Local Rhythms – Maybe Music Really Does Want to be Free

magic_648.jpgTime was, I found new music via the car radio, but those days are fading fast. The Point and WEQX are two local exceptions, but their signals can be hard to tune in. Now there’s news of the latest shake-up at Rock 93.9/101.7.

For the moment, the station is 100 percent outsourced. Program director Steve Smith and midmorning DJ Liz Fox are gone, and the smart money is betting that the former Clear Channel outlet will move to an all-talk format.

“I spent 10 years with Clear Channel,” Smith said in response to my localrhythms.com blog post about his firing, “and 3 months with [new owner] Great Eastern Radio. I liked the first 10 years the best.”

When a perennial corporate radio villain becomes emblematic of the good old days, we’ve officially entered Bizarro World. Weirder still, it’s pretty much left for WFRD, a very grown up college station, to be the last best hope for new music around these parts

I can’t really blame a station for switching to talk radio. It’s all about margins, and as a business model, the format is reality television for the ears. It’s cheap, with plenty of volunteer talent waiting on hold for a chance to be the next caller.

But that means music will have to find another way to reach an audience.

Which leads to the question that’s most troubling me: who will play the new Bruce Springsteen song?

The answer is, apparently … you.

“Radio Nowhere,” an advance track from the Boss’s forthcoming “Magic” CD, hit the streets the other day – in the form of a free iTunes download. One of the biggest rock stars of all time can no longer rely on the airwaves. “This is radio nowhere,” moans Springsteen – “is there anybody alive out there?”

Prince recently gave away a million copies of his latest CD in a one-off deal with a British newspaper. And of course there’s SpiralFrog, Universal Music Group’s just-launched web site dedicated to the dissemination of free music.

What’s the world coming to?

In 7 years, we’ve gone from record companies suing Napster out of existence to the major labels being the biggest backers of free music around (with the possible exception of a few million of MySpace bands).

While they figure it all out, there’s plenty of good listening here in your own backyard:

Thursday: Sylvia Miskoe, Lebanon Farmer’s Market – As we move towards September, the nights cool down and the selection improves at farmer’s markets in Lebanon, Claremont and Bellows Falls. That’s the upside of autumn, I suppose. Miskoe plays accordion with a Scottish sensibility – she’s also a member of the Strathspey & Reel Society of New Hampshire, a Celtic music collective. Here’s a good excuse to dance a jig and sip a little cider.

Friday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – Of all the jazz combos to play in downtown Claremont, this is my favorite. One of the genre’s best elements is its spontaneity, which can make a song you’re heard a hundred time sound completely new. It takes seasoned talent and musical telepathy; this band has both. They can be both smooth and spirited, and always scintillating

Saturday: Chad Gibbs, Salt hill 2 – An area mainstay with a loping style reminiscent of Dave Matthews. He can make an acoustic guitar sound more plugged in than a Stratocaster. Tucked in the corner of downtown Newport’s upstairs room, he’ll mix blues, rock and funky folk, and make all of it sound bigger. I really like his original stuff, too. You can listen to it on Chad’s MySpace page.

Sunday: Bow Thayer with Dave Clark & Jukejoynt, Lyman Point Park – Check out mountain man Thayer on Middle Earth’s YouTube space to get a sense of his burly sound. It’s a treat. Jukejoynt is the most original of Dave Clark’s many musical manifestations. With help from Rich Meijer, Terry Diers, Jed Dickinson and Bobbie Gagnier, the joynt will be rockin’.

Monday: Bread & Roses Festival – Labor Day is about working people, and every year this festival commemorates one of the most significant labor actions in American history with music and history where it happened – Lawrence, Massachusetts. There’s Zydeco from the Pine Top Boys, folk from Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters, along with traditional music, poetry and living history. Go – you might learn something.

Wednesday: Meat Puppets, Pearl Street – Punk was growing more intelligent in the early 1980s, but this Phoenix band was having none of it. Making records for the SST label, they never succumbed to self-importance, even after backing Nirvana during their MTV Unplugged performance. They did, however, give punk a much-needed twang, and made some pretty good psychedelic music besides. This is the first re-grouping of the original lineup in 11 years.

