Live Review: Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Nathans & Ronstadt

Upton House Concerts, Upton, MA

April 6, 2019

It has been about a year since I last attended an Upton House Concerts gig. As advertised, it’s a cozy event, like a gathering of friends in a living room. And the series has plenty of regular attendees, so in a way it is. And since this host of the series is a songwriter himself, the one thing I know about any artist invited to perform as part of the series is that he or she will be outstanding songwriters. Or, as in this case, they. Aaron Nathans and Michael Ronstadt.

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Guitarist Nathans and cellist Ronstadt perform a unique style of song-driven folk music. Unique, yes, because all people are unique in their own ways. But that’s not what I mean, of course. Unique because you don’t often hear a guitar and cello duo.

Early in the first set, the duo performed a wistful song about “Old Film,” a tune that lyrically paints a vivid picture, while the cello adds a rich warmth. Also noteworthy early on were the energetic day-in-the-life song “Doing the Best I Can” and “Take My Words,” a song whose cello part can best be described as blues cello. (Really.)

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

After a crowdpleasing cover of “Englishman in New York,” Nathans & Ronstadt rolled out the rich, warm, energetic, Americana-esque toe-tapper “Corners.”

Next up was perhaps the angriest, darkest song I’ve ever heard about a peanut allergy, “Turncoat Peanut.” I can only assume Tom Lehrer was channeled during the writing of this song.

And yet there was no letdown as the first set closed with “I Go Low” and “Conshohocken Curve,” the latter a song about breaking up while stuck on the often backed-up Philadelphia-area freeway segment.

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ronstadt switched to mandolin to kick off the first couple of tracks of set two, bringing a new sound to the duo for “Ghost Writer” and “If I Had an Axe.”

After a power and intense mid-section of the set (during which I was paying such attention I didn’t even think to take detailed notes), the second set continued with “Range Anxiety,” a story-song built around electric car battery life (range anxiety), a great tension-building tune with verses reminiscent stylistically of the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl.”

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Next up was a nostalgic tune about confiding in your barber, “Old Joe’s Chair.” And the evening closed with a powerfully rockin’, heavy prog-folk reimagining of “All Along the Watchtower.”

In all, it was a fun evening with a pair of engaging characters, a couple great songwriters both lyrically and musically, and a duo of talented musicians. Those six people were, of course, just two. Aaron Nathans and Michael Ronstadt. Absolutely a pair of people worth spending an evening with musically.

Looking Ahead

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Upton House Concerts have completed this season. Watch their Facebook page again later this year for next season’s schedule.

Nathans & Ronstadt have several gigs listed for the rest of this year on the gigs page of their website, though the only two shows currently listed before the end of the summer are June 8th in Phoenixville, PA, at the Black Walnut Winery Tasting Room & Wine Bar and July 19th in Lansdowne, PA, at Jamey’s House of Music. Obviously, check back to see if they add additional shows to their schedule.

Also check the individual, solo websites for Aaron Nathans and Michael G. Ronstadt to learn about some of their other musical endeavors.

Live Review: Ari Hest House Concert

Ari Hest

House concert in Shrewsbury, MA

March 30, 2019

Sometimes I simply trust the concert promoter. In this case, this concert series is hosted by Monica Mansfield, producer of Mostly Rock ‘n Roll – here’s a link to a 2017 episode featuring Ari Hest – so I reserved my spot at this show without even listening to any of Ari Hest’s music beforehand. I also didn’t look into Ari’s background before attending the show, discovering on-site that he was nominated for a Best Folk Album Grammy in 2017 for his collaboration with Judy Collins, Silver Skies Blue.

As is so often the case in this particular concert series, tonight’s concert once again featured a memorable vocalist. Ari has a booming, rich voice with a little gravelly rasp and a sort of nasal echo that adds relatability, emotion, and poignance to his songs. I often found myself thinking of Ari’s sound as a modern, updated version of some of the full-voice, warm feeling-inducing maintstream, crossover folk singers of the seventies, people like Jim Croce, though there’s no historical exact match to Ari’s original sound.

