Local Rhythms – Upper Valley CATV Adds “Homegrown” Music

Back before I started writing this column, I received my first inklings of the local music scene via videotaped performances from the Orford River Jam, an annual summer event held at the Pastures Campground along the Connecticut River.

The Claremont public access channel played it at odd times – an hour or so of first-rate bluegrass music, country rock or folk songs. Good times, great players – right in my own backyard.

This year’s River Jam series begins Saturday, June 14 with Second Wind, and showcases several of the area’s best bands before it winds up at the end of August. The full schedule is on the web at http://www.thepastures.com.

But that’s not what I want to talk about this week.

Community television stations, fortunately, don’t have to be limited to city council meetings and school events. I’ve always thought of my local channel as a primitive YouTube, hosting content from anyone brave enough to submit it.

Yellow House Media is far and away the local music scene’s best friend, and recently they began producing “Homegrown” for community access television in the Upper Valley. The first installment focuses on New Hampshire native Jeremiah McLane, accordionist and keyboard player for the Celtic roots band Nightingale. It includes clips from the group’s recent Lebanon Opera House performance, and a sit-down chat with McLane, Effie Cummings and Yellow House founder Dave Clark.

I’m starting to suspect that Dave Clark is a rural version of the Michael Keaton character in “Multiplicity” – how else can one person maintain the region’s best music web site, produce a television show and play in five or six different bands (including Juke Joynt, mentioned below)?

And that’s not even his day job.

He can and does, and we are richer for it. A second installment of “Homegrown,” featuring the recent “Blues Summit” at Salt Hill Pub with Johnny Bishop, Ted Mortimer and Ed Eastridge, is complete and should air soon.

Many’s the time I’ve left that club thinking, “I wish this performance could be shared” – now it can.

Last Saturday, Dave’s long-time band the Gully Boys recorded their set at Bentley’s for a future show.

If you don’t receive Upper Valley CATV Channel 8, you can watch “Homegrown” on the web via video-sharing site Vimeo, or at yellowhousemedia.com.

You can also ask your local public access channel to carry it – that’s what I plan to do.

As for the coming weekend, here are some choices to consider:

Thursday: David Thorne Scott, Elixir – The Upper Valley is, I’m finding out, a veritable magnet for learned talent. In a couple of weeks, Enfield is hosting a trumpet summit with top young talent from Julliard, the New England Conservatory, Oberlin and other schools. In White River, David Thorne Scott is both a Berklee professor and a singer who can “swing like Sinatra and scat like a horn player,” according to one review.

Friday: High School Musical, Claremont Opera House – Few works have had the impact of this television musical – on ‘tweens, that is. The Disney juggernaut swept through suburban homes like a tsunami. Tonight and tomorrow, local kids who bopped to this update of “Grease” on television bring it to the stage. The Performer’s Playground presentation features talent from Newport and Claremont singing and dancing in harmony.

Saturday: Red Hot Juba, Salt Hill Pub – Zoot suit riot at the Pub! This Burlington-based band is like the Squirrel Nut Zippers with a shot of good Irish whiskey poured in the glass. They break out of the swing mode every now and then to good effect. This band best exemplifies Josh Tuohy’s willingness to take risks when booking bands, one of the reasons both Salt Hills remain obvious choices for adventurous live music fans.

Sunday: Juke Joynt, Quechee Library – Take one part Foghat and one part Buddy Guy, mix it with a bodacious X factor that results from the chemistry of three players who do itinerant musical work all over the area, and you have this band. Juke Joynt focuses on original music inspired by the blues (when they were real) and classic rock (before it got cheesy). They perform as part of the Covered Bridge Marathon road race.

Monday: Dark Star Orchestra, Higher Ground – Bill Kreutzmann’s new project, KBR, and Bob Weir’s Ratdog are doing area shows, but if you’re looking for a Grateful Dead experience, this ultimate cover band may be the best choice. DSO selects a set list from a Dead performance, and re-create the show in its entirety – the hardcore fans usually know which night it is.

