Antje Duvekot coming to Boccelli’s 2 July 2009

Richard Shindell & Antje Duvekot performing at Boccelli's last March
Richard Shindell & Antje Duvekot performing at Boccelli's last March

For many watching Richard Shindell’s performance at Boccelli’s last March, the high point came when Antje Duvekot joined him on stage.

Her airy voice hushed the room as the two worked through “Vertigo” – a song that typifies the beauty and danger coursing through much of Duvekot’s work.

Love is a balancing act at dizzying heights, with survival uncertain, “but I am teaching myself to be brave,” she sang.

Those who hungered for more of the German-born folksinger that night will get their wish when Antje Duvekot (pronounced Aunt-yuh Doo-va-kot) headlines Boccelli’s on the Canal next Thursday (July 2).; Chris O’Brien opens.

Duvekot’s second studio album, aptly titled “The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer,” more than delivers on the promise of the many accolades Duvekot has received since arriving on the Boston music scene.

She looks inward on songs like “Lighthouse” and “Scream,” and sees a lot of sadness – “there’s not too many people that I really call my friends” she says at one point.  But she holds out hope for redemption on the sweet, spare “Coney Island” when she asks her lover to “kiss me on the mouth like it was the first time and I will pretend to resist /‘cause in a world so full of troubles I think that we’ve had enough.”

The self-reflection is a departure from earlier, topical songs like the hard-hitting “Judas,” which depicts the slow progression of an abused teenager into a Columbine-style killer.

“Jerusalem,” a standout track from Duvekot’s first official studio album (“Big Dream Boulevard”) painted the Israel/Palestine conflict as hopeless and endless, with both sides “casting poisonous seeds for your children to reap out of the rubble of hatred.”

“I still don’t know exactly why I am so fascinated by darkness and suffering,” Duvekot said in 2006.  “I guess because it’s so incomprehensible, when you process sad news like a shooting or a war, you can’t just wrap it up and find closure by just hearing about it.”

“You want to dissect it and interact with the emotions, because they’re really powerful,” she continued.  “I always felt like I needed to process that by creating or talking about it some more.  To handle it, that’s something I need to do.  I can’t really tell you why – it’s real and serious and important to me.”

Shindell produced the new record, but didn’t bring a heavy hand to his role.  “With a voice like hers, and songs as good as these,” he explains, “a producer … just tries to get out of the way, to do no harm, and to let the artist speak for herself.”

Four of the eleven songs on the new album appeared on earlier releases, and it’s a testament to Duvekot’s artistic maturity how fresh they sound today.

The buoyant “Merry-Go-Round” has been re-recorded twice since appearing on the self-released “Little Peppermints” in 2002 – most recently, for a Bank of America commercial.

The travelogue song “Long Way” (also from “Little Peppermints”) gets a fresh update with help from one of Duvekot’s personal heroes, John Gorka.  Gorka also sings backing vocals on “Reasonland,” reworked (along with “Dublin Boys”) from 2005’s indie release “Boys, Flowers and Miles.”

Folk world luminaries who have showered praise on Duvekot include Seamus Egan, who produced “Big Dream Boulevard”, and covered four of her songs with his band Solas.  Singer-songwriter Ellis Paul signed her to his Black Wolf Records label, and has provided musical support in the studio.

Noted rock critic Dave Marsh called Duvekot “the whole package,” adding that that the last time he’d been so moved by an artist was upon first hearing Patty Griffin.

The praise for Duvekot’s probing and knowing work could fill many more pages.

“When I first heard Antje I knew I was witnessing something very special,” said Neil Dorfsman, who’s produced Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Sting. “She creates an entire, detailed world in verse, and takes you there with beautiful and understated melody. Her songs are stunning paintings of color and shade and always generate the heat and light that real art should. In an un-poetic and ‘in your face’ world, she is lyrical and subtle.”

Local Rhythms – Fine dining in Claremont, NH

Picture 1Let’s talk about food.

