Local Rhythms – Love Builds a Record Store

karie-shattuckIt takes a combination of brave and crazy to break into the music business these days.

With everyone from FYE to Music Matters going under, you need that and a side of fries to open a record store.

But that’s what Karie Shattuck is doing – with a twist.

Her new business opens Saturday in Enfield.  The Local Beat, she says, is “devoted to local bands who want to sell their music.”

Shattuck got the idea at the ‘Metal Mayhem” show last Halloween at Electra.

“I wanted to buy a band’s CD and they weren’t at their table,” she says.

Three months later, she’s ready for a grand opening featuring (naturally) a bunch of local bands and a live radio broadcast by indie stalwarts 99 Rock.

Pariah Beat, the Jobz, Lilum, Shakylld, and Crowfeather are booked so far – she’s negotiating with a fifth band.

Festivities kick off at noon at the store, which is located on Route 4 in the Enfield Town Center Park, across from Family Pharmacy.

The Army wife and mother of two daughters insists that she’s filling an unmet need for bands like Stonewall, Sarvela and d’Brotherhood, whose music isn’t found in Wal-Mart or Best Buy.

Shattuck envisions the store as a place for all bands and genres to sell their CDs, along with t-shirts, stickers and other promotional items, on consignment. Fans can check out music, learn about upcoming shows, while musicians will have a gathering place beyond the ragtag club scene.

She’s starting out small, paying business costs out of pocket and hoping to make enough to cover the lease and electric bill.

If things work out, Karie hopes to launch a web site offering digital music later in the year.

So far the reception to her plans has been good.  Several well-wishers posted messages on Local Beat’s MySpace page (www.myspace.com/invisible_13). A typical note, from Concord rapper Iceman, said, “definitely looking forward to doing some business with you guys!”

Not everyone has been so congenial. The band that sparked Karie’s epiphany last Halloween politely declined her offer.

So far, though, 15 bands have said yes – and the list is growing.

A part of me thinks she’s nuts.  But I believe in doing things out of love, and it’s pretty obvious Karie’s not in it for the money.

For that, I tip my hat to her and wish The Local Beat every success.

Speaking of local, here’s some live music picks:

Thursday: Vijay Iyer Trio & Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Hopkins Center – A stunning double bill for jazz fans features Iyer, a pianist in the mold of Chick Corea and John Coltrane, along with Prieto, a gifted drummer specializing in Afro-Cuban rhythms.  Tonight is the first of two great evenings of jazz.  Tomorrow, the Brazilian guitar team of Sérgio and Odair Assad play the Hop.

Friday: Weisstronauts, Pleasant Valley Brewing Company – A nice one-two punch for this newish Saxtons River brewpub. Tonight, it’s an unplugged version of New England’s answer to the Ventures – the Weisstronauts.  Check out some of their YouTube videos for an idea of just how raucous their live shows get.  Tomorrow, Fred Eaglesmith guitarist turned solo performer Roger Marin comes to town, all twang and swagger.

Saturday: Pariah Beat & Amity Front, Main Street Museum – After their noontime set at The Local Beat, the Upper Valley musical collective hold fort at their home base, with support from an Americana band that’s played some memorable shows at Salt hill and the late, lamented Middle Earth Music Hall.  A great twin bill, in other words.  With tickets priced at a mere 8 bucks, it’s also cheap at twice the price.

Sunday: Brunch w/ Billy Rosen & Mat Getman, Bentley’s – One of my favorite area guitarists joins a talented saxophone player to serenade diners.  I think brunch is the most civilized meal of all.  Add a little jazz and winter scenes right out of a Normal Rockwell painting, and I believe it can actually add IQ points – even if it does little for your waistline.

Tuesday: Chris O’Brien, Amber Rubarth, Iron Horse – Chris is due in the area at the end of next month, but tonight he’s performing with a fine up and coming singer songwriter who decided a few years back to chuck it all and do music.  She’s sort of like Karie Shattuck, when you think of it.  Amber is a clever lyricist:  “you’re sculpture in motion/you’re unfinished art that keeps going.”

Wednesday: Sol y Canto, Keene State – Their name means “Sun and Song,” and and hopefully they’ll end the cold snap for a few hours. Sol Y Canto’s music features rich harmonies out in front, with a gorgeous tapestry of percussive sounds underneath. The ensemble features musicians from Cuba, Uruguay, Mexico and Argentina.

