JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound

You know you're doing all right in the city of Chicago if you can count both Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Mayor Rahm Emanuel among your fans. Such is the case for JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, the Chi-town retro-soul band that played at the former Obama White House chief of staff's inauguration party this year and whose new Bloodshot Records album,

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, includes a locomotive take on Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." That cover, and a reputation as a burning live band, earned Brooks & US a slot at Wilco's Solid Sound festival this summer. And while the song is an undeniable highlight of

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guitarist Billy Bungeroth has penned some substantive tunes of his own, like the wracked "Missing Things," which stand the Uptown Sound in good stead in the increasingly crowded soul-revival sweepstakes.

- Dan DeLuca

Dir En Grey

The best thing about Japan's Dir En Grey is the worst thing about Japan's Dir En Grey: The clever tech-metal is stuck in time, the moments of its conception. By 1997, the industrial complex of heavily processed metal was starting its rise (e.g., Trent Reznor before he became a tux-wearing, Oscar-winning soundtrack composer) through the charts, Slipknot was just starting to spook listeners, and the jerkily rhythmic likes of Korn still seemed important. That's when Dir En Grey made its move. Though the group started off looking, and sounding, like a hair metal version of an anime cartoon, the (mostly) Japanese-language quintet with the single-named membership (Kyo, Kaoru, Die, Toshiya, Shinya) eventually grew madder and more intense with its aptly named scream-heavy second album,


(2000). Though metalcore and goth have since become part of its sound, and softer textures and murky shadings have seeped into its recordings, Dir En Grey sticks to its guns on 2011's

Dum Spiro Spero

with songs like "The Blossoming Beelzebub" leading its charred-earth charge.

- A.D. Amorosi

Francis Dunnery

Leave it to singer-songwriter Francis Dunnery - so acclaimed for his guitar playing - to put out a record without any guitars on it, as he did this year with the quirky, R&B-infused

Made in Space.

Dunnery, who returns for his annual holiday-season stop at the Tin Angel this weekend, is all about stretching his own boundaries, while never venturing too far from his trademark melodic balladry. From his early days fronting English prog-rockers It Bites, to his side work with Robert Plant and Lauryn Hill, Dunnery has built a fervent international fan base, while in recent years becoming something of a "house concert" superstar, too. The 48-year-old musician (currently touring solo) will undoubtedly charm Philly fans with his impressive playing and his thought-provoking, often-humorous banter on topics ranging from astrology (which he's trained in) to the meaning of meaning. While the musical focus will be on his own songs, Dunnery's not opposed to tossing in a well-chosen cover, like Cat Stevens' "Father and Son," or one from his musical idols Genesis, "Back in NYC."

- Nicole Pensiero