Local Rhythms – Halloween’s Big Kids

gardgoldsmith.jpgHalloween is the last bastion of childhood. 

Teenagers, voices dropping like boulders, still knock on doors and demand candy. College students spend their textbook money making authentic Spiderman costumes.   

Fully grown men and women invest in lavish masquerade balls.

All Hallows Eve provides proof, if any were needed, that the kid in us never dies. 

Don’t fear, there’s still plenty of local fun for real children.  In Woodstock, Billings Farm hosts its 14th annual Family Halloween this Saturday.  

In Grantham, Eastman has a spooky tot party scheduled for the afternoon of October 28.  

There’s a Halloween Fun Fest October 31 in Lebanon’s Colburn Park.

Claremont’s popular Hallowesta features a parade and a marshmallow roast, starting at 4:00 on the big day. 

Those craving something more elaborate should take a ride to Nashua’s Fright Fest, which features two haunted houses.  Further south, Salem, Massachusetts turns Halloween into a macabre Mardi Gras – it’s a month-long bash.

I’ve been, and I gotta say – the adults get a lot more excited than the children. 

So it goes on the local scene, where the big fun is all geared to the young at heart, and lasts beyond Halloween night.

Christopher’s in Ludlow features two of the area’s best bands for their fourth annual costume party, with cash prizes for the best efforts.  Stonewall is a no-nonsense power trio reminiscent of Cream or Stone Temple Pilots.  Spectris, who’ve added a harder edge to their prog-rock sound, open the show.   

Electra in West Lebanon has a heavy metal bash with Hitchelfit on Friday, featuring mature themes like sexiest and scariest get-ups.  Saturday, it’s a costume dance party with DJ Eric G, who spins reggaeton and hip-hop tracks. 

Big money prizes, too – the club’s talking “hundreds of dollars.” 

Whaleback Ski area waits until November 3 to get in on the action, with the freaky and funky Alchemystics providing the music, and giving revelers an excuse to keep the Halloween buzz going into next month.

If you don’t want to dress up, you can head to Lebanon Opera House this Friday and let a band do it for you, as the Machine recreates Pink Floyd’s music and stage show.   

Next week in Lowell, the group Rain clones the Beatles, complete with Sgt. Pepper uniforms.  Some kids never grow up. 

Here’s what the rest of the week looks like: 

Thursday: Sharren Conner & Mo’ Jazz, Elixir – Vocalist Conner studied at the Boston Conservatory, and has performed in the area for over 25 years, beginning with Sensible Shoes.  With musical backing provided by Norm Wolfe on guitar and upright bass player Pete Concilio, Mo’ Jazz is a bit moodier than the jumping sounds of that band.  All in all, a perfect sound for this fast-growing food and music club

Friday: Ted Mortimer & Linda Boudreault, Sophie & Zeke’s – Jazzified soul from the ubiquitous pair who front Dr. Burma when they feel like rocking.  Glendon Ingalls, a stellar upright bassist, makes it a trio.  They can play it silky smooth on the timeless standards “Shadow of Your Smile,” or spicy with tunes like “Bye Bye Blackbird.”  Linda sings like a dream and Ted is one of the most versatile guitarists around.   

Saturday: Mystery Button, Salt Hill Pub – This Manchester band plays it a lot of different ways – funky grooves, jumping soul and jamming rhythms.  They cite everyone from Frank Zappa to Don Ho as influences (the list, which also includes Wile E. Coyote and Bea Arthur, took up half of their MySpace page).  They describe their sound as “a tornado of funky jams.” It’s all good playing and singing to these ears.

Sunday: Bob Weir & Ratdog, Lebanon Opera House – Several personnel changes have occurred since this band formed in the mid-90’s.  Bassist Rob Wasserman is gone, and what started as a narrowly focused trio is now a sextet.  It’s more cohesive and adventurous.  They’re unafraid to interpret Dead songs, like “Sugaree” or “Ramble on Rose,” once thought to be the sole property of Jerry Garcia.  

Monday: Tiff Jimber, New England College – She’s a spiritual descendant of Laura Nyro, pouring her heart out, alone at the piano.  But listen closely and you’ll detect a bit of Fiona Apple grrrl in the mix.  Jimber has a steady, sometimes deadly lyrical eye.  She can shift from wounded sparrow to angry hawk in a wink.  The equally talented Boston singer-songwriter Rebecca Loebe joins Tiff for this show.

