This week’s Hippo

In this week’s Music Roundup, I talk about my new favorite female singer-songwriter, Amy Petty.  There’s also news about a multi-band metal show at Rocko’s, country music from Branded: No Rules at Circle 9 Ranch, and a show from Bulletproof Messenger at Milly’s

Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider and Bruce Robison are performing at Tupelo Music Hall this Sunday. I had a great talk with REK, and my story is linked here:

The “guitar pull” — a few musicians sitting in a circle trading tunes — wasn’t invented in Texas. But guys like Jerry Jeff Walker, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen helped make it an art form. This Sunday, Oct. 25, New Hampshire music fans will get a rare glimpse of this tradition as Keen, Todd Snider and Bruce Robison visit Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry to swap songs and stories.

It’s anybody’s guess what the balance between the two will be, but Keen expects a raconteur’s night out.

This Week’s Compass

Worth driving out of town

Rickie Lee Jones
Iron Horse Music Hall
Northampton, Mass.

Distance: 86 miles
When: Monday, October 26, 7PM
Tickets: $50/$55 door

30 years ago, Rickie Lee Jones arrived on the music scene with a flawless, eponymous debut album. She dated Tom Waits, Lowell George covered her songs, Rolling Stone put her on the cover, and a Saturday Night Live appearance in those heady pre-cable days vaulted her into public consciousness. On the strength of a Top 10 hit “Chuck E.’s In Love”), she won a Best New Artist Grammy, and Time magazine dubbed her the “Duchess of Coolsville.”

Jones’ early career happened when record labels let artists follow their muse (particularly quirky million-sellers). She touched down on many styles in the ensuing years, covering Tin Pan Alley, the Beatles and even Jimi Hendrix. She made synthesizer-driven jazz-rock; a duet with Dr. John of the ribald standard “Makin’ Whoopee” earned her another Grammy.

In short, Jones hasn’t lost her ability to surprise, so her upcoming “Balm in Gilead,” made with support from all-stars like Ben Harper, Vic Chestnutt, Bill Frisell, Victoria Williams and Alison Krauss, is one of the most anticipated albums of the year.  A chance to see her in an intimate setting like the Iron Horse, which seats just a few hundred, shouldn’t be missed.

Local Music Spotlight

Who: Hexerei
What: Claremont metal stalwarts
Sounds like: Pantera, Slayer

If passion were money, Hexerei would be millionaires.  The Claremont-based band personifies the D.I.Y. ethic required for success in today’s music business.  Through sheer determination as much as talent, they’ve created a solid following throughout New England with their hard-edged music – heavy metal with a beating heart.  Their latest, “Paid in Full,” has a darker mood than Hexerei’s first two CDs (“Book of Shadows” and “27”), but no less a sense of purpose.

Much of the band’s drive comes from their lyricist and lead singer who was, as the expression goes, born for this.  By the time he was 9 years old, Travis Pfenning had seen his first metal show, played in a band and met his first groupie.  His two older brothers regaled him with tales of backing GG Allin, the notorious rock monster famous for rolling in glass and committing unspeakable acts onstage.  How could a small town boy resist?

Over the years, Hexerei has helped a lot of area bands make their way through the music jungle.  Stonewall got an early boost opening shows and winning a Hexerei-sponsored battle of the bands. A new Claremont melodic hardcore band, Rumors of Betrayal, will open an upcoming West Lebanon show.

Upcoming gigs:

Oct 23 2009      8:00P    Imperial Lounge w/ Soul Octane Burner, TranScenT
Oct 31 2009     5:00P    Claremont Moose Lodge w/ The Agonist, Last Chance to Reason, TranScenT & Hung
Nov 13 2009     8:00P    Electra Night Club w/ TranScenT and Till We Die

Mark your calendar

Who: Spectris Halloween Bash
Where: East Buffet
When: Saturday, Oct. 31, 8 p.m.
Tickets: Free (21+ only)

Claremont, Chinese food and wall-rattling rock & roll go together well it seems. East Buffet, located across from Citizens Bank on Pleasant Street, began offering live music a few months ago. By most accounts, it’s doing pretty well with it. They just dropped the cover charge in their recently renovated lounge, so this is one of the few free admission Halloween parties in the area. There will be prizes for best costumes, decorations and an appearance by the Budweiser Girls.