I remember my first night in Claremont almost 30 years ago.

After wrapping up a six-hour shift on the radio, I was looking for something to do.  The Shades (a band from my then-hometown Worcester) were playing a club gig.

Having no clue about regional geography, I planned on going – until learning the show was 45 minutes away.

Since then, I’ve grown accustomed to a long journey as the first course of many meals.

Lately, however, things are changing.

Claremont could become a dining destination, not a departure station.

Let’s start with the buzz around the new Common Man Restaurant.

I sat on the brick patio overlooking the Sugar River the other night, enjoying a pint of their signature ale, watching a steady stream of people pass by.

All were incredulous at the expanse of waterfalls and freshly rehabilitated mill buildings, which include condos, offices and a 35-room hotel.

It felt like I was sitting at a magnet for the rest of New England – if not the world.

“Are we really in Claremont?” was the constant refrain of the seemingly ‘Oz-struck’ patrons.

Inside, the dining room was packed, and the bar was humming.  The food’s great (I had the duck), the desserts sublime.

If Common Man was the only story, it would still be a good one – but there’s more.

Carmella’s, specializing in fresh pasta, homemade meatballs and fettuccini alfredo, is opening (a sign in the window says “July-ish”) in the Pleasant Street location vacated by Sophie & Zeke’s when they moved to their posh new digs in Opera House Square.

Factor in the Pleasant Street Restaurant (don’t miss the popovers), and downtown’s positively jumping.

Across town, Bistro Nouveau jump-started the Claremont fine dining movement a few years ago, before moving to Eastman.

Soon, their empty Washington Street location will emerge as Kouzoku, a Japanese steak house with hibachi tables and performing chefs.

Kouzoku, which also features traditional tatami rooms and a sushi bar, comes from the ownership of Imperial Garden, a place that’s given the live music scene a big boost.

They hope to open by the end of July.

That’s three new fine dining locations in a month’s time. Call it what you want – a renaissance, a surprise or simply long overdue – my backyard has never looked so good.

Yes, I’m really in Claremont – waiting for you.

What’s the rest of the week look like?

Thursday: Norris Cotton Silent Auction, Eastman Events Center – Reservations are required for this event, which includes desserts from Bistro Nouveau and music from Second Wind, the duo of Terry Ray Gould and Suzi Hastings – along with a few guests.  All proceeds benefit NCCC, which provides the latest medical technology and assistance to those stricken with the disease.

Friday: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, Hanover Green – A free show by a West African group that met in Guinea refugee camp.  The music they made there became the subject of a much-heralded documentary.  Their sound blends autobiographical lyrics celebrating freedom with an infectious reggae beat. It will be cool to see them outdoors on the big lawn – not many shows happen there (unless Dartmouth graduation counts).

Saturday: Adam McMahon Trio, Silver Fern – An excellent addition to Claremont’s downtown, serving drinks, pub food and providing fans of English football (uh, soccer) a place to indulge their pastime.  There’s also live music on the weekends, including this blues player, a former member of the Larry Dougher Band, another frequent Silver Fern performer.

Sunday: Strawberry Festival, Cedar Circle Farm – Localvore denizens converge around this East Thetford farm, with music provided by the Strawberry Farm Band, a Bath, NH band specializing in progressive bluegrass. The event includes horse-drawn wagon rides, strawberry picking, Gabriel Q puppetry, a VINS raptor demo, strawberry shortcake and wood-fired pizzas.

Monday: Vermont Symphony Orchestra & Fireworks, Quechee Polo Grounds – It’s Lake Champlain’s Quadricentennial honoring Vermont’s own Uncle Sam – Samuel de Champlain, who discovered the lake named after him in 1609. The VSO programs includes Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” show tunes from South Pacific and Les Misérables, a patriotic John Phillip Sousa section and the 1812 Overture, complete with a show in the sky.

