BNL Fan Alert – Ed Robertson @ Okemo 1/4/2007

bnl.gifFresh from a holiday performance with the Boston Pops, Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson plays a free solo show at Okemo Ski Resort next Thursday:

Ed Robertson, a lead singer and songwriter for the band Barenaked Ladies will perform live in the Sitting Bull during apres ski, from 3 to 6 p.m. on January 4. Apres ski is open to the public at no charge, on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to Okemo season pass and lift ticket holders. Robertson has just completed a concert tour to promote the band’s newest CD, Barenaked Ladies Are Me. Time and location of show is subject to change.

Okemo is located in Ludlow, Vermont.

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Local Rhythms – A Year of Highs and Lows

drburmasmall.jpgThis year’s local music scene is best summed up by one of my favorite all-purpose sayings – “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I believe I heard it first, appropriately enough, in “The Sound of Music.”

There were more opening windows than closing doors in most places this year, but not, sadly, in Bellows Falls. In what seemed like one fell swoop, the Windham closed and Oona’s burned down. Roots on the River won’t be the same next year, but it got a raucous (if damp) sendoff in 2006 with scintillating performances from Crooked Still. Ingrid’s Ruse and James McMurtry – not to mention Fred Eaglesmith, who will definitely be returning next year. As, I hope, will Bellows Falls.

Newport’s short-lived Eagle Tavern shut its doors, but a few months later Josh and Joe Tuohy came to the rescue. Salt Hill Two – Joe confirmed the name last night – will open late next month.

In Springfield, the Royal Flush filled a void left with the closing of Morningstar Café, presenting lots of local talent, and cornering the market on tribute bands.

The aforementioned Ingrid’s Ruse epitomized the ups and downs of 2006. They released their only album and promptly broke up. The displeased gods (or the CD factory, depending on who you believe) held up the disk’s release, forcing the band to do two farewell shows at the Heritage. This year spelled the end of one of my favorite fusion bands, Oshe, but also the emergence of another – Oneside.

Hexerei endured personnel changes, but ended the year on a high note, winning a slot on the Family Values tour and releasing a new album. Stonewall finally put out a record, as did the Conniption Fits. All three bands shone at Rock the Whale, the high point of the summer (and maybe the year).

In Claremont, the new year began with the promise of a new downtown restaurant. Sophie and Zeke’s opened in the space formerly occupied by Café Cubana, and fast became an area magnet. In early summer, they began offering music, first with Thursday jazz (more on that later), then with a varied slate of other live talent.

Performers there included everyone from Pete “Three Season” Merrigan, Josh Parker of Stonewall playing solo, bluegrass from the Spiral Farm Band and Spare Change, and the smooth vocals of Al Alessi (with the stunning piano of Bill Wightman). In one year, “Sophie & Zeke’s” became synonymous with “music,” and is predictably packed most Thursday and Friday nights.

Tomorrow, Sophie and Zeke’s celebrates its first birthday, welcoming Dr. Burma for a raucous dance party. Bandleaders Ted Mortimer and Linda Boudreault are regular Friday night favorites with their blend of jazz and pop standards. During the dinner hour, they’ll stick to that format. Later, however, they’ll clear away a few tables and welcome the rest of the group for some high energy rock and soul.

What a perfect way to celebrate one of the great additions to the local scene. What else awaits in the coming days?

Thursday: New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – The band that started the musical ball rolling. Tom Caselli and Nate Thompson provide steady rhythm; Larry Welker adds guitar spice to the mix. Floating above it all is vocalist Emily Lanier, with an easy style that suits this room perfectly. Of all the versions of “Route 66” played at Sophie & Zeke’s this year (I’ve counted four so far), theirs is the best.

Friday: Gully Boys, Seven Barrels – I took way too long to check this band out, and I won’t make that mistake twice. They borrow from the likes of Widespread Panic, the Grateful Dead, Umphrey’s McGee and Phish. Their sound, however, is distinctive – quite a feat considering the many configurations of the band over the years. They fit nicely into Seven Barrels (no mean feat).

Saturday: Stonewall, The Heritage – One of the best Windham shows of the year, this band continues to be one of my favorites, a veritable three man army. A tip of the hat, while I’m at it, to Martin Hansen, for booking some of the best bands around to this odd-shaped Charlestown room. Here’s to another successful year.

New Year’s Eve: I’m going to switch up a bit and provide multiple picks for Sunday night. You decide. Start with dinner at Bistro Nouveau, then catch Dr. Burma at Salt Hill, where last year’s groovalicious show is still being talked about. Or greet 2007 with the Conniption Fits at Shenanigans; their new, punchy and crunchy CD will win them more fans this year. Yer Mother’s Onion, another shining light on the local scene, light up Seven Barrels. Finally, Jeremy Lyons and the Deltabilly Boys raise the roof at Middle Earth. Happy New Year!

