Live Review: Eric Schwartz at The Backyard

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Eric Schwartz

The Backyard, Brighton, MA

November 5, 2017

A series of scheduling conflicts have kept me from getting to The Backyard earlier this year. But this late addition to the calendar provided an opportunity to get to one of my favorite local live music spaces at least once during 2017.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Meanwhile, I had thought to catch Eric Schwartz at his Fox Run House Concerts show on November 25th this year at another very cool local house concert performance space. But this Backyard show allowed me to see Eric perform live while resolving a potential Thanksgiving weekend schedule conflict. Win-win.

Eric Schwartz, if you’re not familiar with him, is one of America’s preeminent comedy singer-songwriters; I’ve seen him referred to as “folk,” but that is a bit of a misnomer, as his style incorporates a variety of musical influences crossing various singer-songwriter subcategories. Perhaps the one song that gained the most notoriety was one of Eric’s political ditties, his 2008 International Songwriting Competition winning song, “Clinton Got a BJ.” (NSFW word tweaked to avoid search engine wrath.) More recently, his social commentary jam “I Gotta Problem With That” has drawn some attention, but my personal favorite Eric Schwartz tune – the one that made it onto my smartphone playlist – is the hilarious screenplay-in-a-song “Don’t Tell My Wife.”

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an Eric Schwartz live performance, since this was my first time seeing him in person, but this guy’s one of the best at what he does – and, as I always say, it’s always worthwhile to see musicians who excel in any lane of the 50-lane superhighway that is their craft – so I jumped at the chance.

It’s sometimes hard to tell where Eric’s musical and comedic noodling turns into a song and when it’s merely noodling – though a perusal of his ReverbNation page and a scan of the song titles on his albums may help figure out where to draw the lines. Regardless, Eric performed about 15 songs on this particular evening. Or 18. Your call. It was a chilly evening in Brighton, but thanks to some unseasonable warmth, still a decent night for a live show.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Eric’s first song of the evening was an R-rated comedic female-hygiene-related adaption of “Saving All My Love For You,” setting the bar at its clearly-not-for-children adultest right from the start. Next up was my personal favorite, “Don’t Tell My Wife,” rather Hee Haw-ish in its delivery at times, just like on the recording. ‘Til now, though, I had no idea it was actually based on a true story. “Don’t Ask” followed, a bluesy soul-like word salad sporting significant rhythmic vocal scatting.

Eric followed that with his most political song of the evening, “He Won,” a tale of the last presidential election as seen through the eyes of an unhappy deity, delivered devilishly in a dark, smoky narrative vocal style; perhaps I’ve said too much.

Any political conservatives who couldn’t find humor in the prior track, though, hopefully returned from their bathroom breaks in time for the next number, Eric’s voyage through a seemingly random collection of rhyming words that he tied together at the end… quite cleverly. You’ll know it when you hear it. And he followed that up with the frighteningly unhygienic “Telltale Kitchen.”

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Following some hilariously demented children’s music and some more comedy noodling, Eric moved on to his uber, ultra, meta-country song, “There’s a Picture.” (Do I need to warn you not to click through on this link if you’re at work? Really, with Eric’s songs, it’s always a risk.)

Politics returned with “I’ve Got a Problem With That,” followed by Eric’s Gospel song, “The Better Man,” a song of forgiveness… of oneself.

With that, in spite of a supposed zero percent chance of rain (when I checked my weather app earlier in the day), drops of water fell from the sky, so the show moved indoors for the final two songs. First up, Eric swung through his catchy, hooky ode to lesbian trailblazers, “Hattie and Mattie.” And then he closed the evening with “Hallelujah,” a brilliantly NSFW re-imagining of the tune and its cliched use by vocally-talented would-be troubadours to melt women’s… um… let’s just say “it’s ability to attract women” and leave it at that.

Eric plans to take some time off from touring soon, so catch him now if you can. At least, jump at the chance if you’d enjoy a fun, lighthearted evening of clever, imaginative, occasionally political, and often highly inappropriate (adult?) musical comedy. I can’t say it too often: This dude’s one of the best at what he does.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

This is the last backyard show of the season at The Backyard, but you should bookmark the “Events” page of the venue’s website and check back for future show listings. Liking The Backyard’s Facebook page is probably also a good idea.

West coast-based Eric Schwartz has a few more gigs in the northeast over the next month, with dates scheduled on Saturday, November 25th in Sudbury, MA; Saturday, December 2nd in Oswego, NY; and Sunday, December 3rd in Oxford, NY. See the “Shows” page of Eric’s website for additional information and to see upcoming live dates whenever they’re added.

One Last Advisory

It’s worth repeating, and I’m serious here: Do not sample Eric’s music while at work. Wait until you get home, lock the doors, turn out the lights, and for heaven’s sake, use protection… I mean, headphones.

Live Review: Corey McLane at Hudson House Restaurant

Corey McLane

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Corey McLane

Hudson House Restaurant, Hudson, MA

October 27, 2017

One of the cool things about hearing a talented hard rock singer like Corey McLane doing an acoustic cover night is that you get to hear songs from a variety of musical styles delivered by a power voice. Corey is the lead singer of Exhale – I would suggest checking out some of his band’s music here on their bandcamp page – and you can hear the vocal power in the songs he performs, even when the songs themselves don’t feature it.

Corey McLane

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Hudson House is a cool place to catch music, too. It has a kind of neighborhood bar feel on the bar side (with a nice restaurant on the restaurant side of the house). On this particular night, a lot of folks turned out specifically to see Corey, so it was fun crowd. I like to grab something off the menu to combine live music with a late dinner when I come here, and after a big lunch yesterday, I found something delicious (the kielbasa) from the appetizer menu to try.