Tuesday: Justin Townes Earle, Iron Horse – He’s the son of Steve Earle, and his middle name comes from one of Americana’s undeniable legends, Townes Van Zandt (who shepherded his father early on). Thus, the bar is set pretty high, but the younger Earle delivers quite effectively on his debut, a throwback that’s a shade or two removed from Dad’s work.

Aloud – Fan the Fury

The second album from Boston quartet Aloud gives fans of hard-edged harmony plenty to sink their teeth into. As the title suggests, it’s packed with twentysomething rage, but it also brims with flourishes and crescendos.

“Sometimes I Feel Like A Vampire” establishes the record’s mood early on. “I can’t smile with a straight face,” sings Henry Beguiristain, “let’s go on the offensive.” Beguiristain told an interviewer recently that with “Fan the Fury,” Aloud was aiming for something that people would either love or hate.

They succeeded.

There’s not much middle ground, and that’s a good thing. “Fan the Fury” is an election year record. “Nero” laments that “a witch hunt or inquisition can be disguised as patriotism” while the title cut is a hard-charging anthem that blends tart, bruised youth lyrics (“there’s a burning in my belly, in my wallet, and my head”) with wall of sound production from Chuck Brody (Northern State, Yoko Ono).

Even seemingly tender songs show their teeth. The two lovers of “Hard Up in the 2000’s” gaze into each other’s eyes because they’re too poor to do anything else. Beguiristain and Jen de la Oso, who’ve been writing together since high school, contributed all of the lyrics, with the music credited to the entire band. Sentimentality is for fools in this here and now, they seem to be saying. If anything, as one of the record’s more frenetic songs puts it, it’s the “Battle of Love.”

“Julie,” “The Last Time” and “Back to the Wall” are dominated by Beguiristain and de la Osa’s world-weary vocals, reminiscent of the John Doe/Exene Cervenka’s tandem in X. But for all the raw punk energy infusing the music, it’s really all about the hooks.

After all, you can’t start a revolution without a memorable chorus. You’ll find yourself singing along by the second verse of half the album’s songs. “You Got Me Wrong” borrows the syncopated hand clapping of the Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl” but still manages to find its own bright, jangly soul. “Murder Will Out” is similarly infectious, both for the U2/Slash guitar sampling and de la Osa’s throaty singing.

Inventive tempo changes and quirky word play keep “Fan The Fury” from simply becoming another power pop record. The band plays with more purpose than it did on “Leave Your Light On,” their 2006 debut. Their energy more than matches their live shows, something area fans can witness for themselves when Aloud travels to the Upper Valley later this summer.

Mark Erelli Comes To Fred Fest With A Great New CD

Thursday, June 5 will be a return of sorts for Mark Erelli. “It feels like coming back to visit old friends,” says the singer-songwriter, who performed at Oona’s and the Windham when they were both open.

Erelli opens the ninth annual “Fred Fest,” four days of music officially called Roots on the River, with a set at the newly remodeled Bellows Falls Opera House. He’ll play songs from his forthcoming album, then join Lori McKenna’s band for her headliner set, something he’s been doing for the past few years.

Usually, he sticks to backing McKenna, a task that last year found him in front of thousands of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert fans and national television audiences, and in support of her “Unglamorous” album. But with a new record to promote, Erelli’s doing double duty.

“These nights are really hectic for me,” he says. “I have to activate different parts of my brain as a solo player and a sideman.”

The new album, called “Delivered,” is due for release later this summer, though fans can buy it at a few select preview shows. It’s a work that Erelli considers to be the high point of his 10-year career; a deft blending of the topical and personal.

“It’s like ‘Hope and Other Casualties,’ only more so,” he says, though it’s imbued with a sense of optimism that was missing from his last album of new songs two years ago. He isn’t pulling his punches, whether denouncing a president “who’d rather talk to Jesus than those who disagree” or lamenting history’s courageous leaders who were “rewarded with a bullet to the brain,” but Erelli seems to have more faith that things will turn out well.

