me&thee coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA
The coffeehouse that once seemed so hard to find is as easy as a straight line. It’s cold as the dickens outside and inside is nice and toasty. Host Phillip Murphy reminds us that February 20 marks the 44th birthday of this coffeehouse and then his evil twin brother barges in to drops some rhymes about the fire exits. This is not the place you expect to hear NYC rap but it somehow fits in with the charm of the place. Phillip is back to introduce the first act—Jonah Tolchin, from Bar Harbor, ME, who’s just been signed to Yep Roc Records. Two guys take the stage—one, wearing a winter wool hat that incorporates bear ears and pig tails, sits with a slide and Dobro. The other slight one with a worn straw hat and red plaid shirt stands at a mic with a sunburst folk guitar in hand. Jonah is the guy standing and Danny Roman is his longtime buddy. They get things kicking’ with some old hillbilly blues in the form of a song called “Mockingbird.” Danny removes his hat to reveal a grown-out mohawk. Jonah says he wrote the next one in New Jersey (where he grew up) after a long meditation. He’s a sincere man who squinches his eyebrows up together when he talks and sings like he’s from the backwoods. He treats us to his good fingerpickin’ in what turns out to be his most memorable song with the lyrical hook “She’s pretty, she’s pretty… insane.” He impresses us even further with some Flamenco-type picking on “Walk Until You’re Old” then invites vocalist Julie Guidi to belt a bluesy number a la Janis Joplin to end the set.
Between sets is time for coffee and baked treats in the back room—something almost as good as music—well, it satisfies different senses.
Having played me&thee for more than 20 years, Chris Smither comes out and says he should have worn more clothes. Funny because with all the layers I have on, I’m starting to feel too warm. Chris starts talking about “feeling vs. non-feeling” and follows it up with “Open Up Your Heart.” His fingers fluidly dance on his fretboard while the other hand exercises its masterful finger picking control. We’re not talking shredding solos—he’s got solid melodies, chord structure, and bass patterns all happening at the same time. He also has his worldly worn smile, stories to tell, good advice, and songs with words you listen to. Now you’d think that would be enough, but his secret weapon is his invisible rhythm section… his two feet. He keeps a wooden board under them and a solid up beat gets tapped out in almost every song. And there’s a microphone aiming right at those beat makers. He proceeds to play 20 songs—and each one shines. Things Chris says that I like: Give up thinking that life is fair. If you listen to your mother, you’ll never have fun. By the time you figure out money, you’re six feet underground. I think my songs are hopeful. Tomorrow is just a grand plan for yesterday. And my favorite songs: “I Don’t Know”—the answer to his daughter’s multi-questions. “No Love Today”— about the fruit and vegetable man in Lawrence, MA—he’s got a wide assortment of vegetables—but no love to sell you.
Chris’s double CD (a retrospective of his career) is due out in July. I’m sure it will be a keeper. Catch him if you can. You won’t forget the experience. And unlike the vegetable man, Chris slips a little love into each song. (T Max)
Club Bohemia, Cambridge, MA
It’s a cold, wet night in Cambridge, but it’s rockin’ hot @ The Cantab. A great full crowd experiences some veteran rockers still shakin’ some action. First up are a new quartet, Zen Armada, offering up some low-down rock (a la Morphine), with plenty of groove from John Nourse (drums) and Marty White (bass), which immediately gets the dancers up. Fronted by the twin guitars of Drew Hollinger and Bryan Russel, tunes like “The Bug,” “Hollow Day,” and “Foreign Accent Syndrome” captivate the listeners. Very promising group!
Next are ye olde stalwarts, FoxPass—or should it be StompFox with Steve Gilligan and Lenny Shea from the Stompers as the knock-out rhythm section to complement Jon Macey and Michael Roy. Absolutely top-notch pop-rock that has everyone cheering and still dancing. They’ve been doing this since they were kids and it is always infectious and totally professional.
