Local Rhythms – There’s Irish, Then There’s Salt Hill

lrnewsmall.jpgEverybody’s going green this weekend. Murphy’s in Sunapee has a leprechaun DJ and a contest with an Ireland vacation as grand prize, Hullabaloo in Claremont features green beer, something you won’t find in Dublin, and Guinness – something you will.

For something more authentic, Killarney in Ludlow is a real Irish bar, or you could get in line before sunrise for a chance to see the band Flogging Molly’s annual acoustic set, complete with bohdrain and accordion, at the Black Rose in Boston.

Anyone can hang a shamrock on the wall for St. Patrick’s Day, but there’s really only one local watering hole where being Irish is a 365-day a year condition – Salt Hill Pub, on Lebanon’s Green.

The celebration has been running all month long. Two days ago Longford Row, a traditional band from Burlington, marked an unofficial return of the weekly Irish Sessions; they resume in earnest at the end of the month. The Pub also made a foray into concert promotion. Tuesday, Galway’s Saw Doctors played an energetic set, capped by a 7-song encore, to a fevered crowd at the Lebanon Opera House.

Inchicore, named after band front man Derrick Keane’s Ireland hometown, perform traditional songs about, says Keane, “Irish history and the patriot dead” tomorrow night. It’s certain to provide a rousing lead-in to the big day.

At Salt Hill, March 17 commences at 9 AM with the ceremonial “pouring of the first pint,” followed by a traditional Irish breakfast of fried eggs, thick cut bacon, bangers, along with two pate-type sausages called black and white pudding. Oh, and a side of beans.

“It’s the kind of thing you’d find in any pub in Ireland,” says Salt Hill owner Josh Tuohy.

The pub is also sponsoring, along with Harpoon Brewery, the annual “Shamrock Shuffle” 5K race at 11 AM. There’s also a 1-mile “fun walk” for those still recovering from morning pints.

Music starts at 4 with the Roger Kahle Zigzag Band, a traditional group that will pack up at the end of their set, and head for Salt Hill’s new location in Newport’s Eagle Block. There also be, says Josh Tuohy, “random step dancing and drive-by bagpipes.”

O’hanleigh, a year-round Salt Hill favorite, closes out the evening beginning at 9.

Now, if being Irish isn’t your thing, here’s what the rest of the weekend looks like:

Thursday: New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – This sort of sultry jazz is the antithesis of Irish music. You won’t hear Emily Lanier sing “Danny Boy,” but the songs she does sing – “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Route 66” – are smooth and elegant. It’s a biweekly tradition that doesn’t ever get old. Tomorrow, S&Z’s welcomes pure bluegrass with the Spiral Farm Band.

Friday: Sarah Blair & Friends, Seven Stars Center (Sharon, VT) – Blair is one of Vermont’s best fiddle players. She celebrates the release of her new record by teaming with Ben Power and Colin McCaffrey for an evening of high-powered music infused with Celtic traditions. Power plays flute and bohdrain and is also a first-rate singer. Multi-instrumentalist McCaffrey brings a down-home elegance to the project.

Saturday: Sun King, Heritage Tavern – Straight up rock and roll from one of the area’s favorite party bands. Word this week of the club’s sale was quickly followed with assurances that live music Saturdays would continue under the new management. That’s good news, as some of the area’s most interesting talent passes through this Charlestown landmark.

Sunday: Blues Jam, Off the Green – I received word via Dave Clark’s weekly email that this regular Woodstock jam session is going great. Last Sunday, Clark joined guitarists Terry Diers and Jason Twigg-Smith, upright bassist Lisa Rojak and harp player Jed Dickinson. When the playing commenced, says Clark, “a bunch of folks drifted in off the street and we ended up having a nice little blues jam.” Sounds perfect.

Tuesday: Mark Vogel, Canoe Club – Called a Swedophile, if that’s a word, by John Chapin, Vogel plays an interesting mix of music – “blues, country, jug band and folk, woven into a tapestry of tales about hanging on and letting, coming together and falling apart.” He performed at Canoe a few months ago with an all-Swede band, so this is a bit of a departure I suppose. Vogel plays solo, accompanying himself on guitar.

Wednesday: Keb’Mo’, Lebanon Opera House – I mention this show for two reasons. First, to point out the high caliber of performers that swing through the area. Second, to let anyone thinking of seeing this master of the American blues-rock idiom know that the show is sold out. There’s a waiting list if you’re really desperate, but thankfully no one’s scalping seats on EBay. When that happens, I’m moving to Yarmouth.

Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Calling

mccarpenter.jpgToo cool for country yet too twangy for rock, Mary Chapin Carpenter predated a wave of hard-to-peg performers like Patty Griffin and Josh Ritter. “The Calling” is in many ways a reckoning of her years as an industry outsider. “Your Life Story” and “It Must Have Happened” continue the Americana pop sound defined by Carpenter’s early work (“Shooting Straight in the Dark,” “Come On Come On”), while “Why Shouldn’t We?” is a more optimistic take on the ruminating Sixties sentiments found on “Stones in the Road.”

“The Calling” is also her most personal work, a reflection on the choices a performer makes, and the uncertain life that often results from them. “I was only trying to outrun the noise,” she explains on the title track, “there was never a question of having a choice.”

Other songs reflect upon home life (“Twilight” and “Bright Morning Star”), friendship (“Here I Am”) and the frailty of romance (“Closer and Closer Apart”). On “Leaving Song,” she sounds weary of constant touring: “you would think you’d have gotten used to it all by now/but each day it just gets harder/each journey alone.”

“On With The Song” name checks the Dixie Chicks, “three little stars in a great big sky,” and could easily have been on the “Shut Up and Sing” soundtrack. At times clumsily strident, as when she chides radio stations for “exhorting their listeners to spit on the sinners/while counting the bucks of advertising they’ll save,” the song still hits more than it misses.

