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.”