Other Side of the Bridge

Lines in the Newburyport Post Office any day in December look like the lines entering a Renaissance faire on a mid-October weekend.

Difference is that, on the holiday that has five names, we rennies and our patrons wore all the color and decoration.  In this season of three religious feasts, most everyone is bundled up in dark, thick coats with colorfully wrapped and decorated packages in hand.

Across the Merrimack River on another errand, I swing by the Salisbury Post Office, figuring it can’t be too busy.

Bingo!  Just one counter, but I’m third in line, and the two before me are quick.  In addition to two small packages needing to be weighed, I need stamps.  Forgive me, but I’ve never cared for Christmas stamps or any seasonal postage.  If it’s any consolation, I love carols–even the dreaded “Drummer Boy”–and often played many of them with pizazz for many a Christmas past, but on envelopes?  No stars, halos, snowmen, or decorated trees for me.  Years ago, I made an exception for Gabriel with his alto-sax, but he has yet to make an encore as a thumbnail pic with a serrated edge.

Always asking for stamps with musicians, I mailed everything with Pete Seeger and his banjo on the top righthand corner of the envelope this summer and fall. Though I doubted there would be any left for sale, I asked the Salisbury clerk, who lit up at the question:

Sure we do! Lots!

Wow! Hard to believe. They were issued so long ago, I thought they had to be gone.

You’re on the other side of the bridge. Can’t sell’m this side.

I buy three panes. She puts at least three back in her drawer.


Salisbury is the northeast corner of Massachusetts, sandwiched between the Merrimack and the state border with New Hampshire while the Atlantic pounds its east side.  In a blatant crime against cartography, surveyors sent up from Boston in colonial times decided to ignore the common sense of letting the river, like the ocean, be a natural boundary and claimed a three-mile buffer from the north bank for the Mass Bay Colony.

We can only wonder if this map set the precedent for another Massachusetts invention soon to follow: gerrymandering

As a much smaller town, Salisbury may lack Newburyport’s culture and commerce, but it does have Annarosa’s Bakery with its rosemary & sea-salt dinner rolls I can’t get enough of.  If you go looking, it’s on Rt. 110 just across from a memorable billboard for a CBC store: “You have in-laws. We have pot.” Now that’s the holiday spirit! After a short drive, I was still laughing when I arrived at the post office where I would learn of a postage stamp that our neighbors to the north want none of.

Good chance that most Americans born after the Eisenhower years do not know who Pete Seeger was, or know only the name. We children of that decade knew him as a folk-singer. Our parents may have known him as a conscientious objector blacklisted in the McCarthy Era. In the Sixties he was a leading voice in civil rights, anti-war, and environmental movements. At the end of the Sixties, he was one of the foremost reasons that the Smothers Brothers show, a forerunner of all the creative commentary we now see on cable TV, was banned from network television. This was back when all television was network. Censored was his song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” clearly aimed at a Democratic president.

Seeger was tireless. He harmonized with voices for humanitarian causes right up to the day he died in 2014 at the age of 94. Though his banjo was inscribed with a combative message–“This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender”–his own statements and song lyrics were always in the spirit of peace and unity, usually addressed to “brothers” and “sisters.” Never cast in anger, his songs conveyed spiritual and cultural messages as much as political. His best known, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” an adaptation of the Book of Ecclesiastes, serves as an example:

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

That the people of Salisbury have any of this in mind when they purchase stamps is doubtful. Far more likely they prefer pics of race cars that had a recent issue, or American flags that are always issued. And now there’s one with Johnny Cash walking the (rail) line with his guitar far more likely to sell on either side of any American bridge.

No doubt I would have taken a pane home had Seeger not been there.


Still, there is room for doubt.

Three hundred years after its first crime against cartography, Massachusetts is the bluest of blue states while New Hampshire has been trending purple in recent years.  Relative to New England, New Hampshire screams red in a sea of blue, and if you zoom in to our little corner, the change in color is not at the state line but at the Merrimack River. Only the fireworks stores observe the border.

Whether or not the clerk had any of that in mind with her “other side of the bridge” crack is anyone’s guess. But I think she was in on the joke. A wry smile on her face suggested that she would have felt my pain had she no pane to offer.

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The USPS poster for the day of release. Next to the date it says: Newport, Rhode Island 02804. This refers to the Newport Folk Festival where the color-tinted, black-and-white photograph was taken in the early Sixties while Seeger played his signature five-string banjo. The photographer was Seeger’s son, Dan Seeger. Kristen Monthei colorized it for use on the stamp.

What Child Is This?

Well, it finally happened Sunday at King Richard’s Faire: A patron, a man maybe 50, 55, walks right up to me as I’m in mid-tune and asks if I can play “Greensleeves”–while I’m playing “Greensleeves.”

