Local Rhythms – Still a small town

MariaMuldaur25web-25This week’s column begins a bit off-topic, but stick with me.  It gets back to music eventually.

Though I try to steer clear of politics in this space, a meme circulating after last week’s resounding win by pro-growth forces in local elections forces me to weigh in.  The results, say the losers, prove that Claremont isn’t a small town any more.  If we talked more and knew each other better, they say, things would have turned out differently,

The opposite is true. This was Claremont’s first Facebook election, and it proves we’re more connected than ever.

The pro-growth S.O.S. group used Facebook very effectively to support their positions and debunk their opposition – practically in real time.  I don’t diminish the power of a letter to the editor – heck, I write for a newspaper.  But the immediacy of information during this election cycle, coupled with an ongoing comment dialogue, was a very energizing force.

Back in the 1990s, these conversations happened slowly and selectively, at church coffee hours or during civic gatherings.  The very nature of the meetings limited participation.

Today, it’s possible to be out of the room but still in the loop.  I learned much more about this election from written exchanges than face-to-face conversations.

Here’s the important part – it brought me closer to the action.

Ubiquitous technology is a powerful and democratizing force.  The pro-growth forces understood this, and used it to carry the day.  Their constant campaign networking went beyond anything I’ve seen in the 30 or so years I’ve been in Claremont.

Without Facebook, Nick Koloski wouldn’t have stood a chance.

The new council member used it to announce and promote his candidacy.  Before the election, I was reasonably acquainted with Nick, but it was only after we connected online that I really got to know him.

One negative in all of this is the potential for too much information.  But while choosing a side in the health care debate is like drinking the ocean, picking a mayor is more akin to floating down a river.

I’ve taken this approach with music for a long time, turning a network of possibilities into a power grid of connections that cumulatively provides me with all I need, but never stops growing and giving me more.

The net effect (no pun intended) is that there has never been a better time to be a music fan than right now – except for perhaps tomorrow.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Nov. 12: Loose Cannons Acoustic, Silver Fern Grille & Bar – These guys rock pretty hard for an all acoustic band, covering guys like Clapton and the Beatles, as well as grooves from Bob Marley and Stray Cats rockabilly.  Eclectic is the word that best describes them, with a musical outlook spanning decades and styles.  Silver Fern has a great beer selection, with several draft choices and a few big Vermont craft varieties.

Friday, Nov. 13 Acoustic Truffle, Salt hill Newport – Their name comes from the Beatles song, “Savoy Truffle,” and they’ve been wowing Seacoast audiences since the mid-80’s with their blues-infused, up-tempo rock. Truffle has two incarnations; the acoustic version leaves out the drums, but keeps the energy level high on stripped-down versions of songs like “Developer’s Blues,” a tune the Dead could have called their own.

Saturday, Nov. 14: Maria Muldaur, Bellows Falls Opera House – She’s best known for her early 70s hit “Midnight at the Oasis,” but Maria Muldaur has traveled the world of music, from her early Greenwich Village folk days, when Dylan was still playing pass the hat shows, to her current combo. the good time Garden of Joy Jug Band which features a banjo, a real washtub and, of course, Muldaur’s singularly soulful voice

Sunday, Nov. 15: Celia Sings Sinatra, Canoe Club – This downtown Hanover restaurant has great food, an inventive beer list and interesting drinks.  But none of that matters to me as much as Canoe Cub’s commitment to live music, 363 days a year.  Nights like this one with Celia are particularly special – he’s a dead ringer for the Chairman of the Board, and a lot of fun to boot.

Tuesday, Nov. 17: Adam McMahon, Windsor Station – Good blues from a nice guy who’s also an Iraq veteran, while enjoying tasty bar food, a party vibe on Tuesday night and the occasional drone of a train lumbering by.  How many more reasons do you need to head to the Station to see Adam McMahon play?

Wednesday, Nov. 18: Mark & Deb Bond, Ramunto’s – Now in residency at my favorite place to get a pint and a slice (or calzone) is this musical dynamic duo, who pack a big sound into the little corner fronting Puksta Bridge.  They’re best with dreamy pop rock like Peter Gabriel or the Beatles; their pirate karaoke version of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” is audaciously good too.

Compass Preview

Picture 1

Buzz
We’re talking about…

Sophie & Zeke’s

Last week Reid Hannula, owner/chef of the restaurant that launched Claremont’s downtown dining renaissance five years ago, announced that the business was taking a two-week hiatus due to bad economic conditions.  Immediately, rumors began circulating about the closure, many speculating that the vacation was permanent.  Reid Hannula told a television news reporter that Sophie & Zeke’s would reopen September 8.  On Sunday, he told the Compass that the business’s future hinges on talks with nervous creditors, and locating investors with enough money to keep it going.  Far from being on vacation, he’s doing everything he can to, in his words, “keep the dream alive.”   This means meeting with anyone who has venture capital and an interest in a fine dining establishment that does turn-away business in good times.  According to Reid Hannula, if Sophie & Zeke’s closes, it won’t be without a fight.