Lastly, the Funeral Barkers, Phil Kaplan’s mesmerizing mix of Stonesesque material and Indian raga rock, tonight featuring the great Woody Geissmann (ex-Del Fuegos) banging out the beat. Phil’s fretless-guitar Bollywood solos are stunning. Hoots, whistles, and cheers all around. A completely satisfying evening, indeed! (Harry C. Tuniese)
THE BARRETT ANDERSON TRIO with RON LEVY
Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ and Blues, Brighton, MA
This year’s Boston Music Award’s Blues Artist of the Year winner just keeps getting better and better each time I hear them perform. They are an R&B groove band and the best parts of the night are always in the middle of the song when the band has found its groove and is playing well together. What I really notice right away and enjoy is the tight way that guitarist Barrett and keyboardist Ron Levy play off of each other: it’s like listening to the show in stereo as you hear their artistry come out of different speakers; and this is what I listen to as drummer Frosty Padgett and bassist Jamie Hatcher drive the band powerfully and professionally. Songs of the night are a rocking version of Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” showcasing Barrett’s killer slide and gruff vocals, “Emma Lee” from his latest CD “The Long Fall,” and the Jimmie Reed classic “Shame, Shame, Shame.” One song right after the other; first the guitar riff to start the melody, then the band comes right in. Very cool. I look at Barrett: growling voice, eyes closed, standing up and holding his old Telecaster with the worn fretboard; just singing into the mic. And he plays with no pick on many songs: just plucking the strings to get the most out of them. Smokin’ Joes. Smoking band. (A.J. Wachtel)
One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME
I go to this concert alone, feeling a bit bereft because my husband and my son are both sick, and normally one of them would have come with me. I park the van in a big snowbank and hope I don’t get towed and walk to OLS. It is heartening to see people come out on a cold winter night to hear music.
There is a good-sized crowd but I’m early enough to get a good seat. Before long, four nice-looking young men take the stage, three of them in jackets and ties. The four are Jason Anick on violin and guitar, Greg Loughman on bass, Mike Conners on drums, and Jason Yeager on piano.
They start out with a Django Reinhardt tune. I close my eyes and the stresses of the day fall away. These guys are so good, I relax into their excellence. They play the winsome “My One and Only Love,” and tears spring into my eyes. Jason Anick’s violin tone is sweet and woody, mellow as red wine. They play with the alchemy of jazz musicians who feel their way through a piece of music, traversing landscapes—arid, rocky, mountainous, and then lush green forests of sound. Jason’s composition “Occupy,” about the movement last year, begins with a throbbing bass, then a beat, shiny cymbals prefacing, and then an electric mandolin takes off. Tempos change and shift, pianist Jason Yeager is playing with his eyes closed, Mike Connors is building, building, building on the drums. They fold into “Something,” by the Beatles, and then “The Keeper,” a tune written by Jason Anick as a teenager. The unspecificness of jazz holds the beauty—it is unregulated, unstructured and liberated. The spontaneity is the touch of the notes, eyes, and ears, they make up the language as they go. Jason Yeager lifts off his seat with enthusiasm. The ecstatic dimension of the performance becomes like making love—you make it up as you go, but when it works, it works—you’ve been there before, but it’s new.
During the break I call my husband and he tells me there’s a parking ban in downtown Portland because of the snow and I better move our van. I stay for two more tunes. Watching them is like witnessing horses let out of the barn. They run with force and joy and power and spontaneity. The first song of the second set is called “The Turn Around,” and it is full of humor and playful energy. If Ella Fitzgerald were here she would scat-sing her brains out all over this. I reluctantly leave before it’s over, but I am so glad I can hear these amazing musicians. I feel like kissing their hands, they create so much beauty… (Kimmy Sophia Brown)
SARAH HOONAN SMITH/
Singer Songwriter Shuffle, Giuseppe’s, Gloucester, MA
Giuseppe’s is a comfortable Italian restaurant where I feel relaxed and take in a variety of singer/songwriters from Cape Ann and nearby areas. Owner and host of the night, Joe Thomas greets me with a big smile and shares tonight’s lineup of seven performers, all doing 20 minutes: that’s the Giuseppe shuffle.