Ari opened his first set with a couple personal songs among his initial trio – “Good to Be Back,” about family, and “Sato,” about his dog George Harrison.

Next up, “Willing to Try” was a ’70s-style, singer-songwriter pop song that rides a bit of a groove. “Still Crazy After All These Years” was a fitting cover. And I really liked the way “One Two” built to power, with its catchy, energetic vibe.

“Set in Stone” was a melancholy, emotional number with a kind of “traveling song” rhythm. And “Balcony” – a song from Bluebirds of Paradise, the duo in which Ari performs with his talented wife Chrissi Poland – was slow, mellow, and soulful. And it had some Brazilian guitar influence, which Ari pointed out and I, you know, then heard and was able to identify so specifically because he told us what we were listening to.

Ari then stepped up the tempo with “I’ll Be There,” a cheerful little ditty about an ex; the key lyric herein is “I’ll be there to make you miserable.” And he closed the first set with the uplifting “Bona Fide,” a song about his neice.

Ari opened his second set with an audience Q&A. Early in the set I heard a bit of a jangly Dirty Guv’nahs-esque vibe. Second-set standouts included a haunted, rolling number called “The Weight”; “All Because,” with its build to very insistent vocals and prominent use of gravelly lyrics; Bluebirds of Paradise song “Forever More,” with its cool, jazzy vibe; and rich, cheerful mid-tempo ditty “Cranberry Lake.”

Ari closed the evening with “Make It Up,” a tune with a bit of a funky rhythm, and the softly emotional and powerful “Concrete Sky.”

Though I allowed the evening to be a surprise, the result wasn’t really much of a surprise. It was a great evening featuring an exceptionally talented artist with a very special voice. And now I know to look forward to the next time I get to hear Ari perform.

Looking Ahead

Per the “Tour” page of Ari Hest’s website, he’ll be performing at Davidson College in Davidson, NC on May 4th. He also has May and June dates scheduled that will take him to New York, Maine, Michigan, and Virginia, plus more dates in North Carolina and Massachusetts. If you’re in any of those states, you should click through to see if you can catch him in your area.

And this house concert series continues on May 4th, with a concert by Pushing Chain.

Interview with Carmine Appice and Album Review: Camine Appice – Guitar Zeus

photo courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Interview with Carmine Appice interspersed with Album Review of Carmine Appice: Guitar Zeus

Carmine Appice is a true living rock and roll legend. His credentials are practically unparalleled when it comes to accomplishments in modern music. He’s a drummer, vocalist, songwriter, author, educator, storyteller and, overall, raconteur who has done it all. Beginning his professional career in the ‘60s with Vanilla Fudge, Appice created the template for contemporary rock as we know it. Predating and paving the way for Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and a number of guitar and theatrically-based bands, Appice almost single-handedly forged the genre known as “stoner rock.” The drummer-vocalist was also a founding member of the bands Cactus and worked with Jeff Beck and VF bassist Tim Bogert in Beck, Bogert & Appice. Perhaps one of Appice’s most commercially significant musical stints was as a member of Rod Stewart’s band. It was there that he also wrote one of Rod’s biggest hits to date, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and the follow up “Young Turks.” During the ‘80s, Appice worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, Edgar Winter and led his own groups King Kobra and Blue Murder.

image courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

Currently, Appice is on the promotion trail discussing the re-release of a major recording project he began in the mid-‘90s called Guitar Zeus. In it, the drummer/producer brought together some of the finest guitarists of all time to collaborate on a multiple original song project that brought various genres of hard rock to the forefront.

“Actually, this idea started in ’95 and ’97 when I was working in a band called Mother’s Army with Joe Lynn Turner and Bob Daisley,” explains Appice. “I was doing searches for band names because it had been ten years since I did a solo album and I wanted to do something new.”