“Brainwashed” Shana Morrison’s Family Tradition

shana-morrison-small.jpgShana Morrison tried to chart her own path from youth to adulthood; her aspirations – business school and a career in finance – would seemingly delight most parents. But Shana’s wasn’t an ordinary household.

Her father responded to her plans with a terse question. “Why do you want to do business? Business people are a**holes.”

Later, Dad tried a more sanguine approach to coax Shana into the family trade. At graduation, he suggested she try a few months in his profession before looking for work in hers.

Thus, she joined Van Morrison for a brief tour in late 1993. 13 years later, Shana Morrison is still carrying on the family tradition.

Van Morrison’s ‘Blues and Soul Review’ tour, said Shana during a phone interview Saturday, “was a three hour show with a bunch of different musicians. I only did two songs, so it wasn’t like people had to hear his daughter squawk all night.”

After the tour, Shana joined Claddagh (leader Kevin Brennan had also worked with Van), and later formed her own band, Caledonia. “Then fans started asking for a CD,” she says, “so we thought we’ll release something as a snapshot in time. It wasn’t something that was planned. “

Shana, who performs tomorrow night at the Ascutney Mountain Resort, shares her father’s penchant for exploring many musical directions. 2002’s “Seven Wishes” was produced by studio heavyweight Steve Buckingham and has a country-pop feel. It was, says Morrison, “a really beautiful, pristine-sounding record.”

Her latest, however, churns with the raw power reminiscent of artists like Susan Tesdeschi and Bonnie Raitt. This begs the question: is the album’s title, “That’s Who I Am,” a declaration of sorts?

“Yeah, definitely,” says Morrison. “I’d never been able to record anything that was really bluesy or really R&B-oriented. That’s what the goal was for this record, to choose a group of songs that would work for that kind of approach.”

Morrison produced most of “That’s Who I Am” herself, with help from longtime guitarist Chris Collins. Listening to it, one is struck by how much fun the band seems to be having, quoting the Sugarhill Gang’s hip-hop classic “Rapper’s Delight” in “Drive,” and turning the traditional standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” into a high-speed rave-up. The album’s highlight is “Simple,” an epic blues number that showcases Collins and “Mighty” Mike Schermer trading off bristling guitar solos.

Unlike “Seven Wishes,” she released the new record independently. “It’s easier to record an 11 minute song without an label executive looking over your shoulder,” she says.

Morrison stuck with blues rock for the new disc. “Each time you do a record, you need to focus it a bit,” she says. Onstage, she’s less encumbered, more adventurous.

“My music can be really…” Shana pauses to explain, though anyone familiar with the many twists and turns in her father’s body of work certainly understands that the Morrison muse is nothing if not diverse. “If you come to see my show, people can get really confused. We’ll start the night with some Irish songs, then we’ll do some pop and some blues.” She’ll also put her own touch on “Van the Man” favorites like “Into the Mystic” and “St. Dominic’s Preview.”

Things will be even more interesting for this short East coast tour. Worcester chamber-pop trio The Curtain Society, augmented by Huck’s Scott Ricciuti on guitar, serve as her backup band for Friday’s performance.

Economic necessity dictates the move. “Gas prices,” she sighs. Travel costs in general make mounting a tour with a band difficult. She’s considered a solo or a duo act, “but when you’re in the bar and nightclub settings you want to do something a little more raucous,” she says.

She’s worked with the Curtain Society before. “I did some shows with them last year when I was on my way back from Europe,” she says. “They can play some really interesting things that we’ve never come up with before with my band. It may not be something an audience would notice, but it perks me up.”

Her life today is a far cry from the one she imagined in college. She once told financial writer Lee Silber that, as a child, she “envied other kids whose parents had normal jobs,” recalling how they would “live in a mansion and buy a new car and stereo system one year and have to sell it all” the next.

She is, says Morrison, “aware that most people go at this a long time and never make any money. “

“I guess I was brainwashed,” she laughs.

When she decided to become a full-time performer, “my parents were ecstatic and proud,” says Shana Morrison.

“Because what else is there better than being a musician?”

 

 

Local Rhythms – The Season of Giving Back to Music

lrsmallxmas.jpgThis is time of year when “we give to our relations,” as Jackson Browne sings in “The Rebel Jesus” (one of my essential holiday songs). We also do what we can for the less fortunate among us. Locally, there are many deserving charities providing food, shelter and other comforts to those in need. Lately, however, my heart, mind and checkbook have been reaching beyond our borders to the national community of music.

