Antje Duvekot

antje26img49.jpgBackstage at the Newport Folk Festival, a box of promotional CDs sat innocuously on a table in the press room. I grabbed a few, including “Boys, Flowers, Miles,” because I vaguely recalled seeing Antje Duvekot’s name flash on XM one day while listening to the Loft.

Back in the hotel, I dropped the disc into the room’s ALARM CLOCK, and what came out of that meager speaker hit me like a train, flattened me dead in my tracks.

Antje Duvekot has the lyrical intensity of Patty Griffin’s best work AND a worldview that’s part shaman, part political scientist. At some point, I’ll detail the specifics of gut-punch masterpieces like “Judas” and “Jerusalem,” but for now I just want to curl up with them.

It’s been so long since something this beautiful wandered into my field of vision that I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.

You owe it to yourself to visit her MySpace site. Listen to “Jerusalem” and tell me it doesn’t reach you at some level, be it the heartbreaking story she tells, or Antje’s mysterious Celtic/Nordic hybrid of a voice.

Tell me – I don’t believe you.

Cornish Fair – Three Days of Music, With Country Dominating

hwt-2.jpg Amidst the smells of cotton candy, hay bales and steaming hot dogs, the sounds of thrilled carnival riders, preening horses, goats and chickens, the strains of music will serenade fairgoers in Cornish this weekend. There’s a wide range of choices packed into the three-day event, everything from jam-infused rock to gospel, with a healthy dose of country prevalent throughout.

Yer Mother’s Onion, a percussion-rich, jazz-inflected rock quintet, opens the fair’s music Friday, with performances at 4 and 9 PM. The band’s members are all seasoned veterans of the cross-pollinating local scene, having played in many different area bands.

They’ve found their groove as Yer Mother’s Onion, winning battle of the bands contests and becoming a popular return attraction at places like the Anchorage, Seven Barrels Brewery and the now-defunct Eagle Tavern. They play mix of covers from bands like Phish and Guster, but they’ve also assembled enough original material for a soon-to-be-released album.

The festival shifts gears on Saturday when the Heather Walker Thompson Band arrives, performing at 2:00 in the afternoon and 7:30 that night. A native of South Carolina, the band’s leader has a unique resume. She’s currently a certified phlebotomist at York Hospital, and a pre-med student at the University of Southern Maine. “If my dreams of becoming a national recording artist don’t pan out,” she says jokingly, “I’ll be a doctor – not too shabby for a worst case scenario.”

Onstage, Walker Thompson is a bundle of unbridled energy, often taking her cordless microphone deep into the crowd to sing. Her voice is a mix of Patsy Cline and Pat Benetar, and she’s comfortable with material as diverse as “Chain of Fools” and “Red Neck Woman,” truly a country Dr. Feelgood.

The Don Campbell Band also plays Saturday, with two sets at 5 and 9. Campbell’s repertoire is full of easy to digest, twangy gems like “Mashed Potato Swing” and the swelling patriotism of “Veteran’s Day.” Though born in Scarborough, Maine, Campbell’s music lives well below the Mason-Dixon line. In 1999, they won a national “country music search” award at Nashville’s Wild Horse Saloon.

Closer to home, they’ve won Boston Music Awards for Country Band of the Year for three consecutive years.

Last year, the band opened the New England Country Music Festival at Gillette Stadium for close to 50,000 fans. The band plays a big country sound reminiscent of Brooks & Dunn and Rascal Flatts. Campbell began with Celtic folk in the early 90’s. He switched to country for “Flowerchild with the Blues,” a 1996 record with an equal debt to Dan Fogelberg and Vince Gill. Since then, he’s released four albums of original material, the most recent of which, “Backyard Holiday,” came out in 2004.

He cites fellow Mainer Stephen King as an influence, saying, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (King’s 2001 book) should be required reading for any songwriter.” Campbell’s storytelling skills shine on “Freedom Fighters” and “A Friend Right Here,” a song about home health caregivers he debuted at a national conference in 2002.

Sunday morning is special, with the local group Gospel Train performing a special morning set at 10:30. Featuring what member Steve Guyette calls “old conservative hymn book songs, some with a beat to them,” the group is made up of several members of local community, from Goshen, Claremont, Sunapee, Newport and points beyond.

For three years, their membership has fluctuated from “anywhere from 3 to 4 to maybe a dozen,” says Guyette.

Most of the group is affiliated with one of the local churches, says member and retired minister Jim Hills of Claremont, who leads the group Sunday. “We’ve got 5 members who are or were at one time music leaders in their church, so any one of us can lead,” he says.