I had about an hour and a half block of time available last night, and that carried me through more than 20 songs from Corey, plus a few at the end on which Nikki McLane joined him. There were only a couple songs on Corey’s set list I couldn’t identify, so I know it was either entirely or virtually entirely a set of covers. And, though I hadn’t heard him sing live before, his vocals were as crisp and powerful as I had expected from listening to his band’s recordings, with even the mellowest of covers being drenched in his identifiable, grungy-metal tone, sporting something akin to gravel in his voice, but it really comes across more as a warble or a wobble, though those aren’t exactly right either. The key point, though, is that this dude has a powerful, crisp, identifiable voice, and that’s what you’re looking for in a voice that can fill an arena or develop a large, loyal following.

Corey McLane

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Corey opened the evening with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” then followed it with a heavy, brooding number (one of the two for which I didn’t catch the title), doing a song-to-song contrast thing he seems to like to do.

There were plenty of instances in which Corey’s take on various hits was interesting and entertaining. His performance of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” for example, got the grizzle in the vocal but with kind of an ominous echo overlay. He nailed the howls on “The Joker.” And his performance of The Flys’ “Got You (Where I Want You)” was delivered with an almost Southern hard rock wail while being driven by a sound much bigger than he should have been able to get from an acoustic guitar.

It was fun to hear Corey deliver a song like Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” that’s right in his wheelhouse and then, a couple songs later, to follow it with an on-point performance of Pure Prairie League’s “Amie.” He also back-to-backed a very properly brooding rendition of Bush’s “Glycerine” with Third Eye Blind’s energetic “Semi-Charmed Life,” a song whose opening chords elicit a smile that seems so amusingly out of place coming moments after the closing chords of “Glycerine.”

Corey McLane

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Other standouts during the set included Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” and The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” But I actually stopped taking notes after song number 22, Corey’s spot-on version of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up.” He sounded shudderingly too close to exactly like 4NBs’ Linda Perry, including nailing all the quirky stuff.

Shortly thereafter, Corey was joined by Nikki, and the two performed a few songs before my exit, notably OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars.” Actually, most notably another tune, but I didn’t jot down its title, so we’ll stick with saying “Counting Stars” was the most notable,

In any case, it was a heck of a fun evening of music delivered by an exceptionally talented vocalist. I’d suggest getting out to give him a listen if he’s doing the solo thing at a bar near you; a pure, top-shelf, big stage-caliber voice doing a variety of your favorite tunes. And, of course, if you’re into the heavier stuff, give his band Exhale a listen.

Looking Ahead

You can follow Corey’s solo acoustic performances via the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. And you can follow his band’s Exhale gig schedule via the “Shows” page of their website or on the band’s Facebook “Events” page. In fact, you can catch Exhale tonight at Carlo Rose in Pelham, NH or next Saturday, November 4th, at a Toys for Tots benefit show at Sammy’s Patio in Revere, MA. And I see more gigs in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island before year-end, so check out the band’s calendar (as well as Corey’s solo show list) and catch some loud rock & roll (or a bunch of well-known covers performed by a dude with a powerful rock ‘n roll voice).

Live Review: Bob Malone at Barn #81

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Bob Malone

Barn #81, Hopkinton, MA

October 14, 2017

Bob Malone is one of the great rockin’ blues keyboardists of our time. Period. Berklee-trained, Bob has chiseled and honed his style among some of the best local musicians in Los Angeles, his performance skills polished over years in the studio and on the road. Since 2011 Bob’s “day job,” in fact, has been as John Fogerty’s keyboardist. And, of course, he has released some stellar blues recordings, performing his own stuff between his Fogerty gigs. On Saturday night, in this intimate “house concert” performance space in an outer suburb of Boston, Bob treated an appreciative audience to his skills.

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

And he was supported by a great band – Jeff St. Pierre on bass, Chris Leadbetter on guitar, and his old college buddy Philip Antoniades on drums. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love catching Bob Malone with a full band, so this was perfect.

Of course, those of you who have been reading the Blog from the beginning have seen my reviews of Bob Malone. Twice, to be exact. Both times within the first three months of launch. I reviewed Bob’s October 2015 concert at the 100 Club in London as part of my “Five Nights in London” series. And I reviewed Bob’s most recent album, Mojo Deluxe, in January 2016. So you know I’d be shocked – shocked! – if Bob didn’t deliver a world-class performance. Spoiler alert: He rocked the room!

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Bob kicked the evening off with a bang. A rollicking, rousing, energy-filled rendition of “Certain Distance.” He then followed it with one of my favorite instrumental numbers, “Chinese Algebra.” And a room-rocking performance of “I’m Not Fine,” always a song worth shouting along with at the top of your lungs. These are all songs from his most recent release, Mojo Deluxe.

“Up on Cripple Creek,” a tempo-changing energetic number from Ain’t What You Know, followed before Bob really brought the room down with a mellow, contemplative favorite from Mojo Deluxe, an insightful consideration of middle aged-ness, “Can’t Get There From Here.”

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Bob reached back two decades to his 1996 The Darkest Part of the Night album for “I Know He’s Your Husband,” one of Bob’s songs on which his vocals sound the most Randy Newman-esque. Next up, “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time,” portrayed a room-electrifying energy and wow, I do love that guitar line. The intensity remained, as “Rage & Cigarettes” came next.

What followed was a really cool rendition of Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents.” In the lead-in to this homage to Petty, Bob asked “someone” to please tape this performance because, after many not-quite-right attempts, he thought he finally had it down. Indeed, he did.

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

While most of the evening’s songs were from Bob’s newest album, he again reached back to 2009’s Ain’t What You Know for the exceptionally emotionally powerful “No One Can Hurt You” (…like me). Then back to a newer track, “Toxic Love,” which simply roars, and the energetic “I Wasn’t Looking For the Blues.”

