Local Rhythms – Top Down Mix Tape

1970-ford-torino-gt-convertible-749344.jpgThe official date may be June 21, but for me summer starts when the temperature passes 85 and the tops come off pools and cars. Nothing improves a ride in a convertible like some rockin’ tunes, so here are ten songs guaranteed to push you past the speed limit.

We’ll call it my top-down mix tape:

  1. Rocking Down the Highway, Doobie Brothers – With a line like “flying down the road with my foot on the floor,” how could this not be on my list?

  2. Tell Me All The Things You Do, Fleetwood Mac – From back when they were a blues band and Stevie Nicks was a college girl; two lines repeated over and over, and some smokin’ guitar.

  3. Sweet Emotion, Aerosmith – I’d wager that this one’s responsible for more tickets on Interstate 91 than anything before or since.

  4. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen – Oh, the sinister way it sneaks up on you – “honest, Officer, I had no idea I was going that fast!” Plus, it transforms sophisticates into “Wayne’s World” extras.

  5. Gel, Collective Soul – One of many songs by this band that literally shouts “overdrive.” A CD’s worth of their tunes qualifies as leadfoot contraband in several southern states.

  6. Oh Atlanta, Little Feat – Speaking of the south, this standout track from perhaps the greatest live album ever made will give even the most jaded driver a bad case of boogie fever.

  7. Back in the USSR, Beatles – The Fab Four dip their toes in surf music’s waters. Boy, did they ever catch a wave!

  8. She Runs Hot, Little Village – This short-lived, John Hiatt-led supergroup takes the “car as girl” metaphor about as far as it can go. “Crankcase cookin’, that’s her manifold destiny,” indeed.

  9. Twisting By The Pool, Dire Straits – How come the lads from the coldest nether regions of England do such a dead-on job imagining hot sun living? Lust for life, I guess.

  10. Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys – “The way the sunlight plays upon her hair … the wind that lifts her perfume through the air.” If you don’t already have a rag-top, this song makes you want to get one.

So roll the window down if it’s the best you can do, and crank it up. You might also want to check out these fine local music offerings:

Thursday: Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival (Preston, CT) – A four day event signals the beginning of the festival season with some of the finest pickers in the land. Tonight, the Greencards blend bluegrass yin with newgrass yang. New Traditionlist Rhonda Vincent headlines Friday and Chris Thile, who broke every rule in the book with Nickel Creek, tops the bill Saturday. There’s also workshops and plenty of other bands.

Friday: Bruce Cockburn, Palace Theatre – Cockburn kicks off this year’s “Concerts for the Cause,” which benefits Children and Family Services of New Hampshire, tonight in Manchester. Tomorrow, he’ll play the Lebanon Opera House. Next Friday, Rosanne Cash does her part at Concord’s Capitol Center. CFSNH walks the walk, and this annual event has helped make life better for countless kids. It’s also an excuse to hear some great music.

Saturday: Hexerei, Imperial Lounge – The bedeviled Claremont metal band emerged from its latest crisis stronger than ever, with a new guitarist and a reconfigured sound. Frontman Travis Pfenning is even letting his anti-freak flag fly, losing the erstwhile reversed ball cap to let his shiny head, well, shine. I like the look, and I like the new songs they played last weekend at Electra. What’s the old proverb? “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

Sunday: Chris Kleeman, Bistro Nouveau – The bluesy Kleeman was the first musician to perform at Bistro Claremont, so it’s no surprise that he’s helping out at the new location in Eastman. This Sunday, Windsor’s Harpoon Brewery co-sponsors an event that includes an opportunity for “Friends of Harpoon” to play unlimited golf on the Eastman links, along with plenty of giveaway goodies. Kleeman provides the soundtrack.

Tuesday: Cripple Lilies, Weathervane Art Gallery – Downtown Brattleboro is in the news again. The weather’s hot, so the citizens are once again getting naked in the streets. I’ll be honest – the details on this show are a bit sketchy, but if it is happening, it’s worth making the effort. This band used to play punky art-rock, but their latest album sounds like Exene Cervenka and Woody Guthrie’s love child.

Wednesday: Pine Leaf Boys, Iron Horse – This five piece band lives together in a Lafayette, Louisiana shotgun shack. They make music that bridges the gap between the new and old of Cajun and Creole. It’s a bit more electrified than the sounds heard in Mississippi River fish shacks, but it’s got every bit as much soul.

Roots on the River Preview

fred.jpgThe Roots on the River Festival has a new promoter as it enters the eighth year, but the basic premise is still intact: pack all the music that fits into four days, each capped with a different flavor of Fred Eaglesmith.


The show began in 2000 as a way for promoter Charlie Hunter to quench his appetite for Eaglesmith’s hardscrabble tunes. The inaugural “FredFest” lasted two days. Over the past few years, it has grown to four, and includes many local and nationally known performers.

This year’s Roots on the River kicks off next Thursday with “Vermont Night,” featuring Josh Maiocco, Scott Ainslie, the Starline Rhythm Boys and the Sandra Wright Band. Maiocco played last year’s festival with Ingrid’s Ruse, in one of their last shows as a band. These days, he’s the host of PK’s Tuesday open microphone night at in downtown Bellows Falls. Ainslie is both a teacher and performer of American blues music, and the Starline Rhythm Boys have drawn strong notice for their faithful honky-tonk sound.

Headliner Sandra Wright has called Vermont home for some time now, but the heart and soul of her music remains her native Memphis.

Friday’s “Live At the Farmer’s Market” set is a Fred Eaglesmith Band alumni night of sorts. Both Roger Marin and Willie P. Bennett played with Eaglesmith in years past, and the 90-minute “Fred & Friends” set that closes the show should be full of happy endings.