 

Local Rhythms – Mad About the Dish

dishhousepro.gifOne of the great things about post-millennial life is the plethora of entertainment technology available. There are giant television screens pumping out high-definition pictures with teeth-rattling surround sound, and hundreds of channels to choose from.

The best use of such wonderfulness is obvious to my eyes and ears. Alas, my so-called “content providers” aren’t on the same page.

Where’s the music? “I want my MTV” isn’t a slogan to me; it’s a way of life.
So when Comcast yanked my favorite high definition music channel a few months back, I decided it was time to end our relationship.

I’ve fallen for the Dish.
On the Dish Network, MTV isn’t a lifestyle channel anymore. Well, MTV is, but MHD, their new high def offering, plays, simply – music. From Akon to Springsteen, they’ve got it, and that’s just a slice of what’s on Dish’s plate. The Rave Network features commercial-free reprises of Soundstage, the great PBS performance showcase (Alison Krause and Union Station took my breath away the other night).

Over on HDNet, the channel Comcast yanked for A&E (do we really need to see reruns and reality shows in HD?), Earth, Wind and Fire teamed with Chicago; the look and sound was front row seat perfect. It’s not all about boomer music, either. HDNet’s “Sound Off” and “True Music” series showcases up and coming bands.

There’s good stuff in standard definition too, like the International Music channel, which scours the world for the best non-domestic clips. It can be a little freaky at times, but hey, that’s the spirit of discovery.
Plus, if you just want to listen, Dish offers plenty of audio-only channels. To be fair, so does Comcast and Dish competitor DirecTV. But they don’t have the Sirius lineup of music stations, including the exhilarating Sirius Disorder, a bit of chaos right out of 70’s FM radio.
Imagine a Louis Prima big band number followed by Frank Zappa and topped with a Meat Puppets B-side and you get an idea of what Sirius Disorder is about.
Not to go all fanboy on you, but at the moment, Dish is my musical BFFL (ask your teenager, they’ll tell you what it means).

However, if you want to tear yourself away from the TV, here’s where you should go:
Thursday: Steve Forbert, Middle Earth Music Hall – A rare visit to the Shire from an underappreciated folksinger. You know him for “Romeo’s Tune,” which is a Rock Business 101 lesson in how not to name a song. If Forbert had called it “Meet Me in the Middle of the Night” he could have sold a million more. But 30 years later, the infectious hooks still deliver, and he has much more than that in his song catalog.
Friday: Hitchelfit, Electra – While local bands drop like flies (City Divide is no more, Transcent is mutated), Hitchelfit’s star is happily rising. Another area rock venue recently went dark (farewell, Royal Flush), and the last home-grown music friendly radio station, Rock 93.9/101.7, will soon switch to an all-talk format. Sad days all around, but Electra continues to support live music with an edge to it.
Saturday: Apple Pie Festival, Newport – With August feeling more like autumn than summer, an apple pie festival makes complete, if melancholy, sense. With Pete Merrigan as musical master of ceremonies, things should warm up in spite of the unseasonable weather. He’ll be joined by sideman Mickey Seretney. Did you catch Pete’s recent Sophie & Zeke’s set with Florida pal T.C. Carr on harmonica? Magical.
Sunday: Celia Sings Sinatra, Canoe Club – Paul Celia wears a lot of different musical hats, but he’s really building a following with his tribute to Old Blue Eyes. This performance, with support from the superb Bob Merrill Trio, starts at 7. Celia is celebrating the release of his new CD of Sinatra tunes. This special Canoe Club night is a popular diversion, so if you’re planning to go, book your tables early.
Monday: Mike Payton, Firestones – Blues on a Monday – need I say more? As the calendar creeps closer to September – school, cooler days and a new slate of soon-to-be-cancelled network TV shows, life needs a soundtrack; preferably, one with twelve bars and a bit of a growl to it. Payton’s one of the many players putting Quechee on the musical map these days.
Wednesday: Jason Cann & Spring Romer, Elixir – The owner of this fine WRJ bistro spent a year at Canoe Club, where he learned a little about music and food. The small plates of food are exquisite, as are the soups. There’s still enough summer for a bowl of avocado gazpacho topped with a dollop of crab meat. Cann, accompanied by a female vocalist should tantalize. Romer is new to the scene; she had her first “official gig” last weekend at Salt Hill 2. Welcome!

