Live Review: 3nd Annual Local CountryFest

Mychael David at Local CountryFest

Mychael David; photo by Geoff Wilbur

3rd Annual Local CountryFest

Indian Ranch, Webster, MA

September 29, 2019

This popular annual event draws more fans every year while presenting the very best local country music. Organized and promoted, as always, by Octo Rock Cinema Productions, this year’s 3rd Annual Local CountryFest lived up to the high expectations attendees now have of it.

I’ve reviewed this event every year so far (see my reviews of 2017’s 1st annual and 2018’s 2nd annual), and I look forward to next year’s year number four, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This year, Backyard Swagger performed on the Corral Stage as the gates opened. Then the performances moved to the main stage, featuring short sets by Meghan Lynch, Ayla Brown and Rob Bellamy, Taylor O’Connor, Tim Buono, and Matt York and full-length, full-band sets by Lyssa Coulter, the Jake Ash Band, Mychael David, the Darren Bessette Band, Annie Brobst, and No Shoes Nation.

Magician Steve Charette at Local CountryFest

Steve Charette; photo by Geoff Wilbur

But first I’d like to talk about the venue. Indian Ranch is very cool. It’s big enough for a big stage show but small enough that every seat feels intimate, definitely compared to most other decent-sized outdoor concert locations. The venue is also home to The Indian Princess, a riverboat that gives tours of the lake, a campground, the very nice Samuel Slater’s Restaurant, and a banquet hall/function facility. Yes, I’ve only ever attended concerts at the amphitheater, but the entire grounds seem well worthy of future visits.

With so many artists performing, I’ll keep each review quick, drop in a band photo, and move on to the next, especially since the posting of this review has been so delayed that I have to lean almost strictly upon my notes. Hopefully it’ll be enough to give you a sense of each band’s performance.

I arrived a little late, but I did catch the last couple of songs of Backyard Swagger’s Corral Stage set. Ayla Brown and Rob Bellamy then performed the national anthem on the main stage before yielding the stage to Lyssa Coulter’s full band performance.

And on the grounds, attendees were treated to the magic stylings of Steve Charette, who was as impressive this year as he had been when I first saw him perform during the 1st Annual Local CountryFest.

Backyard Swagger at Local CountryFest

Backyard Swagger; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Backyard Swagger

Before the national anthem, Backyard Swagger kicked off the day’s music with a performance at the Corral Stage as fans filed in. Their fun rendition of “Man I Feel Like a Woman” was being performed as I approached. The group also delivered a lively rendition of “Little White Church” with kick and punch, a version of Maren Morris’ “Rich” sporting a fun, funky rhythm, and a performance of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” that showcased Miriam Smith’s blistering fiddlework. Backyard Swagger closed its set with “Any Man of Mine,” a tune ideal for Diane Ferullo’s voice, driven home by the band’s booming rhythm section.

Lyssa Coulter at Local CountryFest

Lyssa Coulter; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Lyssa Coulter

After Ayla and Rob delivered “The Star-Spangled Banner” to kick things off on the main stage, the Lyssa Coulter Band launched into its set. Lyssa Coulter has been a mainstay at Local CountryFest, moving up the performer food chain each year. This year, she finally landed a main stage, full-band, full-set performance, and she not only owned the stage this year with her full-band, eight-song, main-stage performance, but she delivered with some serious charisma and vocal talent, leaving no doubt that she’s a bona fide front-line New England country act.

Lyssa kicked things off with “Whiskey in the Twilight,” a tune that showcases her best vocal qualities, those that are most identifiable, a great opening song choice. Lyssa’s sensitive vocal quaver worked well on the heartfelt “Maybe Tonight.” Her “Should’ve Said No” cover was energetic. “By Myself” sported an emotional, moving wail. Indeed, Lyssa’s originals are always the songs best-suited to her voice, as if they’ve been written with her unique strengths in mind.