As a busker of 45 years, I long ago learned to play through jokes, good or bad, and insults, intended or not, with a straight face and bring a tune or an improv to a musical conclusion. As I did Sunday when the man walked away while I continued play. Hopefully, he never thought that I ignored him only because assault and battery are frowned upon in the realm

Tried to rationalize it: Maybe he was fooled by my up-tempo rendition of what is most often played with syrupy sentiment. Maybe he heard it as the carol, “What Child Is This?” and thought I was out of season.

A tune or two later, I walk away to take a break, or to “hydrate” as rennies prefer to specify, and who should be right in front of me but Dr. Gypsum Goode, the realm’s psychiatrist who wears his office as part of his garb–or “costume,” a word that rennies prefer to avoid:

Dr. Gypsum Goode, office and all, with two other clients, Lady Catherine and Lord Karen, both members of the King’s Court. Photographer as yet unknown, but I’m working on it.

So, I saunter over, not so much for advice, but to vent, something we cannot do at patrons, also frowned upon no matter how bad the infraction. Though I have witnessed Gypsum’s admirable ability to keep a straight face while bantering with patrons over the years, he laughs aloud when I unroll my “Greensleeves” grievance, and I’m cheered by his implied commiseration.

Apparently, I’m also re-energized, as I re-hydrate quickly and am back in the realm playing full tilt. All with an eye out for my daughter and grandkids who are due to show, as well as two friends from my days at Salem State during the Nixon years.

By the time I break for lunch, I figure my daughter has chosen another day to attend, but one of my friends, Ann, has shown up and agreed to join me mid-afternoon by the front gate when I always jam with the Buzzards’ Bay Buccaneers, my favorite part of the day and the one I always mention when friends or family say they will attend.

On Sunday, I sit in with them a bit earlier than usual, and before long I notice a woman, maybe 35, 40, standing and looking right at us with a certain grin. Long ago while busking I interpreted that look as curiosity about–possibly a vested interest in–the Celtic and Baroque music I play. Many memorable conversations have resulted, though at King Richard’s I learned to assume nothing out loud when I finished a piece with a flourish and a bow to a young couple while rousingly naming the composer, “Georg Philipp Telemann!”

The woman clasped my outstretched hand, and said: “Oh, I’m Sarah! And this is my husband, Ted! Delighted to meet you!”

With or without such a gaffe, these are people I am keen to impress. Between songs on Sunday, I say to Bob and Kelly, let’s play “Royal Princess.” Then, looking up to the woman, I clarify: “This is a song by the great Irish bard, Turlough O’Carolan, not for any princess, but for a ship docked in Dublin harbor with that name.”

She widens her grin and nods, which inspires clarity in every note of an emotional rendition. As we play, she moves over to the side of our bench, and when we were done, I see her standing just behind Ann. When I say hello to the woman, Ann, who hadn’t seen my daughter in 25 years, turns, looks, and exclaims, “Rachel!”

Must admit that my failure to recognize my own daughter surpasses anyone’s failure to recognize “Greensleeves” no matter how it’s rendered. Is a change of someone’s hairstyle equivalent to the change of a song’s tempo? Was I so caught in the expression of curiosity that I didn’t see the familiarity of a face?

Where was the realm’s shrink when I needed him?

We all laughed about it, and were still laughing when my son-in-law, two grandkids, three of their cousins with an aunt and uncle all rolled in from the joust. And so I was let off the hook.

Until yesterday when I learned a day late that Sunday was “National Daughters’ Day.” By that time I was back in a Newburyport coffee shop, thinking: Don’t know where Dr. Goode lives, but there’s an optometrist’s office right next door.

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L2R: My grinning daughter, Rachel Rain; Yours Unruly with amazement still on my face (plus a t-shirt I neglected to turn inside out); and Ann, Salem State Class of 1971 (identified as “Fort Myers” in previous blogs), still laughing at my befuddlement. In a previous life, Ann took a ride with me in a Washington DC police wagon, which may be why three Carver policemen are behind us trying to figure out possible extradition. Photo by Nancy Cushman Rice.
Here I am with the Buzzards’ Bay Buccaneers, R2L: Kelly Reed Hathaway on autoharp and Bob Littera on Irish bouzouki. Sometimes I introduce us as the “Buccaneer Bay Buzzards” as a plausible way to include myself. At other times, I intro myself as “the Merrimack Valley Vulture sitting in with” the BBB. Depends on my Bay State-sized appetite at the time. Photo by Nancy Cushman Rice.