Rock 93.9/101.7 To Flip Formats

Word on the street is that Lebanon-based WVRR, bought earlier this year by Jeff Shapiro’s Great Eastern Radio group, is switching to all talk soon.  Rock 93.9/101.7 PD and drive time DJ Steve Smith got the hook yesterday, coincidentally the same day former WNTK afternoon talker Gardner Goldsmith debuted on Great Eastern’s “The Pulse.”

Over 13 employees have been let go since the buyout, part of Clear Channel’s sell-off of small to medium properties approved by the FCC last November.  The format switch is a blow to the local music scene, which could count on a little bit of airplay with Smith at the helm.

Ironically, reports are that Clear Channel was a friendlier environment for both staff and musicians trying for exposure.  Hard to imagine the corporate behemoth as a symbol of the good old days, but there you go.

On Goldsmith’s show yesterday, I noticed a lot of ads for businesses in Sunapee, Newport and Claremont – that seemed odd for a Concord station.  Now it makes more sense.  I would not be surprised if Shapiro, the king of triangulation back in his Q-106 days, simply bulks up his talk empire with the flip of a few switches.

SpiralFrog Goes Live

Let’s start with the good news about SpiralFrog: it’s free, and it’s faster than LimeWire.

The ad-sponsored music download service began an invitation-only launch earlier this month. I’ve had a little time to play around with it, and it’s not half bad. It requires a Windows Media Player 11 plug-in, which took a bit of finessing to configure in Firefox (you have to do a somewhat hiccup-y manual install). It’s easier with IE; the steps install a system tray “download manager” that’s a bit cryptic on its face. All playback occurs in Windows Media Player.

I located Weezer’s “We Are All On Drugs” and clicked the download icon, got past the bot guard and the tune came over in about a minute. All songs, regardless of length, take the same amount of time – it’s assumed you’ll stare at the on-screen ads while waiting. However, if you alt-tab to another program, the download will continue. Based on reports when SpiralFrog was first announced last year, I expected a screen switch would pause the file transfer.

The only real limitation is the one-at-a-time rule, and of course the 30-day life of the file. I’ll have to wait a month to see what happens when song licenses start expiring.

The music “library” is the most annoying facet of SpiralFrog. I searched for John Lennon, found “Plastic Ono Band” and clicked through to find track listings, but no download links. Oops, the record isn’t available, but that’s only apparent after five wasted clicks. At least Rhapsody filters out albums it doesn’t offer.

There’s a lot of information in the artist biography sections, including some lengthy reviews. That’s nice.

I’ll write more as I learn more, but for the moment, I give Spiral Frog a better than passing grade. The songs are free, and the ad watching experience isn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared.

spiralfrogbeta.jpg

Local Rhythms – Field of Rock This Saturday

fieldofrock.jpg“If you build it, they will come,” wrote W.P. Kinsella. Or, in the case of this Saturday’s “Field of Rock” local music showcase in Ludlow, “if you stage it they will come.”

Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb likely won’t materialize from the cornfields, but the day promises its’ share of magic. Some of the area’s best bands will perform a show that starts at 11 AM and runs past dark. Tickets are a bargain at $10 ($15 at the door).

It’s all for a good cause, too – the just-formed Ludlow Recreation Camp Fund, a charity that helps kids who can’t afford to go to summer camp.
In a way, it provides them with their own field of dreams.

The management at Christopher’s hatched the idea of an all-day festival as a way to give performers who play the Ludlow club a wider audience. Soon, their ambitions grew.