It won’t win her back in country music’s good graces, which is probably the point. “This isn’t for the ones who would gladly swallow/everything their leaders would have them know,” she sings, leaving no doubt how she feels. It’s Carpenter’s most outspokenly political song to date.

Carpenter brought clarity to the September 11 attacks through the eyes of a recovery worker on “Grand Central Station,” a jewel from her last album (“Between Here and Gone”). On “Houston,” she explores New Orleans’ pain in the wake of Hurricane Katrina through the city’s refugees, who are “waiting for the buses/waiting for some Providence.”

It’s a kinder, gentler topical song. “Once we get to Houston/maybe it will all make sense,” she sings. No songwriter, save perhaps Richard Shindell, performs this kind of storytelling so masterfully.

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Related: Ten Minutes With Mary Chapin Carpenter (Interview 3/22/07)

Vintage Neil Young – Live At Massey Hall 1971

neilyoung.jpgThere’s a palpable sense of history unfolding on the just-released “Live at Massey Hall,” the second installment in Neil Young’s “Archives” series. By the time of this Toronto show, the singer had already made his mark with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, along with three solo records.

“I’m going sing mostly new songs tonight,” Young tells the hometown crowd; some tunes were barely a few days old. “I’ve written so many that I can’t think of anything else to do but sing them.” With this humble introduction, he eased into rough drafts of songs that would ultimately form the bulk of “Harvest,” a record that almost single-handedly built a bridge between rock and country music.

Introducing a pristine version of “Old Man,” Young seems to rue his budding success. “I live on a ranch now – lucky me,” he chuckles, while explaining the song’s subject, a 70-something foreman “who came with the place … he stays with the cows no matter who owns it.”

The sudden stature “Harvest” gave to Young effectively limited his chances at playing intimate shows like this one, which is what makes the release of “Live at Massey Hall 1971” so special. It’s a must have disc for any Neil Young fan, because it provides a chance to see some of his best songs at the moment of creation, along with stripped-down, unaffected versions of favorites like “Down by the River” and an eerie, gripping “Ohio.”

“Live at Massey Hall” has many fan-pleasing rarities, including a strikingly different version of “A Man Needs a Maid” (“a man feels afraid,” sings Young on the chorus), which segues into an abbreviated “Heart of Gold” and back again. The never-released Dance, Dance, Dance” is an obvious blueprint for “Love Is A Rose.”

“Bad Fog Of Loneliness” is also here for the first time. Young had originally intended to perform the song on Johnny Cash’s television show, with Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three. He ultimately played the Cash show with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt; their close proximity led to the Nashville “Harvest” sessions, which produced the studio versions of “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold.” A deluxe set bonus DVD includes a clip from the show, along with a black and white film of the Massey Hall concert and a few other rarities.

“Live at Massey Hall” comes in both a CD-only version and a more expensive CD/DVD deluxe set.

Two Old Friends @ Claremont Opera House 3/16/07

2_old_5.jpgThere will be songs, laughter and stories aplenty when Mac McHale and Emery “Hutch” Hutchins step on to Claremont Opera House stage Friday night. The “Two Old Friends” blend Irish and traditional American sounds to build a musical bridge between the two continents.

“We’re combining Appalachian music with the music of the British Isles, because in truth, one’s tied to the other,” says Mac McHale, a native Mainer who traces his roots to the city of Sligo in the Irish Midlands. “We do a song called ‘Mrs. McCloud’s Reel,’ which is the Irish name of it. In Appalachia, it’s called ‘Did You Ever Go To Meet Uncle Joe,’ but it’s the exact same song. ‘Dooley’ is about a revenuer in Appalachia; in truth he was a guy who made illegal spirits in Ireland.”

The duo has over 80 years of performing time between them. “My first professional gig was in 1952, at the American Legion Hall in Orono, Maine,” says McHale. “Me and two other guys got a buck fifty a piece. I’ve been at it ever since.”

McHale and Hutchins met 30 years ago. “Emery was doing sound for a festival I was putting on,” says Mac. Hutchins suggested they play together, and along with Taylor Whiteside, they performed as Northeast Winds for over 15 years. “Things change, and we sort of disbanded, but four years ago we got back together as ‘Two Old Friends’.”

Their show is filled with many wonderful anecdotes, like the one Mac tells about the origins of “Orange Blossom Special,” a song that’s been called the best-known fiddle tune of the twentieth century. Two cabdrivers living in a Jacksonville rooming house wrote it one night when they had no fares.

“In the morning,” says McHale, “one of those guys sold his half of the song to the other guy for a pint of whisky. That guy copyrighted the song and lived on the royalties for the rest of his life.”

“You know what his friend told me?” Mac excitedly asks. “I worked on festivals in the south with him. He said, ‘Son, that was the most expensive drink I ever had.’”

Mac and Hutch play “Orange Blossom Special” in their set; Mac also plays it with “Old Time Radio Gang,” a bluegrass band that he calls his alter ego. “It’s traditional, old-time music like the Stanley Brothers,” says McHale. “No new grass.” The band’s name is a throwback to McHale’s boyhood experiences listening to the radio in Bangor, Maine.

“We had three stations that programmed live country music every day – bands in the studio,” he says. On “Noontime Jamboree,” he’d hear groups like Ray Little and the Radio Cowboy Show, Cowboy Gene Cooper and Lone Pine Mountaineer.

“At night we’d get Wheeling, West Virginia – WWVA. One of my mentors down there was Doc Williams, of Doc Williams and the Border Riders,” he says. “That’s when I got infected with the whole thing.”

More than half a century later, he shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m 74, and I can still drive all night,” laughs McHale.