Local Rhythms – Little Memphis Comes Home

littlememphis.jpgMuch of the music business has become a gated community. Pop music is hand picked by executives; for the rest, success is a matter of dumb luck.

But country music is a genre that’s still open to new voices.

Maybe it’s a question of ambition – “American Idol” hopefuls desperately want to be stars. For Claremont native Dan LaPorte, hearing his girlfriend sing along to his songs in the car is satisfaction enough. Having the chance to work with a Nashville legend was simply a sweet bonus.

“If you’re doing music to try and get big, you’re going about it the wrong way,” he says. “If it happens, that’s great, but just getting on stage is what does it for me. It doesn’t get any better than to perform for people.”

He may succeed in spite of himself.

For the past few years, Dan D and the Burning Love, the band LaPorte formed with friend and bass player Todd LeBlanc, has done a good business channeling Elvis Presley for Upper Valley fans.

Now, they’re singing a song that’s all their own.

On Friday, their band Little Memphis celebrates the release of its debut CD, with a homecoming performance at Electra in West Lebanon.

“Let Me Down Easy” is a crackerjack album, one that easily stands up to the current crop of country stars, from Toby Keith to Rascal Flatts. From the first note, it’s literally stuffed with hooks.

I defy anyone to not hum along with the record’s opening cut, “Cutie Patootie,” by the third verse

The entire CD is a boot-tapping pleasure from start to finish.

It features a couple of Little Memphis originals (“The Lights Went Down in Graceland,” “Heart of Steel”) and several songs from producer Scotty Turner’s sizable catalog.

The material covers familiar territory in an inventive way. “I Hope He’s Good Enough” is a unique brother/sister song, while the rollicking “Sugar Daddy” features a Saturday date with a sweet young thing and her … grandfather.

Producer Scotty Turner hired a top-notch band to record “Let Me Down Easy,” including Travis Tritt’s drummer Dave Northrup, who will also be on hand for Friday’s show.

They’re pulling out all the stops for this hometown gig. Producer Turner, whose resume includes co-writing credits with Buddy Holly, is also making the trip from Nashville.

“We’re gonna make them like us,” Dan says. “They’ll be proud to have a band like this up here.”

What else is hot this weekend?

Thursday: Toni Ballard, Elixir – This White River Junction small plate dinner house has featured some fine talent of late. Blues, swing, rock – it’s all there. Tonight’s set showcases vocalist Ballard, performed with the Nelson Riddle orchestra and many other New England big bands, and recorded with Larry Coryell. Tonight, she’s joined by Jason Ennis on 7-string guitar and the sublime piano player Fred Haas (replacing formerly scheduled David Westphalen). Toni’s working on a new album, so expect to hear some of that.

Friday: Frydaddy, Salt Hill Two – This band’s front man is known as Carlos O’Casio when he journeys to Newport’s Salt Hill. Considering the many musical hats he wears, it’s allowed. Ocasio (that’s the correct spelling) plays Latin with Gusano, mesmerizing solo guitar, and sometimes dabbles in jazz. With Frydaddy, it’s straight-up, good time rock and roll, so bring your dancing shoes.

Saturday: Haale, Bellows Falls Opera House – Brooklyn born with an Iranian sound, this young musician wowed the Boccelli’s crowd last time she was in town, so much that this performance is in the larger confines of the Opera House. The band calls what it does “Psychedelic Sufi Trance Rock” – it calls upon the poetry of Rumi and Allen Ginsburg as much as any musical style.

Sunday: Tower of Power/Average White Band, Hampton Beach Casino – One sure sign of spring is the re-opening of this music hall on the beach. The first show features two stalwarts of urban funk, my personal favorite horn band Tower of Power and the equally charged-up AWB, who had a 70’s hit with “Pick Up the Pieces.” TofP’s brass backed many a hit in addition to their own gold records.

Tuesday: Jessica Sonner, New England College – The music business may be in a slump, but there’s no shortage of talented musicians, including this singer/songwriter, who says simply, “It’s all worth it for me when people take something away from what they hear in my music.” With her guitar and a sweet, bluesy voice, she’s winning converts across the country.

Wednesday: Open Mike, Skunk Hollow Tavern – Wise Rokobili and Tad Davis helm this weekly affair. If you’ve ever wondered whether you should take your playing to another level, this is a good starting point. Bring your axe and your songs. You have 15 minutes. The best part is that Simon Cowell and Paula Abduhl are nowhere to be found, and the food’s better.

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