Beyond
Worth driving out of town

Keene Music Festival Main Event
Keene, New Hampshire
Distance: 60 minutes south

Why: 80+ bands playing 12 downtown locations
When: Saturday, September 5

SXSW comes to Keene, and there’s something for every taste at this all day event, including Americana (Clayton Sabine), funk (Chaotic Soul). hip-hop (Adeem & DJ MF Shalem), blues (Ottomatic Slim), ambient pop rock (The Dejas), hardcore (Hammerhands) and crunchy roots rock (Dusty & the Know).

There are also a few impossible to classify bands, like the ethereal Red Velvet Slide, or Tokyo Tramps, a gumbo-flavored rockabilly trio hailing from Japan, named after the “tramps like us” line in Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

That’s just scratching the surface.  You’ll need a scorecard to keep track of all the music emanating from bars, businesses and open air venues (fingers crossed for warm Labor Day weekend weather!).

It all ends Saturday night with chamber music at the Colonial Theatre.  This is a one-stop shopping mall for club owners looking to book talent.  Be sure to check out the full band list on the festival’s web site: keenemusicfestival.com/times – most of their music can be found on MySpace.

Where
Places to go

Newport

Salt hill Pub
64 Main St
Open: 7 days
Music: Thursday – Saturday

The anchor of Newport’s live music scene features an open mike night on Thursdays (most recently hosted by the Moore family), and performers like Pete Merrigan, Arthur James and Johnny Bishop on the weekend.  Occasionally, a band also booked into the Lebanon Salt hill stops by, like Sirsy or (recently disbanded) Oneside.

Foresters Club
38 Maple St
Open: 7 days
Music: Every other Saturday (karaoke alternating Fridays)

This is a members only club, but three visits are allowed before patrons must pay dues.  Mainly rock and country cover bands, with the occasional benefit or big local metal show.

Newport Opera House
20 Main Street

The few music shows held here these days tend to be memorable ones, like the recent Mad Beach Band reunion show, or the upcoming Last Kid Picked Halloween party, which usually sells out.  With cabaret seating and a full bar, the Newport Opera House is a fun place for socializing while enjoying music.

The Old Courthouse
30 Main St
Open: Wednesday-Saturday (lunch, dinner), Sunday brunch

There’s a lot of great food on the regular menu.  But the Courthouse brunch is especially good, featuring waffles with whipped cream, specialty desserts like crème brulee, and fantastic quiches.  A nice bonus is the piano serenade that accompanies the meal.

Players
Local Talent Spotlight

Who: Roadhouse
What: Working class Claremont party band
Sounds like: Pat Benetar fronting Quiet Riot, or if Axl Rose was a girl

About:  Of all the bands in the area, none enjoys what they do as much as Roadhouse.  The band’s motto is, “we love our day jobs but the music escape is a necessity,” a credo they’ve lived by since Ron Miller started the band back in 1990.  Lead singer Lisa Kainu joined in 1992 – she’s Lisa Miller now, a marriage made in rock and roll heaven.  Watching her sing, you know she believes in her soul that rock and roll was invented, and perfected by bands like AC/DC, Foghat and Led Zeppelin, just to make her feel good.  Rounding out Roadhouse are two guys, Shane Davis and Rob Lower, who have collectively been in 12 other bands, and Shane’s still splits his time with Soul Octane Burner.  Live to rock, rock to live.

Upcoming gigs:

September 4, Imperial Lounge, Claremont
October 3 Anchorage, Sunapee
October 10 The Front Row, St. Johnsbury
October 16 Imperial, Claremont

Horizon
Mark your calendar

What: Sunapee Community Coffeehouse 2009 Season
Where: Sunapee Methodist Church, 17 Lower Main St., Sunapee
When:  Fridays at 7 p.m., beginning Sept 11

Though plenty of places host live performers, there’s a shortage of actual “listening rooms” in the area.  Too often, a songwriter can’t be  heard through the din of drinks and supper.  This makes the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse’s mission – “fostering an attentive respectful audience in a family atmosphere which in turn guarantees the musicians will want to return” – all the more vital.

This year’s lineup opens with one of the region’s most intriguing singer-songwriters.

