Local Rhythms – Remember The Name Trixie Whitley

You should have been there.

When Ray Massucco walked on stage to introduce the first performer at Saturday’s Chris Whitley tribute, he remarked that co-promoter Charlie Hunter wasn’t around. “I think he’s out selling tickets,” Ray told the crowd, which filled maybe a third of the Bellows Falls Opera House.

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, that Whitley’s music didn’t touch me as much as his reputation. I knew he could play the hell out of the National Steel guitar, and that his songs came from a very real place.

I was aware that his brother Dan shared the family talents. I’d heard that Chris’s daughter caught the performing bug at a young age. Her MySpace demos reminded me a bit of Missy Higgins or Beth Orton.

None of this knowledge prepared me for the raw emotional power of Trixie Whitley’s performance. The 20-year old acted wan and tentative when she walked on stage, but seemed to gather her strength with each song.

By the end of her set, she owned everyone in the building.

The final verse of her closing number sent a chill down my spine:

“Mama’s got strong blood, Papa’s got strong blood, I learned to survive with that same strong blood”

Trixie was 15 when she wrote “Strong Blood.” Two years later, cancer killed her father. I can’t fathom the courage it took to sing those words to an audience of adoring Chris Whitley fans. She obviously struggled to get through it; her visible pain made it all the more powerful.

“She’s grown up this weekend,” Ray Massucco told me as Trixie left the stage and Dan Whitley launched into his set (solo on a National guitar, no less).

Her potent performance raised the bar for everyone that followed.

Trixie returned to the stage at the start of Vernon Reid’s set to sing backup on “Serve You.” With Dan’s encouragement, she took the lead, and ferociously embraced one of her dad’s best songs.

“Thank you and goodnight,” Reid wisecracked.

“I feel like I should set myself on fire now,” said Alejandro Escovedo, who closed the show.

As things turned out, he did play an incendiary set. “That was worth twenty bucks right there,” one fan commented.

I wish I’d paid more attention to Chris’s music while he was alive. His legacy is in good hands; I suppose that’s a comfort. I can’t wait for next year’s show.

OK, what do we have to look forward to this week?

Wednesday: Jimmy Eat World w/ Paramore, Tsongas Arena – Much of what’s right with the music world can be found here – multiple band shows by young rockers designed to showcase up and coming talent along with the headliner. Young fans may not buy lots of CDs, but they do shell out for T-shirts, buttons and reasonably priced concert tickets.

Thursday: Michael Zsoldos & Draa Hobbs, Elixir – It’s jazz night in White River Junction. Hobbs ia a versatile guitarist who sounds best when he’s summoning of the spirits of masters like Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. Zsoldos plays saxophone, and has an impressive resume that includes a PBS documentary score, but kids know him as Woodstock High’s band director.

Friday: Sean Rowe, Salt hill Pub – Lebanon’s cultural exchange with Albany, New York continues. Rowe one-ups fellow Albanian duo Sirsy, a regular favorite of both Salt hills, by playing blues-infused rock all by his lonesome, with the support of a sound and sample machine. Perhaps that should be “one downs.” This talented guitarist has the skills to match the pub’s energy, and a voice that sounds more Mississippi than Hudson River delta.

Saturday: Salsa Dancing, Gusanoz – Cinco de Mayo is to this place what St. Patrick’s Day is to most Irish pubs, an excuse to celebrate all week long. Tonight features Hall of Fame nominee DJ Spin Doctor, who gives a mid-evening dance lesson (rose for clenching between teeth not included), and plays selections from his impressive, and authentic, Salsa library.

Sunday: Herricks Cove Wildlife Festival, Rockingham – Spring has been a long time coming. Local singer/guitarist Jesse Peters, who also hosts the first Friday open mike at McKinley’s in Springfield, is the musical guest for a day that celebrates the natural beauty of this spot along the Connecticut River. There are fly-fishing demonstrations, live owls and reptiles, and an actor portraying John James Audubon. Take I-91 Exit 6 to reach Herricks Cove.

Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Murphy Farm – This loose affiliation embodies the Upper Valley scene. Most of the players at this weekly Quechee jam session gig with other bands, some with several. Listen to Acoustic Coalition recordings on yellowhousemedia.com, my favorite website for local music, for a sense of the inspired fun that transpires. You should check out the site for all the great area talent there.

Jenee Halstead – Old Time, Internet Time

In a cavernous living room lit with the glow of 24 candles, Jenee Halstead and her band start to play. There are no wires, spotlights or microphones, simply a half circle of four musicians standing in a corner. The scene brings to mind a Depression-era campfire, not a suburban house concert a few miles south of Boston, with well-to-do guests nibbling catered barbeque and sipping wine from long-stemmed glasses.

The near-absence of light makes such a mental leap more possible. The group’s strumming forms are mere shadows; the hazy darkness punctuated by fiddle salvos, deft guitar and mandolin runs, and Halstead’s quivering, sweetly crooning voice.

Though the music is deep and distant, the story behind its creation is as modern as an iPhone. Using MySpace, Facebook and other technology tools of the independent music trade, talents were verified, reputations vetted and friendships cemented days, even weeks before anyone met face to face to play songs that would make Woody Guthrie smile in approval.

Or even George Clinton, as Halstead’s rapidly assembled network of bluegrass purists, an old school producer, his song doctor wife and some electronica-affected friends combined to make “The River Grace,” a pitch perfect blend of traditional picking and modern tweaking.

Old time, meet Internet time.

“It happened really quickly,” Halstead says. Soon after arriving in Boston in mid-2006, she created a MySpace page. “I had some recordings I’d done right before I left Seattle. Within literally 2 or 3 days, I got a comment from Matt Smith at Club Passim.”

Smith, who manages the venerable Cambridge folk institution, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, told Halstead he liked her stuff and to keep in touch. He also mentioned her to some of his friends.

Meanwhile, Jenee placed an ad on the Craig’s List web site, with an eye towards putting together a band in the spirit of Crooked Still. “I always wanted to do bluegrass, but didn’t think I could because I wasn’t schooled in it.” Of her reservations about seeking out seasoned pickers, she says, “it was like walking on sacred ground.”

Guitarist Andy Cambria answered the ad. “I heard her stuff and knew right away that she could be in front of a band,” he says.

Five weeks and a flurry of e-mails later, they were playing together.

Halstead divided her time between building a name in Boston and recording an album in Pennsylvania. The solo acoustic project collapsed in a cloud of romantic confusion with the record’s producer. “Trying to decide if we were going to be a couple … got too difficult,” she says. “It was disheartening to lose all that work, all those hours.”

“Out of the blue, I got an email from Evan Brubaker, saying Matt Smith told me to check you out.” Though she had long lived in the same city as the producer, Smith’s e-mail was their first introduction.

“I’m totally horrified that you lived in Seattle for nine years and I never knew about you,” wrote Brubaker to Halstead.

“I was instantly drawn to her mixture of old time and poetry,” says Brubaker. “I let her know that if she ever needed to do some recording, I would be honored.”

Halstead’s songs are at once beautiful and tinged with night-sweat inducing dread – Appalachian gothic tales of fear, suffering and salvation. Things aren’t simple, meanings are never quite clear.

Though she describes herself as “non-religious but spiritual,” themes of heaven and hell abound. Death is a constant companion.

If Flannery O’Connor were raised in Spokane, Washington, listening to her father’s Led Zeppelin albums, she might have sounded like this.

On the title track from “The River Grace,” a woman struggles to live in a time of war. When, at the song’s bridge, she implores, “embrace the undertow/take me home,” it’s not certain whether she’s praying to be carried across the waves or beneath them.

A crime spree at the heart of “Darkest Day” echoes Robert Earl Keen’s “Road Goes on Forever,” but the tragedy at song’s end is more palpable, the heroine’s devastation permanent.

Then there’s “Dusty Rose,” a song that seems lifted from Loretta Lynn’s Jack White sessions. It’s either a murder ballad or the final sad chapter of “Stand By Your Man” – the singer won’t tell.

