· Like Over the Rhine's annual Christmas show at the Taft Theatre, local Jazz great Steve Schmidt's yearly "Christmas Spectacular" has become a Cincinnati music tradition around the holidays. This year, Schmidt's organ trio plays Thursday (at 8:30 p.m.) and Friday (9 p.m.) at The Comet in Northside. Schmidt (who's whipping out his Hammond organ) is joined by Chicago tenor saxophonist Scott Burns and drummer Marc Wolfley. Singer Eugene Goss is slated to join the trio for some songs as well. And you don't have to spend any of your gift-shopping money to get in — as usual, both shows are free.
· Former Over the Rhine guitarist and successful producer/solo artist Ric Hordinski is hosting a "Holiday Concert" at his new Monastery Studios in Walnut Hills Friday at 8 p.m. Hordinski recently hosted a "headphone concert," where attendees wore headphones to hear the music as it was intended, but technological kinks marred the performance somewhat. So for Friday's show, Hordinski and his bandmates will perform through a PA and test the acoustics of the studio, which is housed in an old church. The band will play cuts from Hordinski's solo albums, as well as a song or two from Over the Rhine and some new material. Local duo Ellery — whose nationally-released album, Lying Awake, for Seattle indie Virt Records was produced by Hordinski — opens the show and will join Hordinski for some songs as well.
· The holiday season often brings back to town local expatriate musicians. This week, three of those musicians will be performing shows together with their new band. Former members of local Reggae group Admiral Walker — P.J. Herrington (also of The Ropers) and Deke Jones — moved away earlier this year and hooked up with fellow former Cincinnati musician Kris Brown (of Kris Brown's Family Sauce) in Austin, Tex. They now perform together as Mr. Brown and have been doing well in Austin's music scene. Friday, the band is playing at Stanley's Pub and on Saturday they'll be at the Northside Tavern. Subbing for the other Mr. Brown members not making the trip are Nick Blasky (bass) and Tim Hensley (drums) of Ray's Music Exchange. To sample some of the band's wares, check out myspace.com/digmrbrown. Herrington says the band will also be back in Cincinnati while on tour this summer.
· A benefit concert for the Bellevue Food Pantry in Northern Kentucky takes place Saturday at Covington's Mad Hatter. The show features local acts The Newbees, Chaselounge, for algernon and Ashley Peacock. Admission is $7 or $5 if you bring a dry food item to donate. Music starts at 9 p.m. (madhatterclub.com)
· A powerhouse bill takes over the Southgate House's ballroom this Saturday. Three local bands that each had a big 2006 — Heartless Bastards, The Hiders and Bad Veins — perform at the 9:30 p.m. show. Advanced tickets are available at southgatehouse.musictoday.com for $12; it's $15 the day of the show.
· Local Hip Hop artist Mission Man is hosting a CD release party for his new album, Indiependent, at The Mad Frog in Corryville this Tuesday. Sket Brock also performs. Mission Man's "16 Days In A Mini Van" chronicles his recent East Coast tour at missionman.net.
· Velvet-y Indie band The High and Low are releasing their debut EP at the Northside Tavern on Dec. 29. You can hear three great tracks from the release at myspace.com/highandlow. The site says the band will be joined by "special guests"; according to the weekly listings from the Tavern, those guests include a new band that re-teams The Greenhornes' Craig Fox with former Greenhorne Brian Olive (now with the Soledad Brothers) and also features The H&L's Mike Weinel.
· After a performance slow-down in 2006 (due in part to their work on a new CD project), Ray's Music Exchange are gearing up for a more active '07, starting with two shows right before the end of the year. On Dec. 30, the band returns to The Mad Frog for a show with The Poogie Bell Band. Then, on New Year's Eve, the band is playing the York Street Café in Newport with Grand Oversoul. (myspace.com/raysmusicexchange)
· Local hero Noah Hunt — formerly of Uncle Six and more recently the vocalist for the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band — returns to Stanley's Pub with his band/pals, The 420 All-Stars, on New Year's Eve. The Jon Justice Band opens. For $10 advanced tickets, go to noahhunt.org.
CONTACT MIKE BREEN: mbreen(at)citybeat.com