Local Rhythms – Greening St Patrick’s Day

Posted March 11, 2009 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Irish, Local Rhythms, Music, Ninja Monkey, Paul Nardizzi, St Patrick's Day, Yer Mothers Onion

p1011584The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration on this side of the pond happened in Boston in 1737, 19 years ahead of New York.

It’s satisfying to know that, even if NYC has a bigger parade.

Here’s another fun fact: though it’s been a public holiday in Ireland since 1903, the religious focus of the observance – Patrick was a saint, after all – kept Irish bars closed on March 17 until 1970.

It’s safe to say that we approach the “wearing of the green” differently, which explains why Guinness is pushing to make St. Patrick’s a US holiday with their “Proposition 3-17” effort.

There are probably more Irish-Americans than Irish, and they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with gusto, pouring dye in rivers (Chicago), canals (Indianapolis) and fountains (Savannah), while painting traffic lines and sometimes entire blocks Kelly green.

Our streams are too frozen for such antics, but there’s still plenty of local Irish energy.

If you can’t bear to party on a weeknight, Celtic Crossing plays the Chandler Music Hall Sunday night, but the real action is on Tuesday.

Good Celtic bands are doing double duty this year.  Over at Okemo, Gypsy Reel is at the resort’s pub in the afternoon; later they serenade The Killarney, a lovely slice of the Emerald Isle.

Reaganta, a talented trio from Exeter, appear at the Holy Grail in Epping (2 PM) and Harlow’s Pub in Peterborough (7 PM).

O’hanleigh plays both Salt hill Pubs – 4 PM in Newport and 7 PM in Lebanon – as does the Chris Stevens Band.

Of course, St Pat’s at Salt hill is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  So it’s multiple days of fun at the Lebanon location – an Irish-themed open mike on Thursday, the 8th annual Shamrock Shuffle 5K after-party Saturday, and a special evening of Irish music with Longford Row on Sunday.

Salt hill also hosts a traditional Irish breakfast at 9 AM Tuesday, which includes the raising of the first pint.

Colcannon, with Samantha Moffatt on hammered dulcimer and accordion, and Patricia Stebbins on harp, perform at Canoe Club.

Less traditional but just as fun is Mark and Deb Bond’s 3rd annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the Walpole Village Tavern.

Local heroes Yer Mother’s Onion will electrify the first ever Sophie & Zeke’s SPD soiree.

So there are several good excuses to cut loose on a Tuesday.

Or, you could just wait until next Friday and catch the Saw Doctors in Northampton.

What else is happening?

Thursday: Lucinda Williams, Capitol Center – Her cigarettes and whisky drawl could make the “Star Spangled Banner” sound sultry.  Williams rocked pretty hard at last year’s Green River Festival, closing with an AC/DC song.  The trend continued with the release of “Little Honey,” her ninth and most upbeat album.  There’s hardly a razor-gazer on the disc – it’s nice to see Lucinda lighten up a bit.

Friday: Comedy & Music, Bistro Nouveau – Boston comic Paul Nardizzi headlines, while Pete Merrigan (who can cut up with the best of them) provides the music.  Nardizzi likes to riff on sports, changing steroid poster child Alex Rodriguez’s nickname to “A-Needle” on his blog.  I’m sure he’ll have plenty to say about the upcoming Sox season and the Celtics acquisition of loopy Stephon Marbury.

Saturday: Ninja Monkey, Heritage Tavern – Ezra Veitch and Josh Maiocco’s call their latest project “SouthernVT Rock” – a dash of Elvis (Costello), a dollop of Fred Eaglesmith and a slice of Greg Brown, mixed with elements of their own various bands.  Ninja Monkey’s a monthly fixture at PK’s in Bellows Falls and they’ll be greening up next Tuesday’s St. Pat’s celebration at Harvest Moon in Saxton’s River.

Sunday: Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, Stonewall Farm – A first rate Americana show presented by Orange Earth, promoter of the occasional Sunday folk shows at Armadillo’s Burritos.  Arbo made amazing music with Salamander Crossing in the mid-90s.  “Big Old World,” the third Daisy Mayhem album, is a gem.  It’s full of spirit and hope, along with good singing and playing.   Stonewall, a back-to-basics Keene dairy farm, sounds like a good place for a show.