Halstead – her first name rhymes with Renee – says her songs are “stories of people’s lives that came to me subconsciously.” Whether the narrator of “Dusty Rose” is a killer or a grieving widow is something she emphatically doesn’t know.

“These are not my stories,” she says. “There’s some woman out there who owns that song. I don’t know who she is.”

“It’s a healing thing to let them go,” she continues, and let others decide their meaning.

That’s a sentiment she shares with another songwriter, Patty Griffin, who once likened her songs to children set free in the world.

The first Velvet Underground record didn’t sell a lot of copies, but (so the legend goes) everyone who bought one started a band. The same is probably true of Patty Griffin. Not a lot of people heard “Living With Ghosts” when it came out, but many young women – including Jenee Halstead – did, and were inspired to buy a guitar and a notepad.

“I don’t think I started writing songs because of her,” Jenee says, “but I think she gave me the impetus to really get on my guitar and try to do some emotional mining.

Evan Brubaker is also a fan – he even named his recording studio “Forgiveness,” after a Patty Griffin song. “’Living With Ghosts’ is the chick singer bible,” he said recently. “The songs are simple but brilliant and universal. I don’t know how many copies of that record I have given away.”

Before coming to Seattle to work on the record, Halstead and Brubaker had long phone conversations about the “old timey” record she hoped to make. “I really trusted Evan,” she says. “Who he was at his core and his vision of music and why he’s doing it lined up with everything.”

A couple of things, however, gave her pause.

Songwriting, says Halstead, “is like entering a pitch black room, and the light may never go on. And to be honest, I don’t know if I want it to.”

Opening up such a dark and solitary process to another writer was a challenge. Megan Peters is both an accomplished lyricist and Evan Brubaker’s wife. She is also, says the producer, “one of the best co-writers in existence.”

But for Halstead, letting go was a challenge. “It was very hard at first to work with Megan,” she says. “She is a tour de force, so I was a little bit intimidated by her.”

“She is truly a master of the craft,” she continues. Peters has an ability to “look at it from all angles or take a song in a direction you would never have thought about in a million years.”

Brubaker’s biggest idea of all was perhaps the one that took the most getting used to.

Hearing that keyboard player Steve Moore would be available for a few days, Brubaker says, “I got a flash of how it would all come together.”

“Steve is brilliant. He has a collection of 80’s Casio keyboards, a bunch of guitar pedals, a little amp and a Fender Rhodes. He plays free jazz, hardcore, singer-songwriter…the guy is game for anything.”

“I couldn’t imagine how keyboards fit into the old-time sound,” countered Halstead.

“We started messing around with live drum samples for fun,” she says. “I said, ‘slam a crazy (Roots drummer) Questlove beat behind “Before I Go”’ – just as a joke.”

“I loved it. Over the course of the next 24 hours it opened my mind.”

Co-mingling beat samples with mandolins, dreamy organ excursions and Dobro flourishes is, to say the least, unconventional. But it infuses “The River Grace” with adventure and irreverence, transforming it from a merely good folk album to a pivotal record that comes along once in a generation to invent a new musical language.

Photo Credits: (1 & 2) Gretjen Helene Hargesheimer 2007


Download “Deep Dark Sea” from Jenee Halstead’s “The River Grace

Local Rhythms – White River Indie Film Fest

“Woodstock” was a subversive movie.

I saw it at age 13, and soon after attended my first rock concert, with tickets I’d won from a local radio station (which had itself gone overnight from top forty to rarely playing the same song twice in a 24-hour period).

Across America, teenagers began buying Jimi Hendrix and Santana albums – or, to their parents’ horror, starting bands.  All of this happened because of a movie about a three-day music festival.

Perhaps “Girls Rock!” will similarly incite my daughter’s generation to strap on a Fender and find their inner Kim Deal.  The documentary, about an Oregon rock n’ roll academy that caters to girls, is the most intriguing of four films with music at their center featured at this year’s annual White River Indie Film (WRIF) Festival.