Tuesday: Susan Tedeschi, Paramount Theatre – The blues diva, who just announced a November LOH appearance, comes to Rutland.  She’s got brass – I love her comment about meeting the Rolling Stones a few years ago.  “I’m not intimidated by a bunch of British rockers,” she said. “I’d be intimidated by Howlin’ Wolf if I met him, but I’m not intimidated by those guys.” Ha!

Wednesday: Atlantic Crossing, Strafford Unitarian Church – The first in a series of shows, which run through August 19, features a Vermont-based band specializing in Celtic rhythms.  Future performers include Damn Yankee String Band (7/8), Skellig (7/15) and the trio of Jeremiah McLane, Sarah Blair and David Surette (8/5).

Paisley shines, Bentley intrigues @ Meadowbrook

Picture 1Country music today is what rock and roll was in 1974 – exciting, surprising and fan driven.

It’s exciting when guitar legend B.B. King lends his talents (on “Let The Good Times Roll”) to Brad Paisley’s guitar mash note, “Play.” It’s surprising when Americana goddess Patty Griffin trades vocals with Dierks Bentley on the tender, twangy “Beautiful World.”

On Sunday night at Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion, Paisley delivered the goods in spectacular fashion. But it was Bentley who ended up leaving the strongest impression.

Trucker caps and cowboy hats outnumbered headbands in the crowd, but onstage the power chord quota was high. Bentley laid out his agenda on the first song of the night (“Sideways”), declaring, “Take that redneck stuff outside, that’s what parking lots are for.”

The lanky Bentley mixed decent guitar playing with better singing, ranging across the enormous stage like a sprinter and covering a lot of real estate in the process. By his second song, the whisper/scream “Trying to Stop Your Leaving,” the crowd was also on their feet.

They remained standing until Bentley finished his 45-minute set, which included “Every Mile A Memory,” Feel That Fire,” “What Was I Thinking” (his first hit, with a tasty Tim Sergeant dobro solo) and his closer, the good-time anthem, “Free and Easy Down the Road I Go.”

Paisley, wearing  a white cowboy hat and CAO Cigar T-shirt, opened modestly enough, strolling to the end of a long ramp (extending across two-thirds of the floor) to sing the opening notes of “Start A Band” into a Grand Old Opry-branded microphone.

But the rest of the show was a full-scale production, as Paisley worked the stage’s risers and catwalks, while giant images flashed, music video style, across a 20-foot high screen stretched behind him. The entire set requires 14 semi trucks to move from town to town (it’s hard to believe Gilford was the tour’s third stop in three nights), and would have been more at home in a hockey rink or baseball stadium than the relatively intimate amphitheatre.

The show’s spectacle also seemed at odds with Paisley’s working class sensibilities, and at times it overshadowed the music. Fortunately, he eschewed smoke bombs and lasers.

Paisley devoted a good part of the evening to selections from the forthcoming “American Saturday Night” album, some – “You Do The Math” and the title cut – better than others. “Water” was overly earnest, while “The Pants” was a bit silly. Women in the crowd, however, did delight in the song’s refrain – “it’s not who wears the pants/it’s who wears the skirt.”

Even though serious selections like “When I Get To Where I’m Going” and his current chart-topping ballad, “Then” resonated with the crowd, Paisley played most of the night for laughs.

“Ticks,” “Alcohol,” “Celebrity,” “Online” and “I’m Still a Guy” are all charming, funny songs, and they worked as crowd pleasers. But too much shtick gets old.

And it was disappointing to see Brad Paisley, one of country music’s most gifted guitarists, perform form 90 minutes without playing a single instrumental – even if he did play an crackling cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.”

Next year, Dierks Bentley should headline his own Meadowbrook show – he’s that good. At the same time, Brad Paisley probably won’t ditch the entourage, tour buses and gear-laden tractor-trailers to hit the road with just a pickup truck and a guitar – but one can hope.

Local Rhythms – What’s the buzz?

sierrahull02-280x210Ever had a conversation that begins with the question, “have you heard [insert musician’s name]?” – followed by the statement, “they’re the next [insert musician’s name].”?