Tony Goddess is up first, sitting at the piano with a slim acoustic guitar and his hair a bit messed. Tony’s already made his name in Boston, Gloucester, and beyond with Pappas Fritas, the Rudds, Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, and his popular recording studio Bang-A-Song. His fluid talent is apparent when he bangs out a song he wrote before he landed in Gloucester, all about moving from the city to near the water. His life has followed the lyrics and he follows it up with a new song of his called “I Won’t Let Go.” And I’m sure he won’t let go of his wife, Samantha, and daughter Franny (both in attendance). His music style varies from song to song and he warns us about his piano-playing limitations but proceeds to play a Burt Bacharach-ish number, switching to guitar on the more complicated bridge. He’s got a great sense of chord structure and melody and finishes up with a hit that he helped write for Guster… “Amsterdam.” Excellent.
It’s John Jerome’s turn to sit at the piano and play his guitar. His hair and beard look evenly grown out from a shave—all hairs being about a half inch long. He’s a friendly looking guy and proceeds with a jumpy number called “Superman Lies.” The pure tone of his Taylor acoustic mixes well with his jangly guitar-playing style. Though it’s a bit hidden, there’s an element of Elvis in his singing approach. He plays a song, “When the Morning Comes,” that he wrote for his band, whose CD never became a reality. He knocks out “Once in a Lifetime” but it’s not a cover of Talking Heads. Then he wraps up his set with “Cloudy Day” that ends with big-arena chord antics.
Joe introduces the next act as a world troubadour—and Scotty Anderson appears to at least be familiar with trippin’. Scotty starts by admitting he’s still in his work clothes. He builds up a rolling guitar groove… then unexpectedly stops to take a sip of his Clausthaler beer and remove his skullcap. He’s got a handsome smile (kinda like Johnny Damon) and dedicates the song to the key of C, as the previous groove returns. He drifts into another world, fiddling around in C—and just when I’ve given up on this as a song, a growly voice sings a verse, and is followed by a jammy guitar solo—as if there is a band backing him up. The tune eventually ends and the likable Scotty presents “Columbian Blues” with a fingerpicking introduction. He stops again… and takes another swig. Then it’s back to his laid-back finger pickin’ routine. There’s a feel of a jam band in this solo act—and the guy sitting next to me quips, “I almost forgot what it was like to be stoned.” Scotty spins out another one with “Wheelbarrow” where he channels his days of landscaping in Canada, rides in his three-wheeled bucket, and encourages someone he misses to write him a letter. Charming in a stoney way. Joe gives me a look that says—”How’d you like that?” My smile back at him says, “Crazy and entertaining.”
Ahhh—it’s nice to see the younger generation participating in the shuffle. The somewhat shy yet pretty 20-something (if that) Sarah Hoonah Smith—or maybe it’s just Hoonah—sits at the mic with arms in position to play her guitar and her medium-long light-brown hair falls by her side on her open sand-colored sweater. Her personally penned “Blackbird” (not the Beatles) floats with an Ingrid Michelson vocal style—beautiful soprano melodies that jump around quickly with simple guitar accompaniment. Her presence is shy, but she doesn’t let that affect her likable presentation. She admits in “Lucky for You” that when it comes to love, she’s a fool. She’s got a sweet style going for her, whether she’s a fool or not.
Next up is a young man—Ryan Sweezy from Lynnfield, MA. He masters his Epiphone acoustic guitar and has a very impressive voice too. “Truly Free” displays his youthful confidence. He’s got quite a vocal range combined with clarity and could definitely sing a wonderful duet with Hoonah, if they put any effort into it. He shows his political side with “You Can’t Bring Us Down” written in reaction to the Marathon bombing. And although he’s never done time, “Doing Time” is about his longing heart. In his final offering he shows off his hammer-ons and pull-offs impressively connecting guitar runs in “Breath.”