“This the first time we’ve done anything like this,” says show organizer Dave Van Guilder. “We have people who want to come and watch the bands here, but they’re underage. So we decided to have a big event that anyone could go to, and then we decided why not make it a charity event.”
In typical fashion, the local music scene coalesced around the effort. Everyone’s playing for free Saturday to give the fund an initial infusion of capital.
The eclectic musical lineup leans towards hard rock, with Stonewall, Starefall and Broken Mindz, and edgier metal, with Cellblock One and Undying Breed. But prog-rockers Spectris will spice up the mix, and one of my favorite groups, rage rappers The D’Brotherhood, should also liven things up.
Rounding out the all-ages event are Haili, Pocket Toys, and Mercy Machine.
As if a great day of rock weren’t enough, the promoters (Christopher’s Bar, SpiderBiteRadio.com and 99 Rock) are also giving away prizes, including a very cool Washburn guitar package.

Van Guilder expressed admiration for all the bands willing to step up for the cause. In particular, he says, “Stonewall’s a great bunch of guys. They’re grounded – they don’t think of themselves as bigger than they are.”
That sentiment pretty accurately sums up a lot of local performers. Here’s how you can support the scene this weekend:

Thursday: Putnam & Pirozzoli, Sophie & Zeke’s – Gerry and Tom have known each other for years, but didn’t get around to making a record until this year. The CD, “Conversation Without Words,” has elements of bossa nova and free form jazz, but also includes tunes from the likes of Gershwin and Bach. What’s most distinctive is the way the two mesh musically, as smooth as coffee and cream.

Friday: Who Are the Brain Police, Seven Barrels – I’ll admit I don’t have much first hand information about this ensemble. There are four or five guys, and they play rock, I guess. But their moniker implies an affinity for Frank Zappa, one of my favorites. Plus, two members of the band used to belong to an group called the Shaven Ape Babies. So, I’m willing to recommend them for their inventive approach to band names.

Saturday: Gully Boys, Middle Earth Music Hall – Local impresario Chris Jones turns fifty for the fifth time, and his friends in music conspire to give him a bash. Chris is still fighting the good fight and keeping the music alive in the Shire. He’s hoping some of the upcoming shows, including Steve Forbert next Thursday, draw well so he can buy a new heating system. You can read more about that on the club’s web page, memh.com.
Sunday: Cornish Fair – The final day of this venerable fair begins with an inspirational morning set from Gospel Train, with support from the Plourd Family Quartet. The rest of the day includes magic (Conjuring Carroll), kid’s music (Bill Shontz’s Teddy Bear Picnic) and country (Maria Rose & Danny Elswick). Of course, there are also horses, goats and funny dogs – seriously. Raul Castano’s Comedy Dogs strut their stuff at 2:30.

Tuesday: Ensemble Zora, Metropolis Wine Bar (Brattleboro) – A new-to-me venue welcomes a quartet of singers who were inspired by a visit to Bosnia last year. They perform village music, dance songs and the urban Muslim music of Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia. They’re joined by Miamon Miller on fiddle and Chuck Corman on bass and dumbek (a goblet-shaped instrument also known as a chalice drum).

Wednesday: Wynton Marsalis Quintet, Iron Horse – The ambassador of American jazz stops in Northampton for four intimate shows – two each on Tuesday and Wednesday. These dates were postponed when sax player Wes Anderson took ill, but they’re un-cancelled now. Marsalis leads things on trumpet, with Dan Nimmer playing piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, Walter Blanding Jr. taking over for Anderson on saxophone and Ali Jackson at the drums.

Lori McKenna GAC Puzzler

I’m still scratching my head over last night’s twin appearance by Lori McKenna on GAC. The singer-songwriter talked at length with Suzanne Alexander about her just released “Unglamorous” on GAC Nights; bits of the interview were excerpted later for “On The Street,” which showcases new CDs.

Why am I bewildered? Well, for all the air time given to Lori, I didn’t hear a single note of her music. Oh, they showed Faith Hill’s cover of “Stealing Kisses” twice, mentioned Sara Evans’ take of “Bible Song,” and followed an interview segment with two Tim McGraw videos, including the obligatory duet by the country music super couple.

One would think that a new record merited a note or two – heck, Faith’s versions of Lori’s songs are two years old at this point. Warner Brothers is doing a great job getting Lori in the public eye, but please, let’s hear what she sounds like!