And, speaking of originals that utilize Lyssa’s vocal skills, she closed the set with “Curisin’,” her summer single. This is one of those upbeat, catchy, teen-movie-friendly numbers. And this one, in particular, has a catchy, playful guitar line. Lyssa has established herself as a marquee local talent in her lane. I really dug this set.

Meghan Lynch at Local CountryFest

Meghan Lynch; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Meghan Lynch

Pop-country singer Meghan Lynch – from Boston but now based in Nashville – followed with an acoustic set. I wish my notes were more detailed, but the short set was fun. She kicked things off with “Wild Guess,” sung with a heartfelt vibe. She followed it with original “My Greatest Mistakes.” Meghan closed her set with an energetic, bubblegum, pop-country, fun number “Party Girl.” The quick four-song set was over too quickly. Here’s hoping Meghan will be back again next year.

The Jake Ash Band at Local CountryFest

The Jake Ash Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Jake Ash Band

I was psyched for this. I’ve been following The Jake Ash Band for a while, and this was my first chance to catch them live. They did not disappoint. They kicked off with “Five Star Dive Bar,” complete with driving guitar, great storytelling, and reminiscing vocals. Catchy, this song sounds like it’ll grow on you. Next up, on “Easy on the Eyes (Hard on the Heart),” I really liked the way the piano line prominently drove this song. My notes even tripled use of this word for this song: catchy, catchy, catchy. “Sweet Babies” had a raucous energy with a great use of vocal pause-and-punch. The band’s October 4th release, “Tequila Season,” followed. Then catchy, hooky, fun, guitar-crunching “Wedding Ring Money.”

After a powerful, edgy, bluesy-rocking country numbers (whose title I didn’t glean), the JAB launched into “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Mountain Music” before closing with original “25 Again,” a powerful song, “on 11” from beginning to end, followed by a frantic close. It’s obvious why it’s a fan favorite, a terrific way to close a set, leaving the crowd buzzing.

Ayla Brown and Rob Bellamy at Local CountryFest

Ayla Brown and Rob Bellamy; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ayla Brown and Rob Bellamy

The next acoustic set featured this exceptionally well-matched duo. On set-opener “Always Have a Home,” as throughout the set, Rob’s deep textured voice was complemented by Ayla’s softer, sweeter tone. The “white space” was as musically important as the guitar, at least in this acoustic arrangement. Next up was a cover of A Star is Born‘s “Shallow.” On this powerful ballad, Rob’s rich voice kicked things off, followed by Ayla’s warm, also-rich voice. “Built That Way” was about the purest country song there is, about praying, patriotism, and working hard; it was delivered powerfully and sincerely, as they have the requisite vocal chops for this song to hit home the way it was intended. Ayla and Rob closed their set with “The Honeymoon Phase,” a fun, clever, light-yet-lyrically-interesting, catchy tune.

Mychael David at Local CountryFest

Mychael David; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Mychael David

The marquee old-school country voice of Central Massachusetts for quite some time, a singer with an impressive national pedigree, Mychael David took the stage next for a long set with his full band. Sporting a deep, powerful, timeless country voice and endless talent and surrounded by some of the region’s best musicians, a Mychael David full-band concert event is always a treat.

The band opened with “Even the Man in the Moon is Crying,” followed by “Folsom Prison Blues” – so much axe talent in the band, they totally rocked this! In fact, it’s such a great fit, the band included “Folsom Prison Blues” on Mychael’s most recent album, Heroes & Honkytonks.

Next up was “Smoke and Ash.” As here, Mychael’s old-school, rich country voice can carry a set. Always. Anywhere. But Howie Swett’s wailing riffs put this song over the top.

After a cover of “Country Roads” that nailed that pluckin’ country energy, the band rolled on to “Some Gave All.” This ballad “to veterans and to those who never made it back” is always a misty moment during a Michael David set. This swaying, sad ballad was punctuated by Mychael walking through the crowd shaking as many veterans’ hands as possible. A true, sincere, patriotic mid-set moment.