Sept. 11 – Brooke Brown Saracino
Sept. 18 – Sferes and White
Sept. 25 – Open Mike
Oct. 2 – David Maguire
Oct. 9 – Mari Rosa
Oct. 30 – Open Mike
Nov. 6 – Heather Maloney
Nov. 13 – Regina Delaney

Big Days For Soul Octane Burner

sob_logoThrough steady gigging at Electra, Imperial Lounge and the Claremont Moose Hall (where they perform Saturday), Soul Octane Burner built a solid area following for the roiling music they call “redneck metal.”

But until recently, the band hadn’t recorded a CD of original material.

To put it mildly, things are moving a bit faster these days.

In addition to their eponymous debut disc, released last month, Soul Octane Burner will soon share the stage with Korn and Burn Halo at the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavillion.  The all-day “Rock On Fest 2009” features 30 area bands in addition to the headliners.

“It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to any of us,” lead vocalist Dave Belimer said the other day from SOB’s Claremont practice space, as his band mates shouted in agreement.

How did it happen?

“A lot of luck,” laughs Belimer.   “Fans called 99 Rock demanding to hear us on the radio. They made it happen.”

The Hanover station, particularly Chris Garrett, brought the opportunity to the band’s attention.  Meadowbrook tagged them as a good fit and sent their tape to Korn’s management for final consideration.

Fans can help the band get a good time slot by purchasing tickets in their name, says manager Larry Kennett. The band also receives a percentage from each transaction made with the ROCKSOULOCTANEBURNER sales code.  Buying that way also qualifies fans for a chance to win a Korn meet and greet at the show.

Saturday’s Moose lineup features Till We Die, who recently performed with Black Label Society at the Verizon Wireless.  Other supporting bands include Last Regret, Kellyville Killer and Beware the Ides.

Since the show is a CD release party, everyone paying the $15 admission will receive a free copy of “Soul Octane Burner.”  The disc draws its spirit from old school metal – Pantera, Metallica, Corrosion of Conformity – and newer bands like Lamb of God.

“We’re always listening for a new riff to inspire us,” says lead guitarist Shane Davis.

Lyricist Belimer calls the band’s style “controlled rage – something that hopefully gets you moving, gives you a little tinge in the back of your neck.”

“There’ a lot of anger in the songs,” he says.  “I still think like a kid, I don’t like getting stepped on.”

“He’s angry all the time,” Shane says. “So we put a microphone in his hand.”

They’ve been around since 2002, while this configuration has been the same since 2006, but the musicians in Soul Octane Burner go back much further than that.

“Shane and I took drum lessons in grade school,” says Belimer, who remembers Davis as a pretty cool first grader with his own drum set.  The rest of the band – rhythm guitarist Dan Griffith, bass player Geno Gray and drummer Dale Pederson – have also played together in different groups over the years.

Making a CD, they say, is a “dream come true.”

“It’s a big accomplishment to have the product in your hand,” says Davis.  “After all the work we’ve done, time away from home, this is why.”

“It’s been our lifelong journey, all of us,” adds Belimer.  “We’ve been playing literally since we were kids, especially Shane and I, we’re the oldest.    It’s been a long journey.”

Stonewall – What If? Worth The Wait

Over the last four-plus years, Stonewall’s live shows earned them a reputation as one of the hardest rocking outfits around.  They are quite literally the band to beat, as several “battle of the bands” contestants left in their musical dust can well attest.  But it’s taken until now for Stonewall to commit their energetic hybrid of metal and melody to disc.

Solid from start to finish, “What If?” was definitely worth the wait.  The fuzz-toned opener, “Blessing For Pearls,” rips a page from Zeppelin and blends it with post-millennial angst.  “Janitor Man” will invite Alice in Chains comparisons – deservedly so.  Lead guitarist and vocalist Josh Parker’s baritone hovers just above a growl.

“Vengeance” is a good example of Stonewall’s hard-edged melodic style.  The 8-minute track begins in a flurry of heavy metal bullets. It then crosses over a polyrhythmic structure featuring a few speedy guitar figures from Parker, before settling into a blistering boogie.

Make no mistake, while most of the record rocks, it’s never buried in sturm und drang.   This thematically dark “Masculincense” (Parker may have wrote it after a night of old Nine Inch Nails videos) churns and roils, then ends with a tasty blues progression.

“Comatoasted” is reminiscent of Primus, another 90’s power trio.  It’s a ride that starts slow and turns into a runaway train.  “Your Sweet Intents” achieves the same energy, showcasing Ryan Young’s staccato drumming and featuring one of Parker’s meatiest solos.