Once Upon Next Weekend

Once plays the Firehouse just one more weekend. Wish I had seen it sooner so that my endorsement here could give you more time for an experience that truly is beyond categories of “play” or “musical.”

More than any other theatrical event, including the film on which it was based (a huge hit at the Screening Room 15 years ago), it recalls this line from the introduction to a book published in 2008:

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is not a painting. It is an event.

Once at the Firehouse is an event. It begins before the program tells us it starts, and it continues after we leave the hall and make our way toward the stairs or elevators. In this sense, it recalls Renaissance faires–where I will be the next eight weekends*–that begin and end outside the gates before they open and after they close.

Between times at the Firehouse, the acting and music in Once could not be more entertaining or enjoyable. So, too, innovations in sound and lighting and the ingenious positioning and movement of at least a dozen characters and all kinds of musical props.

My reluctance to offer any specifics is only to avoid spoiling any of many surprises. Instead, I’ll just say that this production of Once will be as memorable as the lines of the great Celtic ballad that it evokes:

… a time to rise and a time to fall
Come fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all
Good night and joy be with you all

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* A strolling piper at King Richard’s, Carver, Mass., weekends, Sept. 3 – Aug. 23, at the gate opening and closing.

First time I ever saw a cellist wear and walk with the instrument while playing. I’m at least thrice his age and have been around musicians all my adult life.

Dropping Bluebird’s Mic

When the sound check with the lights still up morphs into the opening act, you know you’re in for something memorable.

Don’t know if Joe LeBlanc does this every month at the Bluebird Invitational Mic Night in Georgetown, Mass., or if he even does it consciously, but it works wonders to put a collection of ten or twelve performers in this new and unique venue at ease. The transition was so detailed–with guitar used as percussion and momentarily put on a loop–that each member of the audience could decide just when the show did, in fact, start.

His test, test, test as soundman was fascinating by itself, enabling him to jokingly hush the audience before strumming and singing Elton John’s “Rocket Man” as I’ve never heard it before, a soulful appeal to attend what comes next.

Making the familiar sound new introduced Bluebird’s co-hosts, Alyce Underhill and Lynne Deschenes, who initiated Bluebird’s monthly offerings in this second floor atop a small firehouse just north of Georgetown center.

All acts are local, and the first–John Hicks on guitar and Madeleine Downs shifting from violin to viola–got Bluebird off to a racy start with sets of Celtic jigs and reels.  Hicks introduced one as “where I get to play my favorite instrument” and promptly sat in the audience where he tuned his ears to Downs’ endearing rendition of the traditional, “Down by the Salley Gardens,” named for William Butler Yeats’ love poem.

Composer Dianne Anderson followed on keyboards with “a piece from the Great American Songbook” that had the nostalgic feel of a Great Plains soundscape before playing her own “What to Wear” accompanying singer Anne Grant. The duo then torched Loren Allred’s “Never Enough,” a title that couldn’t be more American or up to date.

Underhill herself delivered a rapturous rendition of “The King of Rome,” a ballad by Dave Sudbury based on a true story about a carrier pigeon sent on an impossible journey that had us so enthralled we awaited the bird’s return through the Georgetown firehouse’s open windows.

Late in the show, Audi and Peter Souza evoked the working maritime days of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia with traditional songs that ranged from jolly-ho chanty to plaintive lamentation. Most moving was Cyril Tawney’s ballad, “The Oggy Man,” about food vendors selling oggies–something of a meat-pie shaped as a turnover–on the docks before the arrival of fast-food chains:

Well the rain’s softly falling and the oggy man’s no more
I can’t hear him calling like he used to before
As I pass through the gateway, I heard the sergeant say
The big boys are coming now, see their stand across the way
And the rain’s softly falling and the oggy man’s no more
The rain’s softly falling and the oggy man’s no more

Spaced among the musicians, two poets shared the mic, the first, Jac-Lynn Stark who ranged from wistful poems about love and aging to a blithe romp about gardening titled, “My Life as a Zucchini Sex Facilitator.” As one who never tended a garden, I found myself paying attention to the act for the first time in my life, only to wonder how long it will be before I plagiarize the line about sautéing.

Poet Lee Moss mixed an adamant resolution regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine with several ironic takes on everyday life, including his hilarious and equally stunning “Redial,” in which, out of pure curiosity, he dials–or punches in–his deceased Father’s cell-phone number.  Whether you are hi-tech or neo-Luddite, you laugh at satire that cuts both ways.

Along with music and the spoken word, Bluebird features musicians playing instruments rarely seen or heard apart from period films. Filling that role were Adrienne Howard on hurdy-gurdy and Emily Peterson on concertina–both taking turns on fiddle. When they were done I tried to recruit them for King Richard’s Faire, but it’s too late for the season that opens Labor Day weekend. Keep your eye on listings of local coffee shops and perhaps an ear out at Beverly Depot where they sometimes perform.