If you’re talking with Partridge “Buzz” Boswell, here’s some advice: pay attention.

Buzz has ears, as they say in the trade, and during his 10-year tenure at the Lebanon Opera House, he booked some great shows.

So when Buzz became Executive Director at Pentangle Council of the Arts, I expected good things.

He has not disappointed, with a sold-out Brandi Carlile show in March so far the highest of many high points.

Lebanon residents will welcome the news that Buzz is again curator of the Front Porch Music Series in Colburn Park, which begins next Thursday with Rustic Overtones.

The free shows (start time: 7:30) run through August 20.  Among the great names scheduled – Steve Forbert  (7/9), Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem (7/16) and Catie Curtis (8/6).

When I called Buzz to talk about this, he responded with a question:

“Have you heard Sierra Hull?  She’s the next Alison Krauss.”

The last mandolin player to get Buzz this excited was Chris Thile.  This led to Nickel Creek’s first area performance.

I still get a chill in my spine thinking about that concert, one of the ten best I’ve ever seen.

So I checked out the 16-year old prodigy on Rhapsody.  Sure enough, she’s the real deal, with a debut album featuring a who’s who of the bluegrass world.

Hull performs July 23 in Colburn Park.  She appears the day before in Woodstock (7/22) for a special “Market on the Green Community Concert”.

Speaking of Woodstock, Buzz also put together their Brown Bag Music Series, which happens every Thursday at noon.  This summer’s schedule kicks off June 25 with roots rocker Bow Thayer, repeating every Thursday through August 13.

Regional stars dominate the lunchtime shows (rain location: Town Hall Theatre), including 35h Parallel (7/2), Starline Rhythms Boys (7/9), Sensible Shoes (8/6) and the utterly unique Prydein, who mix hard rock with bagpipes.

As if Buzz’s plate weren’t full enough, Pentangle is also presenting the “@ Six Series” – three big-name summer concerts at the Suicide Six ski resort.

Shawn Colvin and Lori McKenna play July 18, Eric Hutchinson with Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers August 8, and a New Orleans night with the Neville Brothers and Dr. John August 29.

I’m glad Buzz is still in the game – here’s the rest of the week:

Thursday: Juke Joynt, Firestones – 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).  Led by Dave Clark, the band also performs tomorrow at the Quechee Balloon Festival.

Friday: 6th Anniversary Party w/ Sirsy, Salt hill Pub – Lebanon’s tavern on the green marks another birthday – how soon before we can call it institution?  Since opening in 2003, ShP has expanded to Newport and announced plans for a new location in Hanover.  Along the way, proprietors Josh and Joe Tuohy have  been a first-rate source for exposing new bands like Sirsy (a two-piece that’s much greater than the sum of its parts) to live music fans.

Saturday: Blue Rooster, Lake Morey Inn – A rockabilly/alt-country band influenced by the Stones, Hank Williams Jr. and Led Zeppelin – how’s that for diversity?  Led by Kenny Odell, a musician who’s been a part of the local scene for about as long as there’s been a local scene, Blue Rooster plays covers and originals with one simple objective at the forefront: to make you dance.

Sunday: Quechee Balloon Festival – Starting Friday, the skies above Quechee are filled with beautiful hot air balloons, while the ground below teems with a multitude of diversions, including music, Bands include the Flames, Will Patton, Avi & Celia and Changes in Latitudes.  Check out queecheeballoonfestival.com for a full lineup.  Dads (accompanied by a child) get half-price admission on Sunday.

Tuesday: She Loves Me, New London Barn – This musical ran on Broadway in 1963, and was pretty much forgotten until 2004, when a revival at New York’s Paper Mill caused the New York Times to call it “a diamond salvaged from the dustbin,” praising its’ “witty lyrics” and “inventive melodies.”  Anyone who’s seen “You’ve Got Mail” will recognize the play’s ‘mystery pen pal’ plot.