After uptempo “That Ain’t My Truck,” the band closed its set with “Goodbye is Still Goodbye,” a country rocker driven by an energetic guitar line and subtle hooks, complementing Mychael’s rich vocals.

Taylor O'Connor at Local CountryFest

Taylor O’Connor; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Taylor O’Connor

Taylor O’Connor’s short acoustic set was next. Showcasing serious twang for a Grafton girl, Taylor delivered a solid cover of Luke Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours,” featuring vocal tempo and pace changes. Next up was “Reset Button,” an original that highlighted Taylor’s nice, tuneful voice. Finally, Taylor’s performance of “Wine Again” impressed; there was a bit of an emotional warble on this song that really delivered the goods.

Darren Bessette Band at Local CountryFest

Darren Bessette Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Darren Bessette Band

The Darren Bessette Band followed, opening with “It’s a Long Way Down,” a song that prompted me to note “rockin’ country, tight band, great vox.” That about sums it up for this crowd-pleasing assemblage of consummate country music pros.

I was particularly impressed by original “Tail Lights,” an old-school country music hall type of song. It sported a steady rhythm, but the guitar line was active, giving the soundbed character to complement Darren’s expressive vocals.

Cover songs ranged from Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to Eddie Rabbitt’s “Driving My Life Away,” delivered flawless and timeless. And the set closed with “I Love This Life.” A great set of crowd favorites, showcasing this talented band.

Tim Buono at Local CountryFest

Tim Buono; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Tim Buono

Tim Buono’s short set was next. He opened with a laid-back country song (whose title I missed). My favorite song of Tim’s set was his original “Anyway,” with soulful emotion dripping from every syllable – an absolute must-hear! And he closed his set with a cover of Brad Paisley’s “Little Moments,” again featuring emotional vocals, almost seeming like they the words themselves were about to crack. Whew!

Annie Brobst Band at Local CountryFest

Annie Brobst Band; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Annie Brobst

The Annie Brobst Band was next. As has been the case every time I’ve seen this world-class outfit, they owned the big stage, delivering a big concert performance. They kicked things off with energy via “You Either Love Me Or You Don’t.” Next up: “Still Water,” a song whose dancing rhythm guitar live added character and motion to this catchy, mid-range number. Oh, and the cool vocal bridge added even more character.

After “Change of Heart,” Annie and band went whiskey – original “Whiskey Colors,” a dynamic personal favorite delivered with a catchy use of stop-starts and a funky bass bridge and “Whiskey Glass,” which featured crowd engagement. Then went wine. New original “Red Wine On My Mind” sounds like a real crowd-pleaser, a singalong-able tune that builds to power and even features a little guitar shredding. Well done.

Then, after “Love You More,” Annie delivered “Ghost,” a smooth, rich, full song to close the set.

Matt York at Local CountryFest

Matt York; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Matt York

The last acoustic mini-set of the day belonged to Matt York. He opened with an energetic, fast-strumming, country story-song growler, then a strummer with a deep growl. He closed with a cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Fit to Kill and Going Out in Style,” delivered engagingly with that all-knowing, smirky vocal edge. Exceptionally well done.

No Shoes Nation at Local CountryFest

No Shoes Nation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

No Shoes Nation

Local CountryFest closed with a set from No Shoes Nation, the Kenny Chesney tribute band that’s a huge local draw with its tight musicianship and near-flawless delivery of Chesney’s hits.

The band opened with “Reality” and closed with “Beer in Mexico.” Highlights in between included “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” which had the crowd swaying, and “Boston,” an obvious local favorite. Also, my personal favorite Kenny Chesney tune, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Across a set that spanned more than a dozen songs, No Shoes Nation wrapped up a day of great local country music with an energetic, funny, very true-to-Chesney set.