It took Appice a couple years to get a record deal for his new project, but, as fate would have it, he did a clinic at a music store with guitarist Brian May. At that time Appice came up with the concept of guest guitarists from various genres appearing on his solo album, so May ended up being the first artist he asked. Ted Nugent was also invited as well as the members of Kings X and many other artists.

“I finally got this deal out of Japan and I recorded it,” says Appice. “I did two records, and it cost me $100,000. I paid everyone who played on it the going rate and Guitar Zeus was released in Europe and Asia. It sold over 150,000 records worldwide. It was finally released in the U.S. in 2005 with a European label that eventually went out of business. I decided I wanted to re-release these albums because everybody that’s on it is big again.”

And there is a virtual who’s who of rock guitar on Guitar Zeus. The list will surely make any serious music and guitar fan salivate profusely. On-board are Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Richie Sambora, Steve Morse, Brian May, Ted Nugent, Slash, Neal Schon, Yngwie Malmsteen, dUg Pinnick, Pat Travers, Vivian Campbell, Jennifer Batten, Warren DeMartini, Elliot Easton, Bruce Kulick, Dweezil Zappa, Paul Gilbert, Leslie West, and many others.

“Of course, Brian May is huge now with all the movie stuff as well as Neal Schon with Journey,” says Appice. “But back in the ‘90s, grunge was big, and we were all dinosaurs. I spent most of the ‘90s working in Japan because a lot of folks didn’t wanna hear from guys of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and even ‘80s. I also had a bunch of tracks that never really made it to the American version of this project.”

Brian May and Carmine Appice; photo courtesy of Anne Leighton Media

Guitar Zeus features over 30 original tracks all digitally re-mastered by Stephen DeAcutis and executive produced by Carmine Appice himself. The core band on each track consists of all stars Tony Franklin on bass; Kelly Keeling on vocals, keys, and rhythm guitar; and, of course, Appice on drums. Highlights of some of the tunes include Brian May’s wah-wah guitarwork on “Nobody Knew,” Steve Morse’s dark proggy Jeff Beck-like licks on “4 Miles High,” Ted Nugent’s inspired feedback-drenched fretwork on “Days Are Nights,” Pat Travers’ re-make of “Do You Think I’m Sexy,” and many other performances too numerous to mention. It’s a very special digital release that will be available on all platforms along with special vinyl and CD editions.

“A lot of people will finally get to hear this that never heard it before,” says Appice. “There is a Soundgarden meets Blue Murder kind of vibe with the tunes that has a lot of guitar playing and jamming like the ‘70s. Each song has its own tuning and is unique. And there is a lot of ear candy on here where the mix moves the music around the speakers like in the days of The Beatles’ Revolver or Sgt. Pepper where sounds would move from left to right in your head.”

For all the information on Guitar Zeus and Carmine Appice, just go to www.guitarzeus.net and www.carmineappice.net.

This Weekend

On Saturday, March 30th, Appice will be teaching a Drum Master Class at the Trilogy Lounge in Seymour, CT. On June 29th, he’ll be performing as a member of Vanilla Fudge at the Boulton Center in Bay Shore, NY. Watch Carmine Appice’s website for additional dates, and be sure the double-check with the venue to confirm.

Single Review: Jimmy Lee Morris – “What It Is”

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Jimmy Lee Morris: “What It Is” (Producer: Adam Hanington)

Jimmy Lee Morris - What It Is

image courtesy of Jimmy Lee Morris

The latest release from British singer-songwriter extraordinaire Jimmy Lee Morris comes in the form of a tight, nifty single entitled “What It Is.” Morris has previously released fine independent acoustic-based folk and pop that has always put the emphasis on wordsmithing and strong melody. This latest single adds an infectious beat to his resume that recalls everything from the Beatles and the Kinks to Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. The song is a pure collaboration of Morris’ ever present acoustic guitar as an anchor, with the addition of Hanington’s production gloss of synthesized keyboards and bouncy rhythms. The result is a tune that is extremely catchy and fun, with a nod to the ‘60s as filtered through a mid-‘80s lens. If you don’t start tapping your feet and gyrating in some form or fashion upon the song’s first downbeat, then you better check your pulse!