And keep your eye and ear on all the venues for live performance throughout Essex County, from Newburyport to Lynn and from Lawrence to Gloucester. Coffee shops, bars, cafes, churches, schools, train depots, pedestrian malls are where you will find those who perform at The Bluebird Performance Venue in Georgetown.


There was one other act, but I should perhaps recuse myself from reviewing myself. So I tack this on as an optional sequel:

Had I any sense, I’d have begged off until the November show when I’d be fresh off the eight-weekend run of King Richard’s. But it was a great advantage to be scheduled next-to-last, and a patient and kind audience kept laughing at the good natured jokes I was able to poke at most everyone before me as a way to offset the rust.

Most were of the had-to-be-there variety, such as when I hinted at what the last lines of Lee Moss’ “Redial” implied about someone who never has and never will own a cell phone. That may have been the second-loudest laugh. He laughed, everyone laughed–except me.

Since I was asked to talk about my life as a street-performer–40 years ago this month I first played in downtowns Newburyport and Salem–I read a short piece from my book, Pay the Piper!, a street scene that captures both the joy and challenge of busking in America today titled, “Slip-Jig for Flute & SUV.”

I filled the back of the SUV with “zucchini awaiting sautéing.”


Bluebird’s September and October offerings are featured performances, full shows:

Sept. 10, 7pm — Unlaunch’d Voices: An Evening with Walt Whitman, a one-man play written by Michael Z. Keamy and performed by Stephen Collins.

Oct. 8, 7pm — Mark Mandeville & Raianne Richards, an eclectic duo with an eclectic assortment of instruments for songs both serious and humorous.

In November, Bluebird will resume its Invitational Mic.

http://thebluebirdperformancevenue.com/

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Cast cast in (approximate) order of appearance:

Joe LeBlanc. Photo by Lee Moss.
John Hicks & Madeleine Downs. Photo by Lee Moss.
Anne Grant and Dianne Anderson. Photo by Lee Moss.
Jac-Lyn Stark. Photo by Lee Moss.
Alyce Underhill. Photo by Lee Moss.
Audi & Peter Souza. Photo by Lee Moss.
Catch them every other Monday, 5 to 8 pm, at Jalapenos in Gloucester with fellow singers known as Three Sheets to the Wind.
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Lee Moss reading at the Walnut Street Coffee Cafe in Lynn. Photo by someone other than Lee Moss.
https://walnutstreet.cafe/
Some old guy playing a tenor recorder. Photo by Lee Moss.
An earlier (i.e. pre-zucchini) version of “Slip-Jig for Flute & SUV” appeared as a newspaper column on my 62nd birthday:
https://www.newburyportnews.com/opinion/slip-jig-for-flute-and-suv/article_96a8f274-a6b2-584c-bdf8-d10ca0378ebf.html
Adrienne Howard on hurdy-gurdy and Emily Peterson on concertina. Photo by Lee Moss.
Howard also joined the Souzas on a tune or two.

Fireworks a la Dove Street

Among the many peripheral, random events held all over Newburyport during Yankee Homecoming is the block party on Dove Street before and through the fireworks.

Dove is a short, narrow, one-way affair that lands on Merrimac St. across from Leary’s parking lot, so it’s easy for the city to grant a permit to shut it down for a few evening hours.  Yesterday’s gathering was the 13th or 14th annual depending on how you figure the shutdown of COVID-20.

For me it was the first.  Not just at Dove but anywhere, not just this year, but in my life.  And I went under the assumption that any band at a block party would be aspiring high-schoolers playing standard hits note for every familiar note.

Turns out Astral Lemon is a Boston-based group that has been together a few years. Vocalist and front man Stylianos Psarogiannis–who also plays guitar, keyboard, or something that looks like a flugelhorn–not long ago was a student at the Berklee School of Music. He has stayed in touch with his history teacher, a resident of Dove Street who plans and supports the annual event, long enough to land this gig.

The day was so hot that I pretty much inhaled a 12-oz. ale as soon as I sat down, but that had nothing to do with the sensation that Astral Lemon creates as soon as they take up their instruments and start playing.

A couple about my age felt it as well, and we went back and forth identifying the influences we were hearing.  I offered the Mothers of Invention, King Crimson, and Blind Faith.  They suggested Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Pink Floyd, the last of which comes closest to a set list that includes two tracks each from The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.

Wish all my college friends were there to hear it with me.

All songs followed the otherworldly soundscape of some 15 minutes of three soaring guitars, rapid fire drums, and high energy keyboard. All of it had me back in 1968 before Astral Lemon was introduced and “opened” with “I Shot the Sheriff.”

