Local Rhythms – Grammy 2008: Turn Me On, Dead Man

bengen.jpgThe big news from this year’s Grammy Awards? Obama defeats Clinton.

No, the presidential primaries still rage on. However, Barack Obama beat Bill Clinton for Best Spoken Word Performance.

But talk is cheap. What about the music? Does anyone care, least of all the folks handing out the golden gramophones?

The winner for short form video, Johnny Cash, best exemplifies this year’s Grammy class. The Man In Black couldn’t claim his prize, because he’s been dead since 2003.

Add to that the macabre Alicia Keys/Frank Sinatra duet that opened the show, and there’s proof that no industry ever pined for its’ golden days like the music business.

Even this year’s award-winning product is dated. Carrie Underwood’s Best Country Song (“Before He Cheats”) first appeared on an album in 2005. Herbie Hancock won Album of the Year for remaking a bunch of 40-year old Joni Mitchell tunes.

I think the Beatles have won something every year since 1964, but why did Ringo get to accept the award for the Cirque du Soleil “Love” soundtrack? George Martin, or more to the point, Martin’s son Giles, did all the work.

Sunday’s telecast was a turgid history lesson populated with B-list eminence. Paul, the other Beatle (who actually was nominated this year for “Memory Almost Full”), didn’t show up. There was no Led Zeppelin reunion to match last year’s Police tour launch, just John Paul Jones serving as the Foo Fighters’ “guest conductor.”

For most of the show, you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of any new music.

Even last summer’s biggest hit, Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” got folded into a “Purple Rain” revival.

Oh, there were a few winners from 2007 – Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic,” for example.

It seems that all Bruce needs to do is show up; he even won the Best Instrumental Grammy for covering a song from an old spaghetti western, and he’s not even the E Street Band’s lead guitarist.

The White Stripes picked up another Best Alterative Album award, begging the question – how can a band still be “alternative” after three Grammies?

Ya think it’s time we mainstreamed them?

Amy Winehouse was a true surprise; she deserved every trophy. The British Britney’s blistering performance, broadcast live via satellite, was rife with human drama. Who knew if she’d even make it to the stage?

But she did and she nailed it, collapsing into her mum’s arms as “Rehab” took the prize for Record of the Year. It was a good end to an otherwise tired night.

So what’s hot this week on this side of the pond?

Wednesday: Dan Weintraub, Elixir – Imagine the “School of Rock” character played by Jack Black as an alt-folkie, and you’d have a good idea of Weintraub’s sound. His suburban talking blues style reminds me of John Prine; but Prine’s riding a tractor, while Dan’s pushing a lawnmower. He does funny, irreverent songs like “Employee of the Month,” a PG-13 fantasy set, I think, in a CVS drug store.

Thursday: Punch Brothers, Lebanon Opera House – Back in 2003, Nickel Creek performed one of the five best shows I’ve ever seen. Two years later, Loggins & Messina reunited for a set that made my top ten. I mention them in the same breath because mandolin player Chris Thile lit up the first show, and fiddler Gabe Witcher stole the second one. Now, they’re in the same band, along with a few other amazing players. You’ve never heard bluegrass played this way before.

Friday: Roadhouse, Imperial Lounge – Music’s become pretty regular at this bar adjoining the newest Chinese buffet in Claremont. Yer Mother’s Onion last week, Iron Box was supposed to play February 1, but icy roads cancelled their show. Tonight, it’s straight up rock with a band that’s shaken the walls at more than a few local clubs. Some, like McGee’s and Coyote Creek, are long gone. But the band still rocks on.

Saturday: UV Dance 10th Anniversary, Tracy Hall (Norwich) – For Valentine’s Day, give your sweetie a ticket to this gala. It includes lessons from the 2007 World Swing Dance champions, as well as a session with John and Sandra, the couple who started Upper Valley Dance 10 years ago. Then, there’s live music (with dancing, naturally) from Bob Merrill’s Fabulous Five, followed by a performance by the championship couple, Ben & Gen. Details on uvdance.net.

Tuesday: Lyle Lovett/John Hiatt, Portsmouth Music Hall – Two icons of the Americana song form join together for a night of acoustic tune swapping. Both share a laconic, ironic style, though Lovett’s a bit more smooth and suave, while Hiatt can be quite the joker. At their best, though, both can strip life, love and sorrow down to the barest of bones. Will it be a night of collaboration? No one’s said yet.

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