Local Rhythms – Keeping The Live Music Flame Alive in Southern Vermont

raym1As the 2006 Roots of the River Festival wound down, Charlie Hunter told me he was ready for a rest.  Half a year later, he was still promoting shows in Bellows Falls.

But Charlie was working on a graceful exit.

“There’s a guy in town who is very eager to learn about how one presents stuff, and he’s sort of serving as my intern,” he told me.  “My hope is … he can step up to the plate.“

That “guy” was self-described “recovering lawyer” Ray Massucco – and boy, did he ever.

Ray’s Vermont Festivals LLC is gearing up for another long weekend of Fred Eaglesmith and friends, and planning a bevy of local shows in the coming months.

He couldn’t persuade a well-known shipping company to sponsor “Fred X” – Ray’s nickname for the 10th annual show.  But everything else is firing on all cylinders.

Slide guitar ace Sonny Landreth shares the bill with Chris Smither at a Bellows Falls Opera House show opening the June event.  Red Molly and Josh Maiocco are confirmed for the weekend, while negotiations are ongoing with other big names.

Upcoming shows at Boccelli’s on the Canal include Mark Erelli with Stephen Chipman on February 6, and a great double bill featuring Boccelli’s favorite Chris O’Brien and the local debut of folksinger Jenee Halstead set for February 28.

Seth Glier and Roots show-stealer Mary Gauthier visit in March and April, respectively.

Though Massucco is continuing Charlie Hunter’s Flying Under Radar tradition of bringing the best up and coming Americana talent to southern Vermont, he’s put his own unique stamp on things.

Last fall, he persuaded the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to make its first-ever Bellows Falls appearance.  They loved the newly renovated Opera House, and will return for an encore performance in October.

Massucco says the region lacks the population density to book two shows every month.  But he’s encouraged that music fans from as far away as Northampton, Massachusetts are making the trek to Vermont for something other than skiing and leaf peeping.

As June approaches, I asked Ray how it felt to be a seasoned pro.

“I’ll tell you when I get there,” he answered modestly, cautioning that it will only be his third festival.  “I need to match Charlie’s seven, but if they are all this much fun, I’ll keep going.”

I’m betting he’ll get there.

What’s up for the weekend?

Thursday: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Rollins Chapel – The gospel quintet perform Friday at the Hop; today’s appearance is a special outreach called “The Power of Song: Singing in the African-American Tradition.” It’s an interactive vocal workshop demonstrating “how music crosses class divides to develop cooperative spirit in African-American communities.” As Pete Townshend sings – you can dance while your knowledge is growing.

Friday – (Who Are The) Brain Police, 7 Barrel Brewery – “No f-ing ballads!” is this cheeky band’s slogan.  They borrow both their name and spirit from Frank Zappa, but oddly their song list doesn’t include anything from the Mothers of Invention.  They do cover everything else, from AC/DC to the Dead Milkmen, and keep the fun quotient high.  A set highlight is their breakneck rendition of Ween’s “Stroker Ace.”

Saturday – Spectris, Stone Church (Brattleboro) – A five-band show includes local power trio Spectris, Curst, A Breath Beyond Broken, and In Memory Of Pluto – with one more to be added. This one’s for people who like their music hard and unrelenting.  It’s presented by Graveyard Booking, which has plans for at least two more Brattleboro shows in the coming months, and clear ambitions for many more.

Sunday: Click Jam, Peter Christian’s Tavern – This weekly jam session got underway at the end of December.  It features Click Horning, who fronted Night Kitchen back in the day and now leads an eponymous trio. Bill Staines and Harvey Reid, among others, have covered Click’s songs.  Former Night Kitchen member Gerry Putnam stops by occasionally, along with other friends.  It’s a nice new addition to the local scene.

Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Murphy Farm – This loose affiliation embodies the Upper Valley scene. Most of the players at this weekly jam session, based in Quechee for the winter, gig with other bands – some with several. Dave Clark often leads the festivities (though a few of his weekly missives have come from out of state); Dave’s Yellow House Media website, a great source for all things local and musical, contains a sampling of the inspired fun that transpires.

Wednesday: The Year of Magical Thinking, Briggs Opera House – Northern Stage presents this devastating account of grief and loss.  Joan Didion’s husband John Gregory Dunne died suddenly just days after their daughter entered the hospital with pneumonia (she died of pancreatitis less than a year later).  In writing about coping and caring for her sick daughter, Didion employs characteristic precision; the result is a masterpiece. Vanessa Redgrave performed the one-woman show on Broadway,

Local Rhythms – ITMS Drops DRM? BFD

no_drm_apple_sqLast week, Apple behaved more like Detroit of years past , with new fins, bells and whistles adorning their computers and software. But there was no iPhone-level breakthrough at the annual Macworld Expo.

