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Dirt road poetry

How The Creston Line rolls

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Jon Bartel continues to prove he's one of the area's finest songwriters—a mix of Jeff Tweedy, John Mellencamp, and Ryan Adams—who with his band The Creston Line produces literate, melancholic, often narrative songs that Bartel calls "a bleak version of the truth."

During last year's New Times Music Awards, he delivered "Great Depression," written in a fever dream and combining imagistic references to both the American Civil War and the Great Depression of '29. It was clear then that Bartel and his band were something special, and earlier this month they released a new album, Vagabonds, that clearly cements their place as arguably our area's most talented alt-country act.

Calling their sound "rock 'n' roll/twang pollution," the group mixes classic rock and country instrumentation, punk DIY sensibilities, and an irreverent spirit that pulses through their music. On Saturday, Oct. 29, The Creston Line plays The Siren in Morro Bay (8 p.m.; 21-and-older; $18 presale at ticketfly.com or $20 at the door), where they'll open for The White Buffalo. More on him in a minute.

The Creston Line includes Bartel (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano), Kirk MacLane (bass, vocals), Brenneth Stevens (pedal steel, lead guitar), Adam Nash (lead guitar), and Taylor Belmore (drums, vocals). The band takes its name from "the rural, rattlesnake-infested border between two tiny towns where frontman Bartel and multi-instrumentalist Stevens grew up."

A wailing harmonica riff opens "1992" before these lyrics kick in: "Built too many coffins, and I've dug too many graves. Got too much ink in my arms and numbers and names. Heard too many preachers say, 'Well you know, man, Jesus saves.' I've got too many broken bones and I've got unbroken chains. Yeah you know it's useless, useless as a war, like the rain driving into the sea with your house upon the shore. Now remember everything that you said you were fighting for. Yeah you took those pearls, you cast 'em on the floor. Now I remember the first time that you put that record on. Dancing 'round your living room, your little sister in my arms. A couple kids back in 1992, smoking rolled up cigarettes and screaming in bloom. Yeah they ain't never going be another 1992, and I don't know if there's a me now without you."

This is poetry, a Lucinda Williams-level lament about the loss of a deeply cherished friendship. This will be a great opener for The White Buffalo (aka singer-songwriter Jake Smith), a mountain of a man who also pens emotionally charged songs.

"I've always loved the combination of things that are really beautiful and things that are really dark or heavy. There's a lot of that on this album," Smith said of his album Love and the Death of Damnation in press materials.

Now five albums in, Smith has garnered a growing cult following, driven in part by placement of his songs on TV shows such as Sons of Anarchy and Californication. With vivid details and deftly painted characters, mostly misfits and outsiders, Smith has grown into what NPR's All Songs Considered hails as an "amazing storyteller." He's also got a rich baritone that perfectly invokes the aimless highways and byways of his imagined world—from the anthem-like opener "Dark Days" to the drug-deal-gone-wrong of "Chico," the album delivers just what its title promises.

"With this album, I really wanted to get back to songs," Smith stated. "Shadows, Greys and Evil Ways was kind of a concept album, so this time I wanted to get back to writing individual stories, as opposed to an extended narrative. I wanted each song to make you feel something. In the past, the songs have almost always been pretty dark, but this time, I was also able to channel some happier stuff and write a couple of actual feel-good songs. It's also more varied musically. I really made an effort to expand my sound, and to get out of my comfort zone as a songwriter."

This show, brought to you by Numbskull and Good Medicine Presents, promises to be night filled with rogues, heroes, and beaten-down lovers who never know when to quit.

Also this week from Numbskull and Good Medicine, see the always-awesome High Voltage, a tribute to AC/DC, on Friday, Oct. 20, at The Siren (7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $10 presale at ticketfly.com or $12 at the door), with original rockers Rusted Stone opening. I love me some AC/DC, and High Voltage delivers these classic covers with gusto.