Monday: Bobby K & the Peace, Bentley’s – Citing Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dave Matthews and Tupac as influences, you know this combo is out of the ordinary.  They’ve dubbed their music “folk-hop,” and this Vermont trio gets the crowd involved when they play. Since it’s an open mike night, audience participation is de rigueur.  No, seriously, bring your guitar and get in on the action.

Wednesday: Second Wind, Green Acres Café – Let’s coax spring with a wine tasting and music from this fine local duo, who regularly perform at the Claremont Farmer’s Market.  This Opera House Square café/grocer is a perfect place to enjoy gourmet food and good conversation.  Terry Gould and Suzi Hastings reach across the musical spectrum, moving between Heart, Springsteen and Lyle Lovett with ease.

Dublin City Ramblers Kick Off Lebanon St. Patrick’s Day

Posted March 11, 2009 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Dublin City Ramblers, Local Rhythms, Music, Salt Hill Pub, St Patrick's Day

p1011548The lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day began in Lebanon Tuesday night with a performance by the Dublin City Ramblers.  The three-piece band scored an international hit with “Dublin in the Rare Old Times” in 1970 and, led by the picking and singing of Sean McGuinness, have been going strong ever since.

Their Opera House performance was, in the words of one audience member, “just like Dublin pubs in the 1960s,” filled with songs both sad (“Grace”) and spirited .  Finishing with a medley of the Irish national anthem (sung in Gaelic) and the “Star Spangled Banner,” the Ramblers headed over to Salt hill Pub.

Earlier in the evening, the weekly Irish Sessions, led by Chris Stevens and Roger Burridge, played in the center of the room.  Musicians improvising jigs and reels included Jeremiah McClane of Nightingale, and Krista Lampe of the Upper Valley Music Center.  Pints poured, and a Champions League football match between Juventas and Chelsea played in the background.

Ramblers guitarist/vocalist Derrick Keane sat down in the circle and was soon joined by McGuinness.   Even without a microphone, Keane’s voice soared over the crowded pub.  Later, bass player Tom Miller joined his mates, and three played past midnight, accompanied by two fiddles and a bodhrán.

Though typically less star-studded, the Irish Sessions are a weekly fixture at Salt hill, located on the Lebanon Green.

Local Rhythms – 15 Discs That Changed My Life

Posted March 4, 2009 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Facebook, Local Rhythms

picture-9Though I’m pretty caught up in Facebook, their gimmicks don’t appeal to me.  A poke (or God forbid, a super poke) won’t get a response, my flirts are apparently hurting, and I’ve no pieces of flair adorning my corkboard.

Fort that matter, I don’t have a corkboard.

But Facebook lists are a different story.  I’m a sucker for surveys asking me to answer 20 questions with just one word, or list 25 random personal facts.

This recent Facebook meme really fished me in, along with a few thousand music fans:

“Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it,” it asked, that, “no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world.”

Making my own list was fun, but I was more interested in other responses.

I’m not one of those people with a thousand Facebook pals.  Rather than make new friends, I prefer to do a better job with the ones I’ve already got.

I learned plenty with this exercise.

My oldest friend in the world is a certified metalhead, but his picks surprisingly included Blind Faith and Herman’s Hermits.

A lot of women had Carole King’s “Tapestry” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” but my sister, bless her heart, also put “Best of Bread” on hers.

Way to take that “no matter what they were thought of musically” caveat seriously, Sis.

The sixty-something friend who, in Facebook-speak, first “tagged” me with this “note” chose lots of classic rock (Clapton, Hendrix & Joplin), but also had the Kingston Trio.

He couldn’t limit his Beatles picks to just one album.

Plenty of folks needed more than 15 slots, including one friend whose list ran to 35 choices.  Excessive maybe, but it produced an eclectic mix including Tommy Clancy and Duran Duran.

I prowled the Internets to see if the rest of the world resembled my friend list, and found one wag who had Chris Whitley’s “Dirt Floor” keeping company with Boston’s first disc and a Nicola Conte acid jazz 12 inch – technically, not an album.