The festival starts Friday at the Tip Top Café with an art and movie memorabilia auction gala, followed by a decidedly anti-consumerism film – an odd juxtaposition, I know.

“What Would Jesus Buy?” follows Reverend Billy, pastor of the “Church of Stop Shopping,” and his 45-voice gospel choir, as they travel cross-country to warn of the impending “Shopocalypse.”  OK, It’s not exactly a music film, but festival director John Griesemer says the singing is “amazing.”

John Sayles’ latest screens on Saturday; “Honeydripper” tells the story of a juke joint owner (Danny Glover) trying to save his business with a show by a famous electric guitarist, at a time when plugging in was a new idea.

“Guitar Sam” fails to show, forcing him to choose another, quite hilarious, solution.  The film also stars Mary Steenburgen, with music from Keb Mo’ and Texas bluesman Gary Clark, Jr.

John Turturro made “Cigarettes & Romance” in 2005, but never found a distributor.  That’s surprising, as the film includes “Sopranos” star James Gandolfini, Christopher Walken and Kate Winslet.

The offbeat musical begins with a duet (Gandolfini and his neighborhood trash haulers) of Englebert Humperdink’s “World Without Love,” and features a lusty performance of “Piece of My Heart” by co-stars Susan Sarandon and Eddie Izzard.

The film screens at 10:30 Saturday, even though it sounds like a perfect midnight movie, reminiscent of Sarandon’s first flick, “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.

But, according to Griesemer, “10:30 is the new midnight – up here anyway.”

WRIF is an “an effort unto itself,” says Griesemer, “an arts organization showing films that the other places don’t know about.” Festival details and show times are on the web at http://www.wrif.org.

What else is happening in the next few days?

Wednesday: Pat Benetar, Lowell Memorial Auditorium – Since her beginnings as a rock diva in 1979, this pint-sized powerhouse has charted a ton of hits, one of which (“Hell Is For Children”) launched a charity, and been an MTV goddess when such a thing mattered. She’s still missing from two places, however: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and iTunes.

Thursday: Alan Hague, New England College – There’s a bit of Dashboard Confessional in this Providence-based singer/songwriter; he’s an excellent guitarist as well.  Hague used to front a punk band called D-Day, and his vocal cadences (as evidenced by his three-song EP) owe a debt to that genre.   Wrapped in acoustic melodies, it’s different – pleasantly so.

Friday: Doc Severinsen, Proctor Academy – When (and if) I make to 81 years old, I’ll be glad if I can breathe, let alone play a trumpet.  But the “Tonight Show” bandleader didn’t hang up his horn with Johnny Carson retired.  He now lives in Mexico, where he discovered guitarist Gil Gutierrez and violinist Pedro Cartas, who join him for a Spanish-flavored program entitled “El Ritmo de la Vida,” or “The Rhythm of Life.”

Saturday: Kid Pinky, La Dolce Vita – The de facto house band at New London’s popular eatery, the Kid and his cohorts (the Restless Knights) play with the spirited conviction of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Radiators – ferocious, but with a groove. The bandleader is a triple threat on harp, piano and vocals.  It’s nice to see La Dolce Vita up and running again.

Sunday: Harmonica Blowout, Tupelo Music Hall – Speaking of the blues, this harp summit will be a treat.  Since 1991, “blues survivor” Mark Hummel has led annual summits featuring everyone from Huey Lewis to Charlie Musselwhite.  Tonight’s road show includes Hummel along with former Muddy Waters sideman Jerry Portnoy, Curtis Salgado, and Rick Estrin.

Tuesday: Festival of New Musics, Hopkins Center –
No, it’s not a typo.  For thirty years, this Dartmouth-produced gathering has presented “musics” which are one or two steps ahead of the avant-garde.  Tonight’s performance features college faculty (there’s a grad student show Sunday) joining “pioneers in electronic, acoustic and electro-acoustic music.” Appearing are Will Guthrie, The Meehan/Perkins Duo, Brendan Murray, Amy X Neuburg and Howard Stelzer.