Looking Ahead

The “live” page of Jimmy Lee Morris’ website shows several dates coming up in 2019, including three in March: Friday, 1st March at Napoleon Inn, Boscastle, Cornwall (9:00 pm); Saturday, 23rd March at Crowhurst Park, Battle, East Sussex (8.30 pm); and Saturday, 30th March at The Jolly Sailor Inn, West Looe, Cornwall (8:00 pm). For dates April and beyond – and to check for additional gigs to be added – be sure to check the website.

Single Review: Chris Ruediger – “Country at Heart”

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Chris Ruediger: “Country at Heart”

If you are blessed with the talent to write and sing music, it often helps if what you do fits snugly into a musical genre. If you are going to choose a genre to perform in (if indeed you have the choice, it may just be in your blood), then country music is certainly a massive scene to be part of. It’s hard to be groundbreaking in such an established and competitive market but there is a level of quality to aim for, a high water mark of achievement. Not everyone can be that lucky, but it just may be that Chris Ruediger has the talent to reach that goal.

Chris Ruediger - Country at Heart

photo courtesy of Off the Stage Music

I would certainly say that Chris Ruediger’s latest single “Country at Heart” has the potential to be right up there with the country music mainstream. He seems to have a natural and easygoing ability to put a song across, and the song itself has a classic but contemporary feel, a pleasant memorable melody, and I expect for many country music fans, a lyric that they can relate to. Like he says in the song, “I’ve always had this in me from the start, I’m country at heart.” His rich voice belies his 19 years of age, and having listened to his previous singles, I would say this latest one is his strongest to date. There is an increasing maturity to his writing, and this song is a tour de force of classic country pop. A coming together of all the right musical ingredients to make it easily his best yet.

It was recorded at the legendary Sound Emporium in Nashville, written by Chris Ruediger and produced by Off the Stage Music‘s Nina Pickell. It was recorded in the room where “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and countless other hits have been recorded over the years.

Chris Ruediger

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Chris would appear to be something of a rising star having been nominated for the 2018 New England Music Awards in the Male Performer of the Year and Country Act of the Year categories as well as a nomination for Country Act of the Year 2018 by the Boston Music Awards. Things look like they are heading in a positive direction for Chris Ruediger, and it is exciting to hear that he is working on a bigger project to be released in 2019.

You can catch Chris live in Nashville on Thursday 7th February from 8.30 pm at Frisky Frogs or at Belcourt Taps on Thursday 14th February from 6 pm.

Keep up to date with his music and live shows through his social media and website, chrisruediger.com, or on Facebook and Instagram.

Looking Back

For more about Chris Ruediger, you can also read publisher Geoff Wilbur’s review of Chris’ 2017 EP, Secrets.

Album Review: Tosha Owens – Wrong Side of Right

Tosha Owens - Wrong Side of Right

image courtesy of Tosha Owens

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Tosha Owens: Wrong Side of Right

Multiple award-winning singer-songwriter Tosha Owens hits it out of the park with this latest blues and soul drenched venture. Owens has been a consistent fixture on the Detroit music scene since the ‘80s, and this album proves she is not one to rest on her laurels. She and guitarist/producer/co-writer Brett Lucas are a great team that has crafted a dynamic set of songs that are sure to resonate.

Tosha Owens

photo courtesy of Tosha Owens

“You Ain’t Right” opens the album with a minor mid-tempo blues burner about a one-sided relationship. From the get-go, you know Owens is gonna give it to you straight. The title track “Wrong Side of Right” follows and picks up the pace, with some light funk as the singer talks about choices and those gray areas in between. “I’ll Just Say It” is a great ballad in the vein of Al Green. This features a smooth jazz touch from John Douglas on flugelhorn. Somewhat of a surprise is a deep cut from the Janis Joplin songbook called “Half Moon.” There are some great horns here along with Lucas’ funky guitar and a standout performance from Owens. Another highlight is the first-person account of one’s need to “pay it forward” in helping those less fortunate, with the very soulful “Cold in Detroit Tonight.” Pianist Evan Mercer kills on the Ray Charles ballad “Ain’t That Love.” It’s a fitting and sweet way to put a beautiful bow on this stellar dozen of superb modern and classic soul and blues-rock gems.