Spectris recently released “Industry,” a powerful record that recalls the complex instrumental interplay and tempo changes of bands like Rush and Tool. Other album high points: the psychedelic blues of “Grey Area,” and “Crossing,” a sort of Cream meets Metallica boogie. While their originals deserve a listen, it’s covers that fill a dance floor, and Spectris has plenty, from AC/DC to a roiling version of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” They do an Aerosmith song or two, and plan to unleash a hell-bent redo of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” no doubt honoring the flaming rum center of the tasty East Buffet scorpion bowl.

Local Rhythms – No static at all

Two years ago, Newport native Steve Smith came home to start a radio station. After several years running a Clear Channel affiliate (with no regrets, he’s quick to point out), he was looking for a new direction.

Steve’s goal was simple – serve the community. “That’s what every radio station should do,” he told me the other day.

After a lot of research, he came up with a country music format that suited local sensibilities, but managed to satisfy his music maven instincts at the same time.

So it’s a given that WCNL plays every generation of Hank Williams, along with Loretta Lynn and Toby Keith.
But the Johnny Cash selections are both well known and obscure. “One of the great surprises I’ve had on this station is discovering all the great Cash music I missed,” says Smith.

Best of all, there’s room for artists that draw from country roots, like the Amazing Rhythm Aces and the Byrds, and the Eagles, a band that influenced modern players like Travis Tritt and Toby Keith.

Steve is proud of hometown-produced shows like the Sunday morning “Joyful Noise” gospel program, and “Tiger Talk,” which is written, produced and presented by Newport High School students. It includes a 15-minute school news segment.

But he gets his biggest charge from non-musical moments.

“Last Friday, the Newport football game was moved to one in the afternoon, and we broadcast it live,” he said. “People called to thank us for doing that, because it meant they could hear their kids play while they were at work.  That was awesome.”

In December 2008, when WCNL was the only radio station with power after a big ice storm, being able to provide vital information to the town was especially satisfying.

Charity work is a big part of the station’s efforts. Steve wanted me to be sure to ask readers to support the Coats for the Community drive WCNL is doing with Sullivan Country United Way. They’re collecting clean, unused coats, which can be dropped off at the any Claremont Savings Bank location or at the WCNL studios on Main Street in Newport.

The station recently augmented their AM signal and Internet stream with a new FM signal.

There are plans for an all-local music program, a countrified version of Local Licks, a show Steve did in the Upper Valley. Anyone looking for airplay should contact the station.

With that, Steve was off to cover the Stevens-Newport football game.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Oct. 22: Ellis Paul, Flying Goose Pub – What would the Boston folk scene be without Paul’s definitive songwriting style and nurturing heart? Along with an immense catalog of songs (16 albums), he’s helped bring people like Patty Griffin and Antje Duvekot to the public’s attention, and he’s worked with everyone that matters in the New England folk world. For that and more, he’s won 13 Boston Music Awards.

Friday, Oct. 23 Tom Howie, Flickinger Auditorium (KUA) – The literate young songwriter is appearing in a free show accompanied by Ryan Gleason, a Kimball Union Academy alumnus, on upright bass. Howie’s easy acoustic folk is reminiscent of John Mayer and Jason Mraz. Steve Tyler, healing from an ill-timed stage dive, attended Tom’s recent Flying Goose show, so there’s definitely a buzz going on here.

Saturday, Oct. 24: Alive & BalancE, Claremont Opera House – Kiss and Van Halen are coming to Claremont. OK, they’re really convincing doppelgangers. I doubt music this loud has ever invaded this building. The walls will probably still be shaking when the symphony arrives on Sunday. Alive re-creates mid-70’s Kiss minus the flames and fireworks, while BalancE features a dead ringer for Sammy Hagar on vocals.

