Adam Balbo, The Jester
The Jester is a concept album, with Adam Balbo playing the central character and the fool in nine whimsical, romantic folk songs. The overall sound is vintage college rock: Balbo speak-sings absurd lyrics backed by an out-of-tune electric guitar, what sounds like an Eighties-era Casio keyboard on the organ setting, and hi-hat percussion. Despite being derivative and mildly annoying, The Jester proves that the prolific Balbo is a capable songwriter in this style. (self-released)Adam Balbo plays Hotel Utah Saloon (500 4th St., San Francisco) on Saturday, Feb. 23. 8 p.m., $10.
Otto Mobile and The Moaners, Restless Sun
Within the Americana genre that's so popular in the Bay Area, Otto Mobile and The Moaners have carved out a sound that's shockingly original. It's gimmicky, to be sure: the exaggerated twang in songwriter Matt Lundquist's vocals, the guitar hooks straight out of the delta blues, and the wheezing into broken harmonicas — but the lush, dreamy melodies make these songs distinctive. Lundquist's duets with Elliott Peck have deservedly earned comparisons to Gram Parson and Emmylou Harris, especially on "Pinin' for Colorado," "Restless Sun," and "Hungover on You" — my favorite tracks on the album. (self-released)Otto Mobile and The Moaners plays Amnesia (853 Valencia St., San Francisco) on Thursday, Jan. 24. 9 p.m., $7.
Adam Widener, Gimmee Gimmee Scientific Stuff
Adam Widener shows he's a wholesome punk on his latest EP, composed of seven loud and catchy garage-rock songs that sound like Ty Segall minus the thrash and psychedelia. Widener cut his teeth as the bassist for Bare Wires, and his solo work continues to honor that lo-fi fuzz sound with a heavy dose of The Ramones, Fifties pop, and surf rock. The sci-fi-themed songs on Gimmee Gimmee Scientific Stuff are light and fun, even when dealing with subjects like mortality and loneliness. This EP could be the soundtrack to a Cold War-era B-movie. (self-released)