Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA
Okay, you may notice that I end up at Me & Thee every Friday night. Maybe I’m hooked on the pastries sold at halftime, but it’s more likely about having my soul recharged with the highest quality, low volume performances available in New England. As I step through the Unitarian Universalist church door, I am greeted by booking manager extraordinaire Kathy Sands-Boehmer and while we trade local world updates, Jim Trick, Marblehead’s musical sensation, ups the exchange with his bent wit. Out the side of my eye, I spy colors beaming from the merch table, as if I may have accidentally entered a section of FAO Schwarz.
It’s showtime! Rebecca Loebe, her smile framed by her long dark curls, lightly strums, escorting the tale of touring 187 venues in 42 states before sliding into “Swallowed By the Sea,” a further account of her music career. She possesses a sweet voice and plays her acoustic guitar with sensitivity. She talks about her dad, who questions her choice of lyric, and states that he’s going to have a rough time with her next album. Raised in a UU church, she says this one is not like the others around the country that look like they were pieced together by hippies. She’s funny in her song “Thanksgiving,” where she sounds like one of the Roche sisters. The depth of her material shows with the serious “Easy Money” and the political “Marguerita” where she sides with immigrants who work to support their families back home. Then she closes her set with a touching gentle construction of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” not quite pronouncing the repeated phrase “I don’t have a gun.” Later off stage admitting to me that subconsciously she just doesn’t like using the word “gun.”
Ellis Paul is up next and explains that his first song, “Rose Tattoo,” is not about a real tattoo—he uses the term as a metaphor for this love song—and asks people to hold off on showing him their rose tattoo. He then coughs up that he’s got an old tattoo on his shoulder of Woody Guthrie that looks like Oprah Winfrey now, so already we’ve got a very entertaining engaging personal show. Ellis continues with the spiritually-up title track of his latest release, Chasing the Beauty, that combines finger picking and strums that build counter melodies. He picks up the CD of Chasing the Beauty and shows it to the audience, then picks up the 12-inch vinyl double album and simply states, “size matters.” He has a little record player on stage and throws on “Blackbird” from The Beatles’ White Album. He talks about the difference in retrieving sounds from nature vs. hitting a key on a synth to produce a similar sound as he mimes recording the birds in nature that tweet behind Paul McCartney’s voice. I don’t want to tell you all of Ellis’s fun stories that come between his excellently executed songs, but he does have a novel tale about his beautiful Taylor acoustic guitar, Guiness, that went though a damaging experience when being handled by an airline. That colorful merch item I spotted earlier is Ellis’s wonderful kids’ book (with CD included) about heroes—The Hero In You. I picked up one for one of my favorite kids—and Ellis autographed it. (T Max)
T.T. the Bears, Cambridge, MA
Last time I caught Petty Morals was at Jay Allen’s 50th birthday show, a year or two back. Chrissy says: “We’ve gotten a little better since then,” which turns out to be the greatest understatement I’ve heard in years. Two years ago they were a fun little punk rock cover band, something of a continuation of The Killer Abs. They’ve since evolved into a seriously tight new wave dance band, playing mostly originals. While completely rooted in that era/genre, they sidestep being totally retro by adding a small dash of modern hip hop influence (The Soviettes also pulled off that trick successfully). They do this so well and are such a panic, they really deserve some big-time attention. All the material sounds great, but for me the standout tune is “Radio Action,” which makes me think of The Go Gos on their very best days, only PM front-lady Tai is way hotter vocal-wise than Belinda Whatsherface. (Frank Strom)
One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME
