Advance notice: Sufjan Stevens comes to the Academy of Music next week. Wherever he aims his peculiar genius, it usually lands firmly, strongly - whether in his legendary and long-lasting "state" records (Michigan in 2003, Illinois in 2005), his distinctly faithful efforts such as Seven Swans in 2004, his Christmas records, or his impending new one, Carrie & Lowell, which deals in grief, the sadness of losing a mother, and the beauty in silence. His songwriting is poetic, deftly mining beauties of humanity, including longing, anxiety, ambition, and regret. And despite a range that contains a wispy, quieted delivery on one end with bombastic electronic orchestral compositions on the other, Stevens can kick out the jams. He'll no doubt have a well-oiled big backing band behind him to turn it up for greatest hits like "Chicago" and "Oh Detroit! . . . " A second show has been added, and it's likely they'll both sell out. - Bill Chenevert
She's billed as the "Queen of Bluegrass," but Rhonda Vincent has always had a deep affection for traditional country music, as well. Her latest effort, 2014's double disc Only Me, debuted at No. 1 on the bluegrass charts, even though it was a true hybrid of both styles: one disc of bluegrass tunes, and the other of country, with Vincent's gorgeous, deeply emotive voice as the common denominator.
With dozens of bluegrass awards and six-Grammy nominations since her 1988 debut album, the 52-year-old singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist - she plays mandolin, fiddle, and guitar - has little to prove, other than that she's not willing to be straitjacketed musically. Whether it's a torchy country song, such as Connie Smith's "Once a Day," or the banjo hoedown of Jesse Daniels' "Busy City," Vincent never seems to miss the mark.
As a fifth-generation musician who began singing gospel songs at 5 in her family's band in Missouri, Vincent truly shines onstage, where she'll be joined by her versatile backing musicians, collectively known as the Rage. - Nicole Pensiero
Since his debut album in 1986, Joe Louis Walker has forged a career as one of the best of contemporary bluesmen. The singer and guitarist, once a protégé of guitar great Michael Bloomfield, has managed to keep the music fresh and vital while retaining its essential blues character. On his most recent album, Hornet's Nest, Walker delivers blistering blues-rock, displays finesse with some old-school rhythm and blues, and reveals his gospel roots. And that's not the extent of his range. When he unplugs for some acoustic blues, Walker is just as powerful as when he goes electric. - Nick Cristiano