Next up Bob dipped into his Born Too Late album for “Home to Me.” Light, melancholy; cool, almost jazzy. Very cool selection to showcase yet another side of Bob Malone. Bob picked things up again with chunky, “Walk This Way”-style Steven Tyler-inspire, fast-paced vocals on the next song (whose title I can’t read in my notes).

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The final two songs of Bob’s set were from Ain’t What You Know. First up was the title track, which turned into a serious jam, and was followed by a rowdy rendition of “Stay With Me” that transformed the end of Bob’s set into a disco ball-spinning dance party (of which there is some photographic proof a couple pictures down).

Bob’s encore was the sentimental “Paris,” a slow, swaying, arena-filling ballad that’s a signature Bob Malone song, a sentimental, emotional, scene-painting, perfect selection to end the evening for an enthusiastic room full of his fans.

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I love gigs like this. If you keep your eyes open, there are chances to catch some of the most talented musicians in the world in intimate settings full of friends and neighbors, and they’re truly special evenings. I’m glad to have finally made it to my first Barn #81 gig, too – I had heard about the shows in this cool setting. And I knew Bob had played here before, but until Saturday night I didn’t realize the concert series was run by one of his old college buddies from Berklee. But hey, a friendly atmosphere with a talented band featuring one of the premiere blues musicians in the world, and it ended almost as a dance party? What a Saturday night!

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

The “tour dates” page of Bob’s website lists several shows around the U.S. over the rest of 2017 and into 2018, with solo gigs in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania in the coming months, and performances as John Fogerty’s keyboardist in Oklahoma and Texas, plus a 10-day stretch of John Fogerty gigs in January in Las Vegas. Be sure to check Bob’s website for details and for additional performances as they’re added.

Barn #81 is a great venue, a relaxed atmosphere full of friends. I don’t see any future events listed on the Barn #81 Facebook events page, but I do see Jennifer Tefft will be there on Saturday, November 11th. I almost hesitate to mention it, though, because I still haven’t figured out if I’ll be able to get there that night, and I’d hate to see the show sell out before I get my tickets.

Live Review: Fondatsiata and Shturcite at The Regent Theatre

Fondatsiata at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Fondatsiata (The Foundation)

with Shturcite (The Crickets)

The Regent Theatre, Arlington, MA

October 13, 2017

Last night’s concert at The Regent Theatre in Arlington, promoted locally by Face Bulgaria and the Bulgarian American Cultural Center Madara, was a big-time rock ‘n roll event for the Boston area Bulgarian community. Bulgarian supergroup Fondatsiata (The Foundation) performed along with special guests Valdi Totev and Georgi Markov from Shturcite (The Crickets), a legendary Bulgarian rock group formed in 1967 and popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s, sometimes referred to as Bulgaria’s Beatles.

Fondatsiata at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

With spelling assistance from the Facebook event post, Fondatsiata is comprised of Kiril Marichkov (also from Shturcite), Ivan Lechev (from FCB), Donny Vekilov (from Donny and Momchil), Slavcho Nikolov (from B.T.R.), and Venko Poromanski (from “TE”).

I, of course, don’t know any of the songs, so I’ll be brief – no song titles or song-by-song rundown of the evening – but I’ll share plenty of photos instead. The crowd in attendance, however, knew most of the songs.

Fondatsiata at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Fondatsiata opened the evening with several songs, showing the skills one might expect from a “supergroup.” Slavcho Nikolov unleashed some serious guitar wizardry; Venko Poromanski displayed top-notch drumming that included an engaging solo; Ivan Lechev rocked the axe but brought something especially dazzling to the mix when he switched to electric violin; Donny Vekilov brought energy and an impressive voice to the bunch; and bandleader/bassist Kiril Marichkov has clearly discovered the fountain of youth.

Fondatsiata at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Valdi Totev joined the band for a few songs, and then he was joined by Georgi Markov for Shturcite’s portion of the performance. For those of us unfamiliar with the band, Shturcite’s last line-up change occurred in 1976 (thank you, Wikipedia), when Valdi joined the group, and the line-up remained unchanged until guitarist Petsi Gyuzelev’s passing in 2013. Ivan and Slavcho remained onstage to join Shturcite during their segment of the show.

Shturcite at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Indeed, as much as the crowd loved the Fondatsiata performance, thinks kicked up a notch when Shturcite took the stage to perform several old favorites. Boston’s Bulgarian community was standing, singing, and dancing in the aisles, even more than during the first portion of Fondatsiata’s performance.

Shturcite at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

When Venko and Donny returned, the party atmosphere continued at a fever pitch, as Fondatsiata played several more songs.

Shturcite at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Then came time for the encore. Three encores, to be exact. Before an appreciate crowd, the seven musicians of Fondatsiata and Shturcite regaled their fans with more favorite songs, and a two-plus hour concert experience came to a close.

Fondatsiata at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Indeed, it would have helped if I had known even a couple of the songs so I could sing along. And, unlike new English-language performers, I wasn’t able to learn the songs partway through. But it was a pleasure to be there for such a high-energy performance. And even without the enthusiastic audience all around me, I’d’ve enjoyed the exceptional musicianship on display. I mean, I did enjoy it. Obviously.

Fondatsiata at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Stylistically, the music was classic rock, largely rooted in ’60s, ’70s and ’80s rock styles (though more ’60s and ’70s), with hints of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Doors in places, and even an occasional nod to progressive rock, generally packaged in a middle-of-the-rock ‘n roll-road, mainstream style that could be played across a variety of pop and rock radio stations and easily reaches a broad demographic. Not unlike the Beatles and the Stones in that respect. This music plays directly to my personal musical tastes; indeed, if only I could understand enough to sing along, I’d probably have a few of the songs still stuck in my head today.