More than a year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has yet to completely recover. The bustling French Quarter, spared by most of the storm’s ravages, is open for business, but the soul of the district is still in many ways an American Diaspora, scattered across the country in search of a way home.

“Most musicians don’t have anywhere to live in the city of New Orleans,” says Bill Taylor. Taylor heads Tipitina’s Foundation, a charitable organization named for the famous uptown jazz club which for the past five years has provided relief the Big Easy musical community. In the wake of Katrina, Tipitina’s work to preserve what Taylor terms “a national shrine” grew exponentially.

The New Orleans homeless problem received national exposure recently on NBC’s “Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip,” with a storyline featuring a fictitious group of displaced horn players. The network also included a Tipitina’s write-up on its website.

“All the young musicians are gone,” laments Gregory Davis, and many New Orleans clubs must look to places like Atlanta and Memphis for talent. Davis’s Dirty Dozen Brass Band released a Tipitina’s benefit CD recently; so did Fats Domino, the piano legend who was rescued after the hurricane.

In the words of one writer, jazz is “the purest expression of American democracy; a music built on individualism and compromise, independence and cooperation.” What we do to revive New Orleans, the birthplace of this great musical export, says a lot about our national character.

That’s why this year I’m thinking locally, but acting globally. Tipitina’s (www.tipitinasfoundation.org) isn’t the only organization helping to rebuild New Orleans. Habitat for Humanity and the Jazz Foundation are also hard at work.

As you open your gifts this holiday, and prepare donations to soup kitchens, shelters and other deserving groups, think of New Orleans, a true symbol of our cultural heritage. There beats the heart of America’s music – it deserves to be preserved for future generations.

Now, on to the local scene:

Thursday: Social Club Orchestra, Middle Earth Music Hall – A group of area musicians get together to “celebrate community and the season in song,” led by Bradford’s own Don Sinclair. The brainchild of club regular Paul Gardner, it features Tom & Gabby Masterson, Ruthless Geezers Peter Mallory & Brian Emerson and many others. Sauron is not vanquished from Middle Earth; thus, proceeds from the show will benefit the club’s legal defense fund.

Friday: Sensible Shoes, Skunk Hollow Tavern – Great to see this band back in the listings. They have a knack for picking great cover songs, by the likes of Otis Redding and the Beatles, that haven’t been played to death. A five piece band will be a tight fit for this tiny Hartland Four Corners venue, but it will still be a jumpin’ good time. Sensible Shoes is currently working on a CD of original tunes, which is very good news indeed.

Saturday: Play Dead, Royal Flush Diner – Bring a toy for a needy child and admission is free to this event, which features Grateful Dead songs by this well regarded tribute band. Open mike impresarios and erstwhile Dead fans the Kind Buds also appear; they will likely sit in for a few songs.

Sunday: Christmas Music On Television As frequent readers have no doubt deduced, I love holiday music. On television, the country channels have the best selection, with an Alan Jackson’s “Precious Memories” gospel special and “Christmas at the Tennessee” on GAC. The latter features Deana Carter and one of my favorite newcomers, Julie Roberts. But best of all is CMT’s “Christmastime is Here” with Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss and the Whites.

Tuesday: Greenleaf & Kaplan Duo, Canoe Club – Alan Greenleaf is a Northeast Kingdom farmer and a self-taught musician who has released a series of charming records about his life. He’s accompanied by Jonathan Kaplan on piano for an evening of classic folk and blues, interspersed with plenty of country wit.

Wednesday: Trans-Siberian Orchestra, DCU Center (Worcester) From the ashes of a has-been heavy metal band rose the most spectacular holiday extravaganza ever mounted. It must be seen to be believed. With 24 different musicians surrounded by smoke, lasers and fire, TSO is part rock opera and part spiritual journey. If, two days after Christmas, you’re still in the mood, this is for you.

Toby Lightman Shines At Iron Horse

lightmansmall.jpgMost of the crowd at the Iron Horse Tuesday felt that if Toby Lightman had auditioned for “American Idol” back in 2002, Kelly Clarkson would still be hawking Red Bull and waiting tables in Texas.

But the singer-songwriter, who released her first record in 2004 (“Little Things”), has chosen a more methodical path to success. Her sophomore disc, “Bird On A Wire,” came out last July. Lightman says her focus now is “definitely different – I know a lot more than I did before. My approach this time was to do a lot more grassroots touring, I didn’t really do that the first time around.”