Somehow I had forgotten that it was written by Bob Marley, but Astral Lemon reveled in the reggae glossed over by Eric Clapton.  That may seem incongruous, but it was just right as a transition from the raw power of their warm up into the reassuring comradery of the vocals.  More than that, it was the first of many offerings featuring mesmerizing guitar work that ranged from Dire Straits’ dazzling “Sultans of Swing” to the Doors’ deep and probing “Love Me Two Times” and “Riders on the Storm.”

Speaking of deep and probing, you might wonder if they play one Beatles’ song so that Psarogiannis can pause and look at lead guitarist Dinos Alvanos after the line, “He’s got hair. Down. To his knees.” But “Come Together” features bassist Filipo Goller who would do Paul McCartney proud with both his steady formidable support and his occasional playful leads.

Rhythm guitarist Oliver Ordish adds exquisite echoes of lines note for contrapunctal note in addition to joining some of Alvanos’ powerhouse leads and enhancing drummer Eduardo Hoyos’ feverish pace on the songs that call for it. No matter the pace or the intensity, Astral Lemon plays every instrument with precision that lets you hear every note.

Watch Hoyos and you can see him going through gears, zero-to-sixty in no time. On slower songs such as Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” he excels with syncopation, for which his four bandmates are noticeably grateful.

Starting just after 7:00, the band took a break after playing “Jailhouse Rock”–a nice pun, intended or not–just in time for us to move to the bottom of Dove and watch the fireworks over the gray house adjacent Leary’s parking lot. Later I would learn that one resident takes neighborhood dogs “for a long car ride until the fireworks end.”

Following the fireworks, Astral Lemon’s second set was just three songs. Was the pun intentional as they played Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” while spectators filed past them on their way back up Dove? Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” would have been just as much of a pun in the years before everyone quit smoking.

The set was short only because the hour was late. Ordinarily, I’d concede that fireworks are an impossible act to follow, but on Dove Street, once every year, they are part of the show.

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Astral Lemon on Dove Street last night of Newburyport’s Yankee Homecoming, L2R: Dinos Alvanos, lead guitar; Filipo Goller, bass; Eduardo Hoyos, drums; Stylianos Psarogiannis, vocals; Oliver Ordish, rhythm guitar. Photo by Patricia Peknik.

Post Script:

As I left the block party, I heard faint music coming from the tent under which Astral Lemon was packing up. Sounded vaguely familiar, as it had a flute, so I stopped. Yes, it was Jethro Tull playing “Locomotive Breath.” Already having thanked them for giving me a night back in 1968, especially with their opening soundscapes, I had to let them know: “I’ve been to at least 35 Tull concerts in the past fifty years.” Immediately, they all wanted to know if I heard Tull’s Thick as a Brick tour. “Twice,” I said, and they were in awe. Dawned on me that I could have been talking to five grandsons, but that’s another story. While driving home, something else dawned on me: Brick was one of the first rock-and-roll albums–The Who’s Tommy another–to feature soundscapes.

And a personal note:

The gray house aside Leary’s parking lot was where my “Aunt Alice” lived. Not sure of the exact relationship, but I’m fairly sure her last name, married or not, was “Creeden,” likely a cousin to my paternal grandmother–Mary Elizabeth Creeden before she became Mrs. Garvey–born and raised in Newburyport. I recall that Alice was quite old when I was brought to visit during my early grade-school years in Lawrence. I’m still sorry for the bottle of water I knocked over on her dining room table.

With Coffee and a Kiss

Ever notice how various styles of music fit the three requests of the “Serenity Prayer”?

Yes, there are far more than three genres of music, many of them overlapping, but just as three primary colors give us a complete spectrum, so too music:

Classical offers the serenity to rise above a gotta go-go world; rock and roll the courage to confront it; folk the wisdom to understand it.

Such was my thinking after hearing Roger Ebacher’s jazz quartet, Re:Groove, on a night I was determined to put all the concerns of my go-go if not already gone-gone world out of mind. No matter that I left jazz out of those prayed-for qualities, Re:Groove bestows all three while taking you into a relaxed and relaxing world of its own.

This is Latin jazz, Brazilian and Cuban, samba and bossa nova, cha-cha-cha, and it’s easy to forget that you are sitting in a brewpub in downtown Haverhill and imagine yourself instead on a Caribbean beach. It’s just as easy to filter out the din from the bar in the next room while four musicians turn their featured passages into stories that captivate from their opening chords to the notes that return to the full combo.

All of them have a few, complementing Ebacher’s signature melody flute on the lead of most tunes, all of them articulated so fluidly and clearly that Herbie Hancock would be proud to have his name on “Herbally,” Ebacher’s tribute to him.