I’m always heartened when I arrive and see a big crowd. Hanneke, who looks like a Nordic goddess, comes out with rugged looking Christopher Lewis on guitar, and her extraordinary cellist husband, Mike Block. Mike begins with a growling sustained underbelly sound on the cello and Hanneke takes off with a bouncy reel (or is it a jig?) on her violin. The music is intense and joyous, and the audience begins to unconsciously stomp in unison. She quizzes us on the difference between a jig and a reel. It’s in the time signatures. Turns out, a reel is 4/4 time and a jig is 6/8. So, see? You do learn something every day! It’s such an honor to be in the presence of people who play so well. The fact is, we’re watching a kind of real, intimate passion, it’s almost embarrassing – they look so blissed out and beautiful as they soar through each piece. There is playfulness too. Mike does not play the cello sitting; he wears it. Hanneke urges him to tell us about his “block strap.” She explains that most of what she plays is Scottish-ish music, either from Scotland, the Cape Breton area, or original tunes written in those styles. The tunes have intriguing titles: “Scandalous,” “Natasha McCoy’s Reel/Lianne Mclean’s Revenge,” and “Dot the Eyes of the Dragon.” Lauren Rioux comes out with about a dozen of her students – it is wonderful to see this crop of sincere and serious kids accompany them on stage. Beloved local mandolin player, Joe Walsh, comes out too. His quiet collaboration adds another dimension of gorgeousness. Ed Pearlman, another well-known Highland champion, joins Hanneke also – they play another superb, foot-stomping piece and then are suddenly joined by an adorable young woman who bounds up, adding a splash of joy with a third fiddle. She is Ed’s daughter, Lily. This is the kind of event that people leave asking themselves: “Why didn’t I learn to play the fiddle, or the cello, or the guitar?” Well folks, it’s not too late to learn. They all teach at various fiddle camps and workshops and music schools! (Kimmy Sophia Brown)
GUY VAN DUSER & BILLY NOVICK/ JULIE DOUGHERTY
Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA
Julie Dougherty, with her husband Woody Woodward on bass tonight, is a North Shore staple. She’s got style and class in her vocal performance and jazz tinged acoustic guitar backing. Her own material has a feeling of standards in the making. She starts with “I’ve Been there Before”—sincere and soulful. Her platinum blonde hair may be her visual logo, but she also has a dress code that she’s pretty consistent with—all black, short skirt, leggings and boots. Woody is a little more casual wearing a vest and trimmed beard (yes, he has more than a vest on) and his electric bass is another appendage—you rarely see him without it. Julie lets the audience know that she’s played here before—back in ’79 when a small side room was used for the shows. The duo plays a new one called “I Feel Like a Storm is Coming On” and they swear it wasn’t written based on the winter of 2015. Their set is sprinkled with lovely jazzy endings, bass solos (Woody is a master of the hammer-on), thoughtful verses and a combination of jazzy chords set to subtle rhythms I don’t expect. “The Real Deal,” co-written with Julie’s niece is a beautiful highlight. Billy Novick, toting a clarinet, makes the group a trio for “Fine and Mellow,” a Billy Holiday number with walking bass, and the standard, “Moon River,” that features Julie’s most soulful vocals.
After the coffee and baked goods break, host Tony Tolido introduces Guy Van Duser and Billy Novick as celebrating their 40th year of showbiz together. They get things rolling with “Wolverine,” originally by Jellyroll Norton, the self-proclaimed inventor of jazz. It’s obvious that we are in for a treat of the highest degree with the way Guy handles his classical guitar. He fingerpicks the bass part, the chord progressions, the melodies, and sometimes I can hear he’s adding harmonies to the lines that Billy plays on the sweet sounding clarinet. When Guy goes into a solo, he stretches the possibilities of what I thought were capable of extracting out of a guitar. It’s officially spring tonight and the pair swing into “Spring Cleaning.” Billy sings in that ’40s matter-of-fact way, his head shaking out a vibrato when necessary. They play without a set list and grab tunes from history that range from George Gershwin to Fats Waller to Dave Van Ronk to Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington. Jeanne Stahl appears out of the audience to add a female touch to “Never the Less.” Thirty-five years ago the Boston Globe called Guy “New England’s best ragtime guitarist” and I believe he still holds that title by his performance tonight. The two distinguished gentlemen have that kind of rapport that only comes from playing together for 40 years—a simple mid-song, “I got it” or “no” sends a clear message between them. Billy tells the tale of his mom going out with all her friends to see a Disney film that he wrote the soundtrack for—only to return and say: “I didn’t hear any music in it.” Guy jokes about the old way one would have to learn to play a song (lifting the needle on a record up and down forever) compared to today’s “find it on YouTube” method. He then demonstrates how he learned Chet Atkins’ arrangement of “Caravan” by duplicating the echo machine but doing it manually—wow!! Billy runs off stage for his penny whistle to complete the show with John Phillip’s Souza’s 1896 triumph, “Stars & Strips Forever”—but before they start, Guys tells how he heard his distinguished guitar arrangement copied for a Hyundai car commercial. Annoyed at first, he set out to listen to it again online, where he discovers that the copied version uses two guitars to duplicate what he did with one. That makes him feel better. Billy then chips in—“I saw that commercial… and I didn’t hear any music.” The audience erupts with laughter. What an entertaining show! (T Max)