No Shoes Nation at Local CountryFest

No Shoes Nation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Local CountryFest – this concert has quickly become a must-attend annual event on the local music calendar.

Live Review: Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Danielle Miraglia

Front Street Concerts, Hopkinton, MA

July 27, 2019

A Danielle Miraglia show at the Front Street Concerts summer concert series is an annual tradition. She’s one of Boston’s best. Period. Periodically, Boston’s music award series notice, often when she releases new music, and lately seemingly more consistently, year-to-year, regardless: She has been nominated for Blues Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards each of the last two years, and she won Female Performer of the Year at the 2019 New England Music Awards. She’s a consistent draw, seemingly able to draw her legion of fans out to hear her perform even when she plays locally several times a month. Danielle’s live shows with a full band, as Danielle M & the Glory Junkies, are all styles of blues-rock, from in-your-face to soulful and rich, while her solo acoustic shows are more blues-folk, as bluesy songwriting-driven acoustic songs would tend to be. But her music is always performed with an energy, her songs often written with a sincere yet mischievous wink. And it’s a rare treat to get to have such a world-class talent perform frequently in our midst.

Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Front Street Concerts is a backyard “house concert” series with a dinner buffet, an outstanding way to spend a summer evening, with attendees treated to inspired food selections and always featuring some of the best musicians around, with one slot each summer reserved for Danielle Miraglia. There’s a stage, sound system, and some seats in the barn, while the barn doors are left open, so most attendees choose to outside under the stars (or a tent, depending on the weather) in lawn chairs brought from home.

Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I’ve written about Danielle’s gigs so often (album review, live review, live review, live review, live review, and a long-overdue album review for All My Heroes Are Ghosts currently half-written), I opted this time to simply jot down song titles and deliver a photo-heavy review while enjoying the evening, the surroundings, the company, and the music. This performance was a mostly-Glory-Junkies show – always a treat, as the band members are all among the top local musicians at each of their instruments, often busy elsewhere in the area on non-Glory Junkies nights. With Erik White on guitar, Chris Anzalone on drums, and Jim Larkin on bass, only violist Laurence Scudder was missing for this particular show.

Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Rather than the usual Front Street format of two short sets with an intermission, this show was one long set, followed by some socializing after the performance. The band opened with the rockin’ “See the Light” from the Box of Troubles CD, followed by cynical, current affairs-driven “Monster” and “All on Fire,” both from the All My Heroes Are Ghosts disc.

Next up was the title track, “All My Heroes Are Ghosts,” followed by the pop culture-skewering “Famous for Nothin'” from Danielle’s Glory Junkies disc, and Janis Joplin’s “Turtle Blues.” Because there has to be a Janis song during a Danielle Miraglia gig; very few people can channel Janis the way she does.

Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Following was a raucous rendition of “Everybody’s Wrong” and a new original, a real treat for which my notes simply say “soulful, soft, and powerful.” And “Stagger Lee” concluded the original music portion of the evening.

From there, Danielle M and 3/4ths of the Glory Junkies finished the night spinning covers. First up was their rendition of Tom Waits’ “2:19,” a crowd favorite at a Glory Junkies show because they really make it their own. Next up was a cover of “Proud Mary,” a deliverance of Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” and a Stones cover to close the evening. (Yes, I forgot to write that one down and was only able to remember “Stones cover” by the time I got home.)

Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

As always, the Danielle Miraglia performance at the Front Street Concert Series was a highlight of the summer. By now, that’s expected. I hope to see a few of you there along with me next summer. And, in the meantime, perhaps at some of Danielle’s other gigs in the Boston area. And beyond, of course, as she performs up and down the east coast.

