The Envy Corps. Photo by Seth Warrick.

The Envy Corps sell a T-shirt that proclaims the Iowa- and Nebraska-based band is "Radiohead for Coldplay Fans."

Vocalist and bassist Luke Pettipoole said in an interview last week that he came up with the idea with his tongue in cheek, and that he's been surprised how receptive fans have been. "People really seem to enjoy it," he said. "I don't know if they're making fun of us, or we're making fun of Coldplay, or what."

But it's possible there's no mockery involved at all. After a one-record stint on major-label imprint Vertigo (which released 2008's Dwell), the Envy Corps returned this fall with the self-released full-length It Culls You. Beyond the way Pettipoole's phrasing and frequent falsetto bring to mind Thom Yorke ("I sing the way I sing," he said), the album sounds like the child of Radiohead's Hail to the Thief - and in the best way possible. Spacious yet full, odd yet alluring, the parentage is obvious but It Culls You never feels like you're listening to a clone. If Coldplay figures in, it's in the way the Envy Corps favors accessibility over alienation.

Rachael Yamagata. Photo by Laura Crosta.

After singer/songwriter Rachael Yamagata was freed from her contract with Warner Bros., she called producer John Alagia about making her third album. She didn't send him songs to consider, and they didn't discuss material. The next day, they were making arrangements to get equipment and musicians to his house in Maryland.

"Within a few weeks, we were ... actually doing it," Yamagata said in a phone interview this week, promoting her November 12 performance at the Redstone Room.

Moving quickly was a response to "several years of kind of being in this holding-pattern experiment with major record labels," she said. "It was a lot of leap-before-you-look scenarios. I just knew that if you got the right people in the room, we could make it work."

And the right people wanted to help. "I think people look at me maybe as an underdog of sorts, always wanting good things for me," she said. "A lot of my peers I think have felt the frustration with me about 'Where's your next record?' or 'Why aren't you on the road?'"

Joe Robinson. Photo by Ethan James.

Self-taught guitarist Joe Robinson won Australia's Got Talent in 2008, and he earned the top prize at the 2009 World Championships of Performing Arts - meaning that at age 20 he carries the ridiculous title of Senior Grand Champion Performer of the World. Guitar Player readers tapped him the best new talent in the magazine's 2010 poll. He released a pair of solo instrumental acoustic albums as a teenager.

All of that hints at a young man with talent and ambition. Now it's time to see whether Robinson's chops can match his drive. Because what Joe Robinson really wants to do is sing.

He will play at the Redstone Room on Friday, September 2, and the show promises to be significantly different from his two CDs, which showcased a surfeit of compositional and performance skills in the jazz and blues veins.

Pamela Reese SmithAs "This Masquerade" begins on her recently released live CD recorded at Davenport's Redstone Room, Pamela Reese Smith's voice emerges from the piano prelude of Manny Lopez III as a husky, tuneful whisper, growing louder and more intense from phrase to phrase. As she builds, she blends breathiness and fullness to create a wistful and passionate melody. Her use of a light, breathy tone establishes the mournful mood of the song, especially when singing the word "lost," imparting confusion and hopelessness.

Her voice continues to soften and grow with the lyrics. When singing the phrase "this masquerade," she starts quietly and then allows her voice to expand as she holds out the line -communicating strength, despair, and other feelings.

Throughout the album, Smith employs this effectively expressive technique, and her big voice creates a deep, encompassing sound. But at times she misses the pitch a little, and the heavy richness of her voice becomes a disadvantage.

Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights

Jonathan Tyler has described his band's major-label debut, Pardon Me, as a "handshake album" - an introduction.

But unlike that description or the apologetic title, there's nothing polite about the full-bore rock produced by Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights - which will perform at the Redstone Room on July 7.

USA Today concisely summarized the appeal of the band in naming Pardon Me a pick of the week last year: "Did you think they'd quit making bands that groove as hard as they rock? You know, like ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Aerosmith? Listen to this riff-heavy blast, the title track from this band's debut album, and think again."

David G. SmithBlue Grass resident David G. Smith calls himself a "50-something," and on Saturday he'll mark the release of his first solo full-length album at the Redstone Room.

It's undoubtedly a late start, but Smith said in a phone interview this week that he has genetics on his side. Two of his grandparents made it to their mid 90s, and one lived to 105. So by his calculation, "I have a 20-year career ahead of me."

It's off to a good start. Non-Fiction is a solid debut for the longtime songwriter - acoustic rock that's sometimes funky and sometimes gentle, smartly produced and performed with conviction.

David Lowery

David Lowery saw no reason to make a solo album.

For more than 25 years, he's been recording and releasing music with his bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker - a pair of "very diverse and flexible ensembles," he said in a phone interview last week. "And so usually pretty much any piece of music I write, I can kind of put it with either one of the bands or the other."

And both bands remain active, regularly touring together since 2002. "I know the Cracker and Camper audiences overlap like 90 percent," he said. "And it's just a little artificial sometimes to feel like, 'Tonight the billboard says Cracker, and we're only going to play Cracker songs.'"

But in February, at age 50, Lowery released under his own name The Palace Guards, a collection of nine songs that, he has said, gives "a sense of what it is that I'm kind of bringing to the bands."

Paul ThornThe cliché says that good writers mostly write what they know, so it's little wonder that Paul Thorn has crafted an under-the-radar career as a respected songwriter and performer.

The title of his 2010 album is Pimps & Preachers, and he speaks of both from experience: His father was a minister, and his uncle was a pimp. "When I was a kid, them was the two guys that I hung around a lot," Thorn said in a phone interview this week. "I got to witness what went on on both sides of the tracks of life - the dark and the light side of life."

That uncle also taught the future songwriter to box and served as his trainer, and in 1988 Thorn fought (and lost to) Roberto Durán, considered one of the sport's greats. Thorn also used to skydive.

In the mid-1990s, Thorn was plucked from a day job in a furniture factory and a regular gig singing in a pizza joint, signed to a major-label contract. And the first concert he ever attended was a Sting show - at which he was the opening act.

Buffalo CloverMost bands dubbed "Americana" focus on a thin slice of roots music, but the Nashville-based outfit Buffalo Clover lays claim to a wide swath, all with a smart pop sensibility.

The band's official biography says its styles range from "underdog gypsy punk to Motown boxcar blues, [and] vaudevillian acid rock to train-wreck folk," and those labels are accurate both in terms of genre and vivid, mature execution. On any given night, Buffalo Clover might cover James Brown, Etta James, or Neil Young, and that also offers some sense of what appears to be a nearly boundless comfort zone.

The band - which performed at last year's River Roots Live festival - will play the Redstone Room on February 26 and features two members from the Quad Cities area: singer/songwriter Margo Price (an Aledo, Illinois, native) and guitarist/banjoist Matt Gardner (who went to high school in Bettendorf).

That local connection is one reason to check out the emerging band, but Buffalo Clover has the goods, too. Pick Your Poison, the band's 2010 release, demonstrates its expansive grasp in the span of three songs.

Fitz & the Tantrums. Photo by Alicia Rose.

There are breakup songs and breakup albums, and then there's Fitz & the Tantrums - a breakup band.

Singer/songwriter Michael Fitzpatrick will be bringing his soul six-piece to the Redstone Room on February 7, and the group's music is as infectious as its origin story is serendipitous. Esquire last year named Fitz & the Tantrums one of its "10 SXSW Bands to Add to Your iPod Now," and that's just one of the accolades the band has acquired in its two-year existence.