Dr. Burma – One Bite Won’t Kill You

When they perform their R&B music for Upper Valley audiences, Dr. Burma will occasionally bring along a horn section. After hearing “One Bite Won’t Kill You,” the second album of their 20-year career, you may wish they brought the brass everywhere they went.

The record harkens back to the golden age of horn bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Tower of Power and Cold Blood. It’s a treat from start to finish.

Mixing well-crafted originals with a tidy selection of covers, the band keeps the energy level high throughout. Carlene Carter’s “I Love You ‘Cause I Want To” showcases Linda Boudreault’s bluesy singing, as does “If I Were An Airplane,” a song rich in double entendre. The latter deftly channels “Give It Up”-era Bonnie Raitt, and features some nifty piano work from Doug Southworth,

The db Horns get a workout on the title cut, as well as on an update of the Albert King jump blues gem, “Let’s Have a Natural Ball.” A toothy remake of John Hiatt’s little-heard “The Crush” also puts the brass out front, and features a great Boudreault/Mortimer vocal duet.

All original songs are credited to lead guitarist Ted Mortimer (there’s two Boudreault co-writes), save one – Southworth’s rousing New Orleans-flavored “I Know What My Baby Likes,” which starts like a Dr. John gumbo and ends with a gospel romp that would make Ray Charles smile.

“The Things We Do” is a Mortimer original that borrows its structure from the Allman Brothers’ “Trouble No More,” and contains the best line on the record. “What makes a poodle chase a hound?”

What, indeed? Listening to this kind of stuff on their doggie iPod (iDog?) is a likely cause.

Guest harp player Johnny Bishop helps out with a wicked solo on the tail feather shaker “Ridin’ For A Fall.”

“One More Chance” and “I’m Gonna Build Me A Playhouse” serve as homage to Steely Dan; the former fits new lyrics to “Chain Lightning,” while the latter would flow seamlessly with “Josie.”

That’s not a complaint – unlike Diddy’s heist of “Every Breath You Take,” Dr. Burma plays all the instruments (and quite well at that) when retrofitting email references and other modernities to the Seventies chestnut.

The record closes with “I Only Have Love,” a song with a tad more turbocharged tempo than W.C. Clark’s well-known version.

As “One Bite Won’t Kill You” fades, the last sound is a hearty laugh, to make it clear that Dr. Burma had as much fun making it as you will have listening to it.

Dr. Burma play a CD Release Party at Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon on Saturday, June 7.

Local Rhythms – Banding Together for a Fan

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Few can match the music community’s generous nature. It’s amazing – most area players have day jobs, and stuggle to find the time to even practice. But when there’s a friend in need or a cause worth supporting, they won’t hesitate to step up.

For example, there’s the COVER show featuring Jay Ungar and Molly Mason tomorrow at the Lebanon Opera House, and next week’s Farmer’s Market benefit, wit Dar Williams topping the bill.

Sometimes it’s a fellow performer that needs a helping hand, but this weekend in South Strafford, Vermont some of the Upper Valley’s best will band together for a fan.

Health care is a problem that no amount of politics or public agitation seems able to solve. For some, medicine is the greatest luxury of all. That’s the case for the area woman, who’s asked to remain anonymous in the public media, at the center of Saturday’s benefit show at Barrett Hall.

The “Purple Hair Fund Dance” – she’s been known to dye hers that color – features Dr. Burma, Gypsy Reel, Blue Monday, Jeanne McCullough and Friends, Jeremiah McClane and Terry Youk.

In the course of the event’s four hours, others will undoubtedly join in.

Admission is by donation, and proceeds raised will help with the medical costs faced by a person who, says show organizer Ted Mortimer, “all the musicians on the bill know and love.”

Ted Mortimer leads Dr. Burma; he’s guitarist, teacher and all-around good guy. “I’ve known her for 20 years,” he says.

“She and my wife Linda are like sisters.”

“Last month she was diagnosed with a Type IV Glioblastoma,” he tod me in a recent email, “which is the worst variant of the most aggressive brain tumor there is. She had surgery at DHMC about 10 days ago to remove it, but they couldn’t get it all.

“The docs have told her she has 18 months to live if she opts for heavy radiation and chemo; 3-6 months if she doesn’t. She has no health insurance, little savings, and can no longer work.”

Far too often, financial ruin accompanies the physical and emotional devastation of failing health. That’s especially true for a lot of musicians.

The Rhythm & Blues Foundation, for example, pays for things like wheelchairs, hearing aids and funeral expenses for destitute players.

With that in mind, it’s inspiring to know that this weekend, local musicians will be singing for a music lover.

What else is on the calendar?

Thursday: Aztec Two-Step, Boccelli’s – “Music Lives in Bellows Falls.” That’s the new slogan across the river, and they’re proving with show after show. This duo has been entertaining regional audiences since the late Sixties. Their 1972 debut album sat at the crossroads of folk and prog-rock, and was an FM radio staple at a time when such a thing mattered. It’s been over 35 years, and they’re still going strong.

 

Friday: Blue Monday, Skunk Hollow Tavern – This band, which also plays the “Purple Hair Dance,” got their name from the Monday night Salt Hill jam sessions where they met and found their groove together. Featuring harmonica man Johnny Bishop, Brian Kennell of the Squids, Bobby Gagnier and Ted Mortimer (who’s everywhere and plays everything, it seems), the band covers the gamut of the American blues idiom, and have a ton of fun in the process.