Sunday, Oct. 25: Arch Weathers, Canoe Club –� don’t know much about this New London based piano player, apart from his repertoire, which includes Elton John, Billy Joel and Broadway show tunes. But he’s a new face at the Hanover restaurant/bar, so why not give him a plug? I have a lot of respect for Canoe Club owner John Chapin’s taste in music, so Weathers is probably a safe bet.

Tuesday, Oct. 27: Irish Sessions, Salt hill Pub – Wednesday blues nights ended a couple of weeks back, but the weekly Irish sessions are a mainstay, with a changing cast of musicians sharing a circle in the center of the room, playing whatever feels natural. It’s a perfect after work destination, with an early (6:30) start. Chris Stevens, Roger Burridge and Dave Loney are regulars, with interesting guests often stopping by.

Wednesday, Oct. 28: Ed Eastridge, Marshland Farm (Quechee) – Tasty licks from the one of the area’s finest jazz guitarists, and he’s a smart singer too. One wag described his music as “like therapy” – and I won’t disagree. There is something quite soothing about his restrained, delicate touch in the midst of life’s vicissitudes.

Ground Zero – Youth haven fights for survival

Screen shot 2009-10-22 at 10.13.58 AMLike a lot of businesses, it’s been tough year for Ground Zero.

Attendance at the all-ages Allenstown teen music center dropped precipitously over the summer. This was due partly to a down economy, but also because the club relocated to a bigger space as the school year was ending.

To bolster revenue, the club recently introduced a line of band gear with the Ground Zero logo, including strings, cables, drumsticks and guitar picks. The alcohol and tobacco-free venue is also raising money selling smokeless electronic “BluCigs” cigarettes, both at the club and on their web site.

But whether that will be enough to keep Ground Zero open is unclear.

“We’ve exhausted all of our personal savings trying to keep the club going,” says Christian Skinner, who runs the club with his wife Starr and another business partner. “Our hope is that because school is started up, word of mouth will start picking up and people will realize that we’re there.”

Ground Zero presents original live music five or six nights a week in the summer months, Fridays and Saturdays the rest of the year. It’s a mix of solo singer-songwriters, alt rockers and metal bands of every stripe.

The club offers, says Skinner, “a safe positive place where teenagers can interact with their peers, listen to some great original music, shoot pool, play video games and create a safe haven for the community youth.”

To that end, anyone who wants to play Ground Zero must submit lyrics first. “We make sure the bands aren’t promoting anything nasty,” says Skinner. Offers from bands who dwell on suicide, promiscuity, or drug and alcohol use are politely declined.

Skinner says he and his wife both “believe in the Lord,” but Ground Zero isn’t a ministry. “We steer clear of organized religion,” he says. “We don’t push our faith on any of the kids there, we don’t have Bibles laying all over the place. But we book primarily positive rock bands.”

There are problems on both sides of that hard line.  Acts with drawing power can’t play the club. Though Skinner won’t name names, the fact that he books non-Christian bands has earned him the enmity of some church groups.

Another self-imposed barrier: Skinner won’t rent his space out for raves, or independently produced shows that don’t hew to a positive line.

With that in mind, he’s asked, what needs to happen to keep Ground Zero alive?

“Something, I don’t really know,” says the normally ebullient Skinner. “We’re not government-funded, we’re not nonprofit [though he says guidance on how to become one would be welcomed]. We’re not funded by churches or any orgs; we’ve always done this straight out of pocket.”

Their website has a PayPal donation link, he says, but over the years it’s raised a mere $60.

Since opening his first after-hours coffee house in 1996, Christian Skinner has run a lot of teen music centers – Little Vegas and Narrow Way Café in Manchester, Café Eclipse in Concord and Club Drifters in Nashua. He opened Ground Zero in 2007.

But he’s never seen it this bad, and his vision of a safe, positive environment for area teenagers is now colliding with another hard reality – Skinner has four children of his own.

“We’ve faced our share of closures,” Skinner said by cell phone the other day, as he rode around Manchester tacking up flyers. “My wife and I did this for six years with no kids and we were able to get by. Now it’s at the point where two kids are in school – there’s school clothes.”

“We’re not the type of people to worry, we have faith,” he says. “But it’s at the point where we need to go out and get day jobs to support our family, or something miraculous has to happen.”