FCC Ponders More Localism, NAB Responds

Bloomberg columnist Cindy Skyrzycki writes that a recent FCC proposal has National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) members talking as they meet this week in Las Vegas:

Under proposals published Feb. 13, the Federal Communications Commission would require television and radio station owners to reconnect with their markets at a time when technology allows remote broadcasting and shared programming. The industry doesn’t like the idea.

How broadcasters serve the public interest in exchange for free use of public airwaves has been debated for decades. The stakes have increased as media consolidation and technology have allowed stations to operate without a local presence and with ownership far away. The FCC said it was rethinking its past reliance on “market forces” to decide programming.

The NAB wonders why cable and satellite television companies aren’t being similarly pressured. I don’t think they have much to worry about. Remember the Michael Powell road show back in 2003, when thousands of citizens lined up to complain about everything from disappearing farm reports, a dearth of local news and, most famously, tornado warnings going unreported because no humans were around to answer the “local” station’s phone?

People had their chance to vent; after that, nothing happened. It’s been five years, and the best the FCC can come up with is pablum about “better serving local communities”? That train left the station in the early 1980s, with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. The so-called public airwaves are now governed by the Golden Rule: he who has the gold, rules.

One interesting tidbit in the FCC’s February 13 document caught my eye, however:

Also under consideration is whether stations should set up and consult local advisory boards to determine “significant community needs” and whether radio playlists exclude local artists. Comments are due April 28.

If the FCC passes this, does it mean I can force Q-106 to play Stonewall’s new record? I’m not holding my breath.

Local Rhythms – Bragg’s Message to Moguls: Pay Up

I know, it’s only rock and roll, but I like it – and everyone young and old has an opinion about music. Thus, the debate over its future matters, even if the subject doesn’t have the weight of, say, Bernake’s prescriptions for the economy or General Petraeus on Capitol Hill.

Believing I understood all the angles of this argument, Billy Bragg’s views surprised me. He’s mostly known as a leftist political rocker, so one might expect him to side with the “music wants to be free” proponents.

Bragg’s response to the 1980s campaign for a tax on cassette tapes was to print the message “capitalism is killing music” on one of his records.

But he’s less predictable on this subject. Why, Bragg wonders, should Internet companies profit from the public’s hunger for music while the artists themselves struggle?

Sales of social networking sites have brought riches to investors. Would News Corp. buy MySpace or AOL snap up Bebo without the creative output of thousands of independent musicians?

“The powerful start-ups,” says Bragg, “are blithely following the consumer’s argument that they don’t have to pay.”

The mouse-clicking millions don’t seem to realize that easy access does not equate to zero value.

Though the exchange of music has become free, Bragg told a British webzine last week, the technology moguls exploiting it are making a fortune.

Bragg is taking a lot of heat for an op-ed he published a few weeks back in the New York Times. “The musicians who posted their work on Bebo.com are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise,” wrote Bragg. “Their investment is the content provided for free while the site has no liquid assets.”

He’s just asking to share in the bonanza.

Artists need to step forward and shape the future, he says. “We can’t go back to the $15.99 CD, but we want to make a living from this – help us to convince big business to cut us in.”

The alternative, says Bragg, is to be spoon fed megastars like Hannah Montana by corporations who have put songs through focus groups like detergent or light beer.

“Someone who is a bit quirky – and by quirky, I mean a Radiohead – will never get out of Oxford.”

Far from being a geek utopia, Bragg says “it’s cutting the legs off from the next generation of musicians … condemning them to never really give up their day job.”

Words to ponder while you consider these upcoming performances:

Thursday: New Blue Trio, Sophie & Zeke’s – They’ve changed their name and added more cool jazz to their sound, but the core musicians of New Kind of Blue – recently known as the Roland Yamaguchi Band – still possess the same excellent musical skills that made them perennial Thursday night favorites in downtown Claremont. The piano, upright bass and guitar are, like the food, simmered to perfection.