Fondatsiata and Shturcite at The Regent Theatre

photo by Geoff Wilbur

As I’ve said before, when a famous performer from any country is performing – as I experienced at Belgian star Milow’s show in New York last fall and during performances by Bulgarian stars here in the Boston area (like Theodosii Spassov or Vasko Krupkata) – it’s always worth seeing one of the best musicians from anywhere perform, even when you don’t know the songs. And, of course, if you’re a Bulgarian in America, you’ll be scanning the other five tour dates on the schedule below to see if you can make it to see Fondatsiata and Shturcite during their U.S. concerts this weekend or next…

Looking Ahead

Yes, the two-weekend U.S. tour continues, per the band’s website, tonight (October 14th) at the Botev Academy near Washington, DC and tomorrow, October 15th, at the Copernicus Center in Chicago. On Friday, October 20th, The Foundation will be at Coco Cabana outside Atlanta; on Saturday, October 21st in Tampa; and on Sunday, October 22nd at Stache Drinking Den and Coffee Bar in Fort Lauderdale. Be sure to check the website or Facebook page for additional details.

 

Live Review: The Folk Revival featuring Shawna Caspi and Outrageous Fortune at WICN

Shawna Caspi

Shawna Caspi; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Folk Revival: “Outrageous Fortune & Friends”

WICN Performance Studio 50, Worcester, MA

September 28, 2017

The Backstory

On Wednesday morning, I was looking for some good live music to see that night. I found some local shows, including Shawna Caspi’s house concert hosted by notloB Music. After sampling her music and hearing her exquisite voice, I decided she was someone I really wanted to hear perform live, but I ended up having car trouble a few hours later – this was a recurring theme last week – so I couldn’t get out. Coincidentally, however, that very same day a member of Shawna’s team out to me about Thursday’s live in-studio performance at WICN 90.5 FM in Worcester. Shawna was slated for an hour-long set, a live performance on WICN 90.5 FM at the radio station’s studio, part of a four-hour show with a live studio audience. Now y’all may not know this, but I was a board operator at WKLQ in Grand Rapids one summer while studying broadcasting. I haven’t been back inside a radio studio in decades, so this sounded like a cool opportunity.

The Show: Folk Revival

As you know from the variety of music covered in the Blog, I’m not much of a folkie. I love the best music across all genres, but given the small percentage of my music that’s folk, it’s not surprising I wasn’t familiar with WICN’s Folk Revival (7:00 to 11:00 pm Thursday, over the air and streaming online) and host Nick Noble‘s decade-long run at its helm. In addition to his knowledge of the genre, Nick possesses an easygoing, friendly demeanor, skill at asking friendly questions that yield interesting responses, and a deep, silky voice that makes him the quintessential radio host for this type of show. Though I hadn’t known about him before, it was a pleasure to watch this maestro in action.

Shawna Caspi

Shawna Caspi; photo by Geoff Wilbur

I walked in right around 7:00, just in time for the show’s first performance, an hour-long set by Shawna Caspi. She was followed by Chris Welles. And Outrageous Fortune headlined the evening. Between featured performers, three local artists each performed a song. During these “breaks,” I often left the studio, so I only caught half of the songs and entirely missed both songs by the third of these three artists. Below, rather than running strictly chronologically, I’ll write about the three main performers first and then mention the performers whose songs populated the transitions. Well, the two I caught, anyway.

The Opener: Shawna Caspi

The Folk Revival was the tentpole gig of Toronto’s Shawna Caspi trio of Massachusetts performances. As I noted above, it’s Shawna’s voice (and delivery) – powerful, emotional, precise, as if from the ’60s-’70s folk era. My limited folk knowledge betrays me a bit here in that the only group that comes to mind is Peter, Paul, and Mary, but that’s not exactly who she reminds me of; stylistically, though, I’d place her as a musical contemporary. Of course, when any genre is performed by a musician of Shawna’s caliber, if you’re a music fan, it’s an opportunity missed if you don’t go out to hear her when she’s in town.

Fortunately, I didn’t miss this opportunity. Shawna kicked the evening off with one of my favorite songs from her new album, Forest Fire, “Never Enough.” It features a soaring vocal, and it just seemed to pop in the acoustics of the radio station’s studio. “Love in a Moving Van” followed, a guitar picker with a rolling tempo, a catchy, memorable tune with rich, warm vocals.

Shawna Caspi

Shawna Caspi; photo by Geoff Wilbur

“The Devil’s Rolling Pin” was a bit of a change of pace. You can actually hear the devil in the details of the rich, finger-picking strum and ever-so-slight haunting hint and cheerily foreboding tone in Shawna’s vocals. So haunting and slightly speakeasy-ish, it would probably fit on The Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League’s Masquerade, which I reviewed earlier this month. Very cool, showing the breadth of Shawna’s vocal capabilities.

Next, Shawna’s voice soared as she breathed new life into an old cover, “The Hobo’s Lullaby.” And she went very old-school folky with a little syncopated rhythm on “Not So Silent,” a catchy, fun, and powerful protest song with the singalong line, “We are louder; we are louder than them.”

“Anchor” refreshingly changed things up a little. Nice and airy, it felt free and bright like a summer day. A lazy summer day.

“Breakables” followed, a slow roller with a headturning phrase or two that really showcased Shawna’s voice. Those high, powerful, warm, crisp notes that only a few can hit, and she only even truly showcases that range occasionally, saving it to wow us on songs like this one.

Shawna brought her set to a close with “Oleaster,” a lyrical and vocal-driven tune from Forest Fire that utilizes clear, rising power in the vocals to help provide emphasis. It was a strong performance in a unique setting, a room whose acoustics were ideal for the crispness, precision, and warmth of Shawna Caspi’s performance style.

