Local Rhythms – Segue to Heaven

bf_port_bioThe other day, I received a mini-lecture on the perils of technology from one of those “I’m not a computer person” people.

Though I remain unconvinced to give up e-mail, digital newspapers or my beloved iPod, she did make me nostalgic for old school disk jockeys.

Among the changes wrought by the MP3 era is a near disappearance of the artful transition from one song to another.

These days, the word “segue” brings to mind the two-wheeled transportation of “Paul Blart Mall Cop” – not music.

But there was a time when the radio was a wonderful place of discovery and the hosts were spirit guides and alchemists.

“I am a DJ, I am what I play,” David Bowie once sang. “I’ve got believers.”

Once a guy named Joe Kelly on KOME-FM in San Jose, California laid the brooding harmonica opening of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” atop the final notes of Meat Loaf’s “Bat of Hell,” and it made me want to go out and case the promised land.

Pandora, Slacker and Last.fm are fine at what they do, but they’re simply tools to find music.

They can’t make you feel it.

I miss that – but Bill Fitzhugh gives me hope.

Fitzhugh’s “All Hand Mixed Vinyl” show combines the passion of radio’s golden era with the skill of a great club DJ.

A typical set features Chicago’s “Southern California Purples” split down the middle, between it two versions of “I Am The Walrus,” and crowned with Todd Rundgren’s note for note recreation of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Every song is slip-cued and beat-mixed to perfection.

Last week’s half-hour featured a seamless transition of Zeppelin’s “Living Loving Maid” to Tull’s “Aqualung” to an obscure Grand Funk song, leading eventually to the commingling of the percussion sections of “Whole Lotta Love” and Chicago’s “I’m A Man.”

As Fitzhugh wove the two songs together multiple times, it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began.

Musically and thematically, it worked perfectly. Lyrics like “you need cooling/baby I’m not fooling,” and “I’m a man and I can’t help but love you so” are sentiments cut from the same cloth.

Fitzhugh’s been doing his thing for a couple of years now, once a week (with multiple replays) on the XM Deep Tracks satellite channel.

Considering that listening to “Abbey Road” on shuffle can turn me into a Luddite, it’s like a glass of cool water in the desert.

What else is cool this week?

Thursday: Eve 6, Pickle Barrel – It’s the sweet spot of ski season, which means my favorite winter place – the après-ski lodge – is bustling. Tonight, an LA-based alt-rock band that got its name from an X-Files episode carries on with two out of three original members, after splitting in 2004. They’re working on a new album, but expect to hear “Inside Out,” which went to number one on the modern rock charts in 1998.

Friday: Mark Erelli, Boccelli’s – “Delivered” is far and away the best effort of Erelli’s career. From parenthood (“Once”) to the loss of his own parents (“Man of the Family”) to the dual comfort and frustration of unchanging routine (“Hope Dies Last”), no record in 2008 better exemplified what life is like today. You owe it to yourself to hear Mark play this beautiful, soul-affirming masterpiece (solo) tonight.

Saturday: Sensible Shoes Dance Party, Canoe Club – Once a month, this downtown restaurant clears away a few tables and indulges in decibels the way a chocoholic attacks dessert. Last time around, Tim Utt and Barbara Blaisdell’s soulful band attracted a good crowd to this late start (9 PM) party, and rocked their way through familiar songs and a few choice selections from a new record due later this spring. Big fun!

Sunday: Kris Delmhorst, Armadillo’s Burritos – This singer-songwriter began her last album (“Shotgun Singer”) with stripped-down solo takes, then called in her pals, including Peter Mulvey and husband Jeffrey Foucault, to flesh them out. The results wowed critics far and wide, and led to a lot of airplay on XM’s Loft station, which is an oasis for Americana fans. Armadillo’s, located in downtown Keene, presents folk shows monthly.

Monday: Open Mike, Bentley’s – This is the perfect Monday event. It’s full of surprises, just like the start of the week. Silas & Company helm the talent night, typically broken into 15 minute segments, and welcoming anyone with a guitar and the guts to perform in front of an audience. With the bevy of open mikes area-wide, there must be plenty fitting that description.

Tuesday: Singer and Jordan, Tip Top Café – Phil Singer and Laurianne Jordan play the kind of folk music that was in vogue before Dylan went electric. They sing about trains, love gone wrong and leaders in need of schooling, all of which pair well with anything on the menu at this fine White River Junction restaurant.

FCC Ponders More Localism, NAB Responds

Bloomberg columnist Cindy Skyrzycki writes that a recent FCC proposal has National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) members talking as they meet this week in Las Vegas:

Under proposals published Feb. 13, the Federal Communications Commission would require television and radio station owners to reconnect with their markets at a time when technology allows remote broadcasting and shared programming. The industry doesn’t like the idea.

How broadcasters serve the public interest in exchange for free use of public airwaves has been debated for decades. The stakes have increased as media consolidation and technology have allowed stations to operate without a local presence and with ownership far away. The FCC said it was rethinking its past reliance on “market forces” to decide programming.