Young and six-string bassist Philip Chiu are a brawny rhythm section throughout, but the duo also bring a gentle touch to the record’s quieter moments.  These include the Stone Temple Pilots dead ringer “Grain,” with Parker majestically soloing at song’s end.  The snarky power ballad “Straight White Teeth,” a Stonewall live staple for about as long as they’ve been playing, makes the move from stage to studio with aplomb.

Speaking of Stonewall standards, it’s a mystery why the punched-up rocker “Hearing Loss” didn’t make it on to “What If?”  Maybe the band is saving it for a future EP.

If they’re reminiscent of anyone, it’s bands whose heyday came long before anyone in the band was born.  The James Gang, Mountain and Three Man Army – the youngsters in Stonewall may not know these relics by name, but be assured their spirit lives in their music.

It’s essential to note the production team that shepherded “What If?” through its’ nearly two year journey to completion.  Early on, Shamus Martin worked with the band at Exsubel Studios, mixing them and helping them find a polished studio sound without sacrificing their live edge.

The production credit, however, goes to the late Doug Bashaw. Committing a power trio to tape – or these days, digital bits – can be a delicate balancing act.  Bashaw added enough studio magic – guitar bags, phased vocals, SFX – to make the record more than simply a document of a great live band, but not at the expense of Stonewall’s essence.

Stonewall CD Release Party

All Ages Show
Saturday, October 4, 7 PM
Claremont Moose Lodge
Tickets $10

Featuring:

Stonewall
Gravity Response
Broken Mindz
Spectris
DJ Staxx

Local Rhythms – “A Fine Little Business”

brianclow.jpgI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the local music community takes care of its own. This time, a Claremont man who’s anchored his fair share of rhythm sections over the years has fallen ill, and his friends are stepping up to help him out.

This Sunday at the Claremont Moose Hall five bands – Stonewall, the Davis Brothers, Sun King, Saylyn and Flashback – will perform a benefit show for Brian Clow, who’s been a part of the area music scene for over 40 years. Brian has played with Carter-Rush, the Doc Maryn Band, Private Gold and Special Delivery, among others.

Joe Peters performs with the Davis Brothers, and led the effort to organize the show. He says that the day of music, which runs from 1 to 6 PM, reflects the connection Clow feels with the music community. “Brian asked for these bands,” Peters says.

The afternoon features an eclectic lineup.

Stonewall, the young power rock trio with a new album on the way, has a history of donating their talents to worthy causes. Saylyn is a fine local reggae combo, while Sun King has an energized jam band feel.

Flashback’s sweet spot is classic rock, while the Davis Brothers Band can play pretty much anything you toss at them – country, rock and blues of every stripe.

All have a connection with Brian Clow and a desire to do their part to raise his spirits, and help him in his time of need.

“You can be down on your luck,” Joe Peters says, “but when someone throws you a jam, you’re all set.”

Brian Clow learned of his illness last summer. Recently, he had to leave his job at Comcast, where he’d worked for many years. The benefit will hopefully help to ease the financial crunch these circumstances have put him in.

More than that, it will remind him that he can count on his friends.

“It’s not about the money,” says Peters, “it’s more about the camaraderie.”

It’s also a reminder of what a fantastic, close-knit musical community we’re blessed with. It’s no way to make a living, and everyone has at least one day job. But, says Joe Peters, “this is a fine little business we’re in.”

How can you support local music this weekend? I’m glad you asked:

Thursday: Jeff Warner, Goshen Town Hall – Warner is a singer/guitarist who excels in turn of the century folk music. His mission, he says, is to “teach American history and culture through traditional song … to make history as interesting as it really was.” To that end, he’s recorded several albums featuring songs like “River Driving” and “Come Love Come” as well as children’s records with timeless tunes like “Froggy Went A-Courtin’”.

Friday: John Gorka, Middle Earth Music Hall – One of the sadder stories to come out of the local music scene is the report that Chris Jones plans to close his Bradford, Vermont music room. If someone doesn’t buy the hallowed hobbit hole, the final Middle Earth show will be June 1. The next few weeks serve as a reminder of how vital the club is, with world-class songwriters Gorka and Chris Smither appearing on consecutive Fridays.

Saturday: The Squids, Zotto Gym – The good news out of Claremont is that the City Council has committed to its part in making the skateboard park a reality. But there’s still a lot of public fundraising to be done, and this dance party by good time blues rockers the Squids will hopefully raise the thermometer sitting by the park’s location just past the Puksta Bridge on Washington Street. Plus, it’s a good excuse to shake your tail feathers.