Friday: Amity Front, Salt Hill Pub – This Northampton band sells out venues to the south, but their third Lebanon appearance is, like the two before, a no-cover affair. When they strip down to guitars and mandolin, Amity Front delivers a high lonesome sound. But they can also plug and play, with revved-up Americana reminiscent of Wilco. Their latest CD, “Border Towns,” offers a bit of both worlds.

Saturday: New Black Eagle Jazz Band, Claremont Opera House – A bunch of New Englanders with a love for New Orleans music, this band got its start playing on a riverboat – in Boston Harbor. If you dig Dixieland jazz, you’ll go crazy for these guys. They’re as real as it gets, and wildly exuberant to boot.

Sunday: Leo Kottke, Lebanon Opera House – A master of the six and twelve string guitar returns to the area. I once had the privilege of sitting in the front row for a Kottke performance; he was the opening act. I’ve never seen anyone’s fingers move so fast. He played seated at the edge of the stage, in front of a curtain; the band that followed him couldn’t match the sound he made with just one instrument.

Tuesday: Billy Rosen & David Westphalen, Tip Top Café – Another White River Junction hot spot for food and music welcomes two musicians who keep a busy schedule playing with area bands. Rosen fronts his own trio (at Sophie and Zeke’s Friday), while Westphalen is the go-to bass player for Emily Lanier, among others.

Wednesday: Pat Benetar, Lowell Memorial Auditorium – Since her beginnings as a rock diva in 1979, this pint-sized powerhouse has charted a ton of hits, one of which (“Hell Is For Children”) launched a charity, and been an MTV goddess when such a thing mattered. She’s still missing from two places, however: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and iTunes.

Local Rhythms – Friday and I’m Out Of My Mind

Early on, nightly picks weren’t a part of this column. I tried to mention everything of note in the area entertainment scene, assuming that people would make up their own minds. Then a few readers complained.

“Tell me what to do, Mr. Critic,” they said. “That’s your job.”

Never one to shy away from offering an opinion, I eagerly complied. Most of the time, it’s easy enough to make five or six definitive choices.

But this Friday, it’s impossible. You’re on your own – I can’t even decide for myself.

Chris O’Brien amazed me the last time he was in the area. He combines guitar skills picked up from family friend Dar Williams with urbane wit and a voice that goes down like Southern Comfort, neat. He’s at Boccelli’s in Bellows Falls.

Though it’s certainly musician-friendly, I have a quibble with Canoe Club. Great performances often get buried in dinner conversation. Abbie Barrett, a honky-tonk Patty Griffin, deserves better; maybe they’ll pump up the volume for her late set.

If I do decide on Hanover, it will be a quick trip to Salt Hill Pub for Sirsy. They do the multiplication rock thing, making two musicians sound like four or five. While you’re there, buy a copy of “Revolution,” their recently released, fan-financed CD.

Reggae “mon” Nachilus Kezuck lights up Electra, which is fast becoming the multicultural hub of the Upper Valley. Kezuck’s pointedly political songs, touching on topics like urban gun violence and green consumerism, echo fellow countrymen Bob Marley and Burning Spear.

I tried to catch Iron Box in February, but an ice storm shut things down. The all-original band returns to Claremont’s Imperial Lounge, with better weather a certainty. Musically, they sound like Phish covering Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality.”

The Sunapee Coffee House is back in business, with a nice mix of talent, including guitarist Gary Robinson, who plays classical, Latin, blues and Beatles. The Colby-Sawyer faculty member has shared the stage with many folk luminaries over the years, including Judy Collins.

Chris O’Brien’s roommate, Antje Duvekot, is one of my favorite up and coming folksingers, as is Anais Mitchell. The two ladies play a double bill at Brattleboro’s Hooker-Dunham performance space.

Finally, Memphis-based bluesman/folklorist Andy Cohen, who personifies Pete Townsend’s maxim, “you can dance while your knowledge is growing,” visits the Green Martini in Concord for his only area performance.

Good luck choosing – though it’ a nice problem to have, really.