Recently, Gospel Train performed at a Newport Opera House church festival, where Maria Von Trapp (of the musical Von Trapp family) joined them. “She borrowed a guitar and sang ‘Edelweiss’ in both the secular and non-secular version,” says Guyette, still giddy from the experience.

The group’s changing membership is part of what gives it vitality, says Guyette. “We call it Gospel Train because people are always jumping on and off.” The group plays gospel festivals throughout the area, usually backed by a guitarist or two.

It’ll be a lot like church on Sunday at the fair, says Hills, “a good old combination of hymns, solos and sing-alongs.”

Paula Teebow, Nashua-based singer, also plays at noon Sunday. At 2:00, the last musical “performance” on the main stage is a karaoke contest, for the brave or anyone inspired by the morning’s gospel gathering to take a turn in the spotlight.

Local Rhythms – Music Biz Blues Have Me Seeing Red

ioda.jpg One day I may run out of music business horror stories, but it won’t be any time soon. In the last few weeks, an industry built on creativity has twice called attention to its’ current growth strategy, one that requires more lawyers than lead guitarists.

In the first instance, a record industry lawsuit reached an impasse when the defendant, accused of file sharing, died during the proceedings. RIAA lawyers announced that the family had 60 days to grieve their loss, at which point the dead man’s children would be deposed in the case.

Now, before you cry foul, realize the record biz has been getting rich from dead musicians like Elvis for years, so going after a barely-cold defendant probably made complete sense to some boardroom bozo. After a period of reflection, however, they called off the dogs, citing “an abundance of sensitivity,” which in industry-speak means “really bad publicity.”

The second involves OLGA, a web site where musicians post the digital equivalent of a “fake book” for guitarists, songs transcribed from memory. The Music Publishers Association shut it down at the end of July. I didn’t realize they hated cover bands so much, but there you go.

In the midst of this concerted effort to make music less available, there are lots of performers who love the exposure file trading affords them. Relentlessly posting free songs on their MySpace and purevolume sites, these creative communists apparently didn’t get the memo about the questionable wisdom of giving it away.

A bunch of them recently formed a consortium of independent musicians and labels. The idea evolved out of the podcast phenomenon. New radio renegades are recording shows and putting them on the Net, but copyright issues make the danger of getting sued ever-present.

The organization, called iodaPromoNet, authorizes tracks from affiliated artists for podcasting and file sharing. I’ve put a link to “One Foot Down,” from Peter Bradley Adams’ new album on my own web site, The songs are teasers for full-length albums, available for online purchase.

It’s all good, despite lawyers lurking at funerals and acting like 1920’s sheet music hawkers. Records are so easy to make that bands almost always have music at their shows and on their web sites.

As Chris Anderson observes in his timely new book, “The Long Tail,” everyone’s a producer in this brave new world. The old order’s scared, while everyone else is excited.

What’s exciting on the local scene this week?

Thursday: Starline Rhythm Boys, Chester Green – Local purveyors of the “Bakersfield Sound,” a mid-60’s movement led by performers like Merle Haggard and carried on by Dwight Yoakam and otheres. Eschewing the gilded sound of Nashville for something purer, but just as beautiful, the Starline Rhythm Boys have built a solid area following. Tonight’s free show is a good chance to see why.

Friday: Kan-Tu Blues Band, Anchorage –
This popular original blues outfit is the middle band for three nights of music in Sunapee – it must be high season. Sleazy Listening plays Thursday, a jazzy drums/bass/keyboard combo with new vocalist (and Norah Jones dead ringer) Andal Sundaramurthy up front. Saturday it’s Wherehouse, led by guitar gunslinger Jason Cann – another fine young area band.

Saturday: Jazz Concert, First Congregational Church – Led by versatile keyboard player Dan Formidoni, a member of what I think of as the Von Trapp Family of Claremont, this is an evening of standards, ballads and classic jazz. It features vocalist Ashley Martin, with bassist Brian Wright providing rhythm. I love the fact that our local youngsters are making and playing music. This is a great opportunity to see the kind of talent that’s right here in our community.

Sunday: White Mountain Boogie n’ Blues Festival, Campton (N.H.) –
The second day of a two day festival featuring some great guitar players and top-notch singers, including Albert Cummings and Chris Fitz on Saturday and Ana Popovic Sunday. The young Popovic is the whole package, playing slide guitar like a demon and singing with a throaty yell that’s utterly captivating. Also on hand is Mighty Sam McClain and the Chicago styled Mission of Blues.