Sunday: Tiger Okoshi, Center at Eastman – This inventive trumpeter is a perennial performer at the Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon shows, and with good reason. The Japan-born Okoshi came to fame as a member of Gary Burton’s band, and has carved out quite a niche with his blend of traditional jazz and modern fusion. This combination is sure to keep his backing band, the JOSA Ensemble, on its toes

Tuesday: North Country Chordsmen Practice, Hanover Church of Christ – There are times to listen to music, but eventually everyone feels compelled to make a little of their own. This organization exists simply to celebrate singing – of the barbershop quartet variety. It’s old-time and old school, with handlebar mustaches, vertical striped shirts and all men.

Wednesday: Natalie MacMaster, Chandler Music Hall – Few musicians tour with the vigor of this fiddler. Tonight’s performance is the second of two in Randolph; she has five more New England shows before month’s end. If you miss any of those, she’ll be back in June. Of special note is a raffle to raise money for Jerry Holland, a musician who helped create the Cape Breton sound; he’s battling cancer. First prize is a one-hour private lesson with MacMaster.

Local Rhythms – Going Gourmet in Claremont?

greenacres.jpgThere’s a certain conversation I often have with people who aren’t from my hometown. It invariably ends this way:

“In Claremont? I had no idea.”

There’s fine dining, eclectic shops, and a first class performing space? Uh-huh. From the look on their faces, you’d think I lived in Brigadoon – or Hooterville.

The only thing missing was a place catering to my inner gourmet. That usually required a trip to Hanover.

Upon discovering Green Acres, I was the one saying, “in Claremont?” Anyone who’s ever sat hypnotized by the Food Network is going to love this place.

The store’s name playfully harkens back to the classic television show – their (under-construction) web site is “givemeparkavenue.com”.

It’s the kind of place an urban sophisticate like Eva Gabor might have opened herself, if she’d ever stopped complaining to Eddie Albert about being stuck in the sticks.

Situated next to Violet’s Books in Opera House Square, Green Acres is an oasis of handpicked delicacies – locally made cheeses, freshly baked bread, craft beer (with corks!), and wines Robert Parker can love.

They also carry chic cookware, and dark, decadent Lake Champlain Chocolates.

Proprietor Tristan Henderson is a very erudite 21-year old; he also makes a first-rate latte, which customers can enjoy on the large, comfortable leather couch in the front of the store.

Soon – and this is the best part for me – there will be music. Beginning February 16, Green Acres will host its first “Cheese Jam.”

A group of musicians, led by South Strafford fiddler Randy Leavitt, will swap tunes and have a good time.

Tristan envisions the gathering as a song circle, not a performance. It’s a bit like Lebanon’s Salt Hill Pub on Tuesday nights, except with Cajun, folk, and traditional French-Canadian music instead of Irish tunes.

It includes open invitation to anyone who fancies himself a player to come in and share.

With the pending arrival of Sophie & Zeke’s into the newly renovated Brown Block, Opera House Square is shaping into the downtown hub everyone in Claremont always wanted it to be.

Maybe the folks who run the Farmer’s Market will move to the bullpen this year. That would be exciting.

To those who haven’t experienced Claremont’s renaissance first-hand, we welcome you.

What other lively happenings await?

Thursday: Recycled Percussion, Colby-Sawyer College – My pick of the week. Imagine the “beat on anything that looks drum-able” sound of Stomp! Then add in heavy metal guitar shredding, a sampling, scratch mixing DJ, and plenty of urban sass. That about sums up this inventive foursome. Quite honestly, I’m just trying to meet my deadline. Give me a few more hours, and I’ll find more superlatives.

Friday: Amity Front, Salt Hill Two – How come bands who charge 10 bucks everywhere else perform free at Salt Hill? Must be the charming owners. Amity Front play roots music that recalls “American Beauty” Grateful Dead. Good singing, good playing – if you ask me what my favorite style of music is, it’s this: strip away the amps and flash, and prove what you can do with your fingers and your voice. These guys are right there in the sweet spot.

Saturday: Molly Cherington, Blow-Me-Down Grange – This singer-songwriter blends the raw neo-folk energy of Ani DiFranco with a Joss Stone soulfulness. A fine example of this miraculous balance of edge and flow is “Become,” a track from Molly’s just-released “Our Minds Were Made.” The CD is included with each ticket – my kind of guerilla marketing. Since Cherington, a Plainfield native, now hails from Denver, she doesn’t play many local shows. Don’t miss this chance.

Sunday: Susan Werner, Tupelo Music Hall – Some intimate venues are worth the long drive. There’s Iron Horse in Northampton, Higher Ground in South Burlington, and this gem in Londonderry, which just underwent a sound upgrade. The acoustics are amazing, and the talent is first rate. Werner just released an album, “The Gospel Truth,” which tries to reclaim some of the moral high ground ceded to the religious right in the last few years. What is faith? She has some interesting answers.