Tuesday: Mary Gauthier, Iron Horse – Her stark, harrowing songs might have come out of Charles Bukowski – if he’d been a guitar-playing woman.  Gauthier was a teenage runaway, tumbling in and out of rehab and halfway houses, and didn’t write anything until she was 35.   Be grateful for her sunburned voice – you don’t need to read too hard between the lines to know that fate might have kept her from singing a note.

Local Rhythms – Better Music, Not More Ways to Sell It

netradio.jpgIt’s good to be king, and with the twin juggernaut of iTunes and the iPod, Apple rules the legal online music world. They have no shortage of rivals, though. Lately, even Apple’s allies are gunning for them.

The latest issue of Business Week tells of Total Music, a new service spearheaded by Universal Music CEO Doug Morris. Morris, you may have heard, recently terminated his company’s iTunes agreement after battling over price (not high enough, apparently), and called upon his brethren to fight back.

Total Music repackages a couple of old ideas. Under the plan, companies that make digital music players (like the Microsoft Zune) would build the service’s cost into their price – a de factor music tax. The service would allow anyone who buys an equipped device access to all the tunes they could carry.

Sony BMG, home to Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand, has signed up, and Warner Music is reportedly close. These three companies make up 75 percent of the business – a formidable foe indeed.

There’s a catch, lest you thought Big Music was just going to give away the store. First, Total Music tracks won’t play on an iPod – that’s sort of the point. Second, it’s a subscription service, so burning CDs or emailing songs to friends?

Not gonna happen.

You don’t own the music, the major labels do.

Such thinking flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom, best articulated by Yahoo! Music GM Ian Rogers. “Convenience wins, hubris loses,” he says. “Put more barriers in front of the users, I’m not interested.”

Rogers failed with his own subscription service, so he may know a thing or two. As must Amazon, Rhapsody and (wait for it…) Apple – they’ve all switched to selling MP3 downloads, playable on any device.

Is the subscription idea DOA, then? I’m not so sure. Currently, for the cost of one CD per month, I can listen to anything I want; Total Music reduces that cost to zero. If something really stands out, it can be purchased.

But there’s not much new music I really WANT to own.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ only response to the Total Music plan was praise for Doug Morris’s “old school” roots.

“He’s the last of the great music executives who came up through A&R,” said Jobs.

“A&R” is short for “artists and repertoire” – finding and nurturing talent. That’s pretty rare in the industry these days.

The record companies’ biggest problem is making better music, not coming up with more ways to sell it.

Thursday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – My personal favorite jazz band appearing at this downtown Claremont eatery, due mainly to their improvisational skills. Some may go for a Grateful Dead style of jamming. But give me variations on “Misty” or “Willow Weep for Me” and I’m in rapture. These guys play with finesse and style, finding new twists on old standards with surprising ease.

Friday: Kid Pinky, La Dolce Vita – Appearing every other week, they’ve become the unofficial house band at this New London Italian bistro. They prove that red Chianti, white clam sauce and blues music can mix surprisingly well. Bandleader Kid Pinky plays a mean harp, a sweet piano and sings with conviction – another nice combination. Kid and his band, the Restless Knights, play tonight and tomorrow.

Saturday: Last Kid Picked, Newport Opera House – This Newport band has been around in one form or another for over 20 years, playing good time rock and roll. Their annual masquerade party is becoming a local tradition – as well as a frequent sellout, so if you haven’t purchased tickets yet, don’t tarry. While you’re at it, get to work on your costume – Halloween’s just two weeks away.

Sunday: Jeffrey Gaines, Iron Horse – A powerful vocalist who’s perhaps best known for performing a song that was a huge hit for someone else. Gaines turns Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” into an anguished, pained primal scream, and on his latest live CD, the audience dutifully sings along. It takes a special kind of performer to pull that off. His original songs remind me of Elvis Costello with angst.

Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Murphy Farm (Quechee) – An ever-changing, blue ribbon lineup of the Upper Valley’s most talented players, including Terry Diers, Robin Russell, Ford Dailey among others. It’s an old fashioned song circle that occasionally goes in newfangled directions – Sam Moffatt calls out a French folk song; next, Mike Payton counts off an eight bar blues. Running from 7 till 11, the evening’s sweet spot is usually right around 8:30.