Looking Ahead

To that end – that of catching a live performance – check out the “Shows” tab on Danielle’s website. I just missed getting this posted in time to direct you to a few out-of-town gigs; well, OK, most of those were in early October, so I missed most of the shows by a mile, but Danielle did perform on Long Island last night. Don’t worry, she’ll be back. Locally, on Saturday, December 7th, she’ll be performing at The Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville, MA. Other December shows are: Wednesday, December 11th at The Porch Southern Fare & Juke Joint in Medford, MA; Friday, December 13th at Turtle Swamp Bierhalle in Boston, MA; Sunday, December 15th at Lower Falls House Concerts in Greenfield, MA; and Sunday, December 22nd at Toad in Cambridge.

Danielle Miraglia at Front Street Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Beyond that, 2020 shows currently booked are Saturday, January 11th at The Fallout Shelter in Norwood, MA; Saturday, February 15th at the Portsmouth Book & Bar in Portsmouth, NH; Saturday, April 4th at the South Shore Folk Music Club in Duxbury, MA; Saturday, April 18 at New Moon Coffeehouse in Haverhill, MA; Saturday, April 25th at Nineteen Carter in Berlin, MA; Friday, May 15th at Kelly Music Center in Havertown, PA; Sunday, May 17th at Daryl’s House in Pawling, NY; and Saturday, May 30th for the Tremedal Concerts series at First Parish of Watertown in Watertown, MA.

Obviously, more shows will be added, so check back at the website regularly and follow both the Danielle Miraglia and the Danielle M & the Glory Junkies pages on Facebook, as last-minute appearances sometimes pop up.

Front Street Concerts, meanwhile, has concluded its 2019 music series. Watch the website next year for 2020’s shows.

Live Review: LadyLake Boston Showcase at City Winery

LadyLake Boston Showcase at The Haymarket Lounge, City Winery, Boston

photo by Geoff Wilbur

LadyLake Boston Showcase

The Haymarket Lounge, City Winery, Boston, MA

June 23, 2019

LadyLake Entertainment is a PR agency that represents several extremely talented music artists. I first discovered LadyLake back before I launched the music blog, during the ramp-up of my re-discovery of new music that eventually led me to return to music journalism. Of the three LadyLake artists featured in this showcase, held in The Haymarket Lounge within Boston’s City Winery, two were Boston-based. I had only previously been familiar with the duo of Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli. This event was my introduction to the music of Linda Marks and David Martinez.

David Martinez

David Martinez

photo by Geoff Wilbur

A Corpus Christi, Texas-based singer-songwriter, guitarist David Martinez kicked things off with “The Otherside,” a smooth number that started out as a strummer and then slid into a groove. Next up was “I’m Alright,” a jangly tune with a sweet groove.

David proved he could do the sweet, poignant thing, as well, with his performance of “Sweet Sister.” And then, on “What You Need,” David’s music took a funky rockin’ turn, as if he was channeling Lenny Kravitz and maybe a little bit of the Rolling Stones.

David Martinez

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Next up was the title track from David’s most recent recording, “Piece of Me,” a ’90s/’00s-style acoustic singer-songwriter tune. There’s a kind of an acoustic pop-punk vocal edge in this sentimental song. Or, at least, it pays slight homage to that subgenre in the vocal and guitar style that gives “Piece of Me” its melancholy edge.

David closed his set with “Hey Mary,” a song with a catchy chorus and spoken-word, not-quite-hip-hop verses (delivered stylistically as if a movie voice-over). This song reminds me of something one of my favorite ’80s/’90s hair bands would have done back in the day. Exceptionally well put-together.

In all, a much-too-short sampling of this versatile, talented singer-songwriter’s capabilities.

Linda Marks

Linda Marks

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Boston-based Linda Marks followed, on the keyboard flanked by a guitarist and a violinist, showcasing her soaring vocals and focusing on songs from her yet-to-be-released (at the time) album In Grace, which dropped in September.

She opened with “Shallow,” a soft, soaring arrangement suited to this trio. Then “The Lion,” a song about addiction, sounding as if it was straight off of a poignant musical theater soundtrack.