Saturday: Sirsy, Salt Hill Two – If you haven’t seen this two-piece powerhouse, you’re in for a treat. Haling from upstate New York, Sirsy features the awesome lungs of Melanie Krahmer, who can wail, growl and pound the devil out of a drum kit. She’s accompanied by guitarist Rich Libutti, who helps out on snare when Melanie takes a flute solo – did I mention that? This is a duo that’s decidedly greater than the sum of their parts.

Sunday: Jack’s Mannequin, Keene State College – Jack McMahon’s side project is more of the piano-driven indie rock that his band, Something Corporate, has a reputation for – albeit a little wilder and unrestrained. In an attempt to either keep the crowd young or make sure the oldsters pay a price for living vicariously, student tickets are five bucks. Everybody else pays twenty-five.

Monday: Graham Parker & His Latest Clowns, Iron Horse – He emerged around the same time as Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. Early records like “Squeezing Out Sparks” hinted at greatness, but Parker’s star never rose to the level of his English compatriots. One of the punchiest live shows in all of rock. Eilen Jewell opens – she’ll be a bona fide star by summer’s end, mark my words.

Wednesday: Chaos Theory Dance Company, Colby Sawyer College – Student, faculty and guest dancers join forces for two nights of spirited improvisation The “Theory of Everything” dance features music taken from silent movies and Queen riffs. This week’s eclectic pick.

Local Rhythms – A Year of Highs and Lows

drburmasmall.jpgThis year’s local music scene is best summed up by one of my favorite all-purpose sayings – “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I believe I heard it first, appropriately enough, in “The Sound of Music.”

There were more opening windows than closing doors in most places this year, but not, sadly, in Bellows Falls. In what seemed like one fell swoop, the Windham closed and Oona’s burned down. Roots on the River won’t be the same next year, but it got a raucous (if damp) sendoff in 2006 with scintillating performances from Crooked Still. Ingrid’s Ruse and James McMurtry – not to mention Fred Eaglesmith, who will definitely be returning next year. As, I hope, will Bellows Falls.

Newport’s short-lived Eagle Tavern shut its doors, but a few months later Josh and Joe Tuohy came to the rescue. Salt Hill Two – Joe confirmed the name last night – will open late next month.

In Springfield, the Royal Flush filled a void left with the closing of Morningstar Café, presenting lots of local talent, and cornering the market on tribute bands.

The aforementioned Ingrid’s Ruse epitomized the ups and downs of 2006. They released their only album and promptly broke up. The displeased gods (or the CD factory, depending on who you believe) held up the disk’s release, forcing the band to do two farewell shows at the Heritage. This year spelled the end of one of my favorite fusion bands, Oshe, but also the emergence of another – Oneside.

Hexerei endured personnel changes, but ended the year on a high note, winning a slot on the Family Values tour and releasing a new album. Stonewall finally put out a record, as did the Conniption Fits. All three bands shone at Rock the Whale, the high point of the summer (and maybe the year).

In Claremont, the new year began with the promise of a new downtown restaurant. Sophie and Zeke’s opened in the space formerly occupied by Café Cubana, and fast became an area magnet. In early summer, they began offering music, first with Thursday jazz (more on that later), then with a varied slate of other live talent.

Performers there included everyone from Pete “Three Season” Merrigan, Josh Parker of Stonewall playing solo, bluegrass from the Spiral Farm Band and Spare Change, and the smooth vocals of Al Alessi (with the stunning piano of Bill Wightman). In one year, “Sophie & Zeke’s” became synonymous with “music,” and is predictably packed most Thursday and Friday nights.

Tomorrow, Sophie and Zeke’s celebrates its first birthday, welcoming Dr. Burma for a raucous dance party. Bandleaders Ted Mortimer and Linda Boudreault are regular Friday night favorites with their blend of jazz and pop standards. During the dinner hour, they’ll stick to that format. Later, however, they’ll clear away a few tables and welcome the rest of the group for some high energy rock and soul.

What a perfect way to celebrate one of the great additions to the local scene. What else awaits in the coming days?

Thursday: New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – The band that started the musical ball rolling. Tom Caselli and Nate Thompson provide steady rhythm; Larry Welker adds guitar spice to the mix. Floating above it all is vocalist Emily Lanier, with an easy style that suits this room perfectly. Of all the versions of “Route 66” played at Sophie & Zeke’s this year (I’ve counted four so far), theirs is the best.

Friday: Gully Boys, Seven Barrels – I took way too long to check this band out, and I won’t make that mistake twice. They borrow from the likes of Widespread Panic, the Grateful Dead, Umphrey’s McGee and Phish. Their sound, however, is distinctive – quite a feat considering the many configurations of the band over the years. They fit nicely into Seven Barrels (no mean feat).

Saturday: Stonewall, The Heritage – One of the best Windham shows of the year, this band continues to be one of my favorites, a veritable three man army. A tip of the hat, while I’m at it, to Martin Hansen, for booking some of the best bands around to this odd-shaped Charlestown room. Here’s to another successful year.

New Year’s Eve: I’m going to switch up a bit and provide multiple picks for Sunday night. You decide. Start with dinner at Bistro Nouveau, then catch Dr. Burma at Salt Hill, where last year’s groovalicious show is still being talked about. Or greet 2007 with the Conniption Fits at Shenanigans; their new, punchy and crunchy CD will win them more fans this year. Yer Mother’s Onion, another shining light on the local scene, light up Seven Barrels. Finally, Jeremy Lyons and the Deltabilly Boys raise the roof at Middle Earth. Happy New Year!