Local Rhythms – My Kind of Must-See TV

dish-networkI admit I’m a media junkie, but my habit gives me perspective.  As an unpaid entertainment taste tester, I’ve tried everything.

What I’m saying is – you can trust me.

The endless stream of television provider ads would have you believe that quantity is all that matters.

Comcast claims to have enough on-demand programming for two lifetimes.

DirecTV touts the most high definition channels (not mentioning that 30 of them are off-limits regional sports stations like MSG).

I’ve no quarrel with excess, but Dish Network proves it’s not all about the numbers.

I’m sticking with Dish for the same reason I have a Mac – it works.

Begin with a smart user interface that provides rich details like original airdate and episode number.  Add custom program guides and a dual receiver with an IR remote control that lets me pause shows on one TV and resume them on another.

Dish also has a high gadget factor. Since activating the USB port on my VIP 622 receiver (for a one-time charge) I can now back up my favorite shows to a portable hard drive – no more DVD box sets for me.

There’s also an iPod-like device available with built-in Dish compatibility, to record shows for portable viewing.

Oh, and did I mention that the programming is top-notch?

This weekend, I watched “Sound Explosion” on the Smithsonian HD Channel, a new six-part series about the evolution of American music hosted by Morgan Freeman.

I learned how B.B. King got his name (it’s short for “Blues Boy”) and why he calls his guitar “Lucille” (something about a roadhouse fire after a fight over a girl) on the first segment, “Birth of the Blues.”

Part two weaves disparate elements like Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Guitar Slim with the swampy histrionics of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Carlos Santana, while the jazz-focused third episode features archival footage (in high def, no less) of Miles Davis’s final performance at Montreaux in 1991.

It’s amazing stuff.

Dish isn’t perfect.  It huffily cancelled all 15 Voom channels last May, effectively killing the best provider of true-HD music programming, not to mention high-def kung fu movies.

But they do offer east and west feeds of HBO, Showtime and Starz – in HD.

So I’ll cut them a break, though I hope they’ll kiss and make up with Voom.

OK, enough of my excessive habit.  What’s happening in the live music scene this week?

Thursday: Ray Davies, Higher Ground – Though his solo work isn’t on a par with the best of the Kinks, Davies is worth seeing for his talents as a raconteur alone.  Heck, VH1 created the “Storytellers” series just to hear Ray read aloud from his autobiography.  He’s one of the few survivors of the British Invasion who’s still trying to find something interesting to say rather than just relying on old hits.

Friday: Song Circle, Hotel Coolidge – A First Friday tradition returns with an open invitation to anyone with a song to sing and something to sing it with – things get underway at 4 PM.  White River Junction’s musical renaissance also includes the Tuckerbox Café singer-songwriter series tonight, with Betsey Stewart hosting a 6 PM start.  Between the two, there’s more than enough to get your folk on.

Saturday: The Thang, Sophie & Zeke’s – A bigger space means bigger bands.  Headlining an all-day slate of music that includes an afternoon set by Sensible Soul and performance from alt-rocker Abby Payne, this New York-based funk band plays high energy dancing music well past the dinner hour.  It’s all part of the official grand opening of the new S&Z’s location in Claremont’s Opera House Square.  Celebrate good times, come on!

Sunday: Samirah Evans, Center at Eastman – This elegant jazz vocalist was a mainstay in her hometown of New Orleans, performing at Snug Harbor, Sweet Lorraine’s, the House of Blues and other well-known clubs.  Her debut album made the Times-Picayune’s Top 10 in 2002.  When Hurricane Katrina hit, Evans and her husband, a Vermont native, moved to Brattleboro.   Sunday’s set kicks off this year’s JOSA series.

Monday: Vienna Teng, Iron Horse – Blending elements of classical, rock and baroque folk, Teng performs epic songs fueled by her magnificent soprano.  She’s similar to Tori Amos and Sarah MacLachlan in that all three can fill a room with just a piano and a voice to sing with.  I prefer Vienna’s songwriting for its depth and vision, however. She plays solo tonight; with a new album due next year, a full band tour should follow in the spring.

Wednesday: Emily Lanier & Fred Haas, Canoe Club –
The former New Kind of Blue singer joins up with Haas, an ace piano and saxophone player and perhaps (according to CC’s official schedule) talented guitarist Jason Ennis.  Whatever the combo, Emily’s elegant voice will surely add to the dinner ambience.