Oneside – First, To Last

A hoedown mood opens Oneside’s new album, signaling a shift away from the country jazz permeating their earlier work.  New banjo player Chris Hersch picks out a spare figure, backed only by Ned deBary’s delicate acoustic guitar, then handclaps.  The singer begins, and a kick drum roughs up “The Letter,” the first track on the Boston-based band’s new CD, “First, To Last.”

Then, as deBary wryly sings, “don’t tell me I’m going down the wrong path,” there’s a crackle of snare from drummer Jake Brooks, and the song is off and running.  Within the short space of four minutes, Oneside moves across time, beginning at Cold Mountain and ending at the Moondog Show.

Oneside covers a lot of musical ground in “First, To Last.”  “Oh Sun” is a spiritualized Americana rave-up, while a reworked “Got To Go” (the song appeared on an earlier EP) is a pure slice of country pie.  “Lisa” suggests that someone in this band listened to a lot of Gram Parsons at one time or another.  Since the entire band is given songwriting credit for each of the album’s 11 songs, it’s hard to know just who.

Anyone who says the long player is dead should listen to this, and think again.  Apart from one desultory instrumental (“Four Corners”), there’s not a wasted moment here.  Standout tracks include the jazzy “Out of My Tree” and “Josephine,” a roiling murder ballad that’s evocative of Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider.”

The band produced itself, and they show off their studio talents on  “Into the Night,” which starts small and ends big. “Our Song” is a guardedly optimistic ode to the musician’s life.  The interplay between the four band members – deBary, Hersch, Brooks and bassist Grafton Pease, is stunning.  No one element dominates, and what results is a gorgeous balance of flourish and restraint.  “Feel the song from both sides,” sings DeBary, and indeed they do.

The record’s tour de force is “Last Radio,” a darker look at the musical profession. The song metaphorically buries what’s left of the business, and waits to see what grows.

“Put your ear to the ground,” they sing, “listen a million miles down, hear a brand new sound, melodies escaping.”  As the Band and the Grateful Dead did, along with their modern disciples Wilco and Son Volt, Oneside is setting out to mine the deep.

Like those bands, they’ve burned their maps and manuals, preferring to work on instinct.

Or perhaps a better analogy can be found in the kitchen, where the trick is reconstructing familiar ingredients in new, inventive ways. Oneside has stepped away from being Bela Fleck acolytes to charting a different course.  With this effort, Oneside distills a long American musical history into its pure essence.

Oneside plays Friday at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon.  Show starts at 9 PM.

Local Rhythms – Alumni Weekend

Since I grew up in a California city with four different high schools, the idea of Alumni Weekend seemed quaint when I came to Claremont in 1980.

I’ve come to realize just how important it is to the local community: a chance to renew old ties and catch up on life’s changes. Every June, regardless of time or distance, Claremont is once again home.

The focal point is, of course, Saturday’s annual Alumni Day parade. Graduates from as far back as 1930 ride in vintage cars and often astounding floats – this year’s theme is “Our Beautiful Parks” – that represent weeks, even months of planning and preparation.

Adding to the pomp and circumstance is a new VIP viewing stand, stationed in front of Hullabaloo, that allows past teachers and honored guests to watch as marching bands and reveler-filled flatbed trucks pass in review.

Rain or shine, it’s an event not to be missed.

One of my favorite moments happens Friday night at the Stevens High School Band’s annual Pops Concert, when past members are invited to join in and jam at the end of the show. This year’s music includes songs from the Beatles and Elton John catalog, a bit of Broadway music, and selections from recent school productions of “Grease” and “Bye Bye Birdie.”

On Saturday, there’s dancing in the streets as well, with local rockers the Rhythm Junkies holding forth downtown from noon until three. Pleasant Street will be bustling with food booths, while Broad Street Park will have plenty of activities for kids, including a clown and a giant slide.

Later that night there’s a banquet at the Stevens gym, and then a Moose Lodge performance by Stan Jr., a Derry, New Hampshire singer with a knack for stringing together several decades’ worth of tunes, punctuated with a Las Vegas showman’s gift for gab.

Stan Jr. charmed the crowd at the Alumni Association’s “Super Legends” benefit last fall. So, says association secretary Pauline Pelletier, “he’s back by popular demand.”
As is Alumni Weekend, without fail; Stevens, it’s been noted many times, has the longest-running, continuously active high school alumni effort in the country. That’s due to hard work and a durable community fabric – and, of course, Cardinal Pride.

Now, on to the rest of the entertainment calendar:

Thursday: Farmer’s Market, Claremont – A TV nutritionist recently explained that French people stay skinny and live longer lives because they eat real food. Whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, not the kind of stuff you pick up at the drive-through window. This weekly merchant gathering provides a bevy of locally grown produce, along with crafts and yes, music. The Sugar River String Band performs, with different talent promised through autumn.

Friday: Oneside, Salt Hill Pub – This Boston-based band makes stops at Charlestown’s Heritage Tavern (the next is July 14), but I caught them first at Lebanon’s pub on the green. They combine elements of Dave Matthews Band with Bela Fleck’s spirited musical flights, along with a few southern accents. Check out “Got To Go” on their MySpace site. Ian Knox redefines that banjo as an electric instrument. Plus, you can dance to it.

Saturday: Shana Morrison, Ascutney Resort – The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Van’s daughter returns for a brief (two date) Eastern tour. She played the Crow’s Nest last winter to a sold-out crowd. The sight lines left a lot to be desired, so with any luck they’ll relocate the music to a bigger room. Shana mixes her dad’s gems (she sat in during Van the Man’s 2006 tour) with some fine originals. The dreamy, Worcester-based Curtain Society backed her last time out.
Sunday: Pete Merrigan, Murphy’s – Pete’s back and he’s everywhere – Sophie & Zeke’s tomorrow, New London’s Snyder’s College Cafe on Saturday and Sunday at this Sunapee eatery, a favorite Merrigan haunt for years. It’s been gussied up, with a new chef and menu. Bleu cheese crusted filet and a Mont Blanc white chocolate raspberry pyramid are among the new items on the menu. But you can stick with margaritas, chips and salsa – nobody will mind.

Monday: Molly Venter, Canoe Club – After Marko the Magician goes from table to table like most Monday nights, this New Haven-born singer/songwriter debuts at the Canoe. Judging from the songs on her MySpace page, she has the lyrical sensibilities of Ani DiFranco (“I have trouble relating/when I’m self-medicating”) and a soaring voice that reminds me a bit of Jann Arden.
Wednesday: Albert Hammond Jr., Pearl Street – The force behind indie darlings the Strokes made a solo album that shows he learned a thing or two from his father, who wrote “It Never Rains In Southern California.” Junior’s “Yours To Keep” isn’t bubble gum pop, but it’s got more sheen than most post-punk.

Today’s Free Download – Oneside

oneside2.jpgI linked to a Oneside video a few months back, but this is a band-authorized MP3 of “Chinatown,” a song that’s equal parts jazz, jam band and psychobilly.

Upper Valley region fans have two chances to check this Boston-based quartet out in the coming weeks – Friday at Salt Hill Pub and a week from this Saturday at the Heritage.

Live, they prove something I’ve told a few bands in the past – it’s possible to play mostly original material in a bar without losing the crowd. They only think they want to hear “Cocaine” for the 10,000th time.

Oneside has played at SxSW and the Kennedy Center to attentive audiences. Someday soon this band will turn the corner and you’ll be kicking yourself for not seeing them when you had the chance.