The title of the record’s opening track, for example, is “Hope Dies Last.” In it, Erelli bookends the world’s problems – floods, fear and tyrants – with his own domestic bliss. The buoyant “Once” celebrates the birth of his first child, an event that informs much of the record’s mood.

“There’s a certain amount of bravery and fearlessness that you have to have as an independent artist,” he says. “You also have to be a little crazy. Parenting reinforces that.”

The album’s centerpiece is the title song, a haunting, gorgeous meditation of enduring love. With a beautiful counterpoint from Crooked Still vocalist Aoife O’Donovan, “Delivered” is an elegy wrapped with a sense of wonder, stark in mood and deceptively simple in structure.

For the project, Erelli used a new producer and a group of musicians he’d long admired, but never played with. “This record is unique in that I came to it with fewer preconceived notions than anything I’ve done.”

He borrowed his studio band, including producer Zack Hickman, from former label mate Josh Ritter. “I was lucky to be able to import a certain amount of musical chemistry right off the bat, even though we didn’t know each other when we started,” says Erelli. “It was a very easy, unforced process.”

He’d made five records with long-time collaborator Lorne Entress, but felt he needed a change. “We had and still have a great relationship, but we got to the point where we’d done so many things,” he says. “It seemed like a good time to broaden my horizons.”

With financing locked in, and a heady period of his life winding down, Erelli began work on “Delivered” feeling loose, and ready for anything,

“I’d just gotten of the Tim/Faith tour, we had our baby and two weeks later I went into the studio. I didn’t have the energy to be stressed out by what were we going for. I had a group of songs I felt strongly about, I knew we had a great group of musicians. I kind of trusted that was going to be enough. I think we came up with my best record to date, and I never thought I’d be able to say that seven records in.”

“Delivered” was made through a creative financing scheme that Erelli dubbed a “musical barn raising.” “I got a bunch of fans to contribute all different kinds of money and basically paid for the project in advance,” he says.

Backers included old college friends, long time fans and supporters, some of whom he knew well, and others he didn’t. When he began advertising for investors early in 2007, Erelli was unsure of what kind of response he’d receive. He wound up with more money than he’d planned on in less time than anticipated.

He found the experience both gratifying and artistically liberating, and something he’d happily do again. The approach, he says, “relies on something real, the people that actually know they want my record, as opposed to investing all kinds of funds up front from a record company.”

For their contributions, each “barn raiser” received an early copy of “Delivered,” along with posters, unreleased tracks and other goodies.

Erelli recalls performing at one of the earliest Fred Eaglesmith weekends, in 2001. “It makes no sense at all,” he says. “Fred’s great, and there’s many people that deserve their own festival booked around them, but to see in this one little town in Vermont that has fallen for him and draws people from all around the world to do this event. I call it blissfully random. It works – I’m glad it does, and grateful to be a part of it.”

Local Rhythms – Netflix Shakes Things Up

After spending a few days renting movies from the Internet, I’m no longer convinced that the DVD’s future is any safer than its compact disc cousin. Chapter selection, deleted scenes and commentary – everything’s there, and without the $4.00 a gallon drive to Blockbuster.

Netflix customers already save on fuel costs, but waiting for the mailman can be tiresome. So the just-announced Netflix Player, a set-top box that works with most any TV, intrigues me.

The device, made by Silicon Valley startup Roku, isn’t the first of its kind by any means. Apple TV pairs with iTunes for movie rentals, and the Xbox connects to a Microsoft video store as well. Tivo hooks into Amazon Unboxed – it’s a growing field.

What makes the Netflix Player interesting is the way it mirrors, and extends, their existing service. Customers who already pay one price for an unlimited number of mail order discs can now can do the same with Netflix online for no additional charge.

It’s a bit like Rhapsody, the music subscription service, and may inspire a bit more risk-taking with film selection. If one flick doesn’t agree with you, another one is but clicks away. That’s quite a contrast to other high priced rentals. For example, six dollars for an Xbox HD movie doesn’t encourage dabbling.