Wednesday: New York Dolls, Higher Ground – Once upon a time, this band was the Next Big Thing, but drugs, excess and no small amount of hubris kept them from being more than an NYC curiosity.  Only two members survive; fortunately they – David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain – were the most charismatic and talented in the group.  Their new Todd Rundgren-produced album is pretty good, too.

Jenny Brook’s New Tunbridge Home

Picture 3The Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival has a new home – Tunbridge, Vermont – and a more ambitious focus this year.

The latter, says founder/director Candi Sawyer, is a circumstance born of necessity.  The venue change required the four-day festival to begin a week earlier than usual.  Many performers who’d played Jenny Brook in years past were already committed to another regional event.

“I didn’t have a lot of local bands to choose from, so we just had to jump up to the next level,” says Sawyer.

So while a lot of the performers are new to Sawyer’s festival (which begins with a Wednesday night barn dance and continues through Sunday), they are well known in the bluegrass circuit, says Sawyer.

Relocating the festival’s home since its start nine years ago was simpler, says Sawyer.  “We had to move out of Weston we ran out of room. We had to relocate or cancel.”

“It’s too good a festival to let go.”

Sawyer is particularly looking forward to the Next Best Thing, a new band from Nashville featuring Rhonda Vincent’s daughters Sally and Tensel Sandker.

“They are hot out of the box,” says Sawyer, “I think that’s gonna turn some heads. I’m kind of excited because in years to come I can say I got them when they were brand new.”

The Katahdin Valley Boys from Maine and the Boston-based Reunion Band will perform at Jenny Brook for the first time this year.  Breakin’ Strings, a six-member group from Maine, appeared in a festival showcase last year and finished second to a preteen fiddler.

“I really think they should have come in first,” says Sawyer.  “They had the whole thing, the emcee work, they were dressed well – the whole package.”

So Breakin’ Strings was asked to perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  “I like to give credit where credit’s due,” explains Candi.

Sawyer was able to book a few bands from past festivals, including the Pine Hill Ramblers, Bear Tracks, Plexigrass and perennial headliners the Gibson Brothers.  Though she didn’t ask for the changes, Candi is optimistic.

“I think it happened for a reason, and we’re going to have a bigger variety this year.”

The new location allows for more activities like Wednesday’s barn dance.  Though dismantling the stage in Weston was bittersweet, the move to Tunbridge was, she says, elating:

“There’s a photo essay on our web site, and if you look at the pictures of us pulling in, you can almost feel the excitement.  It’s a very good feeling.  It’s a beautiful facility.”

“Weston’s really kind of a stuck up town in a way.  They really don’t like the music; the locals are not supportive at all.  Moving to Tunbridge, different people are coming down telling me how excited they are that we’re coming to the area, and thanking us for the business.  We never got that in Weston.”

“It’s a good feeling,” she says.  “It feels like we’re wanted.”

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival
June 18, 19, 20 & 21
Tunbridge Fairgrounds

The Gibson Brothers (Saturday)
Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper (Friday)
Leroy Troy & Tennessee Mafia Jug Band (Thursday, Friday, Saturday)
Audie Blaylock & Redline (Sunday)
Karl Shiflett & Big Country (Saturday)
The Next Best Thing (Saturday)
Bear Tracks (Saturday)
Reunion Band (Friday)
Smokey Greene (Thursday)
Katahdin Valley Boys (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
Plexigrass (Friday, Saturday)
Breakin’ Strings (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
Pine Hill Ramblers (Thursday, Sunday)
Brenda Mathews & Friends (Thursday, Friday)
Bear Minimum (Sunday)

Hosted by the Seth Sawyer Band and the Sawyer Brothers, who perform throughout the festival.