MUCK & THE MIRES/ THE DENTS/ WATTS
Midway, Jamaica Plain, MA
Someone of course refers to this show as an Abbey Lounge reunion. On one hand, you could throw together Downbeat 5, Triple Thick, and Andrea Gillis (or any number of other bands) and still call it that, but on the other hand, I haven’t seen line-ups this attractive on a regular basis since the Abbey. God, I miss those days. Fuck! That’s why I didn’t wanna hear “Abbey Lounge” reunion! Now I’m depressed. The good gents in Watts do their best to distract, though. Except for the trifling fact that they weren’t around at the time, Watts is your classic Boston rock band circa 1979—Heard on WBCN’sBoston Emissions show and regular fixtures at the Channel. Despite the period description I’ve tagged the band with, their songs like “Flash of White Light” and “She Wants to Rock” are perfectly timeless. Irresistible if you’re looking for some straight forward energetic rock ’n’ rock, which I’m not sure anybody is anymore. Don’t get me started! My only gripe tonight is they close the set with an AC/DC cover instead of an original. Closing with someone else’s material is an easy trick and lots of bands do it, but I’d much rather be sent home with a Watts song.
If you’re a new reader, you may be unaware that yours truly is president of The Official Dents Fan Club – not an easy job when the band no longer exists! Lately, however, they’ve done at least three reunion shows, so maybe they ain’t so nonexistent after all. A REASON TO LIVE! Regular doses of those two talented and foxy babes Craig and Kevin would enliven and enrich anyone’s life. Ahem. Also Michelle and Jen aren’t bad either. If you’ve never heard The Dents, you’ve been missing out – a great, fun, hooky punk rock band with commercial potential. At the very least, they shoulda been a big deal locally and I have no idea why they weren’t. Check them out, if you haven’t already. I love them dearly and hope to see them continue on.
Again, you new readers are likely unaware that in my spare moments I double as president of the International Muck & the Mires Appreciation Society. We don’t have much of a newsletter—Instead, I just write reviews about them in The Noise and come up with goofy descriptions like “the ‘yeah yeah yeah’-era Beatles crossed with the ‘gabba gabba hey- era Ramones.” All I gotta do is tell people how wonderful they are and what a terrific songwriter Evan Shore is. Just state the facts, tell the truth, stick to the blatantly obvious. Any idiot could do this. It’s easy and I get paid for it… in jelly babies. Like The Dents, Muck & The Mires have been ignored locally, but they do get some attention elsewhere around the county and in Europe. Of course, you know what cool taste those Europeans have, so that should tell you something. (Frank Strom)
THE NORTH SHORE JAZZ PROJECT ALL STARS
Salem Five Community Room, Salem, MA
It’s a relatively nice Saturday, well, maybe if the wind could be eliminated—a perfect day for a free performance inside a bank that supports the arts. Casually dressed music director Mike Tucker leads 13 high school student musicians in a rousing session of jazz highlights before an eager audience of parents, friends, and music lovers. The group includes three saxes, three trumpets, two trombones, two guitars, keyboards, electric bass, and drums. These excellent male teen players are dressed in black with ties, with only one female player, Zoe Murphy, in their group today; she’s on trombone and is no slouch. The selections range from Frank Zappa’s eclectic “Grand Wazoo” to the funky wah-wah driven of Fela Kuti’s “Expensive Sh*t” to the slow driving funk of Tower of Power’s “Toad Wild Ride.” All the musicians take solos and the horn section plays some cool charts. The two guitarists, Craig Vanremoortel on Fender Telecaster and Alex Mazzarese on a Fender Jaguar, add a lot to the excitement, while the bass player, Liam Beadouin, really keeps the whole show funkin.’ This group is always transforming, so if you’re a high school student gifted with music ability, contact Mike Tucker on his Facebook page. (T Max)
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