Local Rhythms – My Thanksgiving

turkey.gifTonight at the dinner table, I’ll give thanks for my family, and after, antacid.  Right now, I want to be a little more public in my display of gratitude.  Here’s an honor roll of the people and things that sustained me over the past year.

Thanks to  Claremont’s  restaurateurs for making my hometown a destination, and transforming the question of where to go for dinner into a wonderfully complex decision process.  Demiglace, garlic knots, coconut shrimp or handmade ravioli?  So many choices, I love it!

Thanks  to the young musicians – Hexerei, Stonewall, foreverinmotion, Syd, the Ruse (past and future), and others – for pumping the blood into my rock and roll heart.  There’s not a lot of money in the music business, but these kids have boundless passion and commitment in spite of that.

Thanks to YouTube, MySpace, purevolume and GarageBand.com, for providing easy to use tools to help bands get the word out, and a way for me to find them.

Thanks to the veteran players still in the game.  Al Alessi, Pete Merrigan, Spectris, Rick & Dave Davis and the Conniption Fits all continue to represent the region’s rich musical heritage.

Thanks to Charlie, Patrick, Ezra, Thomasina and the rest of the gang at Flying Under Radar in Bellows Falls.   It was a great run – come back soon.

Thanks to Josh and Joe Tuohy, for challenging their customers every week with eclectic musical choices.  When you walk into Salt Hill Pub, you can expect the unexpected – everything from power pop to Celtic reels  to  jumping jam band sounds. 

Thanks to Gardner Goldsmith at WNTK for proving  that  two people can be worlds apart ideologically, yet find common ground talking about YouTube, iTunes and the Long Tail.  Let’s promote world peace by giving the Israelis and the Palestinians a Radio Birdman record to discuss.

Thanks to Keith Olbermann, for being snarky, smart and never boring. 

Thanks to  HDNet, for TV concerts that look and sound better than the real thing, and  don’t cost a paycheck; also to Rhapsody for building a digital player that makes music discovery portable with their brilliantly cool Channels feature.  Now I don’t have an excuse to stay home all the time.  Where should you venture this weekend?  Here are a few compelling area performances to consider for the coming days:

Thursday: Sun King, Heritage Tavern –  Join former members of Shine for an after-dinner party in Charlestown, and dance away the holiday meal.  According to National Geographic, the tryptophan in turkey has gotten a bad rap all these years.  It doesn’t really make you sleepy after all.  I still need a nap after all that food, though, whether it’s the bird’s fault or not.

Friday:  Spare Change, Sophie & Zeke’s – Speaking of veterans of the local scene, Joe Stallsmith’s name is discussed a lot when the history of Hanover music comes up.  He fronts a few different bands with varying musical styles.  This combo is a three-piece –  guitar, mandolin and fiddle – that mines the same territory as Spiral Farm Band, another S&Z’s favorite.  From Nashville to Texas, with a long walk along the Blue Ridge Mountains – that’s Americana.

Saturday: Davis Brothers Garage Band 2, Shenanigans – After a fun-packed reunion a few weeks back, a local institution returns with a slightly different configuration.  Carey Lee Rush sits in on guitar, and  there will be a few surprise guests during the evening.  Last fall, Rick Davis organized a birthday bash for our mutual friend Bob Rivers, where we watched a few vintage 1981 reels of the band.  That must have started this trip down memory lane.

Sunday:  Aztec Two-Step, Iron Horse – 35 years after meeting at a Boston open mike night, this duo is still playing and making new music.  Their repertoire is full of easygoing folk tunes.  It’s a mystery why Seals & Crofts made it to the top of the pile while these guys only got halfway up the ladder. 

Tuesday:  Irish Sessions with Dave Loney, Salt Hill – Last Tuesday, there were a dozen musicians in the circle at the center of Lebanon’s pub on the Green.  That’s what happens when the weather turns cold.  So if you want to beat the chill, stop in, grab a pint and enjoy the spontaneous inspiration that so often transpires with this pickup band of fiddlers, pickers and pennywhistlers.

