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Ken Maiuri’s Tuned In

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF IHEG<br/>Bonne Prince Billy
  • Freedy Johnston
  • Manfred Melcher
  • Nora Jane Struthers & the Party Line
  • Outer Stylie
  • Rusty Belle

Freedy Johnston is a singer-songwriter who’s had a special place in my music-nerd heart ever since I saw him open for They Might Be Giants in the early ’90s. Back then Johnston toured with a rockin’ back-up band that mixed Midwestern twang with an edgy New York City spirit, which gave his already great songs some sonic zoom. And if that weren’t memorable enough, he ended his set with a solo rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”

At the time Johnston’s new album was “Can You Fly”; it’s still one of my favorite records of that decade, if not of all-time. It was the beginning of a string of superb albums: next came “This Perfect World” (featuring his hit “Bad Reputation,” still played in grocery stores and Muzak systems daily) and then “Never Home,” with so many memorable story-songs and catchy melodies. Johnston’s knack for pop music hooks puts him in the company of folks like Marshall Crenshaw and Nick Lowe.

These days Johnston’s concerts are usually solo affairs and highlight his unique voice (which he often pushes to its upper reaches to great effect) and his songwriting — plus his penchant for playing top-notch cover songs (Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”). He’s been working on a record for some time (“Neon Repairman”) so expect some new stuff, too.

Johnston will perform at the Parlor Room in Northampton Wednesday at 7 p.m. Henning Ohlenbusch opens.

Amherst psychedelic rock band Outer Stylie releases its CD “Into Being” with a show at Bishop’s Lounge in Northampton Friday at 9 p.m.

Fingerstyle guitarist Manfred Melcher will play instrumental guitar pieces — a mix of originals, standards and traditionals — at the Luthiers Co-Op in Easthampton Saturday at 7 p.m.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka Will Oldham, appears at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton Saturday at 8 p.m. Arborea opens.

The Flywheel Record Fair returns with vendors and tables and LPs aplenty at the volunteer-run arts space in Easthampton Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Rusty Belle’s CD release show (for its “Common Courtesy” album) sold out a few weeks back, so the group decided to quickly book a “part two” — and if you were one of the lucky ones that made it in last time, the Amherst trio has promised a different show so everyone gets maximum bang for their buck. See the local faves at the Parlor Room Sunday at 7 p.m.

From Nashville comes Norah Jane Struthers & the Party Line, an acoustic quintet (including banjo, fiddle, bass and drums) bringing its rootsy tunes to the Parlor Room Thursday at 7 p.m.

Polysonic Joy is a Pittsfield trio that grabbed my ear with its great song “Sudden Sun.” The musicianship is enjoyably ramshackle yet the atmosphere reaches for another galaxy — kind of like if Beat Happening was inspired by Rush and Kansas. The arrangement has so many hooky elements and the cello (sometimes in tune, sometimes not) is a cool touch. The band doesn’t take itself too seriously, calling their music “All-Core” (as in “all over the map”). I have no idea what their other songs sound like, but I’m intrigued. Polysonic Joy will open for Original Cowards and Bunny’s a Swine at the Sierra Grille in Northampton Thursday at 10 p.m.

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