The all-day Saturday show has been bedeviled by rain in the recent past, but that hasn’t dampened anyone’s spirits. Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams returns after a year’s absence. Joe Gee makes the move from the parking lot to the stage, and the Dan Whitley Band will try to re-capture the energy that made their one of the most well-received sets at last year’s festival.

There’s also a lot of female energy on the bill. Red Molly, who play the second set of the day, is made up of three women who met around a campfire at the Falcon Ridge Festival. After being chosen as an emerging artist there, they’ve gone on to open for the likes of David Wilcox and Jonathan Edwards, and released a new album this spring..

Roots on the River has a long-held reputation for presenting talented artists on the verge of greater success. A few years back it was the Greencards, and last year Crooked Still played a rousing set. Both of those bands are scheduled to headline the Lebanon Opera House this autumn. On this year’s stage, Eilen Jewell seems poised for similar heights.

Story-songwriter Chris Knight writes vividly about his native Kentucky. His songs have been covered by everyone from Montgomery Gentry and John Anderson to Randy Travis and Confederate Railroad. But in his hands, they’re all his.

Iris DeMent, who performs just prior to Fred Eaglesmith, can cast a mood like Townes Van Zand – her songs could be rated with razor blades instead of stars. She should be a perfect foil for the happy-go-lucky Fred, whose Saturday set typically chugs like a runaway train. There aren’t many performers able to match his energy level.

Sunday, Eaglesmith dials things down to a more peaceful level in an all-acoustic set, sharing the Rockingham Meeting House stage with Juno nominee David Olney.

The Thursday and Saturday shows take place in Rockingham behind the Everyday Inn. Full weekend packages and individual tickets are still available.

NOTE: Friday’s shows have changed – it’s now Roger Marin and Chris Knight opening for Fred and Friends at the Everyday Inn evening show.  Also, the free Farmer’s Market set features the Roger Marin Band and Joe Gee (who also performs Saturday).

Eilen Jewell Coming To Roots on the River

eilenjewellsmall.jpgEilen Jewell’s songs seem preserved in amber and channeled from a distant time, her voice wise and weary. When Jewell, who performs next Saturday at the Roots on the River Festival, sings “So Long Blues,” it sounds like Memphis Minnie in 1941, not a 26-year old from Idaho.

Few records generated the kind of buzz Jewell’s debut CD “Boundary County” did when it came out last year. The Boston media fell over itself to anoint her as a new Americana queen, and Signature Sounds picked up the independently-released disc for distribution.

That’s the kind of attention the Northampton, Massachusetts label has only lavished on one other artist – Josh Ritter. Like Ritter, Signature’s Jim Olsen signed Jewell soon thereafter; her new disc, “Letters From Sinners and Strangers” is due for summer release.

All the attention, says Jewell, “surprised me, because in such a short amount of time it took us a lot of places. It was kind of a magic record for us.”

Eilen (rhymes with feelin’) Jewell’s musical career almost didn’t happen. She’s written songs since her teenage years, busked in college and even went to Venice, California to play in the streets. But she gave it up, went back home to Idaho, then moved to Massachusetts when a friend promised to help her find a job.

“I stayed in the Berkshires for about nine months before I started to feel it was too small,” she said. “I wanted to start performing music. I’d stopped busking since I’d left LA and it was making me feel a little aimless. I decided to move to Boston because everyrone said that was the great music town.”

There, she met drummer (and current manager) Jason Beek, who helped her put together a studio band that includes some of the region’s best roots musicians – guitarist Jerry Miller, along with violin player Daniel Kellar and upright bassist Johnny Sciasica of the Tarbox Ramblers.

“I wasn’t sure for awhile if I really wanted to have a band,” Jewell says. “I didn’t want to be a band leader – I’m not good at telling people what to do.”

Once “Boundary Country” was completed, the band did a few shows and immediately discovered an obvious onstage chemistry. “I feel really lucky for that,” says Jewell. “You can’t make that happen. You can find the best musicians in the world but you can’t really know if you click as a group. Luckily I didn’t have to go through much trial and error.”

Asked how she came to write songs that sound, in the words of Peter Mulvey, “like they’re being sung by a 65-year old woman,” Jewell says with a laugh, “that’s a really good question. I’m not sure how it happened.”

She cites Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and Lucinda Williams (whom many have compared her to), but adds, “It’s not like I consciously go out and say I want to write a song in the style of this or that musician. I hold them up as a standard to aim for, and the themes they try to write about.”

When she was 15, she discovered her father’s old record collection in a box in the attic. “I saw Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and thought I’ve heard of this guy,” she says. She had to find a turntable at a yard sale so she could listen to them, as there wasn’t one at her house. Her mother and father preferred the television.

“We weren’t a very musical family,” she explains.

Her father, however, did provide young Eilen with an experience that forever shaped her.music. For a long family driving trip, he brought along Dylan’s three disc “Bootleg Series” – and nothing else.

“That was the only soundtrack on this road trip, and it sunk in,” says Jewell. “I found myself reading all the liner notes and wondering who is Woody Guthrie? Once you start doing that you begin to realize that there’s this whole family tree – Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson…”

Despite all the recent attention, she’s keeping things in perspective. She’s excited about summer shows in Chicago and her hometown of Boise, both firsts. XM Radio invited her to play live in the studio later this year and, says Jewell, “we just found out that we’re gonna be opening for Loretta Lynn at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton this fall. She’s a hero of mine.”.

“I’ll know that I’ve arrived when I can quit the day job and have a little place with a garden and a guest bedroom.”

“I’m not very lofty when it comes to ambition,” she continues. “I’m a lifer. I’m gonna do this music thing no matter what it brings me. I want to be comfortable and only do what I love. I can’t see needing much more outside of that. Whatever it takes to get there is good for me.”