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Robin Wheeler

It's been 30 years since Billy Bragg blended punk sensibilities with a lone guitar for his debut album, "Life's a Riot with Spy vs. Spy." In that time he's not only created a rich catalog of music, but he's also been a labor advocate, a protestor, a writer and playwright, a father, a collaborator -- most notably with Kirsty MacColl and Wilco, and one of the foremost keepers of Woody Guthrie's legacy.

With their sophomore effort "Amelita," Texas duo Court Yard Hounds embrace breezing southwest-folk style with biting lyrics sung in ringing harmonies by sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison.

By late July, some of us are weary of summer. Too bright, too hot and too damn cheerful. Good thing the Handsome Family Band, Sean Rowe and Danny Barnes stopped at Off Broadway with some dark songs and gallows humor.

Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes nailed it early in the evening: "Small venue. Sold out. One hundred degrees. No better place to be."

Since 1995 Milagro Saints have made southwestern-tinged, alt-rock jams. Not the obvious choice for a band started in New York City, based in Raleigh, N.C., and fronted by a British expat, but it works.

New York City's Milagro Saints are touring this week to celebrate Woody Guthrie's 101st birthday with their EP, "Mighty Road Songs." Comprised of their interpretation of six Woody Guthrie songs, the band's passing through St. Louis tonight en route to the annual free folk festival in Guthrie's hometown of Okemah, Okla.

St. Louis' Jesse Gannon, along with a rotating cast of some of the city's most accomplished musicians, performed Gannon's debut album to an enthusiastic, music-savvy crowd at the Gramophone.

"Nobody ever interviews the drummer," Ha Ha Tonka's Lennon Bone joked at the end of our conversation. Which is a shame because sometimes, when drummers are starting at the backside of the rest of the band, they're cultivating their own projects.

Twangfest's third night took a string-heavy turn into traditional country territory. Local band Half Knots opened the night with a set of heartbroken songs given melancholy power by Danny Kathriner's soft tenor vocals.

In his three-decade career, Marshall Crenshaw hasn't taken traditional routes. He's a Michigan-born singer-songwriter with a penchant for complex chord structures and pub rock-flavored pop while portraying other musicians. In the early years of his career, he played John Lennon in a production of "Beatlemania," then found himself onscreen as Buddy Holly in the 1987 film "La Bamba."

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