The NAB wonders why cable and satellite television companies aren’t being similarly pressured. I don’t think they have much to worry about. Remember the Michael Powell road show back in 2003, when thousands of citizens lined up to complain about everything from disappearing farm reports, a dearth of local news and, most famously, tornado warnings going unreported because no humans were around to answer the “local” station’s phone?

People had their chance to vent; after that, nothing happened. It’s been five years, and the best the FCC can come up with is pablum about “better serving local communities”? That train left the station in the early 1980s, with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. The so-called public airwaves are now governed by the Golden Rule: he who has the gold, rules.

One interesting tidbit in the FCC’s February 13 document caught my eye, however:

Also under consideration is whether stations should set up and consult local advisory boards to determine “significant community needs” and whether radio playlists exclude local artists. Comments are due April 28.

If the FCC passes this, does it mean I can force Q-106 to play Stonewall’s new record? I’m not holding my breath.

Local Rhythms – Maybe Music Really Does Want to be Free

magic_648.jpgTime was, I found new music via the car radio, but those days are fading fast. The Point and WEQX are two local exceptions, but their signals can be hard to tune in. Now there’s news of the latest shake-up at Rock 93.9/101.7.

For the moment, the station is 100 percent outsourced. Program director Steve Smith and midmorning DJ Liz Fox are gone, and the smart money is betting that the former Clear Channel outlet will move to an all-talk format.

“I spent 10 years with Clear Channel,” Smith said in response to my localrhythms.com blog post about his firing, “and 3 months with [new owner] Great Eastern Radio. I liked the first 10 years the best.”

When a perennial corporate radio villain becomes emblematic of the good old days, we’ve officially entered Bizarro World. Weirder still, it’s pretty much left for WFRD, a very grown up college station, to be the last best hope for new music around these parts

I can’t really blame a station for switching to talk radio. It’s all about margins, and as a business model, the format is reality television for the ears. It’s cheap, with plenty of volunteer talent waiting on hold for a chance to be the next caller.

But that means music will have to find another way to reach an audience.

Which leads to the question that’s most troubling me: who will play the new Bruce Springsteen song?

The answer is, apparently … you.

“Radio Nowhere,” an advance track from the Boss’s forthcoming “Magic” CD, hit the streets the other day – in the form of a free iTunes download. One of the biggest rock stars of all time can no longer rely on the airwaves. “This is radio nowhere,” moans Springsteen – “is there anybody alive out there?”

Prince recently gave away a million copies of his latest CD in a one-off deal with a British newspaper. And of course there’s SpiralFrog, Universal Music Group’s just-launched web site dedicated to the dissemination of free music.

What’s the world coming to?

In 7 years, we’ve gone from record companies suing Napster out of existence to the major labels being the biggest backers of free music around (with the possible exception of a few million of MySpace bands).

While they figure it all out, there’s plenty of good listening here in your own backyard:

Thursday: Sylvia Miskoe, Lebanon Farmer’s Market – As we move towards September, the nights cool down and the selection improves at farmer’s markets in Lebanon, Claremont and Bellows Falls. That’s the upside of autumn, I suppose. Miskoe plays accordion with a Scottish sensibility – she’s also a member of the Strathspey & Reel Society of New Hampshire, a Celtic music collective. Here’s a good excuse to dance a jig and sip a little cider.

Friday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – Of all the jazz combos to play in downtown Claremont, this is my favorite. One of the genre’s best elements is its spontaneity, which can make a song you’re heard a hundred time sound completely new. It takes seasoned talent and musical telepathy; this band has both. They can be both smooth and spirited, and always scintillating

Saturday: Chad Gibbs, Salt hill 2 – An area mainstay with a loping style reminiscent of Dave Matthews. He can make an acoustic guitar sound more plugged in than a Stratocaster. Tucked in the corner of downtown Newport’s upstairs room, he’ll mix blues, rock and funky folk, and make all of it sound bigger. I really like his original stuff, too. You can listen to it on Chad’s MySpace page.

Sunday: Bow Thayer with Dave Clark & Jukejoynt, Lyman Point Park – Check out mountain man Thayer on Middle Earth’s YouTube space to get a sense of his burly sound. It’s a treat. Jukejoynt is the most original of Dave Clark’s many musical manifestations. With help from Rich Meijer, Terry Diers, Jed Dickinson and Bobbie Gagnier, the joynt will be rockin’.

Monday: Bread & Roses Festival – Labor Day is about working people, and every year this festival commemorates one of the most significant labor actions in American history with music and history where it happened – Lawrence, Massachusetts. There’s Zydeco from the Pine Top Boys, folk from Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters, along with traditional music, poetry and living history. Go – you might learn something.

Wednesday: Meat Puppets, Pearl Street – Punk was growing more intelligent in the early 1980s, but this Phoenix band was having none of it. Making records for the SST label, they never succumbed to self-importance, even after backing Nirvana during their MTV Unplugged performance. They did, however, give punk a much-needed twang, and made some pretty good psychedelic music besides. This is the first re-grouping of the original lineup in 11 years.