The whole experience reinforced my belief that music to some extent shapes everyone, especially my Facebook friends.

I’m going to start my own list called “songs that confuse me,” beginning with “A Horse With No Name” and “Take Me To the Pilot.”

Here are my picks for the week:

Thursday: Pete Merrigan, Brown’s Tavern – This may be the first time I’ve ever picked Pete in March.  He’s acquired a lot of new fans via the Yellow House Media web site, which recently added a lot of songs.  “Born Here” held the top spot on the most popular song stream list for several weeks.  He’s heading down to St. Pete (no relation) for a show later this month, along with a radio interview.  Lucky guy.

Friday: Talkin’ Smack Band, Imperial Lounge – Formerly known as Junk in the Trunk, it remains to be seen if this band has some new tricks to go with their new name.  Not that they need any, as they serve up a steady diet of the kind of selections that fit well on my 15 best list (multiple decades at that). Imperial is shaping into a great music room, with lots of room for dancing and good sound.

Saturday: Extra Stout, Killarney – My better half is named Patty and was born on St. Patrick’s Day, so we tend to celebrate the whole month of March.  That’s also true for this Okemo-area pub, which touts an authentic Irish vibe.  The music of this Vermont-based band is described as “drinking and rebel tunes, ballads, jigs and reels.”  All perfectly served with a pint of Guinness.

Sunday: San Jose Taiko Drums, Hopkins Center – Based in my former California home town, they specializes in kumidaiko – ensemble drumming on Japanese drums.  These colorful, propulsive and hypnotic performers also appear Saturday at the Colonial Theatre in Keene. The Japanese-American troupe draws from samba, rock and Afro-Cuban rhythms as well as their native roots.

Tuesday: Dublin City Ramblers, Lebanon Opera House – The Upper Valley’s official St. Patrick’s Day headquarters, Salt hill Pub, is sponsoring this traditional Celtic band’s appearance.  Better yet, they’ve agreed to visit the pub after their Opera House set to join weekly Irish session musicians Roger Burridge and Dave Loney for a tune or two.  Indeed, a big night on the Green.

Wednesday: OK Go, Pearl Street – A few years back this power pop combo won an MTV Video Award, even though their inventive treadmill dance clip was entirely a MySpace phenomenon hardly shown on the former music channel.  They’re featured in the upcoming film “I Love You Man,” playing a wedding band with the classic name Tastes Like Chicken.  Wait, I was going to use that!

15 Albums

Posted March 4, 2009 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life

records_1A Facebook meme that’s sweeping the Internets:

Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically, shaped your world. When you finish, tag 15 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you’re it!

I’m going in chronological order, and since this is my blog, providing commentary on my choices.

Oh, and please post your own lists in the comments section, with or without commentary.

1. Cast Your Fate to the Wind, Vince Guaraldi – My father’s greatest gift was instilling a love of creative expression, particularly music.  The moody piano figure that opens this piece is as haunting today as it was the first time I heard it nearly 50 years ago.  It provided the first hint of a world beyond “The Wheels on the Bus.”

2. The Beatles Second Album, The Beatles I heard about the Fab Four, watched them on Ed Sullivan, but this Capitol cannabilization hooked me, plus it exposed me to the music of Motown, Chuck Berry and Little Richard for the first time. Hey, I was 6 years old!

3. Monkees Headquarters, Monkees I loved that the Prefab Four demanded artistic control, and this, their third album, showed what that was all about. The Monkees also produced the first crack in my unwavering loyalty to one band only – the Beatles.

6. Bookends, Simon & GarfunkelSensing my musical mind becoming more open, my parents gave me “Sounds of Silence” for Christmas and “Bookends” for my birthday in July.  These introduced me to the poetry of singer-songwriters, still to this day my favorite genre of music.

5. Woodstock, Original Soundtrack In 1970, the top 40 station in town (on the AM dial, no less) switched to AOR.  Suddenly, you could spend the whole day listening and never hear the same song twice.  That’s where I heard about Woodstock – it passed me by completely when it happened in real time.  The corrupting force on my 13-year old brain of naked girls swimming in a creek while stage announcements warned of “brown acid” cannot be fully measured.