Wednesday: California Guitar Trio, Hooker-Dunham Theatre – These three virtuosos toured with idiosyncratic axe man Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists in 1987, and formed officially in 1991. Their jaw-dropping dexterity has captivated audiences ever since. Mix Andres Segovia with “Hot Rats”-era Frank Zappa, and it would sound like this.

Local Rhythms – Discontent With Music Biz Nothing New

kinks.jpgFrom suing downloaders to larcenous ticket prices, there’s little good coming from the music business these days. Last week, an industry lawyer even stated, under oath, that he believed copying a CD for personal use is theft.

The only hits anyone wishes for this gang are the “Sopranos” kind.

This resentment didn’t begin with MP3s (with fans, perhaps). Musicians have long stoked the flames; in 1970, this rage produced one of rock’s great works.

“Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround” arrived after a few fallow years for the Kinks. People that bandleader Ray Davies called “pinstripe minds” were bleeding them dry.

The iTunes generation probably won’t look past the record’s biggest hit, “Lola.” But this was a time when the word “album” meant something – a cohesive work, not three minutes of pleasure surrounded by fluff.

That’s the difference between a quickie and a serious relationship, and it’s probably why so much classic rock still resonates today.

The record tells a story seemingly as old as music – artist sets out to conquer the world, and is beset upon by industry parasites. With a sheath full of songs, Davies courts a “Denmark Street” publisher. “I hate your music and your hair is too long,” he’s told, “but I’ll sign you up because I’d hate to be wrong.”

Rock alchemy ensues. “My record’s up to number three … this all seems like a crazy dream,” sings Davies in “Top of the Pops” – then it hits number one.

“This means you can earn some real money,” his agent promises.

But, alas, Ray won’t see a dime, though plenty of executives and lawyers will, as the cash passes through the “Moneygoround.”

“Do they all deserve money from a song that they’ve never heard?” he asks. Well, no – but that’s the nature of the beast.

The tone then veers from lament (“A Long Way From Home”) to outright bile. “Hate spreads just like infection,” screams the proto-punk “Rats.”

Davies won’t beat “Powerman” at his game, but will win in the end. “He’s got my money,” he says, “but I’ve got my faith.”

“I’ve gotta be free,” Davies sings on the last track of the last album the Kinks would make for Reprise (interestingly, one of the few unavailable online).

Is there a difference between the worlds of then and now? Yes – freedom is tantalizingly possible. For example, Radiohead is selling their next album direct on their website, while artist-friendly clearinghouses like CD Baby helps independents get by without labels. Nowadays, music really is just a click away – and it’s right out your door:

Thursday: Imani Winds, Hopkins Center – This youthful group of New Yorkers – four women, one man – take the notion of a wind quintet out of the chamber and into the street. They take their name from the Swahili word for “faith,” and blend elements of classical with jazz, Latin and African rhythms. It’s more Marsalis than Mozart, and a lot of fun.

Friday: Chris O’Brien, Boccelli’s – As a music fan, I live for those moments when I hear a performer for the first time and detect unmistakable magic. It happened with Shawn Colvin in 1989 and Patty Griffin in 1996. Last summer, O’Brien caught my ear – he’s an uncommonly talented lyricist, with a voice that feels comfortable and familiar at first listen. If you only have time for one show this weekend, this is it.

Saturday: Paingivers’ Ball, Hit or Miss Lodge – Rick’s Tattoo in Newport is celebrating two years in business with a four-band show in Springfield, benefiting local charities. It features Soul Octane Burner, a Unity metal band with bullhorn vocals and Steve Vai-worthy guitar shredding, perennial favorites Roadhouse, Fall Line and Eyesore. Most importantly, it’s a costume ball, though with enough body ink and piercing, every day can be Halloween.

Sunday: Peter Mulvey & Antje Duvekot, Iron Horse – Independent folk doesn’t get much better than this. Mulvey’s a cult favorite, with several albums of finely honed music under his belt (including a turn with the supergroup Redbird). Duvekot – well, she’s bound for glory, with topical songs like “Judas” and “Jerusalem,” and an angelic voice to match her soul-tugging lyrics.

Monday: Eco-Tones, Colby-Sawyer College – Pete Townshend once urged listeners to “dance while your knowledge is growing” and this duo, who also perform as Sferes & White, take that advice to heart. They combine original music, influenced by Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and others, with lessons in planet-friendliness. Naturally, they drive to their gigs in a biodiesel bus.