The Warm-Up Act: Chris Welles

Chris had a busy night. As one-third of Outrageous Fortune, he also served as his own warm-up band. Though he wasn’t alone. He, as guitarist, was joined by fellow Outrageous Fortune members Dan Dick on bass and, for some songs, Rod Thomas on backing vocals. So, really, the entire Outrageous Fortune trio all had a hand in opening for themselves. The third member of Chris’ trio (or fourth member of his quartet, depending on the song) was violinist Tomoko Iwamoto.

Chris Welles & band

Chris Welles & band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

As a trio, Chris and comrades opened with “Paradise or Hell,” showcasing a moderately haunting, weird sound. The second song, “Lullaby,” with Rod joining on backing vocals, was exceptionally impressive, showcasing a rich, warm, all-encompassing sound, perhaps my favorite of the set.

The performance continued with a jazzy, swingy cover of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and then a guitar and violin duet arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that was light and very old movie soundtrack-esque. Indeed, that classic cinema music vibe continued with a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” featuring a very Bing Crosby-ish vocal amid a lively performance delivery.

Chris’ penultimate song, a fun and lively (that word again!) rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “Old Man Mose,” was another of my favorites from this set. And the set ended with Jelly Roll Morton’s “Whinin’ Boy,” again sporting something very black and white movie-ish about Chris’ vocals.

The Headliner: Outrageous Fortune

Outrageous Fortune

Outrageous Fortune; photo by Geoff Wilbur

I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay until 10:00 PM when the show ended, but Outrageous Fortune did get through an enthusiastically entertaining six songs before my 9:30 exit. I’m not sure I’ve ever covered a live show by a jug band before, but yes, this was as much fun as it sounds like, a half-dozen rousing numbers from this multi-talented trio.

Outrageous Fortune kicked things off with “I Got Mine,” the energetic opening track on the band’s new album, Delta Bound. They followed it with a vaudevillian rendition of Irving Berlin’s “My Walkin’ Stick” on which Rod Thomas played a walking stick-kazoo, of all things. It was an animated performance – a treat for the in-studio audience, at least – and a stroke of genius when we all realized the walking stick Rod had produced for the song was more than just a visual prop.

Outrageous Fortune

Outrageous Fortune; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Next up was a rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Come in My Kitchen” that had a Sesame Street-esque rhythm, kind of Big Bird-meets-Dukes of Hazzard. I particularly liked the patience in the vocals, as if waiting for the right lane to open at various times. Outrageous Fortune followed that with another Irving Berlin number, “Russian Lullaby,” deploying a relatively traditional line-up of guitar, bass, and harmonica, driven vocally by a nice, crooning lilt; and the harmonies here were truly something special. This led to the new album’s title track, Duke Ellington’s “Delta Blues,” at which point I had to exit, though the band and the radio show still had plenty of time remaining. I’m sure I don’t know what I missed; and I could have known but didn’t, as I forgot I had been at a radio show, so I didn’t think to turn the radio on while I drove home.

The Between-Band “Break” Performers

That was the end of my evening, a heck of a night. Of course, as I mentioned, there were performances during the breaks between the main artists. Each of three performers delivered a single song twice during the evening, a terrific idea for showcasing additional artists during the program. As noted earlier, I stepped out of the studio during part of each of these breaks, but I heard three of the six songs, as performed by two of the three artists.

Kevin Kvein

Kevin Kvein; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Kevin Kvein

I was in the room for both of Kevin Kvein’s songs. His first, “Age of Destruction,” was a mid-tempo strummer with a kind of open, echoey vocal style. His second song, currently untitled, was even more interesting. Rich, warm finger-picking guitar with a fragile vocal, not trembling though it seems like it should have been. Very cool and original.

Edwin Baculima

I only heard Edwin’s second song of the evening, his rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman Blues,” a well-conceived slow-paced blues performance with an airy, almost Western feel.

Edwin Baculima

Edwin Baculima; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

This radio studio live performance experience was very cool, and I look forward to keeping an eye on The Folk Revival’s Facebook group to see when there are future live shows that fit my schedule.

Shawna Caspi’s concert schedule, per the gigs page on her website, continues with a gig at Bear’s Place in Bloomington, IN on October 3rd; a house concert in Grosse Pointe, MI on October 6th; a show at the Unitarian Universality Community Church of Hendricks Country in Danville, IN on October 7th; and a Musical Hospitality Coffeehouse show at Boss Community Center in Kewanee, IL on October 8th. Following that, her calendar lists a series of shows October 11th-14th in British Columbia, an October 20th show at the Folk Alliance Region Midwest (FARM) Conference in Iowa City, IA, and then some shows back in Ontario. Check out Shawna’s website for additional details and more concert listings.

Outrageous Fortune’s next gig is Saturday, October 14th, 1:00-3:00 PM at Cafe L’Aroma in West Newton, MA. (You know how I love daytime shows; this’ll be great fun!) Keep an eye on the “shows” page of the band’s website for information about additional shows as they are added.

And, lest I forget, Tomoko Iwamoto is a member of the gypsy jazz outfit 440. Per the group’s Facebook events page, they’re performing at 11:00 AM today, October 1st, for Sunday brunch at the Trail’s End Cafe in Concord, MA. This is usually a second Sunday of the month gig, but it’s obviously the first Sunday this month. And, as always, check back at the Facebook page for upcoming show announcements as they’re added.

