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by Luke Baumgarten and Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & n his recently released seven-song EP, Casual Suicide, JOSH HEDLUND's brilliance smolders, despite the album's mix being barely audible at times. (You have to max the volume to hear basically anything.) The CD, then, is a microcosm of his career so far. His talent is apparent, but only if you seek him out and really work for it.

If you do seek him out in Sandpoint -- the experience is cult-like. Fifty people, utterly silent, crowd around Hedlund, who's sitting diminutively bow-backed over his guitar. One foot rests on the other. Everything about his presence is turned inward, yet there's this crowd, waiting for him to let them in. It's hard to be captivated by a dude and a guitar, much less a dude, a guitar and a shell as thick as Hedlund's, but he's really, truly captivating.

It's not surprising, given the wind-battered tragedy of his music, that Hedlund keeps himself cloistered. It's just a hell of a trip every time we want a fix. -- LUKE BAUMGARTEN

Josh Hedlund at Pend d'Oreille Winery, 220 Cedar St. in Sandpoint, Idaho, on Friday, Jan. 19, at 6 pm. Free. Call (208) 265-8545.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & E & lt;/span & verybody who spent time under the pines at last summer's Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival in Medical Lake came away with two things: a chronic tapping foot and a new favorite bluegrass band. I discovered the Biscuit Burners, but I wish I'd stuck around for JACKSTRAW -- a Portland-based quartet that, by all accounts, inflicted more than a few festival-goers with banjo toe (which is dangerous, to be sure, but curable with whiskey and a railroad spike).

Like a lot of the acts at Blue Waters, Jackstraw plays something that's like bluegrass but not exactly bluegrass. It's bluegrass minus the banjo and fiddle (they play two guitars, mandolin and stand-up bass), plus something else: the births of subsequent genres, the 21st century. Although they can and do harmonize like a bunch of Appalachian pig farmers, lead singer Darrin Craig's ragged voice isn't just bluegrass. It's decades of reflection upon bluegrass. Which is what makes it alive. And tapping.


Jackstraw at Rick Singer Photography Studio, 415 W. Main Ave., on Thursday, Jan. 25, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $10. Call 838-3333.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & t's common for area kids to move to hot music towns around the country, but they rarely head to Nashville. That's where Shadle Park grad MELISSA CUSICK ended up, though, and it fits.

Her music bears the heavy mark of the new Nashville sound: more pop than country, but with enough of a twang to keep rural America on board. One thing it doesn't do, thankfully, is lean too heavily on hip cultural touchstones. That may be a matter of production budget, but I don't think so. There's nothing in her work to suggest that she'll be dropping the female correlate of "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" any time soon.

Though taking cues from pop is really the only way to get anywhere in Nashville -- and though Cusick plies the familiar tropes of love, betrayal and loss well -- lyrically, she could do with a toothier country edge. There's no question she can sing, she just needs to find her voice.


Melissa Cusick with Wayne Patrick and Thomas Bechard at Caterina Winery, 905 N. Washington St., on Thursday, Jan. 18, at 7 pm. Tickets: $4. Call 328-5069.
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