Here’s the rest of the week:

Thursday: Chloe Brisson, Elixir – There’s a definite Manhattan vibe in this room, with glasses clinking, wait staff bustling about, and cool music wafting over it all. Tonight, it’s a CD release party for a 13-year old prodigy who’s been singing since she could talk. On “Red Door Sessions,” Brisson was joined by Matt Wilson and Fred Haas, who’s coached her at his Interplay Jazz Summer Camp in Woodstock for the last three years.

Saturday: Salsa Dancing, Gusanoz– With spring finally sprung, you’ve no doubt been thinking about getting in shape. For my money, dancing beats jogging by a country mile.   This monthly event features DJ Spin Doctor, who also conducts a mid-evening salsa lesson for anyone with two left feet.  Gusanoz features authentic Mexican food and readily available doses of top shelf tequila, always helpful for loosening up.

Sunday: Third Eye Blind, Southern New Hampshire University – This one hit wonder’s big song was called, fittingly, “Semi-Charmed Life.” It’s better to have one than none, and this band hasn’t slowed down. They have a new album, “The Hideous Strength,” due soon. Boston’s up and coming State Radio open the show with a set of bracingly topical music. Songs like “CIA,” “Guantanamo” and “Gang of Thieves” should play well with this college crowd.

Monday: Jessica Sonner, Colby-Sawyer College – I mentioned her college barnstorming tour last week. She gets a second shout-out for playing on a usually slow night. Sonner combined Natasha Bedingfield’s vivacious energy with Colbie Caillat’s cooing vocal style for “All We Need,” her tasty debut EP, with the help of a full band. The sound translates well in a stripped down solo setting, as her MySpace videos attest.

Tuesday: Scottish Country Dancing, Fairlee Town Hall – Your taxes are done for another year, what better way to unwind than a night of dancing that’s both orderly and exhilarating. Scottish country dancing trace its roots back to the Renaissance – it’s best described as a group waltz. Fairlee hosts these gatherings every Tuesday.

Wednesday: Jerry Douglas, Paradise – The world’s greatest, some would say only, dobro player has several area shows lined up in the coming months. There’s this Boston stop, NoHo next Saturday and Connecticut the following Sunday. Douglas also has summer shows booked – Lowell in July, plus the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in upstate New York and a free Freeport, Maine show in August.

Today’s Free Download – Toni Ballard “From This Moment On”

pict-2.pngChicago’s gift to New England jazz, singer Toni Ballard has shared the stage with top-notch big bands (Nelson Riddle, White Heat Swing Orchestra), in addition to working behind the radio microphone and doing publicity for Berklee Music College.

With her permission, here’s a track from her last album featuring Larry Coryell on guitar.

From This Moment On – Toni Ballard (From “I’m Your Pal”)

Deals, Deals, Deals

picture-1.pngUMG has just about made nice with MySpace, according to news reports. This clears the way for MySpace Music, an enterprise offering music streams, MP3s and concert tickets. Propping up the gazillion unknown bands already giving away music on MySpace with a Led Zeppelin or Radiohead wouldn’t be a bad move. Here’s one anonymous comment:

“It’s really creating a robust monetization component to MYSPACE and having a focused music effort that could be the MTV of a new generation,” said a music industry executive who asked not to be identified before the deal is formally announced.

MTV of a new generation? Well, they’ve got the reality TV part of it down – without the television.  30 million lonelyheart scrapbooks – sort of makes “The Bachelor” seem like art, doesn’t it?

But until they fix the awful look and feel, I’m staying away. Thanks to all the DIY page-building tools made available to its denizens  (which is sort of like handing out SkilSaws to kindergarteners) there are more execrable sites per capita in MySpace land than anywhere else on the web.

Today’s Free Download – Ratdog: “Feel Like a Stranger”

picture-3.pngIt’s free and it’s the Dead – that’s worth some space on your hard drive, right?  Recorded last month on Ratdog’s current tour.  A little too much cheering, but a lot of impressive playing.  A long time ago, Branford Marsalis sat in with the Grateful Dead, and this is a bit reminiscent of that.

Ratdog – “Feel Like a Stranger”