Wednesday:  Dinosaur, Jr., Paradise Boston – Long before Nirvana and Pearl Jam, high school buddies J. Mascis and Lou Barlow pioneered the refined garage band sound in the clubs of Northampton, Massachusetts.  Mascis and Barlow fought like the Toxic Twins, but in the past few years decided to mend fences and play together again.  A new album from the original trio is due next year.  The band plays also plays Pearl Street in their hometown on December 1.

David Mallett – Still In Search of the New

dave-mallett.gifDavid Mallett brings folk music with a northern perspective to the Claremont Opera House this Saturday, but listeners would be surprised at where the Maine native goes for inspiration.

“I don’t have time to listen to anything I’ve already heard, I just want to hear new stuff,” he says.  He’s a big fan of  the Link, a music video outlet that shows  “stuff from Russia, India, Brazil – it’s really cool to watch that stuff.” 

This eclecticism extends to Mallett’s family.  HIs son fronts Lab Seven, a Portland-based hip-hop band that’s built a strong regional fan base.   You’d expect a folkie who cites the Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash and Stephen Foster as influences to run screaming from  the room at this, but not Mallett. 

“I’m very excited by it,” he says.  “In a way, rap is  the folk music of the current generation.  This is where they get their words out, you know what I mean?  When I was a kid folk was for young people,  Nobody understood it.”

Mallett thinks Woody Guthrie would approve of this urban sound, which he terms “a modern take on the Dust Bowl ballads.  The rappers and hip hop guys are simply describing their own experience, their own Dust Bowl.”

David Mallett’s own musical journey began as a teenager, when he and his brother performed as the Mallet Brothers and made music inspired by the family team of Don and Phil Everly.  They recorded a few 45s, and hosted a variety show on a Bangor television station. 

“It’s  nice to have your own TV show when you’re 16,” laughs Mallett. “It kind of spoils you for the rest of your life.”

Mallett befriended Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame in the mid-70’s, and made his mark  with “The Garden  Song,” a tune that’s been covered no less than 150 times, by everyone from Arlo Guthrie to the Muppets. 

“It was amazing,” Mallett says of the song’s success.  “ I wrote it in 1975, mostly just as a way to pass the time.   I was working in the garden with my father, and it came up as sort of a little work song.”

Over the years, it’s been used to sell garden equipment in Spain, fertilizer in Ireland, and it’s also a regular on the Today show, which uses it for a recurring gardening segment.

“It came from this land I live on and from my father teaching me how to plant corn,” he says.  “It came from very little effort, and those are the best kind of songs.  They just sort of say ‘I’m here.’”

Mallett spent 10 years in Nashville among a songwriter’s clique that included  Lyle Lovett and  Nanci Griffith (who recorded some of his songs).  He co-wrote a few successful country tunes with Hal Ketchum, and had a small hit with “This Town” in 1993.  But as soon as his kids reached high school age, he headed back to Maine.

“If you can go to Nashville and adjust your perspective to make it a little more southern, they really like that,” says Mallett, but “country music is addressed to the working class of the south and the west.  I’m such a Yankee I had a hard time adjusting.”

“My turf is New England, it’s my own little backyard,” he says.

His home state acknowledged this in 1999, naming him one of Maine’s key figures of the 20th century. 

“That was pretty mind blowing,” he says.  “Being a musician is a fragile way to lead your life, You don’t know where the next song is coming from or the next gig, but to have something like that in your backpack is pretty nice.”

Mallett’s amassed quite a catalog of songs over the years, but as his personal tastes suggest, he’s always looking forward.  Asked to name his favorite song, he says simply that “it’s always been the next one, the one I haven’t written yet.”

Mallett expects to showcase a few of his new songs Saturday night.  No doubt he’ll also be watching in the wings when Harvard valedictorian and rising country singer/guitarist Liz Carlisle opens the show.  Carlisle made a strong impression opening for Hal Ketchum in October, so fans should welcome her return to the Opera House stage.