Live Review: 1st Annual Local CountryFest

Ashley Jordan

Ashley Jordan; photo by Geoff Wilbur

1st Annual Local CountryFest

Indian Ranch, Webster, MA

September 16, 2017

In what is intended to be an annual event, organized and promoted by Octo Rock Cinema Productions, the inaugural Local CountryFest seemed to be a rousing success. With a decent-sized, fully engaged crowd and several of the area’s best country artists, this was a great start to what will, hopefully, become a Massachusetts fall tradition. With Lyssa Coulter performing before the event and during the first two intermissions, special guest Tom Revane, and a country line-up of the Houston Bernard Band, Annie Brobst, Scarlett Drive, and Timmy Brown and Black Diamond leading up to headliner Ashley Jordan, the day was a veritable who’s who of local country music.

Ashley Jordan

Ashley Jordan; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The big-name line-up itself recently received some brand new accolades. Three of the artists – Annie Brobst, Ashley Jordan, and the Houston Bernard Band – were recently nominated for Country Artist of the Year by Boston Music Awards. Of course, from first-hand experience, I knew to expect great things from the two artists I had previously reviewed: Annie Brobst was one of the artists at Nina Pickell’s Behind the Songs event at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston this spring. And, of course, I reviewed Ashley Jordan’s latest album, He’s Crazy, and have reviewed Ashley’s live performances at Loft 266 in Worcester and at The Mill 185 in West Boylston. In any case, the lineup of this year’s inaugural event was loaded with talent.

Steve Charette

Before I get to the music, I should note that I ran across magician Steve Charette both before and during the show. He was on-site to entertain those waiting in line and mingling outside the main stage area – between sets, presumably, since I can’t imagine people wandering far from the music with such talented artists on-stage. I witnessed a sequence of cool card tricks and other close-up illusions. Very cool. (Sorry Steve; I didn’t think to snap a photo of you to include with the review.)

Lyssa Coulter

Lyssa Coulter; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Lyssa Coulter

Lyssa performed acoustically at the Corral Stage, accompanied by Rocco Lombardo on guitar, for a half-hour while the crowd was filing in before the initial main stage performer and for about fifteen minutes each during the first two set breaks. Lyssa is a young artist rapidly building a local following, and this was a nice showcase for her skills. Lyssa performed “Leave the Night On” (twice, during different breaks) as it seems to be a cover that suits her. She sounds best when pushing the upper limit of her range; it gives her vocals an insistence and intensity. “Live Like You Were Dying” featured notable guitarwork by Rocco, while Lisa’s voice almost (but not quite) cracked for some cool emphasis. Other covers she performed well included “American Honey” and “Bartender.” The one original I heard Lyssa perform, the engaging, mid-tempo “By My Side,” very clearly hit her vocal sweet spot, as should generally be the case with an original.

In all, Lyssa’s short Corral Stage performances offered quick glimpses of a fast-developing, talented young artist who will just keep getting better. Of course, Lyssa’s star is already quickly on the rise; she was a finalist in the regional NashNext competition this year, an event won by Ashley Jordan.

Houston Bernard Band

Houston Bernard Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Houston Bernard Band

I was quite impressed by Houston and his band. I hadn’t previously heard any of the band’s songs, but the band caught my attention from the initial song, a high-energy kickoff number that from my notes I presume was “You’re All I Need (I Don’t Need Much).” The band’s music is full of energy, country hooks, Houston’s voice – he has a vocal twang on his middle and upper ranges but also a booming deep low-end – and a diversely talented set of instrumentalists. Houston actually worked all of his vocal tricks – twangy high and mid-range vocals and booming deep vox – into the singalong-compelling second song, “Country Crowd.”

Houston Bernard Band

Houston Bernard Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

“Ready to Leave” really popped, with strong hooks, massive stop-starts, and an opportunity to strain the vocals for emotion; it’s built for country hit radio. Speaking of country hit radio, though, the band’s catchy song “Yoga Pants” is topically hit-worthy wrapped in great old-school country packaging, replete with a guitar-picking and spoken-word opening.

Those were the first four numbers. At this point, the band had the crowd in the palm of its hand, leading into its Montgomery Gentry tribute, a solid rendition of “Hell Yeah.” Later in the set, a cover medley showed off the great Southern rock voice of the band’s keyboardist and the electric guitarist’s more Southern-rock-meets-the-Eagles voice. Versatility. Eventually, the band closed with the energetic, danceable, rockin’ country tune “Knockin’ Boots” (“knockin’ boots on the dance floor…”) The band’s mostly-original-music set was concert-quality. I’d be excited to discover these guys were opening for my favorite national act. And I see a path to that given the Houston Bernard Band’s radio-ready style and versatility.

Annie Brobst Band

Annie Brobst Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Annie Brobst

Annie Brobst owns the stage. Period. It’s hers. And she established that from the very start by leading off with an immediate pop of energy on “I Could Say No.” The first song on her EP, it showcases Annie as the power-country singer she is and, well, boom! Then she moved straight to her mellow side with “Write Me a Song,” utilizing a rich, serious, strong, soft vocal.

Lyssa Coulter and Annie Brobst

Lyssa Coulter and Annie Brobst; photo by Geoff Wilbur

A couple songs later, Annie was joined on-stage by Lyssa Coulter for a duet of Kelsea Ballerini’s “Yeah Boy.” They performed the song with great back-and-forth vocals and duet harmonies; it also served as an opportunity for Annie’s fiddle player to shine.

Next up (I think) was Miranda Lambert’s “Baggage Claim,” recognizably driven by slide guitar and a little sly shuffle in Annie’s vox (and, holy crap!, that powerful punch in some spots). And then… Annie’s softer-again storytelling original “Ghost.”

“Paperweight” bopped along with the banjo adding a travelin’-song flavor to this fun-tempoed number, complete with stop-start attention-grabbing “pops.” And then, following her “bro country” cover, “Bottoms Up,” which she delivered with punch and with featured a great guitar solo, Annie closed with “Still Water.” “Still Water” featured that strong but wistful vocal edge that’s perfectly suited to its slide-guitar accompaniment, and it was driven by a relentless drum line that served as its tempo-mover. A terrific song to close an arena-caliber set.