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt Hill Pub – Blues Night, a Thursday Pub mainstay for the summer, is on hiatus, but the musical circle in the center of the room continues. Chris Stevens, Roger Burridge and Dave Loney and friends concoct a stew of inspiration that’s never the same week to week.

Local Rhythms – A Ride Down Autumn’s Highway

wcleaves.jpgAs I write this, the weatherman is forecasting warm, dry weekend weather.   

The New Hampshire state tourism bureau expects over 600,000 leaf-peepers, up 1 percent from last year.  Whether you’re a transplant like me or a multi-generation native, autumn’s charms are irresistible.

Is there a better time to be in New England? 

So let’s put aside our crankiness at flatlanders, who tend to slow down to 10 miles per hour at the oddest times, and map a local route to the pleasures of the season.

We’ll begin in Springfield, Vermont, a little town that’s the official home of the Simpsons, and for this Saturday and Sunday, the Vermont Apple Festival.   

Stop by and enjoy some warm cider, apple flapjacks and buy a few crafts. 

Be sure to make time for the music, which includes kid’s favorite Alli Lubin, Americana duo Josh Maiocco and Jesse Peters, the folksy Bradford Bog People and Three Way Street, an acoustic trio that travels a musical journey from 30’s swing to modern bluegrass. 

Speaking of travel … get in the car and take a ride across the Cheshire Bridge (I miss the toll booth, but not the toll), head down Lover’s Lane, and pick up Route 12 to Claremont.

The center of Saturday’s Fall Festival is the Chili Cook-Off, which closes off Pleasant Street for the day.  For a small price, any opinionated soul can be a food critic.  Though it’s a good-natured competition, the entrants take their chili very seriously.   

The only appropriate music for this soiree is Claremont’s Flames, for obvious reasons.  John Lovejoy leads the four-piece through classic rock chestnuts like “Hot Blooded.”

Now that our are bellies warm and full, it’s time for a slow drive to Warner.  Few vistas rival the Sunapee region in early October.   

Little Lake Todd, just before Bradford, is particularly beautiful. 

Take your time rolling along Route 103 – the other drivers will think you’re a tourist in a rental car, which is kind of fun. 

Warner hosts the Fall Foliage Festival (Saturday and Sunday), now in its 60th year.  There’s food, crafts and fun, including a pie-eating contest for kids, an oxen pull and a country bazaar.

The music has a decidedly old-time bent, with Dixieland from the Fountain Square Ramblers, the Stuart Highland Pipe Band and the gospel Shape Note Singers. 

All in all, it’s a lovely New England day.

What else is in store this weekend? 

Thursday: Little Feat, Lebanon Opera House – Superlatives don’t do this band justice.  If you love rock and roll and haven’t seen Little Feat, you must – it’s that simple.  I first saw them in the late Seventies, when founder Lowell George was still alive, and I literally could not stay in my seat.  By the third song, I’d moved to the back of the room.  My dancing feet would not stop moving. 

Friday: Ray DeVito, Electra – Lots of comedy in the area – when it rains, it pours.  DeVito riffs on slacker angst – the travails of dating, McJobs, and advertising (“Verizon says they have towers everywhere, which means if my girlfriend doesn’t call, it’s not their fault.  I’m just a loser”).  With the way they mix up their entertainment, this club should change their name to Eclectic. 

Saturday: I Love a Piano, Claremont Opera House – Six actors perform a musical that looks at America through the lens of Irving Berlin’s.  The show includes over 60 timeless songs.  This all singing, all dancing revue traces the journey of a piano from Tin Pan Alley to the present, as it winds its way through the lives of Americans.

Sunday: Woodchuck Hollow Band, East Thetford – An autumn discussion must include pumpkins, right?  East Thetford hosts a festival brimming with pumpkin pie, bread and soup, along with a mid-day performance from this nifty band.  They brand themselves “Organic White Mountain Music.” There are a few nods to the Appalachians and Ozarks, and on “Ruby,” a dash of Cash.  It’s all good-time country. 

Tuesday: ALO, Iron Horse – This band always makes me think of Salt Hill Pub, which booked them a few years back when they were up and comers.  These days, they are playing much bigger stages, opening for people like Jack Johnson – they recently signed with his Brushfire record label – and winning lots of new fans with their loose, rootsy sound.  It begs the question – are there other current Pub performers are due to break big?