6. A Question of Balance, Moody Blues Though I would become a bigger fan of prog-rock bands like Genesis, Yes, Nektar, Caravan, Camel, Amon Duul and Focus, this album launched my love of swirling orchestral synth-rock.  Still sounds good too.

7. James Gang Rides Again, James GangI spent my paper route money at a record store called Sound Expression.  One day, I asked a clerk, who were like clerics in my church of music, for a recommendation.  I want hard rock, I said, not knowing what that meant.  He pointed me to this crunchy blues rock masterpiece, which I bought without question.

8. For Everyman, Jackson BrowneI purchased it for “Redneck Friend,” with Elton John’s frenetic (and frankly, poorly recorded) piano. But I love it for the title cut, “The Times You’ve Come” (my first exposure to Bonnie Raitt’s voice) and Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s gorgeous steel guitar on the bridge between “Take It Easy” and “Our Lady of the Well.”

9. Something/Anything, Todd RundgrenIt was either this or “A Wizard, A True Star” – I heard both around the same time, but being rooted in Beatles makes Todd’s double album magnum opus the one that sticks.

10. Warren Zevon, Warren Zevon A different side of singer-songwriter – darker, melancholy, sardonic.  Greg Copeland’s “Revenge Will Come” better typifies the style, but Zevon was the first, and he has a larger body of work (sorry, Greg).

11. Hejira, Joni Mitchell She fused jazz and lyricism at a time in my life when a line like “white flags of winter chimnies waving truce against the moon” spoke directly to the core of my being.  World weary, wondering whether it was all worth it, and a few thousand miles from home, I needed Joni’s travelers journal like a parched man needs water.

12. Graceland, Paul SimonI hadn’t thought about South Africa much until this record came out, let alone its culture.  The night I saw this performed live, with Hugh Masakela, Miriam Makeba and of course Ladysmith Black Mambazo, remains one of my top 5 concerts.

13. Steady On, Shawn Colvin This came out of nowhere, and as good as Colvin is as a songwriter (she is amazing), the years have shown that the mood, texture and strength of “Steady On” belongs to John Leventhal, the most talented and underrated producer in the world.

14. Blister Soul, Vigilantes of Love – Christian rock never sounded like this, and I guess the only reason this record wasn’t a giant success is that no one could figure out where to put it.  Fortunately, Tim Tobin recognized its’ genius and put it on The River, one of the last great music stations in the Upper Valley (all you Point lovers, don’t go hatin’ on me now).

15. Delivered, Mark Erelli – The greatest thing about music is that it continues to surprise me.  I never expected this – Erelli’s made some good records over his career, but this one captures a moment in time perhaps better than anything that’s come out of the Bush years.  It’s a combination of outrage, curated faith and love for the things that can’t be wrenched from our grasp.

Local Rhythms – “Spectacle” Is Anything But (That’s Good)

Posted February 25, 2009 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Elvis Costello, Local Rhythms, Music

picture-81I don’t care what celebrities wear, who they date or where they dine. TMZ.com leaves me cold, Perez Hilton needs to be voted off the island, and the sight of Barbara Walters’ making a big star cry makes me wince.

But I find the backstory of creation fascinating. “Inside the Actors Studio” embodies this; host James Lipton is a master at revealing the process of art coming to life.

Much to my surprise, Elvis Costello shares this talent with Lipton. On Sunday, I skipped the Oscar red carpet party to catch up on “Spectacle,” Costello’s artist-to-artist interview show on the Sundance Channel.

Over a 13-episode run, which ends this week, rock’s former angry young man has conversed with everyone from Elton John to Zooey Deschanel. He discussed saxophone playing with Bill Clinton.

One particularly memorable show featured a “song pull” with Kris Kristofferson, John Mellencamp, Norah Jones and Rosanne Cash. Costello remarked that Rosanne’s father Johnny Cash pretty much invented the concept of musicians passing around the guitar, each trying to outdo the other. What was that like, he wondered.

She talked about hearing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” for the first time in her father’s living room.

