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Music News & notes from down in the Willamette valley.

The New Year opens with a series of ace instrumentalists strutting their chops around town. At 4 pm Sunday, Jan. 3, First United Methodist Church (13th and Olive) brings a renowned instrumentalist, uilleann piper Eliot Grasso, to its annual handbell concert. That unusual ensemble is alone worth seeing, but this year’s show also features trumpeter Chris Peters and the church’s own organist, Julia Brown, an accomplished recording artist. Grasso is one of the acknowledged masters of the haunting Irish bagpipes and has performed all over the world. 

Music News & notes from down in the Willamette valley.

The year 2015 is when pure pop scored serious artistic cred: Ryan covered Taylor, Adele smashed all kinds of sales records and even Justin Bieber garnered some pretty decent critical notices.

So whither goes the rock band? In no particular order, here are ten of 2015’s most interesting, challenging and intriguing releases (and perhaps last-minute gifts for the rocker in your life) from young guitar geeks to mysterious pop auteurs just outside the mainstream.

For the past four years, the husband-and-wife team of singer and guitarist Jen Johnson and drummer Mike Latulippe have fronted Velah, a rather excellent Boston-area indie-rock outfit. Johnson went on record saying that Pale Hands, the duo’s barely year-old electronic band, came about after they wrote a bunch of songs that just couldn’t work for Velah. It’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to say when launching an electronic side project (see: Broken Bells, Postal Service), even if it’s not altogether true. 

“I met Sam Cooke and his wife Barbara, and he turned to her and said, ‘Why don’t you bring her to America with us? We like her,’” Norma Fraser recounts, bursting into laughter.  

Fraser has lived in Eugene for a decade and has a lifetime of stories like this, including recording with Bob Marley.

The last chance for Eugeneans to hear Patchy Sanders live in all its folksy glory will be this Saturday, Dec. 19. The popular and critically acclaimed indie troupe with Eugene roots is calling it quits after three years.

If it’s fiddles you fancy, this holiday season will be merry and bright, because we’re seeing a phalanx of fine fiddlers on Eugene stages to close out 2015. 

For all the fringe, Western flair and Loretta-Lynn inflection, Jenny Don’t — of Jenny Don’t and The Spurs — is a punk rocker at heart. 

Friday at Hi-Fi Music Hall will showcase a fantastic fuzzy spectrum of garage rock, from the surf pop of Seattle’s Tacocat to the ever-evolving punk-rock soul of Portland’s Sallie Ford.

Angela Webber, one-half of Portland nerd-folk duo The Doubleclicks, says we’re living in a golden age of geek culture. “The creation of the internet definitely helped nerds find each other,” Webber tells EW.

The Conjugal Visitors’ M.D. “Maz” Elsworth is from Kentucky — the Bluegrass State. He says he considers his Eugene band to be the “Cascadian” equivalent to the Appalachian sound he grew up around.

“The epitome of Cascadian, whiskey-land jazz,” Elsworth tells EW, describing his band’s old-timey music, “Cascadian party music.” 

When unimaginable horrors are in the headlines — as they are far too often these days — it’s easy to feel helpless and to wonder what one person can do about so much pain in the world.

“About a week after the UCC shooting [in Roseburg] I was driving my kids to school,” says Eugene writer Rachael Carnes. Carnes, a regular contributor to EW, says the benefit was the brainchild of her daughter, Jane Brinkley. Brinkley, 13, is in the 8th grade at Roosevelt Middle School. Carnes and Brinkley are coordinating “Music Heals: A Benefit for all Victims of Gun Violence.” 

The Eugene Symphony Orchestra continues with the most forward-looking season of any Oregon orchestra in memory this Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Hult Center, with a diverse all-American program that includes the world premiere of Puerto Rican-American composer Roberto Sierra’s Loiza, based on his native country’s famous bomba dance rhythm. 

There’s no one element that stands out in “Opaque.” Smoke Season’s most popular single from 2014’s Hot Coals Cold Souls starts unassumingly, with guitarist Jason Rosen’s reverb-drenched Gibson SG carefully plucking out a G chord.

Thanksgiving can be a slow music weekend for Eugene, but don’t let that turkey tryptophan give you couch lock. There are plenty of reasons to put on some pants and leave the house:

The world is full of Christian bands you didn’t know were Christian: U2, Kings of Leon, Belle & Sebastian and now … drumroll … Cold War Kids! Not that you couldn’t have guessed it — there’s something about that stomp-clap indie-soul-folk thing that could easily give the band away, despite its lack of lyrical Jesus references.

What makes for a quintessentially L.A. band? History tells us the answer is always in flux, from the pristine sun-and-surf pop of the Beach Boys to the hairspray and whiskey-fueled sleaziness of Guns n’ Roses and the G-funk-laced bangers of Dr. Dre and Snoop. 

Gill Landry of Nashville-based alt-country string group Old Crow Medicine Show says his solo work sounds nothing like his well-known band.

Most touring chamber-music ensembles stick closely to the tried (or is that tired?) and true 19th- and early 20th-century Central European repertoire. Not the Dalí Quartet. Starting out in Venezuela’s famous El Sistema music training program, which also produced L.A. Philharmonic music director Gustavo “The Dude” Dudamel, the members of Dalí Quartet went on to study at major American conservatories. 

Boston duo Tall Heights is comprised of childhood friends Tim Harrington and Paul Wright. The pair got their start as street performers. 

Fun fact: You can join a band even if you can’t play an instrument.  

“When we started the band I did not play any instruments,” Mallory Graham of Nashville’s The Rough and Tumble tells EW. “And I was terrified to do so.”

On the first track of his latest record Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, singer Sturgill Simpson name-checks alien lizards, psychedelic drug DMT, Buddha and cosmic turtles, all of which are crooned about over a classic country shuffle. 

The songs of Brooklyn-based quintet Lucius range from alt-country ballads and ’60s psychedelic to percussive pop with beguiling melodies and dance rhythms. But it’s the powerful harmonizing vocals of lead singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig that really separate their sound from the mainstream.