Critic's Choice for the week of July 18-24, 2007 

World-weary country, folk-blues-jazz, and uncompromising cello.

High Lonesome Queen

Neko Case and Jenny Lewis might be the poster gals for the insurgent country movement, but Jesse Sykes works the kind of musical magic that should get her mentioned more often in the same breath as that aforementioned duo. Along with her collaborators, the Sweet Hereafter, Sykes has quietly put together a low-key yet powerful body of work. Their third album Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul may be a mouthful, but between Sykes' world-weary rasp of a croon and the way they present country and folk with intriguing textures and emotion makes what they do right in line with what Gram Parsons used to call Cosmic American Music. Tuesday, July 24 at the Cafe du Nord in SF. 9 p.m., $12. (Dave Gil de Rubio)

Ruthless Cello

In recent interviews, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and saxophonist David Murray contended that the cello ranks among the sexiest of instruments — second only to the saxophone. Chicago cellist Alison Chesley perfectly illustrates their point in her new rock-influenced solo album, Helen Money (slated for September release on her label Cellbird). Recorded live, Helen Money reveals everything a person can say by playing cello through a guitar amp: Chesley is by turns tetchy, shifty, pensive, and melancholy. She's both a bruiser and an uncompromising romantic, capable of hacksawing and puncturing each note (as illustrated on one of her hardest tunes, "Hendrix"), or oozing seductively around it. Though you can hear Bach mingling uneasily with Jimi Hendrix and Sonic Youth on many of her compositions, Chesley is neither self-consciously hip nor beholden to the rigorousness of her classical background. Rather, she sounds mercurial and sometimes ruthless, capable of changing the mood on a dime. Chesley performs Thursday at San Francisco's Luggage Store Gallery, with Lisa Mezzacappa and Ross Hammond opening. 8 p.m., $5. (Rachel Swan)

Perfected Indie Rock

It's rare for an independent rock band to put half as much time and money into an album as Oakland's H.I.J.K. , previously known as Hijack the Disco, invested in its debut. The group hired Grammy-winning producer Enrique Gonzalez Müller (Dave Matthews Band, MC Hammer), fearlessly worked and reworked its songs, then holed up for five weeks in legendary Sausalito studio the Plant. All told, the process took almost a year and half. A self-titled EP finally saw daylight early this year, and the shimmering full-length The Pen and the Letter is due this summer. Thursday night, H.I.J.K. performs at the Uptown along with Santa Cruz's Vox Jaguars and San Francisco rockers Little Yellow Perfect and Silver Griffin. 9 p.m., $7. (Nate Seltenrich)

< b style="text-transform: uppercase;">Folk Legend

Berkeley folk-blues-jazz singer Barbara Dane celebrates her eightieth birthday Sunday at the Freight in grand style, with a band of trad jazz buddies and other musicians helping out. Dane has always been where the musical and political action is, using her songs as weapons for peace. She appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959, was the first American singer to perform in Cuba after the revolution, sang for civil rights in the South before it was cool to do so, and performed on a CBS-TV folk special that introduced Bob Dylan to television viewers. Her albums run the gamut from folk to trad jazz; I Hate the Capitalist System was recently reissued on CD. She will sing with a small combo featuring pianist Ellen Hoffman, guitarist Johnny Harper, and special guests including violinist India Cooke. She also will front a band of Bay Area jazz greats, the Golden Gate Hot Seven, featuring pianist Ray Skelbred, reedsman Richard Hadlock, and trombonist Bob Mielke. Sunday, July 22. 8 p.m., $19.50-$20.50. (Larry Kelp)

More Mozart

For its 33rd season, George Cleve's Midsummer Mozart Festival promises to brighten our summer with sublime music. This week's generous offerings, which reach Berkeley's First Congregational Church on Sunday, include the Divertimento for Oboe, Two Horns & Strings in D major, Piano Concerto No. 22 with pianist Janina Fialkowska, the Bassoon Concerto in B flat major with bassoonist Rufus Olivier, and the Symphony No. 34 in C major. 7 p.m., $30-$60. 415-627-9141. (Jason Victor Serinus)


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