Wednesday: Café Americano, Metropolis – Brattleboro’s newest club features some wonderfully varied talent, including this trio, which plays swing and jazz standards.  There’s also a cool open mike/jam session night Tuesday with fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger and Corey DiMario on tenor guitar and bass.  It’s worth a trip south – the leaves on the interstate should be nice for a few weeks.

Tim Sample & Bob Marley – A Tale of Two Mainers

bob.jpgComedy fans have a chance to see two examples of Down East humor in the coming weeks.  Tim Sample performs this Saturday at the Newport Opera House, and funny man Bob Marley returns to the Claremont Opera House the following Saturday. 

But these two Mainers each take distinctly different approaches to their craft.  Sample’s folksy observations come straight from the pages of Yankee Magazine, a “Prairie Home Companion” with rocky beaches.  He riffs genially on clueless tourists and delusional transplants – the ones who believe that 40 or 50 years in-state has earned them the right to be called natives.

“It don’t work like that theyah,” scoffs a pitch perfect Sample, who once made a disc called “How to Talk Yankee” with Bob Bryan of “Bert and I.” 

In fact, after Marshal Dodge (the other half of “Bert and I”) died in 1982, Sample worked with Bryan to carry on the duo’s humorous tradition.  Together, they recorded four CDs.

“Every now and then Bobby and I still perform onstage together,” says Sample.  “Whenever we do I am privileged to join him for some of the original stories he and Marshall made famous (“The Body in th’ Kelp,” “The Lighter Than Air Balloon”) and we always do some of the classic material from “How to Talk Yankee.” 

His wink-and-a-nod anthropology pokes plenty of fun at the “born, live and die in Maine” crowd, but Sample’s comedy stays comfortably within his home state’s borders.

Bob Marley is also a native (born in Portland), but the similarities with Sample end there.   

“In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only run into Tim once.  We travel in different circles,” says Marley, with a thick, unmistakable accent.  “I do a lot of clubs, road houses and one-nighters.”

Someone who’s never set foot in Maine can easily get their brain (and funny bone) around Marley’s stand-up routine.  It’s an everyman revue of daily life – family, friends and supermarket hijinx – familiar to all, regardless of where they were born. 

Marley’s constantly at work on new material.  With over 200 appearances a year, he’d probably go crazy otherwise.  He promises an entirely different show next Saturday.  “You know the Vegas dancer who’s been doing the same routine night after night, looking at her nails while she’s on stage? You can practically read her mind: ‘did I do my laundry?’ I never want to be her,” he says.

These days, his mind is on the season and its’ oddities.   “Fall’s kind of a hassle. I never know how to dress,” he says.  “In the morning, it’s 12 degrees, and by afternoon I’m sweating like Mike Tyson at a spelling bee.  I’m ripping off my clothes like a stripper, down to a thong and pasties.” 

“And what’s the deal with gourds?” he asks.  “Who decided we should put these things on our table?  They’re like squash with herpes.”

How about the Red Sox?  “I know they’re doing wicked good, and they have a great pitcher named Suzuki Kawasaki or something,” he says.  “But if I have to hear Jerry Remy try to speak Japanese one more time, I’m gonna shoot myself in the head. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto? Jeez!” 

Marley has a new CD of stand-up material (his 12th, along with 5 DVDs) due next month.  His half-hour Comedy Central special last February was so well received that the network is negotiating with him to do a full hour.

Marley moved back to Maine after a few years of chasing fame in California to do east coast comedy full-time, and he’s built a nice franchise.  Lately, however, he’s feeling the lure of Hollywood.  He recently returned to L.A. for work on a DirecTV project, a pilot with fellow comedians Bob Saget, Dom Irrera and Jon Lovitz called “Comedy Justice.”  The show is patterned after “Judge Judy” and “People’s Court,” but with comedians as lawyers. 

But he loves his life here too much to move back.  “If they can put something on tape and be done with it, that’s fine,” he says, “but I’d have to think hard about doing a series.” 

Why would he want to?  He packs houses from Maine to Maryland.  His Manchester shows have drawn so well, there’s talk of playing the Verizon Center next time around. 

As for Claremont, Marley says, “I’m psyched – I had such a great time there last time.”  In January, he played to a sold out house, and lingered in the lobby for over an hour after the show, signing CDs and posters for fans.  For Saturday’s show, he’s bringing George Hamm.  “He gets the crowd going from zero to sixty in nothing flat,” says Marley.  “He headlines in Boston.  He could do that in any room, so it’s great to have him opening for me.”