Tickets:
4-day – $85.00
Thursday – $20.00
Friday – $30.00 ($20.00 after 6 PM)
Saturday – $30.00 ($20.00 after 6 PM)
Sunday – $20.00

Children 16 & under free, 17 & 18 half-price (must be accompanied by adult)

Call 802-463-1184 for more information

Fred X – Great music, and cake for everyone

Picture 5As show time approached, music fans milled in front of the Bellows Falls Opera House, munching on barbeque and comparing notes from past festivals.  Downstairs in the reception area, festival organizer Ray Massucco unveiled an enormous “Fred X” cake, and later when he introduced local singer/songwriter Josh Maiocco, he offered everyone in the house a piece.

It’s Roots on the River, a musical Brigadoon that materializes every June in the mist of Bellows Falls and Rockingham.  For four wonderful days, any music lover can be part of community – there’s enough cake for everyone

Stave, Gary, Jackie and Amy, who traveled from Great Britain for the festival, commiserated with their friend Randy, who’d made the trek from northern California.   Soon, their friend John joined them.

“I came to my first Roots in 2007,” said John, who’d come from Manchester, England.  “Now, I have a girlfriend in Saxton’s River.”

Picture 3Josh Maiocco worked though a short set of autobiographical songs and a few covers, including a tasty medley of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

“No way I’m playing here without doing a Chris Whitley song,” Josh said, as he ended with “Dirt Floor,” a poignant reminder of Whitley’s last ever appearance, at the 2005 festival.

A laid-back Chris Smither won the house over with his good humor and great songwriting.  There’s probably no musician as comfortable in his own skin as the New Orleans-raised Smither, a writer/essayist who spent nearly as much time telling stories as singing songs during his set.

He previewed songs from the upcoming “Time Stands Still,” a studio album due for September release.  Among the highlights was a song he wrote for his four-year old daughter  (he quipped that she’d written two thirds of it, but he didn’t want to tell her because “then she’ll want money”), a conversation between father and daughter which contained this knowing refrain: “The wisest answer’s one you’ve learned a long time ago: ‘I don’t know’”

Picture 4Smither introduced another new song, “Surprise, Surprise,” as “topical – which is just as hard to write as a regular song, but only lasts for six months or so.  With such a short shelf life, you have to play it a lot.”

After two relatively sedate, sit-down solo sets from Maiocco and Smither, Sonny Landreth’s brand of Southern blues-rock was a bit jarring, and a few fans made an early exit.   Fans of the slide guitarist, however, were  electrified by his high-energy pyrotechnics.

It was  a great kickoff to the festival, which continues tomorrow with a free Ninja Monkey/Spike Dogtooth show at the Farmer’s Market, and the first of Fred Eaglesmith’s  shows in the tent behind the Everyday Inn.  Ray Massucco commissioned another cake specially for the show, in the shape of co-star Junior Brown’s “guit-steel” guitar.

It’s Brown’s birthday, and Ray’s a hospitable guy. There will probably be plenty to share.

Tickets remain for Friday night’s show, and the all-day Saturday ten extravaganza, featuring Eaglesmith’s band, the Bottle Rockets, Hayes Carll, Roger Marin, the Sweetback Sisters, Caroline Herring, Red Molly and Jenee Halstead.

There are also seats available for the Meetinghouse show on Sunday, featuring Eaglesmith and Jeffrey Foucault.

Roots On The River – Fredheads Fret Fest Forecast

Picture 1Southern Vermont’s most awesome weekend of music begins tonight at the Bellows Falls Opera House, continuing at locations in and around BF and Rockingham.  Foremost in the thoughts of many (especially show organizer Ray Massucco) is the current unstable weather system.

The bad news is that an inch and a half of rain is expected tonight, ending tomorrow afternoon.  The good news?  Tonight’s show is indoors, and Friday’s free BF Farmer’s Market will begin after the rains end – if the forecast holds.

Precipitation probability is 70 percent at 10 AM Friday, 30 percent by 2 o’clock.  Saturday’s too early to call – some showers, pretty warm (upper 70s), lots of clouds.  When Jenee Halstead sings the opening verse of “Before I Go,” it won’t matter – the music will take over the way it always does, deluge or no.