Barry Gibb singing backup vocals.

The album went to the Top 10 in Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa and reached No. 1 in Australia. It was No. 33 on the ARIA Top 100 Albums of 2003. It achieved marginal success in the United States, reaching the Top 50 on the Billboard 200. Three tracks from the album reached the Top 30 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart.

Since then, Bublé has gone on to release five more studio albums and five live albums. His career has skyrocketed, and he’s at the pinnacle of the adult contemporary music genre.

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