Monday, December 31, 2012

Kick in the New Year

Glenn Stewart

Still without a New Year’s Eve plan? Still haven’t carved up any of this fresh snow? Boom, problems solved. Hit the trails then catch Glenn Stewart in the Coppertop.

Stewart has become a Wachusett fave, playing both band shows and stripped-down acoustic sets. His brand of country music is so in line with the big guys_ think Eric Church and Jason Aldean_ that Stewart has been recording in Nashville at Fun House studio with producer  James “Bubba” Hudson. Stewart and Hudson return to Fun House in early January to continue work on what could be the singer’s next big professional step.

Stewart, who is from Auburn, has been at this for years, coming up through the local rock clubs and realizing that modern country is a lot like the classic rock and pop metal he liked performing in the first place. But the country setting let him update his writing and deliver songs that are mature without necessarily being grown up (this is a guy who can entertain a bar crowd, after all).

Stewart dug in, releasing a CD of his original country tunes a few years back just as the region’s country audience was growing at a crazy pace. He also honed a show that earned the title “Country That Kicks.”

Bridging traditional country and rock led to Stewart getting his first gig at Indian Ranch this summer, where he was called upon to open for Grand Funk Railroad, serving as an ambassador of sorts, welcoming classic rockers into the region’s preeminent country venue.

It’s pretty cool seeing Stewart sticking to his roots while he can, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find him having outgrown the intimate setting of the Coppertop by this time next year.  

Skiing and riding for NYE begins at 4 p.m. show time in the Coppertop is 9 p.m.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A "superhero's" welcome

 With his Coppertop shows last season and appearance at the MusicFest in September, Andy Cummings has quickly become a Wachusett favorite, so much so that he was tapped to perform Saturday, Dec. 22, for the ski area’s 50th anniversary. Cummings will be the party entertainment from 2 to 5 p.m. in the Coppertop.
Andy Cummings

Watching Cummings, it takes no more than a couple of songs to know how well the guy can sing and play guitar. But the real eye-opener may be how seamlessly he moves from smooth crooning to fist-pumping anthems.

That talent is especially pronounced on “Backyard Superhero,” Cummings' new CD. The dozen songs are all over the place, from the roots-rock hijinks of “I’d Like to Tell You More” to the urgent folk-pop of “Your Only One” to the edgy new-New Wave glimmer of “Trial on TV.” I’ve already started jokingly calling this record “Andy Cummings Radio” simply for its diversity.

But “Backyard Superhero” is not scattered. Cummings creates not so much an arc, but waves that rise and fall around his knack for knocking out songs that sound like he is channeling them from a bygone era of big microphones and bigger sentiment. “I Wish,” which begins the record, is just such a song, with a breezy melody and colorful wordplay (“I wish I were an ocean so I could wash away some of the things I say.”)

The original “Be My Delight” and covers of “After You’ve Gone” and “Hello! Ma Baby” (the latter radically overhauled from the way you may remember it as performed by a singing frog in the Looney Tunes cartoon) are the other old-timey tunes peppered among the album’s dozen tracks in a way that sets up a smooth flow for Cummings to explore other song styles

He nails a rustic country vibe covering Amy Allison’s haunting “Thank God for the Wine” and pays homage to the late Scott Ricciuti, one of the region’s songwriting greats, with a tender rendition of Huck’s “Postcard,” the “wish you were here” refrain coming off as especially poignant.  

Cummings’ songwriting is sometimes overlooked in his live shows, since they incorporate a lot of interpretations of others' work. "Backyard Superhero" rectifies that situation, especially with “You’ll Understand,” a defiant, quietly turbulent acoustic song that shows how this troubadour is a hell of a writer too. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Time for more mountain music

So let’s review the drill. When in full swing, the Coppertop Lounge presents live music from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and from 4 to 6 p.m. Sundays. You ski, you ride, you kick back and hear artists from around the area who specialize in rock, blues, acoustic, and country music. No cover, no hassle.
Sean Fullerton

Now, “full swing” doesn’t begin until January. But this month is busy nonetheless. Acoustic-blues troubadour Big Jon Short plays in the Coppertop from 5 to 7 p.m. today, Dec. 14. Sean Fullerton, who digs blues, Beatles and finger-style guitar picking, is playing from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, then turning things over to the Pats-49ers action.

Derek Drowne returns to the Coppertop on Friday, Dec. 21, to play from 3 to 5 p.m., serenading the “shortest” day of the year (day with most dark?).

As you’ve probably heard, Wachusett Mountain ski area turns 50 this year, and there will be an anniversary bash Saturday, Dec. 22, with Andy Cummings playing from 2 to 5 p.m. Cummings became a Coppertop favorite last season and wowed a slope-side crowd this fall at the MusicFest performing a repertoire that spanned Sinatra to the Who.  
Andy Cummings at MusicFest

Then on New Year’s Eve, another mountain favorite Glenn Stewart brings his rocking brand of country to the lounge for a show that starts at 9 p.m. and ends around 2013.
Glenn Stewart

We’ll have more updates here on these artists plus others, so add “routinely check this blog” to your regimen of ski/ride and listen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A "Big" opening

Big Jon Short (Ted Theodore photo)

The trails are open, and the tunes are flowing. Besides being Central Mass’s go-to place for skiing and riding, Wachusett Mountain also offers up as good a music schedule as any traditional nightclub you’ll find in the area.

The Coppertop Lounge music series kicks off in high style Friday, Dec. 14, with the return of Big Jon Short. Short is a reservoir of blues knowledge; he goes to Mississippi every year to perform and immerse himself in traditional blues culture, and he teaches students in public schools all around the state about America’s roots music.

But when he plays, there’s nothing academic to it. Instead it’s joyous. Or mournful. Or mesmerizing. I’ve seen Short belt out tunes from a hill next to Worcester’s Park Ave, near the steps of a county courthouse, and while parading around a crowded bar room. In each case he simply made the old blues feel young and vital again.

Short’s solo show at the Coppertop comes on the heels of releasing his latest record “34 Special,” a collection of original and traditional songs performed on National Resophonic guitar. Short recorded the tunes in a shack that’s behind Vincent’s bar in Worcester, sort of recreating the field recordings from the South that have served as his own texts for learning the different styles of country blues.

By focusing on songs that he wrote or was performing around the time he first met his wife, Short imbues his new record with heart and soul, even when the hard times are knocking on his door. “Skin & Bones” and “Skinny Jean Mama” are originals that seamlessly fit alongside Short’s fresh arrangement of “Crossroads” and lesser-known country blues staple “Long Hair Doney.” He somehow pushes his own sound back in time while pulling the old music forward, all of it settling into a comfortable meeting spot that honors the tradition without getting shackled by it.

Short plays from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Coppertop (you know there's no cover, right?)  for the start of another round of impeccable “small stage” bookings. I'll give you a deeper look into the schedule tomorrow. Now, go hit the snow.