Linda’s third song could have come straight out of a church service. As fellow performer and LadyLake artist Lori Diamond quipped to me, Linda’s music is liturgical. Indeed, and especially in this instant, very much so.

Linda Marks

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Linda followed with “Living on the Dark Side of the Moon,” a song she called a “torch song for a narcissist.” There’s almost a Tom Lehrer-ish, vaudevillian undercurrent in this hauntingly soaring number.

After a poignant fifth number, Linda and her band closed with their sixth song, “Light Up the Love.” A rich piano sound conveys the warmth of this song’s vocals. As throughout the set, I noticeably enjoyed the added texture of the violin while the guitar picking brought to mind a waterfall. As so often in her songs, Linda’s voice soars on this one, as well.

Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli

Lori Diamond and Fred Abatelli with Kim Jennings

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Easy listening singer-songwriters Lori Diamond and Fred Abatelli were the evening’s final performers. They were joined onstage by Kim Jennings, just as they had been the last time I saw them perform, in December 2017. Here’s the thing about Lori and Fred. Yeah, they’re crazy talented, but also, do they ever miss a note?

They opened their set with “Good Harbor,” a favorite warm, comforting song with rich harmonies, followed by “The Outside,” whose powerful vocals splash across such subtle richness and depth of sound.

“Lifted” is one of those songs that reminds me Fred’s voice could carry anything from a mid-tempo rock group to a folky soft rock band, while also showcasing Lori’s sweet highs and rich lows. As much as Lori’s voice is more typically the signature sound of this duo, it’s easy to forget Fred’s vocal talents… until you’re emphatically reminded.

Lori Diamond and Fred Abatelli with Kim Jennings

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The duo next premiered a new tune, “The Good in You,” a rising and falling, more wall-of-sound, full-sounding song than usual. As part of the song’s coolness, I enjoyed Fred’s riffing guitar run.

Finally, Lori and Fred closed their set with their arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger,” full of their own style and character. Lori pulls out some of her torchier, loungier vocals on this one. And Fred’s guitar has that weepy, tortured soul thing going on. A longtime crowd favorite and a great way to end the set for this transcendentally talented local duo.

Closing Number

After the end of Lori and Fred’s set, the evening’s entire line-up returned to the stage, joined by LadyLake Entertainment chief Cindy D’Adamo for a performance of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”

Looking Ahead

Per his Facebook page, David Martinez has a February 14, 2020 gig at Bar Under the Sun in Corpus Christi, TX.

The “Upcoming Events” page on Linda Marks’ website lists several upcoming shows in December. On December 2nd, she’ll be one of the nine members of the Women in Music Gathering to be showcasing as part of the LadyLake Music’s Charity Umbrella Initiative at the Hearing Room in Lowell, MA. On December 6th, she’ll be at the Square Root Cafe in Roslindale, MA. On December 11th, she’ll be at the RISA Songwriters in the Round event at AS220 in Providence, RI. She’ll be at the EBASS Christmas Show at The Burren in Somerville, MA on December 22nd. And on December 27th, Lucy will be one of the performers singing the music of Carole King and James Taylor at the Dedham Square Coffeehouse in Dedham, MA. See Linda’s website for more details and new dates as they’re added.

The “Tour” page of Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli’s website lists a December 7th, 2019 gig at The Music Salon, hosted by Linda Marks (who will perform an opening set) in Waltham, MA; a March 28, 2020 performance as two-fourths of Fate’s Landing, splitting the bill with the Clark-Page Project at the Tremedal Concert Series in Watertown, MA; and  on September 20, 2020 at Applefest in Northborough, MA.

You can keep current with LadyLake Entertainment and all of LadyLake’s artists at the company’s Facebook page, its Twitter feed, and its Instagram account.