Local Rhythms – Sir Elton’s Misguided Notion

sir-elton-john.jpgConfessed technophobe Elton John told a British tabloid last week that the Internet is ruining music – but not for the reasons you’d think. It’s bloggers and homegrown music tweakers, not file traders, muddying the waters.

If we’re to “change the world and change the way people listen to music,” says Sir Elton, “that’s not going to happen with people blogging on the Internet.”

There’s too much technology available,” he continued. Perhaps unaware that wannabe pop stars can create mediocre Pro Tools projects without a network connection, he blamed the Internet for this state of affairs.

I do think it would be an incredible experiment to shut down the whole Internet for five years and see what sort of art is produced over that span,” he concluded.

Interesting, but pointless.

The Rocket Man completely lost me when he claimed the ‘net “has stopped people from going out and being with each other.”

When people “sit at home and make their own records … it doesn’t bode well for long-term artistic vision,” he says. “It’s just a means to an end.”

I beg to differ, Elton. The opposite’s true.

I can’t attend every show I write about. There simply isn’t enough time. So I use the Internet. Between MySpace, YouTube, band websites, Rhapsody and iTunes samples and Sonicbids electronic press kits, I can be in several virtual places at once.

But that’s simply a means to where I’m going to end up on Friday or Saturday night.

Plus, with the Internet, I tend to find lots of good music not made by megastars playing venues large enough to hold the population of the town I live in.

Maybe that’s what’s bugging him.

Sadly for Elton, the era of blockbusters is over. His recent “Captain and the Kid” was a good album, but it didn’t sell like “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” If he’s snippy about that, fine. Go on a $150 a ticket concert tour while you still can.

But don’t whine that the information highway is the problem because it’s covered with cars – especially when you’re one of the main reasons people learned to drive in the first place.

This tirade occurred only a few months after the entire Elton John back catalog became available for purchase on iTunes.

Isn’t that ironic?

OK, what’s the best way to keep it local this week?

Thursday: Starline Rhythm Boys, Recreational Park (Chester) – This Vermont band, which plays honky tonk with Texas conviction, was born in a way that warms my heart. Their young leader thought punk rock would change the world, but his dad filled the house with Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings. God bless those that give their kids a proper upbringing. Nothing beats a well-rounded musical education. This is a free show.

Friday: Haale, Boccelli’s – Her name sort of rhymes with “Falls,” as in Bellows. Haale blends the traditional music of her parents’ homeland, Iran, with electric rock and the sounds of the New York streets. To call her unique is an understatement. She describes her sound as “Psychedelic Sufi Trance Rock.” Count as fans David Byrne, who showcased her in a series of NYC shows, and Sean Lennon, who played on her last album. The local connection is producer Dougie Bowne, who worked with Chris Whitley.

Saturday: Whalestock, Whaleback Ski Area – This local music showcase features the return of a reconfigured Hexerei (who also play in Claremont earlier in the day, on Twistback Road at Lionel West). Also on the bill are Sarvela, who impressed me with their raw sound back in January, singer-songwriter Marisa Imon, Claremont’s Iron Box, and five other bands. As with last year’s inaugural Whalestock, the day includes an extreme sports competition, some fine craft beers from Shipyard and Gritty’s and all original music..

Sunday: Roxanne & The Voodoo Rockers, Newbury Bandstand – Lead singer Roxanne Young caught blues fever 10 years ago and switched her focus; she formed the Voodoo Rockers in 2002. With help from some fine area players, including former Voodoo Blues leader John Mann on guitar, the band’s been invited back to area bars like the Anchorage more than once. This free show (keep your fingers crossed for good weather) offers a chance for young and old to experience a little bit of the Delta on the lake.

Tuesday: Chris Kleeman, Ludlow Gazebo – Another local blues man with a fine pedigree – his first album, made back in 1970, was produced by none other than B.B. King. A typical Kleeman set moves from the southern playing of Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt, to the big Chicago sounds of Muddy Watters and Elmore James, with a little country pickin’ thrown in for good measure. Always a treat, and this is a free show, so what’s your excuse for not going?