Halestorm with special guest Starset plays the Fremont Theater on Saturday, Oct. 21 (6:30 p.m.; all ages; $34 presale at ticketfly.com and Boo Boo Records or $38 at the door). Grammy Award-winning Halestorm is one of contemporary hard rock's most explosive live acts, who recently released their third studio album Into the Wild Life.

The album's new single, "Apocalyptic," climbed to No. 1 on the hard rock charts, something a female-fronted band hasn't often done. The song's video has drawn more than 2 million individual views thus far at Halestorm's official YouTube channel.

Opening act Starset is no slouch either, touring in support of their second album, Vessels, which rose to No. 11 on the Top 200 Albums chart. Prepare to rock!

Brilliance and bravado!

New Orleans-based New Wave duo Generationals plays a fundraising concert this Sunday, Oct. 22, at Tooth & Nail Winery, benefitting the Templeton School District Music Programs (6:30 p.m.; all ages; $20).

The event is organized by surgeon Charles Chalekson, who discovered the band in the operating room, sort of.

"I spend many, many hours in the O.R. and love learning about new music and have culled many playlists from KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic and other new music sources to find new and interesting things. One such band I learned of several years ago was a band out of New Orleans, Generationals. Lots of times when I'm operating, I'll hear an intriguing band or song, and I'll ask one of the circulators to write down the band or song. Over a short period of time, I heard several songs, not knowing it was them, and became very intrigued with their music. They're classified as indie pop/rock, but I would add that they have a unique sound that recalls an updated/modern version of '50 and '60s tones with very compelling melodies."

I checked them out online, and Dr. Chalekson is right on! These guys are awesome! Different but compelling, and a ton of fun to listen to. Check it out!

Soul-pop dreamboat

Cody Simpson gets around, collaborating with everyone form Ziggy Marley to Asher Roth to Justin Bieber. The 20-year-old Australian who now operates out of California has more than 18 million followers on social media, but he got his start covering tracks such as "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz, "Cry Me a River" by Justin Timberlake, and "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5 before garnering fans with his own hit tracks such as "One" and "Perfect." This Sunday, Oct. 22, Simpson plays SLO Brew (7 p.m.; $15 at ticketweb.com), with opening acts The Tide and Bay Ledges.

Simpson is touring in support of his new California-inspired EP Wave One, which was informed by surf and rock music and psychedelica "to provide a vivid snapshot of a carefree summer that perfectly encapsulates Venice Beach and the sun-kissed streets of Southern California where it was penned," according to press materials. "Wave One is teeming with surf rock gallops, irresistible energy, breezy beats, provocative hooks, and even acoustic '60s-style call-and-response."

More music ...

World fusion and electronic group Beats Antique plays the Fremont Theater this Friday, Oct. 20 (8 p.m.; all ages; $25 at eventbrite.com), for their Shadowbox Tour with Asadi. Mixing Middle Eastern traditionals and EDM sensibilities, Beats Antique has created their own genre-mashing amalgam.

A cappella country act Home Free will bring their Nashville standards and country-tinged pop hits to the Performing Arts Center on Friday, Oct. 20 (8 p.m.; all ages; $24 to $50 at 756-4849 or calpolyarts.com). The five-man all-vocals and no-instruments band is known for their jaw-dropping performances and quick-witted humor. They first appeared in 2013 but have since amassed 150 million YouTube views. From Maren Morris' "My Church" to pop tracks like Shakira's "Try Everything" to fan favorites like their calypso-infused arrangement of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," these guys know how to entertain.

Music series For the Folks brings their next show to SLO's Bang the Drum Brewery on Saturday, Oct. 21, when they host Santa Cruz-act Abalone Grey and opening act B and the Hive (6:30 p.m.; all ages; $10 donation). Proceeds will support Gravity Water (gravitywater.org), a nonprofit that installs sustainable potable water systems in Nepali schools. The show's costume theme is "barn dance," and a DJ dance party follows at 10 p.m.

Keep up with New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey via Twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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