Thursday, March 15, 2012

Greening the mountain

Any musician with even a hint of Irish heritage is pretty busy this time of year; who doesn't want to hear reels, jigs and those incredibly vivid Celtic folk songs around St. Patrick's Day?

But tracking down Boston's Katie McD was difficult not because she was gigging non-stop, but rather the singer/songwriter was busy recording the soundtrack for the Irish film "No Eye to Pity Her."

Fortunately, the mountain will be getting McD out of the studio and onto a sun splashed deck  for a St. Patrick's day concert from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

"We played at the mountain last year too and it was so much fun. People came skiing down into us playing all of these Irish tunes. And there were so many kids we could play a few children's songs too," McD recalls.

Since her last visit to the mountain, McD has been writing pieces for the above-mentioned film as well as setting classic Irish poems to music for a theatrical production. Though she has made her home in Boston for many years, McD returns to her native Galway often enough to plug into her native culture, and that's a big deal for her.

"I love these kinds of challenges," McD says, mentioning how both the film and play required her to put a contemporary touch to some very traditional stories, music and writing. "It dredges up all that I  grew up with. It helps me know what I need to know about my culture."

While her previous CD focused on contemporary tunes with a Celtic accent, her next project is shaping up to be a collection of the more traditional music she has been cooking up.

"I've never done a purely Celtic CD,"  she says. "But I'm ready to do one now, and I can bring a lot to it. I couldn't have done something like this 10 years ago."

McD's Irish Cross Country Band includes bodhran player Martin Butler and fiddle player Matt Leavenworth. They will be working in their new songs alongside the repertoire of traditional tunes, and the blend has already proven popular in concert.

"The new age Celtic meets old school went over really well. We played (last) Friday and I did 'No Eye to Pity Her,' a song nobody has really heard, and the whole place jumped out of their seats," McD recalls. "It just touched everybody, and that is very gratifying."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Macey country

Country singer Joe Macey is set to take the Coppertop stage at 4 p.m. Sunday, making up a show originally scheduled for January. As noted back then, Macey has been singing and writing songs for more than 30 years. He’s concentrated his work around his Massachusetts home, but did spend time in Nashville where he honed his craft. Most recently, Macey formed a duo with singer Liz Hartman that is just starting to make the rounds, so keep an eye out for that too.

A few weeks back, some of the Coppertop’s returning performers weighed in on their favorite music. Macey did the same when asked to make a list of what he considers to be “Essential Country Music.” Here’s what he had to say:

“Toes” and “Cold Weather” by the Zack Brown Band. “‘Toes’ is extremely popular with fans of all ages and ‘Cold Weather’ is a great modern country ballad.”

“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. “This has become the essential party tune over the last five years or so. Who doesn’t dream of being at a tropical paradise everyday at 5?”

“Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. “This is essential due to the legend of Johnny Cash. He made timeless music spanning all generations. This is one of the most requested songs that I play.”  

“People are Crazy” by Billy Currington. “This song has a great storyline and is very popular among the younger country fans.”

“Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee. “A huge hit on the ‘Urban Cowboy’ soundtrack, which popularized country back in the ’80s.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Familiar, but a little different

Can a folkie and a funkster peacefully coexist in a band? Apparently so, according to Now & Then guitarist Mike Holley.

Little more than a year ago, Holley, acoustic guitarist and singer Pete LeBlanc, and bassist Tom Coleman put together Now & Then.  All three are longtime friends but been involved in other, separate musical projects.

"We got together to just jam and see how it would go," Holley says. "I'm an R&B, funk and blues guy. Pete is a folkie. The jamming went well, then the goal became to find songs we could bring in and  make our own."

To that end, Now & Then can take a familiar tune such as Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" and give it new accents.

"On that song Pete will play a djembe and we'll look for ways to weave the guitar and bass that make the song structure a little different," Holley says.

Now & Then makes its Coppertop debut Friday, starting at 8 p.m.

Now & Then also has pretty broad tastes, bringing in some left-field song choices such as "Spooky" and "So Into You" by Atlanta Rhythm Section.

But, Holley says, the band won't tackle material that doesn't connect with an audience, no matter how much fun it may be to play from a musical point of view.

"It's not about how many notes or how intricate the guitar solo is," Holley says."We want a song to bring someone back to a to a time in their life."