Wearing a black Doors T-shirt and accompanied by guitarist Court Clement, Lightman played stripped-down selections from “Little Things” and “Bird on a Wire” during a Tuesday night show which exhibited the many elements that inform her sound. She added improvisational jazz touches to the bridge of set opener “Alone” and laid down a funky groove for “Coming Back In.”

Lightman transformed the syncopated album version of “Slipping” into a spare, sultry rhythm that would have done Norah Jones proud. “I do a lot of angry songs,” she joked by way of introducing the sweet and hopeful “Better,” a song she wrote for her sister upon the birth of her son.

But the growling “River” showed Toby Lightman at her righteously indignant best. “The lights are dim, are you gonna come crying to me?” she sang, deftly trading licks with Clement (a seasoned sideman who has worked with Griffin House and Jessica Lofbomm).

The guitarist’s inclusion definitely helped to spice up the show. Lightman covered Jim Croce’s “Operator” a few years back; she and Clement worked up a version of it in the dressing room prior to the show that was among the most well-received numbers of the night. The song oozed soul, as Lightman came back around at the end for another go at the chorus that took the 70’s soft-rock classic to new heights. If Donnie Hathaway had ever gotten his hands on it, it would have sounded like this.

Between her first and second records, Lightman said backstage before the show, “I’d drifted from pop to more classic soul. I was really enraptured by the organic nature and space of people like Bill Withers and Sly and the Family Stone. There doesn’t need to be so much going on, there’s just a vibe and it’s a great song. You don’t need the tracks.”

The shift to a leaner sound began during the “Little Things” tour, says Lightman. “There’s a lot of programming on the record that was really hard to replicate live.”

Last year, she headed back to the studio with Bill Bottrell and Patrick Leonard (Sheryl Crow, Madonna, Elton John) for “Bird on a Wire.” “This one was very different that the first one,” Lightman says. “Everything was done with live takes. I had never really done that before, but I’m a lot more confident in my voice and playing my guitar.”

That confidence comes across clearly onstage, despite Lightman’s occasional self-deprecating remark. “We suck!” she exclaimed at one point as she fiddled with a guitar tuning. But tunes like “Overflowing,” Holding Me Down” and the forthcoming single “My Sweet Song” gave the lie to such musings. Lightman closed her set with the Ella Fitzgerald-inspired “Sleigh Ride” – another number worked up pre-show – and sent the crowd happily into the night to spread the word about her steadily rising star.

Today’s Free Download – Imaad Wasif

Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album“River,” Joni Mitchell’s dark holiday lament, gets some testerone competition with Imaad Wasif’s “The New Year,” a track from Kill Rock Stars’ Winter Holiday Album, a joyous little affair indeed.

Wasif was a member of Lou Barlow’s side project New Folk Implosion at the end of their run. The group appeared in the film “Laurel Canyon” in 2002.

The song begins with gathering cymbal thunder, spare acoustic guitar and a harrowing opening line:

It was Christmas time/and I was the reaper of woes

It doesn’t get much more hopeful, but when Wasif asks that everyone “come together this December and for the new year,” you want to believe it can happen.

It’s much like the way we root for lost hikers and suspected kidnap victims to be found.

Despairing, near suicidal, this song won’t be on the next “Now That’s What I Call Christmas,” but as a leadoff track for Kill Rock Stars Records holiday package, it’s perfect.

Download “The New Year” (mp3)
from “Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album”
by Various Artists
Kill Rock Stars

SpiralFrog – Big (But Not That Big) Developments

spiralfrog.jpgSpiralFrog, the free music service viewed (by some) as the last best hope for the struggling music business, yesterday announced a distribution deal with BMI. The song publisher will make their entire catalog available for ad-supported free download in WMA protected format. The catalog comprises nearly half of all recorded music, including the entire Beatles discography, a fact that induces much irrational exhuberence at Wired Magazine:

The irony of The Beatles refusing all online music stores but accepting (or being forced to accept) this free, ad-based service is a little much. I have a call and email in to SpiralFrog to confirm that The Beatles are included in this deal. I have to assume they are, but I just can’t believe it, so I need to make sure. More on this soon.

Not so fast. No word yet on whether Neil Aspinall got back to Wired, but rest assured that the Fab Four’s Luddite stance won’t be changed by this deal. There’s rumors afoot that the recent “Love” songscape could be made available to Apple (the computer company) iTunes, and reports of Steve Jobs using his reservoirs of charm on all interested parties to bring that to bear.

I don’t think Beatles product is going to be digitized until Apple (the music company) is damn good and ready. It will happen when the audio quality is there and not a day sooner – at least that’s what Aspinall said in court earlier this year.