Review: Get familiar with these Bay Area visitors

The City is one of the best places in the US of A to hear live music in all its glorious permutations. Here’s a batch of CDs that should whet your appetite for artists soon visiting the Bay Area.

Tom Russell — songwriter, singer and artist — is a noir cowboy with a care worn voice that can whisper like the dust blowing down a deserted highway or howl like a wolf trying to take a bite out of the unobtainable moon. Hightone, the Oakland label that’s been Russell’s home for the past decade, pays tribute to his back catalog with “Wounded Heart of America,” a tribute album featuring Johnny Cash, Suzy Bogguss and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The set includes four new Russell recordings; three of them brand new tunes. “Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall” is an ironic TexMex waltz that wonders where the U.S. will get the cheap labor to build the wall between Texas and Mexico that congress is debating. “Home Before Dark” is a love song full of desperate joy and “The Death of Jimmy Martin” pays tribute to the late, great bluegrass picker, indicting Nashville for shunning artists who fight to preserve traditional music. Russell plays Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage, 1111 Addison St., at 8 p.m. Friday. Call (510) 548-1761 or visit www.thefreight.org.

Chris Robley has a dark, moody style that sets him apart from your average indie rocker. His poetic sensibility gives his music a depth and wisdom many young songwriters lack. He plays almost any instrument you can imagine, and the eclectic arrangements on “The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love” are always surprising. “Little Love Affairs” is a lighthearted song about imaginary love played on celeste with backing vocals that sound like doo wop as arranged by Bach. “Gaslight Girl” is a folky guitar instrumental sprinkled with spooky theremin effects, while “The Love I Fake” sounds like a classic bar-room ballad from the ’40s, and veers from rock to ’60s spy movie twang to drunken French café jazz. Robley and his band Fear of Heights will be at Brainwash Café, 1122 Folsom St., San Francisco, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Call (415) 255-4866 or visit www.brainwash.com.

Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi (Moo-too-kud-zee) is Zimbabwe’s top pop star, although his music isn’t “pop” in the American sense. In Zimbabwe pop and traditional music inform each other rhythmically and stylistically. His style is called “tsava,” which is related to South African jive. It’ll be familiar to anyone who loved Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” Mtukudzi’s latest, “Tsimba Itsoka” (“Heads Up”), is full of the propulsive grooves that have made him an international favorite. Percolating guitar lines, gently swinging saxophones, thumping bass lines and soulful female backing vocalists support Mtukudzi’s warm, honeyed tones on a dozen tunes brimming over with charm and good humor. Mtukudzi and The Black Spirits play at 8 and 10 p.m. Oct. 26 to Oct. 28 at Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland. Call (510) 238-9200 or visit www.yoshis.com.

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