Guy Zaccardi is the performer I really came to see tonight. He’s got creative qualities far beyond others. He’s loaded with a sort of foreign style that touches on cabaret—but never really goes there. When his first song ends, the audience erupts, and one guy yells out “Leon Redbone meets Freddie Mercury” and he is right on the money. With his dark mustache and old-fashioned eyeglasses, Guy could be the grower of grapes on an Italian countryside. He encourages response by repeating “every clap counts.” I don’t get the titles to any of his songs, but my notes include “Bozo Cute” (the first tune) “Goat” (a slow bouncer), and “Cotton Stuffed in a Blouse” (with creative chords). I sit on the edge of my seat while Guy performs—you never know what rhythms may emanate from his slightest touch, or which way an odd melody may turn. All I know is I’m riveted by his performance and immediately set up a future story in The Noise. Oh—and he’s such a respectful guy—he leaves a couple of minutes at the end of his set for his Aunt Barbara (Koen), whose birthday it is tomorrow, to get up and sing an a cappella tune with some religious ties about meeting in the middle of the air. Somehow the entire set makes total sense and no sense at the same time.
Coming back down to a normal playing field, Howie Newman is given the opportunity to close the night. Joe adjusts the microphone level while he sips on his Guinness and glances over for approval of the acts. Meanwhile Howie is discussing relationships and how you learn to accept your partners’s flaws, then goes into a novelty tune that claims, “My Baby Can’t Parallel Park.” He admits he also writes serious songs and goes on about being a father of two kids, then sings about them growing up. He’s an easy-going performer with basic chords and traditional-type melodies. He’s got it down how to entertain. For the next song, he teaches the audience to repeat “whoot woo” on a single note while his guitar changes chords. I realize before he tells us that we are rehearsing the background part for the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” And although he may end up losing his backup singers throughout the song, he keeps up his end of the bargain. He tells us that the older you get the harder it is to stay out—and reinforces that notion with “Way Past My Bedtime.” A good family performance to send us on our way. Another entertaining shuffle at Giuseppe’s Ristorante & Piano Bar. (T Max)
THE BONES OF J.R. JONES/
CARAVAN OF THIEVES
me&thee coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA
It’s a cold night in Marblehead, MA, with the week’s new snow piled up along the winding downtown streets. The pews are packed inside the Unitarian-Universalist Church, but not for services. They have come, as they have for the past 44 years, to Me&Thee Coffeehouse to hear the latest and greatest folk music. The stage exudes a bohemian yet dignified quality, with floor rugs in front and a stately altar serving as backdrop. J.R. Linaberry, aka The Bones of J.R. Jones, is the first to perform, wearing jeans and rolled-up sleeves. He wields a chestnut-colored guitar/banjo while playing a kick drum and high hat with his legs. It sounds like a full band is filling the church hall with thundering noise, but it’s all coming from Linaberry. The crowd is enraptured by his soulful voice and furious strumming. The bluesy crawl of “Sing Sing” has a particularly haunting quality.
After a brief intermission, Caravan of Thieves take the stage to a hearty round of applause. They are clad in their iconic ragtime-era outfits and bursting with energy. Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni harmonize beautifully on the lively “I Don’t Wanna” before the former retreats to a percussion kit made of trash cans and kitchenware and starts pounding away. Not only is the band full of gifted musicians, they are exceptional performers. Their set is rife with animated body language, droll repartee with the audience, and moments of pure theater. Fuzz joyfully bobs his head to the music and his ear-to-ear grin is a permanent fixture. At one point, violinist Ben Dean lies on his back while Carrie pretends to wilt under her husband’s riffing. “This is what we do. We perform, you come watch it, and it’s pretty good,” Fuzz quips after the band’s frenetic cover of “Sympathy for the Devil.” “Your Parents Did a Bad Bad Job” has the audience laughing throughout, perhaps tapping into a human desire to shirk responsibility for our shortcomings. Dean shines on “I’m Gonna Eat You,” leaning back as his playing becomes higher- and higher-pitched. Brian Anderson is equally impressive on upright bass, dancing while he plays and adding artful flourishes like the catchy bass line on “Rattlesnake.” Fuzz and Carrie enlist the audience’s help on an acoustic rendition of “Dead Wrong,” and the crowd keeps the hand-clapping, foot-stomping beat going with ease. An older woman gets up to leave midway through the set, telling the band, “You were great!” Carrie responds with the Thieves’ trademark humor: “We’ll be thinking about you after you leave!” My first trip to me&thee is as memorable as they come—a historic venue, an enthusiastic clientele, and two enormously talented acts add up to an unforgettable Friday night. (Anthony Harris)
One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME
I arrive for the 9:30 show at 8:45, and wait outside with an anxious crowd until the doors open and we enter graciously. I’m so glad we don’t live in a place where people stampede and kill others to get a good seat! Soon I’m waiting in the third row with my hot tea. I heard that the first show was sold out and this one seems to be nearly so.