Live Review: Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Popa Chubby

9 Wallis, Beverly, MA

May 10, 2019

It’s a shame I live and work in parts of the Boston area that make travel to Beverly for an evening at 9 Wallis an annoyingly difficult journey. Since shortly after it opened in April 2017, I’ve wanted to get out to this intimate concert venue/”listening room” on Boston’s North Shore. Top-notch national, regional, and the very best local acts perform there, including a lot of incredible blues artists, though far from exclusively, as personal favorite performers from many genres regularly dot 9 Wallis’ concert calendar.

Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

One of those rock/blues acts, of course is New York-based internationally-touring Popa Chubby. The dude’s a tour de force whose personality and talent fill the room, his shows a guaranteed good time, assuming you’re able to enjoy the blues. But I knew that before attending. Not from owning any of his recordings – though that would be a great idea – but rather from conversations with those who know and then, of course, listening to some Popa Chubby online. I had unsuccessfully attempted to squeeze a previous Popa Chubby 9 Wallis performance into my calendar, so when I saw this gig announcement, I circled the date on my calendar (figuratively speaking, of course, online) and avoided any scheduling conflicts.

On this particular night, the room was filled, and the joint was hoppin’. Popa Chubby’s vocal and performance style ranges from pure blues to rockin’ blues to rappin’ blues and beyond. Many of the songs this evening could be found on the Prime Cuts album, I believe (since it’s not in my notes, but even all these months later I recall Popa mentioning it frequently during the show), the most recent release of a long, nearly three decade career spanning dozens of albums, and a great intro to the broad range and exceptionally soulful, all-in blues style you can expect from Popa Chubby. At this 9 Wallis gig, and I get the sense this is typical based on others in the room who had been to prior Popa Chubby shows, every song was a blues jam, supported by Dave Keyes‘ talented keys with a very organ-like sound and a solid rhythm section.

Following are some highlights from the evening, as I jotted down notes whenever a song inspired me. And, truth be told, I was often so caught up in the show I didn’t think to take notes until I couldn’t remember the song titles anymore, so consider these some of the many highlights.

Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Popa Chubby opened the night with a rollicking rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” featuring shredding axework, showing off the keyboardist’s skills, and absolutely great guitarwork and vocal growl.

Emotional favorite “Grown Man Crying Blues” – check out Popa Chubby’s performance of the song in this video on YouTube with nearly half a million hits – featured a shredding, wailing, and practically crying performance.

Popa Chubby original “Angel on My Shoulder” charged forward as a straight-ahead rocker with a blues strut, delivered emphatically and, of course, sporting guitar and keys jams.

Popa Chubby’s delivery of “Hey Joe” was soulful, psychedelic, progressive, and classic. “69 Dollars” kicked off with a weeping guitar opening and some edge and liquidity throughout.

Finally, in the anything-goes, full-on-enjoyment spirit of the evening, I very much dug the electric guitar-driven versions of the Godfather theme song and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Also of note, for one song during the set, the band was joined onstage by drummer Joey Pafumi of the Paul Nelson Band. And late in the set, Popa Chubby showcased his keyboardist Dave Keyes’ boogie-woogie keyboard skills. Keyes also sang vocals a little during the set, bringing a smoother blues vocal style to the songs he led vocally.

So glad I made it to this show; it was completely worth the effort, as Popa Chubby and his band gave it everything they had. And I can now confirm that 9 Wallis is, indeed, the great North Shore listening room I had heard so much about.

Popa Chubby at 9 Wallis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

Popa Chubby is currently touring in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.  He’ll return to the northeast United States (New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey) for a month in early/mid-December before returning to Europe for a month of gigs in the UK, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Click on the “tour” page of Popa Chubby’s website to see when he’ll next be performing near you. If you have a pulse, you’ll have a great time and be treated to some world-class blues-based musicianship and showmanship.

