Steve Taylor-Ramírez, Crows Are Laughing EP. Steve Taylor-Ramírez usually goes it alone, but he put together a makeshift folk band for this EP. The backup musicians (Mike Glendinning on electric guitar, John Ingham on drums, Mike Eckstein on bass, and vocalist Celu Hamer-Stone) help embroider each tune. Hamer-Stone sings counter-melodies that trill girlishly against Taylor-Ramírez's drawly vocals. The two sound best on "Play Me in a Minor Key." (Taylor Communications)
Tommy Guerrero, Lifeboats and Follies. Latin jam band leader and skateboarding legend Tommy Guerrero cites skateboarding as one of his primary influences, and he writes at the loping tempo of a long board on Ricta 78 wheels. His tunes all swing, even if they lack a divisional structure. Guerrero solos on various instruments over a bed of conga, bongo, and paint-can percussion. Tambourine and the scratch of a record needle enhance "The Same Confusion and Hope." (Galaxia Records)
At Cafe du Nord (2170 Market St., San Francisco) on Saturday, Feb. 5. 9:30 p.m., $12.
Nicki Bluhm, Driftwood
Seldom does a newbie folk singer sound as polished as Nicki Bluhm, who oozes through each bad-relationship ballad with the air of a practiced chanteuse. Bluhm errs on the country side of the folk spectrum. But judging by her vocal inflections and chord patterns, she's not strictly a cowgirl. (self-released)
At Cafe du Nord (2170 Market St., San Francisco) on Jan. 15. 9:30 p.m., $10, $12.
Pale Chalice Afflicting the Dichotomy of Trepid Creation. Pale Chalice is black metal at its most bruising. The album title suggests that this San Francisco quintet is exceptionally obtuse and wordy, though its lyrics are hard to decipher amid growls and screams. That said, singer Ephemeral Dmignostika has moments of sweet poetry. Command through abhorrent whisper/outgrowth of morbid pride, he belts in "Caressed by a Feeble Flame." (The Flenser)