Costello is privy to all sorts of rock and roll nuggets. I had no idea Lou Reed wrote schlock songs for a budget label (the musical equivalent of the Dollar Store) early in his career, or that rock’s Prince of Darkness grew up on doo-wop 45s before forming the Velvet Underground.

Speaking of influences, I’d never noticed the line connecting the singing styles of Bing Crosby, George Jones and recent guest James Taylor until Elvis mentioned it. The sensitive Taylor even let it slip that he’d taken Costello’s “sticky Valentine” line in “Allison” personally when he heard it in 1977.

“Spectacle” is full of such unguarded moments, and it’s easy to imagine these relaxed conversations happening off-camera. As someone who would have given anything to be a fly on the wall in Johnny Cash’s living room, I live for this stuff.

So while you watch the E! Channel dish on Mickey Rourke’s dog hair accessorizing, or poor movie stars reduced to dining on chicken potpie, I’ll be watching “Spectacle.”

Though I have to wonder – were there really only three Oscar-worthy songs written in 2008?

Oh well, there’s more than that in the live music calendar:

Thursday: Arthur James, Salt hill 2 – An open jam session, with amps and microphones provided, is hosted by area bluesman James, who usually rocks it up with his band Northbound, but calls tonight’s ensemble “Unacoustic Mayhem”. This is a standard open mike affair, with a bluesier touch. It beats American Idol by a country mile.

Friday: Juke Joynt, Seven Barrel Brewery – Take one part Foghat and one part Buddy Guy, mix it with a bodacious X factor that results from the chemistry of three players who do itinerant musical work all over the area (including tomorrow night’s monthly Gully Boys set, which should make for an easy load-in), and you have this band. Juke Joynt focuses on original music inspired by the blues (when they were real) and classic rock (before it got cheesy).

Saturday: Chris O’Brien & Jenee Halstead, Boccelli’s – When I first heard Jenee Halstead’s evocative “River Grace” last year, I immediately began pushing Ray Massucco to bring the singer-songwriter to Bellows Falls. Tonight is an amazing double bill. Headliner O’Brien, who’s been praised in these pages before, is right at home in this room.

Sunday: Children’s Cancer Lifeline Benefit, Pat’s Peak Ski Area – A show to raise money for an organization formed in 1995 in support of New Hampshire families coping with childhood cancer features Roxanne & the Voodoo Rockers (who kick off the weekend-long event on Saturday), Arthur James and the Fran Calo Band. Great music, worthy cause – that’s a fine combo.

Monday: Hartford Sound Alliance, Dartmouth College – Experimental music from a Connecticut-based trio featuring two laptop computers and several pieces of wood. Today, they perform with composers from the Electroacoustic Graduate program at Dartmouth College, doing multimedia improvisations and shorter electronic pieces. Call the college for show location.

Tuesday: 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.

Wednesday: CORE Ensemble, Redfern Arts Center – A few days past the end of Black History Month, the chamber music-based returns to Keene State College to perform Ain’t I A Woman! The show celebrates the life and times of four remarkable African-American women, with a musical score drawn from the spiritual music of the Deep South, the jazz age, and contemporary music.

Local Rhythms – Stretching Your Music Dollar

Posted February 17, 2009 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Concert Tickets, Local Rhythms

motvbbk08It costs over 150 bucks for an open-air seat at this summer’s (rain or shine) Jimmy Buffett show.  Tickets for the Elton John/Billy Joel double bill at Gillette Stadium in July run north of $200, after fees and parking are counted.  Britney Spears wants $250 for her trainwreck tour stop next month at Mohegan Sun.

Before you blow your vacation fund on a night with a diva or a dinosaur, answer this – what else could all that money buy?

I’ll do the math for you.

If you skip Fleetwood Mac ($175), you can see Chris O’Brien/Jenee Halstead (2/28), Seth Glier (3/13), Richard Shindell 3/25) and Mary Gauthier (4/19) at Boccelli’s.  You’ll still have enough left over for a four-day Roots on the River pass (6/11-14).

All cheaper than Sir Elton and Billy.