Scarlett Drive

Scarlett Drive; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Scarlett Drive

I suppose the shortest description of Scarlett Drive is that they’re a fun, jammin’, party-country band with strong vocals and tight harmonies, showing the crowd a heck of a good time. (OK, you got me; that’s not very short.)

The band got off to a powerful start, with driving drums, screaming guitars, and those aforementioned harmonies driving the first song of their set.

Original “Next Train” was an early-set standout, featuring notable drop-down vocals. It was followed by a strong cover of Lady Antebellum’s “We Owned the Night,” sporting funky guitar and three-party harmonies.

“If You Wanna” was performed in the band’s trademark celebratory style, mixing harmonies with vocal runs, guitar punch, and forceful drumming, while “One More Time” showcased that top emotional edge of lead male vocalist Chris Martin’s range, with strong backing harmonies in moments-of-emphasis and a neat electric guitar line snaking its way through the song.

Remaining highlights included “Quarters,” Scarlett Drive’s slow-dance song, one of those anthemic, arena-full-of-lighters numbers, and set-closer “I Blame the Whiskey,” a danceable, fun, energetic, arena-country number.

Timmy Brown & Black Diamond

Timmy Brown & Black Diamond; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Timmy Brown & Black Diamond

Another of the Boston area’s big-name country acts that has earned its fair share of notoriety, Timmy Brown & Black Diamond kept things humming, kicking their set off with “Amen,” an arena-filling number featuring crunchy country-rock guitar and textured power vocals.

Next up were “Dirt on My Boots,” which prominent fiddle accents, and “Tequila Lime & Salt,” a fun – what else could it be with a song title like that? – mid-to-uptempo original. And then “Drinkin’ Problem,” mellow and smooth with a rich, warm vocal texture.

Timmy followed that with “Fly Away,” noting it was a song for his grandmother, and following through with an as-expected sweet, heartfelt song with rich harmonies. Timmy’s vocal was smooth with just a hint of a rough edge, as if it was textured with really fine sandpaper. The band continued with slow-paced twanger “Save It For a Rainy Day.”

Later in the set, the band pandered to the New England crowd by performing an exceptionally well-done rendition of a guaranteed Boston-area crowd-pleaser, “Sweet Caroline,” setting up its closing number, the band’s single “Little Bit.” “Little Bit” seems like one of those songs you’ll sing along to quickly, with an engaging tempo and everyday-life, “real” country feel – one of those everyday American slice-of-life songs. Great way to end the set, and a terrific choice for a single.

Tom Revane Live

Tom Revane Live; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Tom Revane Live

Tom Revane and his band were perhaps the closest thing to misfits at this event. Extremely popular local artists who live and perform regularly in and around Webster, they were the locallest of the local bands and brought a group of rabid, very vocal and visible fans to the event, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider them country. They did, however, perform a lively six-song set of favorites – Skynyrd’s “Call Me the Breeze,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” Jimmy Buffett’s “Volcano,” “Wagon Wheel” (the sole country song of the bunch), and one more song whose name I failed to jot down before closing, fittingly, with “Margaritaville.” Indeed, simultaneously energetic and laid-back, Tom and his motley crew might best be described as Parrotheads-plus, as they brought an unapologetic party atmosphere to the evening. (“Parrotheads” because of the very Buffett-esque, laid-back party vibe; “plus” because their playlist extends well beyond Buffett.)

Ashley Jordan

Ashley Jordan; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ashley Jordan

That led us to the main event, the headliner of the night, Ashley Jordan. I had only previously seen Ashley perform acoustically, so I was looking forward to this full band performance, a big show on a big stage where she could let loose. And, indeed, with the room to roam, Ashley showed how well she can work the stage and own the crowd as a big-show headliner. Bring on the arenas! But, of course, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Ashley kicked things off with a consistent crowd favorite from her Nothing in Doubt album, a tune about an oh-so-country topic, as she and her band found their groove during the course of “Drink Some Whiskey.”

Next up was a cover I particularly enjoy hearing Ashley perform, her rendition of “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree,” because it allows her to hit some big notes and showcase her vocal power. It also shows off some of her band’s exceptional talent with some fun fiddle parts, and a neat musical move her bass player deploys.

Ashley moved on to one of my (many) favorites from her latest CD, He’s Crazy, the guitar-picking-powered “Blue Eyed Boy,” a song that ranges from sweetness to twangy power.

Ashley Jordan

Ashley Jordan; photo by Geoff Wilbur

A cover of Miranda Lambert’s “Vice” stood out for its great a cappella opening and its showcase of the breadth of Ashley’s vocal range, from emotional voice cracks to her strong low end and some serious power vocals.

A trio of songs from He’s Crazy followed, from the emotionally powerful “So Far Gone” to a couple of the bigger songs on the album. “Lone Wolf” sports a true power vocal and prominently features the fiddle; its heavy rhythm and power is ideally delivered in a full band setting. And then “Weapon,” the album’s first track, a big Nashville-style production number that features strength and power and an especially cool role for the fiddle.

Ashley then did a pure country version of Maren Morris’ “My Church” before unveiling a new original. I’m not sure of the title, but with a woman-power, Miranda-esque delivery, she treated the crowd to her new song featuring lyrics referencing “just another boy playing games.” It’s a catchy one!

The next couple of songs, both from He’s Crazy, continued the theme. The first, “In Spite of You,” is vocally both sweet and spiteful, soft and powerful. And then the album’s title track, “He’s Crazy,” opened with crunchy lead electric guitar and grew into an arena-caliber country rocker.