The calm and sweet presence of Kat Goldman takes the stage. She has a quiet and sincere persona. She sings her first tune, “Red Canoe,” in a lovely husky, Shawn Colvin-ish voice.There’s a little Irish trill in some of the notes and I am drawn in. She explains that she moved to Boston from Toronto to go back to school to study literature. She sings “Just a Walk Tonight,” about observing Boston neighborhoods and landmarks such as where Mother Goose is laid to rest. She has a shy smile and sings only a few songs. Her voice is sweet and sure, carrying an element of depth. She explains that the song “Annabel” was written for her deceased grandmother, and was covered by the great Canadian band the Duhks. “I’ve looked low and I’ve looked high/ tell me where does the spirit go when you die?” She playfully talks about her dreams to be a rock star, and performs her song “Traveling Band.”
Later in the show, Dar invites her back up to sing a duet of Kat’s song, “Weight of the World.” “You want to take it off/ It’s the weight of the world/ You want to set it free/ Just for today/ You can’t always be the one/ to heal everything/ and the weight of the world/ was never yours to keep.” This song makes my tears flow.
I tell Kat after the show I want that song played at my funeral. She says she wrote it after watching the movie The Green Mile—that it came out, just like that. I love art-begets-art stories.
Dar Williams comes out looking great in a little black dress and leather boots—I always thought she and the actress Laura Linney look like they could be sisters. Jazz musician Bryn Roberts backs her up with keyboards and harmonies. He is utterly focused and supportive. She stands and delivers with the confidence of an observant and deep-feeling woman, who has been distilling the scenes of her life through poetry, music, and voice. Her voice has power and depth—it is lovely and emotional. She jokes about money, about life, and performs great songs such as “Spring Street,” with this achingly poetic line: “So April had a blizzard just to show she did not care/ and the new dead leaves made the trees look like children with gray hair.” In the song “If I Wrote You,” she tells the one that she longs to be intimate with that, “If I wrote you/ you would know me/ and you would not write me again.”
“I’ve Been Around the World” is a love song about family and work, and relationships, and what really has meaning. This song makes me sob, too. “That I know I am not alone in you/ and I know you’re the one I can tell my stories to/ I have been around the world/ there’s so much there to see/ and the story never ends/ you’re all the world to me.” “Buzzer” is about the Yale Milgram Obedience Experiments. It illustrates what people may be willing to do for money, and what they might do if they don’t have to take ultimate responsibility for their actions. The last song is a tribute to Pete Seeger who died the previous week. Dar was Pete’s neighbor. She sings, “If I Had a Hammer,” and encourages us to join in. A woman named Elly Chase joins them on stage with her cello. I belt out the harmonies I know from a deep place in my solar plexus. I sing to Pete—to freedom, and to the song about you and me, all over this land. Dar ends by saying, “I heard the harmonies. This is Portland, not New York.” I go home flying, I stay up half the night thinking about the concert. It is in my dreams, it is on my pillow when I wake up, it is with me all day. Thank you, sweet women of music. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)