Michael Shea’s keyboard sizzles on “Down to My Very Last Dream,” a composition by legendary Newburyporter Charles Bechler and his sometime collaborator Ed White. Lionel Girardeau’s bass swaggers through Ebacher’s enigmatic “Three in the Afternoon.” And percussionist Michael Wingfield dances all ten fingers in a mesmerizing solo over four congas–at one point bouncing a closed fist for comic relief–in a joyous piece Ebacher titled “Zola.”

Let me disclose here that I’ve known Ebacher since the 1980s when our daughters were both in a children’s play produced by Newburyport’s Theater in the Open. I’ve heard him in jam sessions and I’ve heard his recordings, but apparently not enough to know that he’s a vocalist as well as a flautist and percussionist.

The songs he sings are his own, and are just right for his across-the-cabana voice. “What the World Is Coming To” hints at topical subjects:

Faster and faster

Everything’s spinning

Seems like we’re losing control

Life is a game, but nobody’s winning

Better hold on to your soul

That one and a sky-kissing, yet still determined “This Time Around” are just enough to remind us that this is a night off from any woes of the world as Ebacher reassures us in his most charming “Coffee and a Kiss”:

There’s nothing better

I can tell you this

And if you leave me

That’s what I’ll miss

Your coffee and your kiss

Charming becomes disarming when the band takes it up an octave leading into “Welcome Home,” a vibrant melody that Ebacher composed in a rhythm of Mozambique to highlight the chops of both Shea and Girardeau.

Re:Groove plays all tempos, effortlessly kept and shifted by Wingfield’s congas occasionally abetted by a pair of bongos and various shakers Ebacher keeps in front of himself. Among the more sentimental tunes is “Missing Rio” which he imagined on a flight out of “The Marvelous City.” Though Latin, an unmistakable feel of departure turned back my own musical clock to missing Denver even if I was well more than a mile high.

Yes, I heard them in The Tap in Haverhill, which hosts jazz every Sunday night, 6:00 to 9:00, and Re:Groove will be back likely in October. But this is a Newburyport-based band formed by Ebacher, a Port native–as is Wingfield–with a keen regard for this city’s musical history.

In addition to Bechler’s “Very Last Dream,” we also hear “Plum Island,” a samba composed by another local legend, world-renowned saxophonist Charlie Mariano. Bechler and Mariano who, in Ebacher’s words:

… were band mates in the seminal psych/jazz/rock group Osmosis, who opened for Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, and the Grateful Dead in the early 70s, just a few years before my tenure in the Charles Bechler Group.

To complete the tribute, Ebacher plays “Plum Island” on a Casio DH -100 digital horn, which I’d rather call a melody sax in keeping with the melody flute.

But then, why fit labels and categories when the music offers every color and answers every prayer whether you asked or not?

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Roger playing “Plum Island,” composed by the late, great saxophonist Charlie Mariano. The Plum Island motto appears on the wall over keyboardist Michael Shea’s left shoulder.
Please enter our Mouth of the River poll: “Melody Sax” or “Casio DH -100 digital horn.” Deadline is midnight, August 1. Members of the band may not enter. No write-ins. Choose wisely!
Re:Groove at The Tap in Haverhill, July 24, L2R: Michael Shea on keyboard, Roger Ebacher on melody flute, Lionel Girardeau on bass, and Michael Wingfield on congas.
All photos courtesy of Jazz at the Tap
https://www.facebook.com/JAZZ-at-the-TAP-303756670443083/

Driving Rock & Roll’s Car

If you told me any time in the last 40 years that you heard a band play the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown,” I’d have figured you were drunk when you thought you heard it.

But I heard it live in the beer garden of Newburyport Brewery last weekend, and I was still sipping my first pint of Overboard IPA.

Oh, the nostalgia in that so unusual song! Something of a litmus test for those of us who were teenagers when it shocked the airwaves. Who dared dance to drug abuse?

Nor did it help that the song remained number two on the charts while at the top each of those weeks was “The Ballad of the Green Beret.” How’s that for polarization?

But all of that happened when the five members of Pathological Outliars were still cluck-clucking and moo-mooing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

Perhaps their relative youth combined with their multi-generational tastes makes them the ideal outdoor hot-weather band. Their repertoire spans decades from “Slow Down,” a 1957 R&R classic later popularized by the Beatles, to “Molly’s Chambers,” a Kings of Leon hit in 2003–and genres from Booker T & the MGs’ suave “Green Onions” to the Ramones’ punk-raucous “I Want to Be Sedated.”