Ashley closed the show with a powerfully-delivered cover of “Sweet Home Alabama” that’s really cool with the fiddle part. A crowd-pleasing end to a big set of music from a hard-working local musician whose career ceiling is a starry sky.

That brought to an end the first annual Country MusicFest. The event was well-run and featured a full day of top-notch New England country music talent. Hopefully, therefore, this will be the beginning of an annual local tradition, a showcase where country music fans can enjoy their favorite local performers and discover some new artists, performing in the sort of concert-style, big-event setting for which our best local talent is all ably prepared.

Live Review: Vasko the Patch at Lilypad

Vasko the Patch at Lilypad

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Vasko the Patch

Lilypad, Cambridge, MA

September 14, 2017

Known as Vasko the Patch (in Bulgarian, Vasko Krupkata), Vasil Georgiev is a famous Bulgarian bluesman. In the 1980s, he was in various pop-rock bands (Parallel 42, Start); after the fall of communism in Bulgaria, Vasko founded the Poduene Blues Band and performed songs with titles like “Bureaucrat,” “Sunny Beach Blues,” and “Communism is Going Away.” Last night’s event at Lilypad, sponsored by Face Bulgaria and the Bulgarian American Cultural Center Madara, was a chance for local music fans to enjoy the music of this talented, accomplished musician. And, of course, just to enjoy a great night of blues.

Vasko the Patch at Lilypad

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Indeed, when one of the most renowned blues musicians (or jazz or rock or, really, a top musician from any genre) from any country comes to town, it’s worth going. Or, at least, it’s worth checking out some of his music online to decide if the talent lives up to the hype, and this YouTube concert video convinced me I couldn’t afford to miss seeing this top-shelf veteran blues talent perform live.

If there was one thing I wondered after viewing the online videos, it was how Vasko’s music would translate to an acoustic performance without a full band behind him; the result was a more intimate show with perhaps not quite as many rowdy-blues-wailing moments. A pretty good trade-off, and in a room full of people who know all of his songs, there’s the added sing-along aspect. I do love seeing musicians in smaller-crowd settings where the audience is primarily hardcore fans. And The Lilypad is an exceptional listening room, typically serving as a performance venue for some of Boston’s premier jazz musicians.

Vasko the Patch at Lilypad

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I know I don’t need to explain Vasko’s music to any Bulgarians reading this, but for the rest of us who don’t know about him (I didn’t before learning about him in advance of this show), I’ll give it a shot.

Vasko is often referred to as a blues-rock musician, and he does have a rockin’ flavor to his music, which spans straight-up blues, classic rock ‘n roll of multiple styles, including occasional psychedelic flavors, and some music that seems a bit in the ’70s folk-rock style. Some of the rockin’ numbers brought to mind the musical styles of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry. I thought I heard a little Three Dog Night in one song. And the purest blues songs spanned multiple sub-genres with well-recognized musical passages, often making it seem like I should know the words, though the words that sprung to mind were, of course, completely different from Vasko’s lyrics (and in English).

Vasko the Patch at Lilypad

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The first song of the night was one of those exceptionally pure blues numbers, guitar augmented by great harmonica-work, as if I had stepped into a blues joint in Chicago… or Memphis… or New Orleans. I suppose if I were a blues-only superfan, I’d’ve known which city to reference, but in any case, this was pure blues-joint stuff clearly delivered by an exceptional talent. That first song was rather introspective and blue in nature, maybe a little melancholy. Definitely blues. Vakso followed it with an uptempo singalong number, “Kade e Kupona,” that had the room rocking.

Next up was “Pulen Pleibek,” another classic blues number, this one more mid-tempo with some tension, followed by another energetic rock ‘n roll song, “Boogie Woogie Tsyala Nosht.”

Vasko the Patch at Lilypad

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The slower songs, often eliciting a knowing response from the crowd, tended to seem a bit ’70s folky with the acoustic guitar, and they settled things down nicely amid the more uptempo numbers. One that came across a bit like that, very heartfelt, was “Den Sled Den.” There’s so much expression in Vasko’s voice, which gets a bit rougher and more gravelly when he slows things down.

At least three of the evening’s songs were alcohol-related. Indeed, a few of the uptempo numbers, even those that weren’t about beer, seemed rather like lively drinking songs. One such tune that brought the audience to life even more than most (and actually is about beer… or lack thereof) was “Niama Bira.” And I also made sure to note the heavier-tempoed, oh-so-bluesy “Domashna Rakia Blues,” an song with an old-school blues tempo that almost has to be listened to with your eyes closed to properly soak up all the blues.

And there was a lone English-language song during the 90-minute-or-so set, a melancholy, jazzy, blue rendition of “Moon Over Bourbon Street.”

Vasko the Patch at Lilypad

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Vasko the Patch is a talented bluesman with something for everyone in his performance. At this particular show, he seemed to enjoy the crowd as much as the crowd enjoyed him, playing to his audience and giving a rousing, heartfelt performance. Then, of course, he stayed after to chat and take pictures with his fans. In addition to a fun evening for a few dozen Boston music fans, it seemed to be a great kickoff show to Vasko’s American tour.

Looking Ahead

As I just mentioned, this was the first stop on Vasko’s tour. Tonight, he’s performing at the Polish Eagles Sport Club in Philadelphia. (If you’re in Philly, sorry; you just missed it.) As listed in the cover photo on his Facebook page, Vasko’s tour will then continue with additional September dates in New York (at the Wolfhound in Astoria on Sat., Sept 16), Washington, DC, Raleigh, NC, Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, New Orleans, Austin, and Dallas. In October, Vasko will be in Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle. In addition to finding them on Facebook, these dates are also listed in the comments of Vasko’s U.S. Acoustic Tour ’17 YouTube video (and in the video itself).