Netflix has over 10,000 streaming titles – unfortunately, there’s not a lot of recent ones. That should change over time. The best news is the cost of the player – $99, which beats the competition by more than half.

The Netflix Player doesn’t have built-in storage, which concerns me a bit. My iTunes movie rentals were lag-free, with pristine picture quality, because I downloaded them first. Early reviews of the player suggest a faster-than-average broadband connection is essential to enjoy it properly.

But it’s early, so my excitement is focused more on the gadget’s promise than with what it does now. There’s no HD content or surround sound, that’s a minus. But with a picture size toggle switch, it also doesn’t require a widescreen to work.

It could be a nice addition to a bedroom TV, providing on-demand entertainment for less than a cable box rental fee. Best of all, it’s all you can watch, and when the red Netflix envelope arrives with a DVD, the living room flat panel is just a few steps away.

Now, what about the best destinations for live music in the coming days?

Thursday: Dan Weintraub, Murphy’s on the Green – Look up “prolific” in the dictionary and you’ll probably find this man’s shiny-headed visage smiling back at you. Weintraub’s tunes range from funny to poignant, and there’s 70 of them on his website, all recorded in the last year and a half, each a free download. Mix Randy Newman with Tom Petty, add a dash of Weird Al – that’s Dan.

Friday: Hurricane Alley, Seven Barrel Brewery – This well-regarded melodic band is splintering across the region this weekend. Leader Reid Traviskis and singer Jan Bear are working in Maine, while an augmented version of Hurricane Alley play the West Lebanon brewpub. Singer/guitarist Dave Sheehan and bassist Ben Butterworth team with Dave’s brother Steve for a selection that ranges from “Abba to ZZ Top.”

Saturday: Roxanne & the Voodoo Rockers, Anchorage – A sure sign of summer is the return of live music to Lake Sunapee. Memorial Day weekend includes this bluesy band, a favorite around the harbor. They have a pair of Newbury Gazebo performances slated for later in the season. Mark and Debbie Bond, familiar from several area bands (including Last Kid Picked), perform at Anchorage Sunday. Bond’s CD, “Broken,” is a real treat.

Sunday: Kurtis Kinger, Bentley’s – This singer-guitarist specializes in crunchy blues numbers mixed with straight ahead rock. I don’t know much about him, but some of his music is up on the Yellow House Media site. Yellow House recently debuted a cable access show featuring local musicians called “Homegrown.” The first guest is accordion/keyboard player Jeremiah McClane (it’s also streaming on the site).

Tuesday: Submarines, Iron Horse – John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard met in Boston, joined a band and toured Europe together, fell in love, moved to LA and broke up four years later. Their musical paths kept crossing, and it turned out both of them were writing sad tunes about missing each other. Now they’re married, and their songs are much happier – “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie” deserves its own iPod ad.

Wednesday: Van Halen, Verizon Wireless Arena – This show was postponed and rescheduled from earlier this year, which means tickets have been available for close to 6 months, and it’s not even sold out. The biggest reunion tour of 2007 is old news in 2008. To paraphrase Boz Scaggs, there’s a breakdown dead ahead for the concert business, and it serves them right.

Local Rhythms – Buying Music From A Stolen Car

It’s the ultimate impulse buy, better than candy bars at the supermarket checkout counter.  While barreling down the highway at a healthy clip, I hear a song on the car radio.  It’s so good that I must have it.

With just the push of a button, and a little Internet magic, presto!  The song is mine.

Yep, that’s my dream come true.

One problem though – this indulgence is only available while driving a stolen vehicle.

This is a family newspaper, so I won’t spend too much time discussing the various criminal activities one engages in while playing Grand Theft Auto IV.  Players of this video game score points for hit and run accidents, engage in competitive drunk driving; there’s enough sex and violence to make Quentin Tarantino seem quaint.

It’s also selling faster than the last Harry Potter book, which didn’t require a $500 XBox or PS3 to read.