Tuesday: Billy Rosen & Norm Wolfe, Tip Top Café – White River Junction is quite the hot spot these days, and jazz is a big reason why. Rosen and Wolfe are busy guys, playing in Woodstock, Quechee and Claremont when they’re not making regular stops at Canoe Club. Rosen’s guitar and a fine dish like pork ginger meat loaf are the perfect combination, and Tip Top is a nice cozy place to enjoy both.

Wednesday: Ed Eastridge, Canoe Club – 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.

Local Music Revue – Pulse Prophets, Boomer Sellers, Hexerei

The sound of the scene – Local Music Revue is an occasional look at recorded works by area musicians.  Some are available for sale at shows; others can be bought on the Internet. 

This week, the spotlight’s on a reggae fusion band that’s making a big area splash, demo tracks from a Claremont group’s third album, and a peek into the audio scrapbook of some local rockers who’ve been gigging around town for over 20 years.

Pulse Prophets – Breathe 

Though not exactly a local band – they hail from Burlington, but feature Lebanon drummer/vocalist (and VTISTA teacher) Rory Loughran– the Pulse Prophets are building a steady following on the strength of some dance floor-filling sets at Salt Hill Pub and Clear River Tavern.

Their second studio outing matches a steady groove to a topical backbeat.  “Right Before Our Eyes” hits at voter apathy with a progression straight out of 10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday,” while  “On and On” laments perpetual war. 

Though they wear their political hearts on their sleeves (“Every Day” and “Don’t Look at Me” are two other examples), the record contains enough tender moments to balance things out.  The lilting “It Would Be So Easy” is a nice alternative to too many songs about caving into temptation (Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel” is probably the most execrable of the bunch).

“Did What I Could” weaves the threads of the band’s many musical influences together – rock steady reggae, New Orleans funk and jam band abandon.  It’s the record’s best song.   

“Remember” has a smooth beat, but it’s a somewhat conventional song about love lost.  The album closes with “Come Your Way,” a soaring, optimistic tune which could fit comfortably in a Phish set.

“Breathe” is a well-rounded, hard-hitting album – a standout effort from a band on the rise (in April, they’re touring Hawaii – nice work if you can get it!).. 

Hexerei – Paid in Full

This long-planned, often delayed heavy metal album was originally titled “Pay Your Dues.”  But after more than a year of personnel changes and management snafus, the band demands a receipt with the release of this three-song EP. 

It’s red meat for the faithful, full of spit, rage and fury.  “Irritate” is the most accessible for the casual metal fan, with a nice melodic bridge punctuating a venomous chorus (“you’ll never break me/don’t f***ing underestimate me”). 

But “Paid in Full” never loses its edge. 

“Supremacy” features the call-and-response pairing of front man Travis Pfenning and backing vocalist Justin Hemingway. In addition to his room-shaking, bullhorn shouting, “Hemi” adds excellent keyboards and sampling at Hexerei’s live shows.

The final track, “Divide,” features staccato guitar from new members Derek Stribling and Ryan Whited, and moves along at a frantic pace.  

“Paid in Full” more than whets the appetite for the band’s next complete album. Through a myriad of changes that make their chosen moniker seem more than fitting, Hexerei hasn’t lost a step.

Boomer Sellers Band – “New Hampshire” 

Until a few years ago, “Tubestock” was an annual Hanover tradition; it’s also the impetus for this band’s move from Richard “Boomer” Ackerboom’s cellar (though tempting to think so, they didn’t get their name from the baby boom) to the bars.  In 1986, at Boomer’s urging, they played the inaugural festival on the Connecticut River. 

Since then the Boomer Sellers Band, a working class combo with a rock n’ roll heart, has gigged steadily at area clubs. 

This is a preview track from the forthcoming “Listen to the Thunder,” one of several songs front man Donnie Perkins wrote over the years.  He went into the studio with Rick Davis (Davis Brothers Garage Band) to make the record, but says the released version of “New Hampshire” is pretty much the original 1995 demo.

This autobiographical song is J.J. Cale turned up a notch.   It’s the sound Lynyrd Skynrd captured when they covered “Call Me the Breeze” on their second album – a jumping, rousing ride. 

The rest of “Listen to the Thunder” is, according to Perkins, “damn near as catchy”   – and producer Davis agrees.  Most of the original band are still in the Upper Valley – Jim Liss on bass, keyboard player Bart MacNamee and David Greenfield on guitar – and contributed to the record (and a planned end of year follow-up – “fire all our guns at once,” says Perkins).