Sunny Douglas and Ed Cameron alternate vocal leads, both pitch perfect for their individual selections. Cameron may not be able to find matching socks, but he harmonizes well with Douglas whether they are belting out Bowie’s defiant “Suffragette” or lifting the weight of the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting.”

Craig Douglas’ drumming accelerates and decelerates the Outliars like a fine-tuned transmission through songs that demand both. Peter Larsen’s bass is distinct, exact, and bold, keeping the group on the roads the songs chart.

The steadiness of those two allow lead guitarist Eric Gootkind to pick and fret magic. From the flaming intro of Loretta Lynne’s “Portland Oregon” to the iconic drive of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” all the way to the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” Gootkind can drive rock-and-roll’s car.

Back when I danced to “19th Nervous Breakdown”–and not quite that far back when I danced at all–my favorite rock songs were always the ones where the steadiest rhythms make possible the wildest leads, and where confident vocals launch energetic instrumentals that return to the lyrics seamlessly.

Much of the Pathological Outliars’ set list fits that description. And it goes quite well with Overboard IPA.

Look for them again at Newburyport Brewery and, in mid-September, at Plumfest over here on The Island.

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The Pathological Outliars, L to R: Drummer Craig Douglas, Vocalist and Rhythm Guitarist Ed Cameron, Bass Guitarist Peter Larsen, Vocalist and occasional guitarist and tambourine-shaker Sunny Douglas, and, looking directly at you over the top of his shades, Lead Guitarist Eric Gootkind.
Photo by Richard K. Lodge.
Off to the left is now their beer garden. There’s a tent in front of the vat for the band, and tables and chairs extend further to the left, all with a decent view of the western horizon.
https://www.nbptbrewing.com/

Finding Folk & Roll

They live up to many descriptions–from “rootsy” and “gutsy” to “gritty” and “edgy”–as well as labels from “genre-fluid” to “alt-Americana.”

Here’s a second to all the adjectives, and though their music defies labels, their own “folk and roll” comes closest.

More specifically, I’ll recommend them as a duo-at-times-trio featuring a vocalist who can belt out like Maria Carey–or entice like Nanci Griffith–and a guitarist with licks reminiscent of the lead guitarist of Arlo Guthrie’s Shenandoah, as deft, precise, and clear as a recording studio.

Except that this is live.

And this is Rockwood Taylor, a duo since 2018 who had played together in other local bands, most notably as the rhythm section for Liz Frame and the Kickers. Lynne Taylor accompanies her vocals on keyboard, at times playing a bass ukulele while guitarist Charlie Rockwood sings lead in a few songs, including Gillian Welch’s “Red Clay Halo.” He also turns the instrumental passages in every song into lively conversations with the listener.

As energetic as his riffs are, it’s as if he’s confiding in you. Any musician ever in a jam session will think he or she is aside him, no matter the distance, able to see every figure made by his left hand no matter how fast it goes up and down the fret.

So, too, Taylor’s voice. Her delivery engages us with every song, several of them RT originals. As one reviewer notes, songs such as “Where I Started From” and “Steel Wheels” from the band’s recent album, Finding Home, “brim with melancholy and remembrance.”

Taylor’s vocals and keyboard on those–and on “Plenty” and “Collateral Damage,” scheduled for release this fall–also brim with exhilaration and hope. Her blues renditions are riveting, particularly on Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come” and her uncle RC Wilson’s “Crooked River Blues.”

Hippo Press captured Rockwood Taylor as “a mix of Shovels and Rope rusticity and singer/songwriter emotion.” Yes, that’s a comparison to a husband/wife duo from Carolina, but for all I heard and felt, it could as well be lower-case.

Eclectic? As Taylor quipped, “Enough serious songs. We’re going to play some silly songs.” In that category is their own spoof of a Chuck Berry classic, re-titled “Covid B. Gone.”

She also tells us, “Tomorrow is Sunday. We won’t be going to church, but we will sing this song.” Tom Waites himself may not have a better intro for his “Chocolate Jesus.”

In their recent local gigs, Rockwood Taylor has added percussionist Kristine Malpica of Imagine Studios in Amesbury who often plays with Meg Rayne. She’s a nice fit, not just for the group’s rhythmic range, but for its overall joyous, at times comic, cast with her back-up vocals.

Joy was the driving force of the show-stopper when all three rang out the medley of Dave Rawlings and Ketch Seccor’s boisterous “I Hear Them All” wrapped around Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” No song so old has ever sounded so new and so urgent.

At this writing Rockwood Taylor are touring west and south for gigs as far flung as Ohio and North Carolina. On August 20, they play Manchester, N.H. After that, you can look for them at BareWolf Brewery in Amesbury, a frequent venue, as is the Newburyport Brewery’s beer garden and, in warm weather, maybe again at Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury.