Rosanne Cash will play songs from her new album (“The List”) at the lovely Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine on July 16. Blow off Britney, spend the night with a mature woman, and get a “getaway package” including dinner and Inn at Crystal Lake accommodations, transportation to the show, primo seats and breakfast in the morning.

Or how about four consecutive nights of great music in Burlington?  On Thursday, April 11, catch Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Americana chanteuse Tift Merritt Friday and the tuneful Felice Brothers on Saturday.

Wrap up the long weekend with headbanging from Sevendust on Sunday.

That’s four Higher Ground shows, at around 20 bucks each, leaving enough for a hotel room, all for less than the cost of a Motley Crüe “Diamond” ticket at the Verizon Wireless Center ($334.00, 3/17).

Phish twilight zone victims (thousands of fans got dumped from queues by Live Nation computers before they could buy seats for the upcoming reunion tour) now face scalper prices in the hundreds of dollars.

Bummer, dude.

How about a NoHo jam band trifecta instead? See Max Creek at Pearl Street (3/13, $15), then moe (3/29, $26) and Umphrey’s McGee (4/8, $25) at the Calvin Theatre.  Buy a bootlegger’s recording machine with the money you save.

Great shows are coming to area opera houses, any combination of which is a better deal than seeing Jimmy Buffett in the rain.  In May, Natalie MacMaster performs in Claremont, while the Dublin City Ramblers (3/10), bluesman Joe Bonamassa (4/5) and the Indigo Girls (4/11) are slated to visit Lebanon.

Times are tough – stretch that dollar.  Here are some additional entertainment bargains:

Thursday: Open Mike With Tad Davis, Jesse’s – A new venue jumps into the open mike game.  Singer/songwriter Davis is an excellent choice for ringmaster.  He emcees at Skunk Hollow, and entertains at a range of area nightspots, including Firestones and Casa del Sol.  He even plays on his nights off – I saw Davis step away from his dinner to play a few tunes at Sophie & Zeke’s a few nights ago.

Friday: Jen Crowell & The Woods Vehicle, Brattleboro Museum and Art Center – Crowell opened last June’s “Concert for the Cause” at the Lebanon Opera House and got a great response.  This is a CD release party for “Cold Front,” a record that has a little bit of country (“Hey Dixon”) and a whole lot of soul, a quality that her old band (Grace Potter & the Nocturnals) lost in spades when Jen left.

Saturday: Red Hot Juba, Salt hill Pub – These guys exude Dixieland, blues and a maple-flavored hybrid they call “Green Mountain Swing.”  It’s a unique sound that earned them the title of “fastest rising band” in their hometown of Burlington. With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching (the Pub is co-sponsor of the aforementioned Dublin City Ramblers show), things are heating up on the Green.

Sunday: Kris Kristofferson, Colonial Theatre – Rhodes scholar, actor, veteran – he turned down a professorship at West Point to try songwriting.  “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Loving Her Was Easier,” “Me & Bobby McGee” – guess that worked out OK.  The 72-year old Kristofferson is still at it, releasing albums (2006’s excellent “This Old Road”) and acting, most recently playing Jennifer Aniston’s dad in “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

Monday: Parliament/Funkadelic, Higher Ground – If James Brown was the Godfather of Soul, then George Clinton is the Sultan of Funk.  So what’s he doing on a CMT reality show, for goodness’ sake?  He released an album last year with guests Carlos Santana, Sly Stone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, his 1993 single, “Paint the White House Black,” is quite prescient now. He doesn’t need to go country.

Wednesday: Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Briggs Opera House – Nathan Lane channeled Sid Caeser in the Broadway (and later television movie) version of this Neil Simon memoir of his early days as a writer on “Your Show of Shows.”  There’s a serious undercurrent of creeping McCarthyism in this humorous play, which opens tonight.

Local Rhythms – Musical Advice for the Lovelorn

Posted February 9, 2009 by Michael Witthaus
Categories: Local Rhythms, Love Songs, Music, Valentine's Day

valentinesAs anyone who’s seen “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” or read Anita Shreve’s book “Where Or When” knows, nothing sings romance like a mix tape.  With that in mind, here are 10 songs guaranteed to put a little spark in your lover’s fire this Valentine’s Day.

