We have the talent here this week to build a perfect troubadour: Bob Dylan’s songs, Regina Spektor’s piano, David Crosby’s high voice, Sean Rowe’s low voice, the bluegrass twang of John McEuen and Tim O’Brien, Albert Cummings’ guitar blues, Jonathan Richman’s quirk and Justin Townes Earle’s (son of Steve) soul-deep conviction.
Dylan returns Friday to the Palace (19 Clinton Ave., Albany) on a stylistic detour as profound and surprising as when he played here nearly 40 years ago.
In April 1980, Dylan sang Christian-rock songs he’d release on “Saved” that summer. Friday he may play — who knows for sure? Maybe not even his band! — Tin Pan Alley pop tunes from what Tony Bennett calls “The Great American Songbook.” In 2015, Dylan released “Shadows in the Night” of Sinatra-era love-songs with his touring band plus horns. Responses ranged from “WHAT?!” to “OK, not bad” to “WHAT?!” His second, similarly arranged vintage collection “Fallen Angels” followed in 2016; his lounge-serenade trifecta “Triplicate” delighted/confounded this year.
Not even Dylan would disagree that Bennett sings these better than Dylan does. But beneath the rough husk of Dylan’s cigarette-rasp beats the beat-savvy soul of a true romantic who believes deeply in the sentiments of these decades-old expressions of lovers’ angst and hard-hit hopes. He means it, his phrasing is right on the money — as musically sharp as Sinatra’s, or Willie Nelson’s; so it’s compelling. Famous (and/or criticized) for remaking his own songs onstage, Dylan follows the emotional currents of classic tunes as if he’s on rails. The sound is his, the songs are great songs. Gospel-soul diva Mavis Staples opens.
Dylan once famously proposed to her, she’s on the latest in an impressive and well-deserved series of comebacks, sometimes with assists from Prince, Ry Cooder and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Her latest is the delicious, defiant “If All I Was Was Black” and she sang great at Proctors in 2015. 7:30 p.m. $119.50, $82.50, $52.50. 800-745-3000 www.palacealbany.org.
Regina Spektor plays solo tonight at the Palace. The Soviet-born pianist-singer trained at SUNY Purchase and has released seven chart-climbing albums of sturdy songcraft, virtuoso playing and emotive singing: “Remember Us to Life” hit last year. 8 p.m. $89.50, $49.50. 800-745-3000 www.palacealbany.org.
David Crosby brings fresh tunes from his new “Sky Trails” album to The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) on Friday, and five musical friends: his son James Raymond and Michelle Willis, keyboards; Mal Agan, bass; Steve DeStanislao, drums; and Jeff Pevar, guitar. Oh, yeah – and songs by the Byrds and Crosby Stills & Nash. 8 p.m. $84.75, $59.75, 49.75 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org.
Jonathan Richman sings Friday at the Hangar (675 River St., Troy). After a dozen-plus rocking albums with the influential proto-punk noise-making Modern Lovers (1970-87) and live shows here since the heyday of QE2, he’s made even more solo albums and now plays as a solo acoustic troubadour. $15. 518-272-9740. www.alehousetroy.com.
On Saturday, singer-songwriter-guitarist-naturalist-blogger Sean Rowe takes over the Hangar, playing not far from his childhood home. With his roof-shaking voice and highly original, percussive guitar style, Rowe is a singular talent with six albums since 2004 — his newest: “New Lore” —and big-star onstage power. 8 p.m. $20.
Also Saturday, bluesman Albert Cummings rocks the Upper Room (59 N. Pearl St., Albany). The blues have no address, but require authenticity. Berkshires resident Cummings has it: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section played on and produced his 2003 debut album “From the Heart.” 7 p.m. $30, $20. 518-694-3102 www.theupperroomalbany.com.
Another tremendous guitarist, bluegrass luminary Tim O’Brien, plays Club Helsinki (405 Columbia St., Hudson) on Saturday. WVA-born O’Brien co-starred in Hot Rize and more recently with Jerry Douglas (Dec. 9 at The Egg with David Bromberg) in the Earls of Leicester. O’Brien is a busy solo artist with two dozen albums. Amanda Anne Platte opens. 8 p.m., doors 6. $25 advance, $30 door. 518-828-4800 www.helsinkihudson.com.
Sunday Justin Townes Earle takes over at Club Helsinki. Son of Steve, named for Townes Van Zandt, an artist and recovering addict like his father and sometime member of his father’s band the Dukes, the younger Earle has made eight albums since 2007 including the confident, candid country-rocking “Kids In the Street” this spring. Joshua Hedley opens. 8 p.m. doors 6. $25 advance, $35 door.
Longtime Nitty Gritty Dirt Band strings wizard John McEuen recreates the NGDB’s classic country-roots tribute album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” Sunday at The Egg in an afternoon show. He’ll also sing new tunes from “Made in Brooklyn,” with his String Wizards: Les Thompson (original NGDB member; bass); Matt Cartsonis, guitar and mandola; John Cable, guitar; and Andy Goessling, multi-instrumentalist from Railroad Earth. 3 p.m. $29.50 .
Tonight, mandolin sky-rocket Matt Flinner brings his trio (Ross Martin, guitar; Eric Thorin, bass) to the Cock N’ Bull (5342 Parkis Mills Rd., Galway) for caffeinated string-band romps. 7:30 p.m. $10. 518-882-6962 www.thecocknbull.com.
Folk patriarch George Ward gets to play in his own tribute Saturday at Old Songs (37 S. Main, Voorheesville). “Songs of George Ward – Until the Black Flies Go” features Ward himself, a revered exponent of Erie Canal tunes and much more, plus fellow troubadours Dave Ruch, John Roberts and others. 7:30 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door. 518-765-2815 www.oldsongs.org.
John McCutcheon’s Old Songs show Friday is sold out.
Shawn Colvin’s 1997 “A Few Small Repairs” album has aged well through compelling songs and singing inside producer/co-writer John Leventhal’s arrangements. Recreating the album last week at The Egg required strong vocals and perfect playing. Colvin got both, thanks in large part to openers/bandmates Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams.
Campbell’s skilled, sensitive stringed-things playing framed Williams’ strong/sweet singing; country-fried in “Running Wild,” soulful in “When I Stop Loving You” and bluesy in “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.” Williams’ playful asides entertained almost as richly as their music. Multi-instrumentalist/local hero Dave Maswick (formerly Chevrolet Blotto) noted Campbell was “channeling his inner Tony Rice” –there may be no higher praise for a picker.
Campbell and Williams were first among side-persons when Colvin took over with her band: Glenn Fukunaga, bass; Michael Ramos, keyboards, accordion and flugelhorn; and Mike Meadows, drums. They played the album songs in order, then encored generously; mostly with covers: Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back,” Warren Zevon’s “Tenderness on the Block,” but also Colvin’s own “Steady On.”
“A Few Small Repairs” held together beautifully in mostly succinct readings that relied on the songs’ inherent strength, as the softspoken “New Thing” did; but also stretching out occasionally, as in “Suicide Alley.” Colvin’s voice was a marvel, soothing sweetly, complaining epically or leaping into falsetto without a net.