The biggest news proved just how underwhelming the whole show was.

In April, the iTunes Music Store will go DRM-free, stripping file locking from the millions of songs it sells.

But, as they say in the news business, the company buried the lede.

Sure, the remaining record companies followed EMI, which decrypted some of their music in 2007.  But in exchange, they got variable pricing, topping out at $1.29 per song.

It’s a move that Apple’s resisted for years.

There’s no official word yet, but I’m betting it’s the most popular music that goes beyond the once-standard 99 cents per track. That’s just how this business does things.

Utter idiocy.

To paraphrase industry gadfly Bob Lefsetz, who weighed in immediately after the announcement – only gas stations are raising prices.

The bestselling books are always discounted, and CDs with one or two hits on them are loss leaders from Best Buy to Wal-Mart.  Yet these moguls think digital music, which requires no assembly line, warehouse or shipping channel, ought to cost more,

Is it any wonder they’re bleeding red ink?

Anyway, I find the whole no-DRM discussion beside the point.  e-Music, with perhaps the best legal indie music catalog anywhere, has been doing it forever, and they don’t rule the world.

Music from iTunes is easily bought, and (up to now, anyway) simply understood.

But without the computer/iPod synergy with iTunes, it’s nothing.  Besides, 90 percent of music stored on portable devices is already DRM-free, because it was ripped from CD or stolen online.

Now, if an all-you-can-eat rental service went DRM-free, that would be newsworthy.  I swear by Rhapsody.  For 15 bucks a month, I get all the music I want when I want it.

My biggest problem with this unlimited library is that I can’t play it on an iPod.

Fix that little difficulty, and the iTunes Music Store will lose its cool factor in a Cupertino minute.

Which is why this big move is such small beer.  Anyone with an iPod gets music from Apple already.  I’d love to hear how many people even care that their songs are handcuffed.

However, if the next Justin Timberlake single costs 30 cents more, they may start paying attention.

When that happens, I’m guessing it won’t be a good thing – for Apple or the music business.

Now, on to the local scene:

Thursday: Johnny Winter & James Montgomery, Latchis Theatre – At 17, I snuck into a bar to see the lightning-fingered Winter play blues guitar.  It was mesmerizing.  Though he’s frail these days (like B.B. King, he performs sitting down), the flame still burns.  With harmonica genius Montgomery at his side, it should be a great evening. The event benefits the Brattleboro High School Marching Band’s trip to next Tuesday’s Presidential inauguration.  They’re the only Vermont band to receive the honor.

Friday: Elsa Cross, Salt hill Pub – The flood of Seacoast bands to Salt hill continues with this Americana singer-songwriter who claims Loretta Lynn’s music gave her an out of body experience, and whose own songs have been compared to a female Johnny Cash.  Accompanied by Steve Roy on upright bass, and PJ Donahue of the Amorphous Band, her debut Lebanon performance should be a barn burner.

Saturday: Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca, Hopkins Center – Spanish guitar and staccato heels feature in this centuries-old tradition, along with clapping, singing and incessant rhythm.  Dancer Soledad Barrio “dances as if possessed by the spirit of a Gypsy encampment…She breathes the essence of flamenco,” according to the New York Times.  After the show (which also plays Friday), there will be a question and answer session with Barrio and her husband Martin Santangelo, who directs the Madrid-based troupe.

Sunday: Johnny B and the Goodes with Ted Mortimer, Plainfield Town Hall – Johnny Bishop’s harp playing is a throwback to the masters of old – I loved his recent album.  Ted’s an ace guitarist with a delicate touch.  With a famous Maxfield Parrish mural as a backdrop, these guys will play the blues while celebrating next week’s inauguration. This event is BYOB, and I suspect they’ll be a lot of champagne corks popping, PBR music notwithstanding

Tuesday: Inauguration Party with Dr. Burma, Whaleback Ski Area – Our new president is at the center of several events tonight, including a Skunk Hollow open mike. The Whaleback party is dubbed “Brick by Brick: A Community Building Party.” It both celebrates the events in D.C. and shines a light on work done by non-profit organizations in the community. The Upper Valley Land Trust, the Upper Valley Haven, Vital Communities, and the Upper Valley United Way are represented so far – suggested donation is five dollars.