Wonderful Tonight, Eric Clapton – 27 years of marriage has taught me that there’s only one answer to the question, “how do I look?” (besides pretending you didn’t hear).  Don’t flub it, and your date starts on a good note.

You Turn Me On I’m a Radio, Joni Mitchell – This one works for a girl who wants to woo her guy, and is particularly effective in reverse. It’s a sensitive chap with some Joni in his collection.

What a Wonderful World, Art Garfunkel – Sam Cooke did the original, but this slow, smooth reinterpretation, with James Taylor and Paul Simon joining the honey-throated Garfunkel, wins the prize.

Save the Last Dance for Me, Drifters – Written by Doc Pomus, this tune began as notes scribbled on the back of a napkin as the polio-stricken songwriter watched from a wheelchair while his new bride danced at their wedding.

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Marvin Gaye – Truth be told, you could make a whole mix tape of nothing but Motown (or, for that matter, Holland-Dozier-Holland) hits, but this oft-covered Marvin Gaye number tops the list.

Something in the Way She Moves, James Taylor – So good it spawned another song, when George Harrison lifted the opening phrase and built one of the last great Beatles ballads around it.  His plagiarism problems didn’t begin with “My Sweet Lord”.

When You Say Nothing At All, Allison Krauss – Keith Whitley’s version went to number one on the country charts before his tragic death in 1989, but it’s Krauss’s lilting and gorgeous tribute that lingers in my mind.

If I Needed You, Townes Van Zandt – The Emmylou Harris/Don Williams duet is the definitive version, but the Texas troubadour’s ode to love, as raw and real as the codeine fog that birthed it, is the one that belongs on the mix disc.

Just The Way You Are, Billy Joel – Joel almost dropped this from “The Stranger” (his band hated it) until Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow, who overheard the recording session, convinced him otherwise.  Good call.

My Funny Valentine, Chet Baker – The “Stairway to Heaven” of February 14.

Good luck, fellas. These choices may help too:

Thursday: Tableside Crooners, Canoe Club – Get an early start on Saturday as a capella singers make their way from table to table singing requests, in a modern update of the barbershop quartet idiom. This novel notion was no doubt born from the success of Marko the Magician’s tableside magic exploits.  The fun begins at 6, followed at 8 PM by guitarist Paul Rivers.

Friday: East Bay Jazz Ensemble, WRJ American Legion – This dance benefits CareNet of the Upper Valley, and features not only one of the best swing jazz combos in the area, but dance instruction from John & Sandra (with an assist from Sheila Larsen), and a great spread of hors d’oeuvres.  There’s nothing quite as romantic as dancing, is there? This is a semi-formal event, and advance purchase is required (call CareNet @ 603-298-6123).

Saturday: High Ground, Newport Opera House – Part of the 93rd Winter Carnival celebration, this band should heat things up with a lively country rock sound.  High Ground has a steady following at places like Shenanigans and Electra, where their mix of covers and originals gets the crowds dancing without fail.  They’re a nice addition to this old tradition.

Sunday: Larry Dougher & Adam McMahon, Quechee Club – An après-ski show featuring some first-rate blues.  I caught McMahon for the first time last Saturday at Sophie & Zeke’s, and he plays some crackling guitar.  Teamed with Dougher, one of the best axe men in the area, should be a real-barn burner.  The Quechee Club also welcomes Carlos Ocasio tomorrow and Juke Joynt Tuesday.

Monday: Metal Show, Stone Church – Amarcosa, Shores of Tundra, Aseethe, Imaginary Friends Club, Before the Sky perform an all-ages show at this Brattleboro venue, located at the corner of Main and Grove Streets.  Intense music at a fair price (five bucks), and judging from photos on the promoter’s web site, the shows draw a good crowd.

Wednesday: Newpoli, Colby-Sawyer College – This group of Berklee graduates brings the neglected world of Italian folk music to life which, with the exception of a small number of Neapolitan songs, they feel has not received its deserved attention and recognition, neither in Italy nor abroad, Well played and researched, these traditional styles, introduced to the audience often for the first time, expose the joy and beauty of this music, as well the ancient stories and rituals described in the lyrics.


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