Live Performances

The “Shows” page of Tosha’s website lists her 2018 shows. Keep an eye on that page as she adds 2019 performances.

Album Review: Persona – Metamorphosis

Persona

photo courtesy of Persona

Album Review of Persona: Metamorphosis

Persona - Metamorphosis

image courtesy of Persona

This is another extraordinary effort from heavy progressive metal band Persona. Comprised of Melik Melek Khelifa (lead guitar), Jelena Dobric (singer/piano), Yosri Ouada (rhythm guitar), Youssef Aouadi (drums), Walid Bessadok (keyboard), and Nesrine Mahbouli (bass), this Tunis-based outfit has produced a worthy follow-up to Elusive Reflections, which I reviewed here a couple years ago.

Jelena Dobric

Jelena Dobric; photo courtesy of Persona

From the start, you know Persona means business, as they kick off album-opener “Prologue – The Initiation” with a serious metal growl, proving the band’s progressive rock musicianship is matched by its metal attitude. “The Omen of Downfall” and “Esuriance Guilefulness Omnipotence” continue in that strain, with nearly angelic soaring vocals interrupted by growls as the tunes enter into heavier territory from time to time, supported by a menacing musical backdrop.

Melik Melek Khelifa

Melik Melek Khelifa; photo courtesy of Persona

The amped-up energy in “Esuriance Guilefulness Omnipotence” is carried over into “Armour of Thorns” via a less dense, energetic driving rhythm. I very much dig its rollicking tempo and baseline vocal melody, while musical explorations in the back half of the song add variety that keeps things interesting.

Still heavy and with some meaty, chunky guitarwork driving it forward in parts, the softer-touch “Netherlight” fits in nicely mid-album, though the opening growls of “Bete Noire” let the listener know the intensity is about to crank back up.

Nesrine Mahbouli and Youssef Aouadi

Nesrine Mahbouli and Youssef Aouadi; photos courtesy of Persona

I’m running out of adjectives, but “Invidia” and “Hellgrind” keep the energy level up, with “Hellgrind,” naturally, the darker of the two.

The energy level sustains for the rest of the disc, with “The Seeress of Triumph” a back-end favorite, with its insistent rhythmic energy, driving the album toward its closing “Epilogue – The Final Deliverance,” a pleasantly low-key release of pent-up energy that carries Metamorphosis to its conclusion.

Walid Bessadok and Yosri Ouada

Walid Bessadok and Yosri Ouada; photos courtesy of Persona

I’ve now reviewed two Persona albums, and it’s clear they’ve earned a place at the heavy progressive rock table (and concert/festival circuit), likely to appeal to a broad cross-section of fans spanning several rock/metal sub-genres. Truly inventive, progressive axework. Sweetly powerful and soaring vocals punctuated with rough-edged metal chops, replete with the requisite growls. And the songwriting skills to add variety to the song mix. I’m not sure which album is my favorite, Elusive Reflections or Metamorphosis, but I’d urge heavy prog-rock/metal fans to pick up one, play it awhile, and then grab a copy of the other.

Persona

photo courtesy of Persona

Looking Ahead

Keep an eye on Persona’s concert schedule. There’s nothing listed on their Facebook events calendar at the moment, but watch for future shows. And maybe also sign up for the band’s newsletter via the bottom of their webpage to make sure you don’t miss out. If they make it to Boston one of these days, you bet I’ll be there. (As Europe has a better festival circuit, I imagine you’ll have better luck catching them live there, if you live outside the band’s native Tunisia.) Indeed, if you get a chance, Persona’s music is the sort of power rock assault you just don’t want to miss.