Live Review: Amanda White at ONCE Somerville

Amanda White at ONCE Somerville

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Amanda White

ONCE Somerville, Somerville, MA

April 15, 2019

I had intended to get out to an Amanda White show for a while now, and this was a Monday night when my schedule fell into place, and the start time was early enough that it didn’t impede getting home at a reasonable hour; I love early shows on work nights. So I ventured out to this gig, even though it meant traveling to the severely-parking-impaired town of Somerville. (I promise I’ll try to avoid a Somerville parking rant in this review. Mostly.)

Amanda White at ONCE Somerville

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I arrived in time for Amanda’s set. Backed by a talented band, she took the stage by storm. Amanda’s style is very old-school punk. Raw but tuneful music with a penchant for random profanity. But it extends well beyond that, as you can hear prog influences, while some songs feature Amanda’s venture into soaring, operatic vocal run that few can equal. If you know anything about my musical recommendations, you’ll know they’re either for well-performed pure musical styles or, more often, those with obvious external influences from a number of often-surprising other sources. You know, that plus great vocals and songwriting. Indeed, my punk rock recommendations are rare, but they are all must-listens.

Amanda White at ONCE Somerville

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The evening mostly featured songs from Amanda White’s latest CD, Kittens Give Zero Fucks. Prior to this show, I had only listened to the album online a couple of times. Though I’m more familiar with the music now, I’ll stick to my notes from the evening for this review. There’s a more detailed album review coming sometime in the future.

Amanda and her band opened the set with, according to my notes, “that soaring, moaning song.” Gotta be disc-opener “Last to Bite.” Next up was “Fuckall Rockstar,” delivered live in its full punk rock glory, much more distorted than on the recording. Exceptionally crunchy axework and an engaging driving rhythm provided the support, while the soaring vocals were opera meets Broadway meets punk. That vocal blend – one Amanda’s uniquely capable of achieving – is a recurring theme.

Energetic rocker “Whackadoodle World” (the “oh oh oh oh oh oh oh” song, per my notes) brought a bit more straightforward rocking energy to the set. Then catchy “Ur Wife,” with its hypnotic rhythm, followed.

Amanda White at ONCE Somerville

photo by Geoff Wilbur

After a soaring fifth song (“Dark Art”), Amanda reached back to her first disc, Toyshop, for “Monica’s Getting Her Tits Done,” a tune musically catchy largely due to the recurring rhythm guitar hook.

The evening’s seventh track (noted simply as “rawks!!!”) was followed by the evening’s power ballad, “Someone’s Watching Over Me,” a song that showcases vocal versatility while still being haunting and dark.

Speaking of haunting and dark – and throw in a healthy dose of foreboding – and you’re talking about the first few minutes of “Fade” before guitar and drums help the song build to a scream. With its power shifts and movements, there was a bit of a Broadway flavor to the evening’s performance of “Fade.”

And, to close our the set Amanda closed with soaring, symphonic prog-metal “Adora.” And what better set-ender. Though punk-rock attitude permeates the performance – a pure New York-style punk rock double-bill with Bad Mary would be an unforgettable event – Amanda’s singing and songwriting versatility are what sets her apart. And she and her band rocked this particular Somerville evening. Hard. Raw. And powerfully.

Allison & Moon

Allison & Moon; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Evening’s Other Bands

The opening and closing acts of the evening were also worth catching, even though I kind-of didn’t. Evening openers The James Rocket caught my ear in my pre-show listening, but my attendance at its set fell victim to the “circling Somerville looking for parking” portion of the evening; I arrived in time to catch the last few seconds of the group’s final song. The closing set by Allison & Moon was a treat, or at least it was for as long as I stayed, but I only caught a few songs and took no notes, so I’ll have to catch them again one of these days.

Amanda White at ONCE Somerville

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

Be sure to check Amanda White’s Facebook page for future gigs. At the moment, the only one listed is a February 8, 2020 show at Connolly’s in New York. The evening’s closing band, Allison & Moon, next plays on December 11th at O’Brien’s Pub in Allston, MA.

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.