The title track is a look back at growing up during the Vietnam era – Donny had two brothers serving overseas, and the war was never far from his mind.  “I hid behind my ball and my mitt … getting the blues over the six o’clock news,” he sings.  

“If you ever wondered if I listened to the thunder, you never even need to ask” is a sentiment that, sadly, still resonates today.

With the record nearly done, the Boomer Sellers Band plans to end its performing hiatus, and should soon be turning up in places like Salt Hill Pub and the Middle Earth Music Hall.

Claremont Middle School’s Impressive Concert

The clouds parted for Claremont Middle School’s year-ending “Spring of Music” concert Tuesday night. Chorus Director Ginny Formidoni joked that she’d orchestrated the weather outside, but the wonderful music she coaxed from her 50-plus charges was no less magical than making the rain disappear.

Mrs. Formidoni set the bar high at the outset, with the spiritual “Climbin’ Up the Mountain” and the traditional “On The Railroad” each going through several complex musical changes. The baritone section was particularly good, a rare achievement for a group whose oldest members are just 13.

An emotional “Pie Jesu,” originally composed by Mary Lynn Lightfoot to honor the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was dedicated to the memory of former teacher and friend of music Kathy Jobin, who passed away last year.

Under the direction of Seth Moore, the sixth grade band showed talent beyond their years, with a raucous rendition of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” – “because what concert is complete without classic rock?” quipped Moore – and the majestic “Sunday Song.” They followed this with a bit of musical muscle flexing, first with “Clarinets on the Run” and then “Flute Street”.

The evening’s string orchestra performance provided several high points, beginning with the buoyant Yiddish piece “Lo Yisa Goy (A Song of Peace). “Fiddler’s Frolic” combined bits of southern and Appalachian music in a piece with multiple movements and both familiar and eclectic elements, ending with a “shave and a haircut/two bits” exclamation point.

What was most apparent during this interlude was how joyous the students seemed. The feeling was contagious, with much toe tapping and head swaying evident throughout the building. Mrs. Formidoni conducted the group through four pieces, ending with the Irish jig “Blackberry Blossom.” At that point, Formidoni handed the baton to Moore, picking up a violin to join in for “Themes From ‘The Moldau’”.

The extended piece contained some of the most demanding music of the night. At points quiet, delicate, intricate and sweeping, it caused one audience member to jump to his feet at the end; the crowd’s sustained applause made it clear the rest of the house agreed with him.

The CMS Jazz Band played the big band “Basie-Cally: The Blues,” along with tightly performed versions of “Pink Panther” and the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town.”

Five choir members selected for this year’s prestigious Southwest District Festival sang a rousing rendition, complete with hand jive, of “This Little Light of Mine.” Each girl took a solo, and at evening’s end the five – Alicia Dale, Amber Brooks, Monique LaFreniere, Stephanie Aldrich and Elizabeth Goodwin – received medals for their selection in the statewide singing group.

The combined Middle School chorus were inspirational as they sang, “we are the future/help us believe/give us hope and we’ll show you the way.” It was easy to take them at their word. Finally, the 7th and 8th grade band performed the very demanding “Russian Sailor’s Dance” and “Mystic Garden.” Following the presentation of awards, they closed the night out with a note-perfect performance of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

The number of multi-instrumentalists performing in this music program is quite impressive, with several students contributing to string, chorus and band performances during the evening.

The combined band, which includes members from all three grades, didn’t perform Tuesday, but Formidoni noted that they did earn a silver medal during the recent Great East competition, held at Six Flags Park in Agawam, Massachusetts. On Friday, the chorus will journey to Great Escape in Lake George, New York for the “Trills & Thrills” event, which isn’t a competition per se. It’s a judged performance, where choirs are measured against a set of criteria. Participation is at the discretion of the choir director.

Tuesday’s performance was a culmination of sorts for a few 8th grade band members, who will set down their instruments to concentrate on college level honors courses when they enter Stevens High School next year. In that respect, it was a little bittersweet, but still rousing end to Claremont Middle School’s musical year.

Comcast Raises Rates, Reduces Service

comcast-logo.jpgArea cable customers no doubt received a few PR missives from Comcast in the wake of their purchase of the local, and recently bankrupt, Adelphia franchise. Over the past few months, Comcast also sent sheepish notification of a rate increase, buried at the bottom of a letter towards the end of November.

What they didn’t tell customers is that as they switch accounts over to Comcast software, huge chunks of programming are disappearing. All West Coast premium feeds are gone. Fox Soccer Channel and perhaps 25-20 other channels are also missing.

So in other words, if you’re a Comcast customer, you’ll be paying more and getting less.