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Rockwood Taylor at BareWolf Brewery in Amesbury. L2R: Lynne Taylor, Kristine Malpica, Charlie Rockwood.
Photos by Fred Long.
Barewolf Logo.jpg

And Onto the Blues

As if out of the blue here on Cape Ann, a duet-just-turned-trio called Out of the Blue is offering sets of songs that cover time as well as music.

From Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” to Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl,” lead vocalist Jill Pallazola boasts a voice ranging from powerhouse to kitchen table, from conspiratorial to riding shotgun. She doesn’t so much cover songs as re-interpret them. Never been to an Amos concert, but anyone who ever heard Dylan live knows the satisfaction of hearing old favorites from new angles.

While Dolly Parton sensationalizes desperation in “Jolene,” Pallazola’s betrayed narrator has something else in mind. And Creedence Clearwater themselves might be surprised at how many syllables roll through “I want to kno-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow” when Pallazola persists in asking, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”

Guitarist Tim Neill sings lead on a few, including Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” and, “for those of you unfamiliar with the Allman Brothers, here’s a tune I wrote myself,” as he launches into “Midnight Rider.” His delivery is as faithful as his licks on instrumental passages are vibrant.

Slapping time as lively as the windshield wipers of “Me and Bobby McGee” is drummer Matt Colturi, heard now and then at O’Neill’s in Salem as one-half of Calling for Heathcliff. He’s a brand new addition to Out of the Blue as they gain gigs in coffeeshops such as Zumi’s in Topsfield and restaurants such as Decklynn’s in Gloucester where I caught them on an outdoor deck overlooking the harbor.

No idea what connects Colturi and CFH bandmate James Rogers to Wuthering Heights, but Pallazola and Neill, who have played together on and off since high school, have a combined taste rooted in the blues. Quite unlike most cover bands, Out of the Blue steeps a rock and roll playlist in blues classics such as “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” and “Stormy Monday.”

Blues aside, the early evening was as bright–and the fish and chips as delicious–as the music this past weekend at Decklynn’s up here on the tip of Massachusetts’ other cape.

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They return to Decklynn’s Friday, July 29, 7:00 pm.
Out of the Blue, L to R: Tim Neill guitar, Matt Colturi drums, and Jillian Pallazola lead vocals & keyboard. Photo by Christine Winfrey.

An Unwitting War on Art

In a 2010 interview by the San Antonio Examiner, B.B. King put it like this:

Music is owned by the whole universe. It isn’t exclusive to the black man or the white man or any other color. It’s shared in and by our souls… I told Elvis once, and he told me he remembered I told him this, that “music is like water. Water is for every living person and every living thing.

Should have known that Elvis, the film, would draw complaints of “cultural appropriation” against Elvis, the person, from those who, with all good intention, think that any culture somehow belongs to an ethic group and should never be adopted by anyone outside the group.

They may be right in many cases, but not this one.

Tom Hanks, who co-produced and has a role that includes the narration of the film, no doubt anticipated the charge.  With or without Hanks’ prodding, director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann took great care to open the film with a young Elvis Presley growing up in a housing project with Black neighbors, playing with Black friends, eyeing Black musicians, entering a Black church.

Yes, that’s Black culture, but it was also his culture.  Put another way:  What other culture did he have?

Add to that his friendships with B.B. King and other up and coming Black musicians at Club Handy on Memphis’ Beale Street.  Then add to that the racial barriers Elvis erased:

  • Radio stations that would not air “race music.”
  • Concert halls that were white-only or segregated into roped-off areas.
  • Recording contracts from northern companies that suddenly saw what would sell.

Add to that how Elvis infused rhythm and blues with country that he heard on the radio and at fairs.  Was he “appropriating” that cultural scene as well?  Or was he deeply, intuitively engaged in–perhaps engaged by–a creative process?

Whatever you think to be the sum of your addition would be subtracted  by those who, for all their good intention, raise the cry of “cultural appropriation.”

This dates as far back as 1987 when Paul Simon recorded Graceland in South Africa with local musicians. Though ironic, it’s no coincidence that it has been aimed at successful, historically revealing films: From Dances with Wolves in 1990 to The Descendants in 2011 and Green Book in 2018, just to name the first three that come to this projectionist’s mind.

With no end of examples in sight, “cultural appropriation” is a presumptuous, self-righteous claim that lends credence to right-wing accusations regarding suppression of speech. In recent years, the right has boiled all of it down to two words: Cancel Culture.

Last but hardly least in what we call America’s “cultural divide,” if combining styles of music qualifies as creative, then the cry of “cultural appropriation” is also a call to ban art.

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