And sometimes the audience members themselves come up with the ideas for Now & Then.

"Someone asked us to play 'Dock of the Bay.' We ripped out a version that went over well," he says. "Now we worked on the song some and play it early in the set a lot because it gets people warmed up."

The guitarist notes that Now & Then is playing for the fun of it _ both the fun of musicians that enjoy working together, and the fun of an audience willing to go out and support live music.

But as fun as it is, Now & Then takes its job seriously.

"We work hard on the songs and arrangements.They are like our babies, and we see what happens when we put them out into the world," Holley says.

And when he sees someone grooving in a seat, tapping a foot, or singing along, Holley knows the kid is all right.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Springing ahead

No doubt, last week's snow provided the necessary launching pad into the season's spring fling. The Coppertop does its part as well with a robust music schedule this week.

The acoustic duo Hit the Bus, shown above, arrives Thursday night. Eric Yanaway and Dave Gardner anchor the group, though it's typical to find guest musicians joining in.

Now & Then plugs in for the Friday night show, airing a mix of blues and classic rock.

On Saturday, Stump! Trivia tests your grasp of fun if-not-essential facts from 3 to 5 p.m., and then Second Base returns to the Coppertop for an encore set at 8 p.m.

And on Sunday, Joe Macey makes it to the Coppertop to deliver a couple of hours of country music starting at 4 p.m.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Katrin at the next level

It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become fluent in a foreign language. Singer/songwriter Katrin Roush feels like the concept also applies to music.

“It’s a spiritual thing. You really have to reflect on where you came from, where you’re going. You have to develop that ability to open up and not hold back,” says Katrin (as she is more commonly known).

Katrin seemingly hit the 10,000-hour mark with “Frail to Fearless,” her stunning new CD recorded in New York with producer and drummer Jerry Marotta, who has worked with Peter Gabriel, Sheryl Crow and others.

Marotta’s involvement introduced Katrin to a whole new caliber of collaborator, as King Crimson/ Peter Gabriel bassist Tony Levin, Lovin’ Spoonful guitarist and harmonica player John Sebastian, Styx singer Lawrence Gowan and other notable session players participated in the recordings.

“This really brought me to a new level. There’s something to be said about building confidence when you work with really great people,” says Katrin.

She does admit, though, to feeling a little intimidated during a drive from her Boston home to Marotta’s studio in Woodstock, NY, knowing that Levin and Sebastian would be waiting there for her.

“But the minute we started playing, I loosened up, and it felt like we were playing in my living room. It just felt so easy. When I’m in the moment, I don’t worry,” she says.

And you can catch one of those moments when Katrin and Marotta perform Saturday in the Coppertop. The show begins at 7 p.m. and will preview material from “Frail to Fearless" which is available online at and has an “official” release next month.

While the production and team involved brought Katrin into a new league, her songs and her performance provide the solid foundation for the album. Since her earliest days playing around Central Mass (and hence a loyalty to doing a show at the Coppertop even as her star is on the rise), Katrin has stood out with songs and a style that rocked a little harder than conventional singer/songwriter fare, but did not really comfortably belong in rock clubs either.

But rather than compromise, Katrin just kept honing her style over a series of albums and countless live performances (her days as a street busker are nicely captured on the new tune “Cobblestones”).

Vocally, Katrin can swing from a smoky blues to lighter, jazzy tones, and she covers that range on the new record. Her subjects are likewise a blend of inner musings about the ups and downs of love and broader observations about people and places around her.

“Jerry’s rhythms, his groove, provided the glue and his production expertise made sure the whole album hung together,” she says.

Katrin revisited three of her older songs_ “Dreams,” “Ivy” and “Blame”_ for updates that better accentuate the depth and angles of the material. In other cases, such as “Breeze,” the singer had a rough idea built basically in the studio.

Katrin ends the CD with an insightful arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “That’s the Way,” making it sound more gritty than wistful.

Her goal throughout was to create recorded performances she could reproduce live.

“You’re always in different settings as an independent artist, sometimes playing solo, sometimes working with a nice core of people like I have,” she says. “So while there may be some variations live, the foundations will be there. The melodies, and groove will be there. The variations, though, are pleasing.”

As is the very work itself.