Wednesday: Country 92.5 Big Day Off Concert, Six Flags Agawam – Neal McCoy, Darryl Worley, Julie Roberts, Megan Mullins, and Gary Nichols headline this show, free to paying park customers. Roberts just released a gem of a new album; her set will probably compensate for Worley’s jingo windiness. Six Flags management is offering a nice enticement: one day paid admission entitles you to a pass for the rest of the season. Not bad.

For those who hadn’t heard, the August 6 “Rock The Whale” local music festival was a huge success, drawing 750 or so sun-drenched fans. Plans are underway for next year. Congratulations to Steve Smith at Rock 93.9/101.7 for his labor of love.

Toby Lightman – Bird on a Wire

lightmanbirdonawire.jpgA Review

Lightman’s follow-up to her intriguing 2004 debut, “Little Things,” is just as soulful but gratefully less adorned. That’s a good thing, because the honest texture of the loping, Ray Charles rhythm of “My Sweet Song” and the restrained yet powerful “One Sure Thing” exude the self-assurance missing from, say, Nelly Furtado’s latest or one of Kelly Clarkson’s many near misses.

At the same time, she can tear into a funky groove with equal passion and conviction. A thumping bass line dominates “Holding Me Down,” a rocking track that’s also the record’s first single.

“Don’t Let Go” is an empowered woman’s song, with lines like “I’m gon’ tell you when it’s over/but it’s not over yet” and “I’m sick of hearing your voice” emphasizing the “takes no prisoners” mood present over much of “Bird on a Wire.”

“Alone,” despite overly simple words (“Alone isn’t how I think of me/I’m waiting for the day/when I can put that word away”), explores Lightman’s vulnerable side. There are two versions, the official hard rocking one, and a stripped, slowed down “bonus track” take that’s much more heartfelt and engaging.

“Don’t Wake Me,” the record’s leadoff track, begins with a gospel choir, and then kicks into a Memphis groove with a spine-tingling call-and-response chorus. Another winner is “Round & Round,” a Little Feat meets Betty Carter gumbo that could make a dead man sway.

This energy is present throughout “Bird on a Wire,” even on spare ballads like “Good Find.” “You’re the thought that clears my head,” the sultry Lightman sings, soaring over a perfectly uncluttered arrangement. It’s the high point in a record with many.

“Bird on a Wire” is a solid sophomore effort from a rising star.
(4 out of 5 stars)

Ani DiFranco – Reprieve

anireprieve.jpgA Review

DIY diva Ani DiFranco is uncharacteristically reflective in her latest. The challenging punk-folk of last year’s “Knuckle Down” gives way to a dreamy fusion of beat jazz and romantic longing. “Just enough pathos to keep me hypnotized,” she sings on the lead track, and the music never moves far beyond a slow growl.

The title track is a spoken word poem that explores political and emotional dualities. Modern-day Hiroshima is a symbol of this tension, in the beauty of an ancient eucalyptus tree that somehow survived the atomic blast -“terror … in a blinding ray/with the kind of pain it would take cancer so many years just to say.”

Using religious archetypes, DiFranco examines the confusion of post-feminist America, declaring, “to split yourself in two/is just the most radical thing you can do.”

“Reprieve” began in New Orleans and was completed in New York after Hurricane Katrina destroyed DiFranco’s studio. “Millennium Theatre” reflects that disaster in a slow, percolating rage, with the haunting admonishment to “turn off your cell phones/and forget what you think you know.” Aside from “Decree,” it’s the only overtly topical song on a mostly subdued record.

More characteristic is the electonica noodling of “Unrequited,” a song about the ravages of love cloaked in shell-shocked resignation, all the way down to a barely audible sigh at the end.

“I had to leave the house of fashion/go forth naked from its doors,” she sings in “Shroud,” which starts down a well-worn staccato path, but ends up meandering into a psychedelic mist.

DiFranco’s releases over the past few years have veered wildly. “Reprieve” is another example of the public exploration of her muse, designed to win new fans and challenge old ones. When it works, such as in the scorching “Decree” or the kiss-off “Half-Assed,” it can be mesmerizing. Much of the record, however, feels as divided as the circumstances it was created in.

(3 out of 5 stars)

Peter Bradley Adams – Free Download

One Foot Down (Radio Mix)Peter Bradley Adams was one half of eastmountainsouth. Their eponymous 2004 release, produced by Robbie Robertson, received a whack (as my friends from Canada like to say) of spins on the iPod.

“Gather Up” is Adams’ solo debut, and it’s a beauty. Big, lush and mesmerizing, with a soul to match. Check out the teaser track, “One Foot Down,” via iodaPromonet, my new best friends:

Download “One Foot Down” (MP3, 192kbps)

Artist: Peter Bradley Adams
Label: bigHelium/Mouse in the Moon