What this blood-soaked fantasy says about our culture is the subject someone else’s column.  I’m only interested in how GTA IV is being used to sell music.

I wish my FM dial were as cool as GTA IV’s make-believe one.  It features hip DJs like Lazlow Jones of XM Radio’s “Underground Hard Drive,” fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and the ageless Iggy Pop.

There are18 different “Liberty City” stations, playing everything from disco to hardcore punk (L.C.H.C., hosted by Murphy’s Law lead singer Jimmy Gestapo).

Of course, there’s classic rock – some laws can’t be broken.

Players mark songs with a quick call on the in-game cell phone; registered users receive a real world email containing an Amazon Music Store purchase link.

This isn’t the first video game to sell digital music.  The incredibly successful Rock Band sold 2.5 million songs in eight weeks, and just recently began offering entire albums by bands like Pixies and the Cars.  The difference is that Rock Band music is sold only for game use; GTA songs can be played anywhere.

It’s not quite seamless – yet.  But is it fanciful to imagine punching up a GTA song and having it auto-magically appear on a wirelessly equipped iPod Touch?

How about when I hear a great tune in a Liberty Mutual ad, or a Feist remix on “Grey’s Anatomy”?

If the music business would just take a break from lawsuits, the technology exists to make it happen.

Here’s some cool upcoming live music that you don’t have to steal a car to enjoy:

Thursday: Sharen Conner & Mo’Jazz, Elixir – Conner was a founding member of Sensible Shoes, and has performed in the area for 25 years, including the a cappella trio Him and Hers.  Tonight, go-to guitarist Norm Wolfe and bassist Gary Matthews join her.  Norm plays in several area bands when he’s not teaching music in the Dresden School District. Matthews also works with kids, as the Vermont All-State Jazz Band Manager.

Friday: Jay Mankita, Sunapee Coffee House – This singer-songwriter tours the country in a vehicle called the Veggie Van that runs on recycled vegetable oil.  Mankita does musical programs geared to children – his most recent is called “Eat Like A Rainbow” – His original songs caused no less than Pete Seeger to gush, “come hear this guy…I think he’s one of the half dozen best songwriters today!”

Saturday: Drunk Stuntmen, Middle Earth Music Hall – It’s the penultimate weekend for Bradford’s Hobbit Hole.  This Northampton-based jam band gave the club many memorable nights over the years, so their final appearance should be stellar.  Hard to believe the Middle Earth is calling it quits.  There isn’t a venue like it anywhere, with a music-first approach and an amazing ability to attract the best talent.  What, if anything) will take its place?

Sunday: Second Wind, Bistro Nouveau – As summer approaches, things get busy in Grantham.  Friday features P.J. Pacifico, who plays music described as “a jam session between James Taylor, Matthew Sweet and Jason Mraz”.  Second Wind, as the duo of Terry Gould and Suzy Hastings is known, keep the soft rock vibe going with songs from Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan and Carole King providing the background for a Bistro Sunday deck party.

Monday: Elizabeth!, Canoe Club – Here’s a different combination: Elizabeth Dotson Westphalen is a vocalist and trombonist.  Her resume includes late night television appearances, Manhattan jazz club work and a tour with Indie rockers the Arcade Fire.  Tonight’s performance features well-regarded area guitarist David Newsam and upright bassist David Westphalen performing jazz standards, along with originals from the new Elizabeth! recording, “Hot & Silver.”

Tuesday: Pentangle Ice Cream Social, Woodstock Unitarian Church – Scottish traditionalists Atlantic Crossing perform at this event, which rallies the arts group’s volunteers.  It also serves as a welcome for new Director Buzz Boswell, who did an extraordinary job running the Lebanon Opera House for several years.  Woodstock is fortunate to have him.

Local Rhythms – Record Covers A Lost Art

Music will always touch us, but how will we touch music?

Swearing out loud while attempting to dislodge a CD from the case isn’t the same as tearing the plastic from a new album.

Once, that was a near-holy experience.

I’m as big a fan of MP3s as anyone – my first generation iPod is proof. But I miss the days when I experienced music with my hands and eyes as well as my ears.