Local Rhythms – Turntable Turn-on

s_turntableEverything old is new again.

For example, the downward trend of the music business’s general state remains unchanged, but one rare bright spot is a throwback – turntables.

Digital track sales are up, while CD sales are down – no surprise there.  But the biggest industry growth area is a bit shocking.  Vinyl album sales have nearly doubled in the last year.

That’s only a million or so LPs, and with disc sales plummeting exponentially more, not enough to save the day.  But it’s good to know warm, honest sound is back in vogue.

I have a record player and I’m not afraid to use it, but I’ll need something better than my 1989 Technics model to enjoy the current generation of long players (top seller: Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” followed by the Beatles’ “Abbey Road”).

The vinyl’s heavier, which makes for better sound, but the price tag is also weighty – over 20 bucks each for most platters.

So I prowl the swap meets and EBay auctions for out of print gems like the Fools’ “Sold Out” or the first (and only) Cowboy Jazz album.  I also try not to wonder why the LP is suddenly such an expensive format.

Didn’t’ CDs double the price of music when they replaced vinyl 25 years ago?  Maybe those in the business expect folks who held album-dumping garage sales in the 80s to once again pay through the nose to replace their entire collections.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Leaving the circular firing squad to its own devices (hey, we have a newly successful sales formula – let’s price it out of everyone’s reach!), I’m heartened by another trend.  Digital album sales increased in 2008, which is good news for anyone who believes it takes more than one good song to make a great musician.

If folks are going to iTunes for more than the odd Katy Perry single, things could be improving.  But I’m not holding my breath.

This week, I’m at the annual MacWorld conference in San Francisco, where video and iPhone apps come up in conversation more than music does. Rumors swirl about Steve Jobs’ absence (is he sick? No, just protein deficient.), Apple’s decision to withdraw after 2009 (are they smug?), but I doubt even an iTunes Vinyl Store would shake things up.

DRM is gone, but it’s too late.

After years of industry dithering, coupled with ever-widening entertainment options, everyone’s moved on.  Even Apple can’t save them.

Here’s the area live music slate:

Thursday: Wise Rockobili, Firestones – This is creative self-expression night, I guess.  Salt hill, Casa del Sol and Clear River Tavern host open mike nights, while 7 Barrel Brewery recently launched Karaoke Thursdays.   This Quechee restaurant features a revolving ringmaster – next week is Tad Davis, followed on January 22 by Guy Burlage.  Bring your axe and your courage.

Friday: Jimmy Dunn’s Comedy All-Stars, Claremont Opera House – The host of NESN’s “Fan Attic” is the ringleader for an evening of stand-up comedy that includes Paul D’Angelo, Rich Ceisler and Tony Moschetto.  There’s nothing like a lot of hearty laughter to shake away the winter blues.   Expect a lot of Boston-centric humor, although Moschetto has worked everywhere, including Beijing, so who knows?  Anything can happen, all of it funny.

Saturday: Dr. Burma, Salt hill Pub – One of my favorite albums of 2008 came from this Upper Valley R&B outfit, which has a reputation for packing the dance floor at Salt Hill with some inspired, high energy sounds.   I particularly like their version John Hiatt’s smoldering song, “The Crush,” but the original material contained on “One Bite Won’t Kill You” is also first rate.  DB’s always a great party, tonight at a music-loving venue.

Sunday: Richard “Dobbs” Hartshorne, St. Thomas Episcopal Church – Everyone calls this upright bassist and storyteller by one name – Dobbs.  Today’s show is a benefit for the Upper Valley Music Center.  It includes a lecture called “Hope Through Music” that recounts his work with children, refugees, and prisoners in Afghanistan, Palestine, and the U.S, as well as a performance of Dobbs’ own unique musical work.

Tuesday: Singer & Jordan, Tip Top Café – Phil Singer and Lucianne Jordan play authentic folk music, show tune and fun stuff from every era..  For an example of what they do, check out Phil’s recently launched web site, dogandponymusic.com, with free downloads of his many songs (he’s been making music since the mid-60s), as well as lyrics and a growing section for tunes from his many musical friends.

Wednesday: The Wood Brothers, Higher Ground – Both Oliver and Chris Wood spent time in other bands – Oliver in King Johnson, Chris in jazz genre-benders Medeski, Martin & Wood – before forming a duo and releasing “Ways Not to Lose” in 2006.  They’ve played their brand of stripped down blues-rock for audiences at Bonnaroo and Carnegie Hall.  Tonight, it’s Northern Vermont.