Of course, I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Suddenly, the Sunday paper ads for Dish Network are looking better and better. This move has also given me a nastier attitude about the family of greedheads who drove Adelphia into the ground.

Local Rhythms – The Arts Corridor

ctvalleyhwy.jpgFor months, I drove past the “Lounge Opening Soon” sign in front of Imperial Garden Restaurant on Washington Street, and didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. But right around Thanksgiving, word got out that the 3,000-square foot bar adjacent to Claremont’s newest Chinese/Japanese buffet was about to become my favorite kind of place – a live music venue.

Helping to fill a void left with Coyote Creek’s closing, the Imperial Lounge has begun presenting bands on a semi-regular basis. Manager Sandy Yang says Roadhouse brought a good crowd during the bar’s opening weekend, and they’ll be back on January 27. Also scheduled are Mark and Deb, a pop duo on January 20.

Tomorrow, the erstwhile Yer Mother’s Onion plays at the Imperial, with a five dollar cover.

So far the music has worked out well, says Yang. Local reggae band Saylyn had a good night on New Year’s Eve in spite of the freezing rain. Longtime area karaoke hosts “Ron & Cher” bring a good crowd Wednesdays, and there are plans to add a DJ for dancing, possibly tied to a Ladies Night promotion, on Thursdays.

At the other end of Claremont, the Moose Lodge on Broad Street has opened its space to the impresarios of Hexerei; the band has already presented two shows there, and everyone involved says the Moose is a big step up from the Knights Hall, the last hard rock venue in town. The next show is tomorrow, with Hexerei, Soul Octane, Apathetiq and A City Divide (one of the more interesting new young bands on the scene).

Last week, much was made of Bellows Falls’ return to prominence, with Boccelli’s opening to a packed house. Down the road in Charlestown, the Heritage is bringing in some first-rate talent, like Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda February 10. Newport’s Opera House is still swinging, with Al Alessi & Bill Wightman January 20; at some point, I’m sure Josh Tuohy will start booking bands at Salt Hill II .

Claremont isn’t Music City just yet, but with occasional singer-songwriter at Bistro Nouveau, regular weekly jazz at Sophie & Zeke’s, the odd Hullaballoo set, big shows at the Opera House and under-21 nights at the Red Elephant, things are looking up. McGee’s downtown is still doing karaoke on Thursdays and Fridays, though live music there is dormant. The Moose and the Imperial, however, are adding to a vital local scene.

From Bellows Falls to Newport, I’ve started to think of the Connecticut Valley Highway as the region’s “Arts Corridor.” I hope the name catches on.

What’s catchy this weekend?

Thursday: Jason Cann, Brown’s Tavern – What a treat to see Jason open for Shana Morrison a couple of weeks back. I hope that the crowd’s positive response compels him to play more of his original songs at Brown’s, Skunk Hollow and Bistro. If he ever decides to make a long-player, I can name quite a few starry-eyed ladies who’d snap it up in a heartbeat. One of the area’s most talented players.

Friday: Oneside, Salt Hill Pub – If I’d made a list, this Boston band would have been my favorite new discovery of 2005. Elements of jazz, jam band and psychobilly, featuring Ian Knox’s insane electric banjo. He does with his instrument what Jimi Hendrix did to the guitar, what Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile does with the mandolin. He redefines it. That Oneside isn’t headlining 800-seat halls tells me all I need to know about what’s wrong with the music business.

Saturday: Negative Creep w/ Stonewall, Royal Flush – The Springfield club is the new home of tribute bands, with Negative Creep, an homage to Nirvana, this time around. Stonewall has made a series of moves lately, finishing up work on a full-length album, playing shows as far away as Boston, and generally making plans to hit it big in 2007.

Sunday: Sonya Kitchell, Paramount (Rutland) – A knockout at last summer’s Newport Folk Festival, with a bluesy set that was restrained when it needed to be, but flat-out rocking most of the time. She’s more subdued on record; “Let Me Go” sounds like a Norah Jones outtake. Performing live, however, she kicks up a lot of dust. If Janis Joplin had been sober, she might have sounded as good as this youngster. Kitchell also performs at Woodstock’s Town Hall tomorrow night.

Tuesday: Chrissy Huggins & Stephen Secules, Canoe Club – From Dartmouth’s World Music Percussion Ensemble, these two haven’t even finished college yet. Canoe Club honcho John Chapin calls them “an unlikely, fascinating, vocal-piano duo … demonstrating an unexpected, genuine feel for the great American songbook.” Huggins and Secules graduate with the class of 2007 in June, so if this sort of thing interests you, time may be running out.