Remember liner notes, gatefold sleeves, covers that were cut in strange shapes, like the Zippo lighter that flipped open to reveal the Wailers’ “Catch A Fire” LP, or could change appearance, like the figures in the windows on Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti”?

How do you stuff something like that onto a digital music player?

There’s a lot of talk these days about the warm sound of vinyl records. A few artists, like Tom Petty and Ryan Adams, doggedly refuse to stop releasing LPs.

Bless them, but what about the warmth of LP packaging?

The original release of the Who’s “Quadrophenia” had a 24-page booklet that I could spread out on my lap to read. Today, that would be possible if a CD jewel case were made out of magnifying glass; then perhaps I cold decipher the lyrics without going blind.

Besides, with discs all but dead, even that’s become a luxury.

When it was introduced in 1983, the compact disc shrunk an album’s canvas to about one sixth of its former size. I challenge you to name one great record cover created since then.

One British graphic designer created several iconic album jackets –Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” Wings’ “Venus and Mars” and T Rex’s “Electric Warrior” are just a few. But this company, Hipgnosis, only produced two CD covers. Most of their work came before the CD arrived.

Hipgnosis was responsible for almost all of Pink Floyd’s covers, including one which best exemplifies the visceral experience of music that I’m trying to recall now.

“Wish You Were Here” featured a disturbing photograph of two men shaking hands – one of them is on fire. The cover art was hidden beneath dark shrink-wrap, and the only way to see it was to buy the record and open it.

Try stealing that experience off of the Internet.

Engaging record sleeves, like the pair of pants with a real zipper on “Sticky Fingers,” or the manhole texture of Talking Heads’ “Fear of Music,” have no counterpart in the digital world.

On to live music:

Thursday: Johnny A., Inn on the Blues – All soul patch and swagger, this guitarist came through the rock and roll ranks with Boston band Hearts on Fire and a long stint with former J. Geils front man Peter Wolf. Like the Geils band, Johnny stands at the crossroads of rock and blues. This is especially so at his live shows, when he mixes triplets and chords with aplomb.

Friday: Hexerei, Claremont Moose – Through personnel changes and music business cruelties, Claremont’s heavy metal hope perseveres. Gratefully, their third studio album won’t share the fate of Guns n’ Roses “Chinese Democracy.” Tonight’s show features a slate of local bands, and next week (site TBA) Hexerei welcomes fans to a listening party for the eagerly anticipated “Pay Your Dues” – site TBA.

Saturday: Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, Hopkins Center – The farewell show for members of the Class of 2008. This student-led band is a Dartmouth College tradition. Surprisingly, it’s made up mainly of non-music majors; they nonetheless have the opportunity to perform with world-class musicians in addition to collegial collaborations. Tonight, the seniors are the celebrities.

Sunday: Meg Hutchinson, Armadillo’s – This Keene burrito joint has suddenly become a hotbed for the New England folk scene, welcoming the likes of Mark Erelli, Chris O’Brien and this unique singer-songwriter, who will appeal to Shawn Colvin fans. This regular Sunday series, booked by Orange Earth Productions, has upcoming visits planned from Catie Curtis and the amazing Jeffrey Foucault.

Monday: Eliza Gilkyson, Fox Run Concerts – House concerts are a wonderful addition to the music community. They’re a way for fans to get up close and personal with their favorite performers, and a means for arts patrons to show support. Fox Run shows happen at assorted locations in Western Massachusetts. Gilkyson’s songs mix confession and commentary. To find out more, visit http://www.foxrun.org.

Wednesday: Paul Rivers, Elixir – A guitar teacher at the Sharon, Vermont Independent School for the Arts (which hosts a student recital tonight if you’re interested), Rivers joined Boston phenoms Teddy & the Pandas near the end of their Sixties run, opening for everyone from the Turtles to Buddy Miles to the Kingsmen. These days, he’s playing acoustic at places like Canoe Club and Elixir, all the while hoping to find a blues band.