Friday, March 15, 2013

St. Paddy's slope style

Katie McD

Katie McD returns to the mountain for St. Patrick’s Day. Born in Ireland and now living in Boston, McD blends traditional fare and original work. Here’s what she had to say in response to a few question we sent her way. Katie McD will set up on the back deck and get the tunes flowing at 1 p.m.

What Irish songs do you never get tired playing? “Caledonia” written by Dougie MacLean. And “Bonnie Laboring Boy,” a traditional song by Oisin. Those are two of my favorites.

Which traditional songs and artists have most influenced your original work? Dolores Keane, Mary Black, Eleanor Shanley & Maura O' Connell, Cathy Jordan & Karen Casey are the artists that have influenced me. The songs by these artists that influenced me include “Anachie Gordon,” “Bonnie Laboring Boy,” “My Irish Molly O,” “Ar Éireann Ní Neosainn Cé Hí,” and “Young Roger the Miller.”

Do you like to perform traditional songs the way you learned them or do you like to put your own twist on them? Every artist dusts a song with a little magic. Otherwise it would all sound the same. When I sing a traditional song, I draw from all the life experiences I have had, be it love, hope, loss, despair, death. Irish music is about sharing, not about how good you sing but how you deliver the song, in effect, with all heart. The magic is fulfilled when the song is felt more than heard, and it in turn assumes a life of its own.  When the huddled crowd hangs on every word, with not a din in the room, and they bend their ears to every note, and delight in the delivery of lilting pure tones of a female singer - that we call “Sean Nós,” or traditional style singing.

Songs that most remind you of home? “The Galway Girl” is set in my hometown. This catches my heart every time. The promenade is a big part of the city and there is a prom is South Boston so that is why I live there _ I don't get homesick. In Galway, we kick the wall at the end of the prom, an acknowledgment that we did the walk. Now there is a sign there asking not to kick the wall. Talk about trying to kill an old tradition.
The old version of “Galway Bay” is so beautiful. One line gets me every time: "I will lay mee bones 'neath Church yard stones beside you Galway Bay, and I hope my soul to soar forever more above you Galway Bay!"
And then, there is “Caledonia.” Dougie MacLean wrote this song and when his roommates heard it, they all moved back home! No matter where or when I sing it, it is a big hit. The song has a way of fitting into everyone’s life.
In terms of my original songs, “Immigrant Soul” is about living in America and always wanting to go back home and walk along Barna strand with the nephews. More recently, I was commissioned to write a soundtrack for an Irish movie “No Eye to Pity Her” set in my hometown of Galway city. Based on Irish history, it reminds us that our ancestors fought all the way for us to have the Ireland of today.
 On another occasion, I was involved with a play called “Man from Inniskeen,” and one of the actors didn't want to recite the Patrick Kavanagh poem, “Inniskeen Road July Evening.”  I said, “Give it here to me,” and I wrote the music for it in the next room in the House of Ireland. It has since become an anthem for all my friends and fans. When we sing it, we know the next signpost is home or at least it should be! Believe me!

To hear Katie McD's music and see some of the other projects she is involved with, check her out online at

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Astronauts" ready for take off

Singer Antonio Casasanta sizes up the dilemma his band We Were Astronauts faced before making its debut record this way: “We feel like the industry wants a song it can sell. Musicians want to make something full of depth.”

We Were Astronauts took the musicians’ route in making “Outside Boston,” a collection of 10 songs with plenty of varied textures.  Rooted in alt-pop and indie rock, “Outside Boston” boasts the airy meanderings of “Skin,” the rumble of “The Circus Within” and “Rubber Tramp” and anthemic sweep of the title track and “Soapbox Shimmy.”

The band released the record in January, and Casasanta says gamble paid off with nothing but  positive feedback.
We Were Astronauts

We Were Astronauts makes its Coppertop debut Saturday. Show time is 8 p.m. 

The band came togethr in Milford little more than a year ago, corralling members of other groups around a new batch of songs and songwriting ideas. Casasanta says that while he had a bunch of  material written, much of it was shaped as each member of the group brought his own style to the material (and these are guys who have played everything from heavy music to jam-band stuff).

We Were Astronauts then headed to Nashville, backed with Kickstarter funding, and made “Outside Boston” at Welcome to 1979 studio, where all the gear is old-school-style analog.

“The kind of music we’re making is like the music by Black Keys or Kings of Leon. The analog gear draws more attention to the human element in the sound,” Casasanta says.

For an initial effort, We Were Astronauts hit all the right buttons; it’s accessible, lively, and independent. Catch ’em  locally before they blast off

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Extra Irish on tap this week

Katie McD will be at the mountain on St. Patrick's Day

There will be a couple of shots of Irish music in this final round of regularly scheduled shows in the Coppertop. Mick Carr, who performed earlier in the season, returns Friday to set the mood for St. Patrick’s Day, then Katie McD (who also played a St. Paddy’s show last year at the mountain) arrives Sunday with her blend of original and traditional Celtic fare.

But like they say on the infomercials _ That’s not all.

The Drunken Uncles get things started on Thursday. Uncle Tom Hurley has a video for his song “Running Out”  (watch it above) in the running for video of the month on Charter TV’s “WooTube” program. Go to the WooTube Facebook page to vote and see which clips are also on the ballot.

And on Saturday, We Were Astronauts makes its ’Top debut. This is alt-pop troupe just released the album “Outside Boston” which was made way outside Boston in a studio in Nashville. Check back for that story later in the week.

Good spring or what?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Marshall's mixed bag

Bruce Marshall may have gone pro in 1974, but that’s not when he started playing guitar and singing for audiences.

“I found a set list from my 8th grade band,” the 58-year-old Marshall says, noting he just may resurrect one of those blasts from the past when he plays a solo show Sunday at the Coppertop.

Of course, Marshall is bound to play just about anything. A musical omnivore, Marshall can deliver with the blues, primal rock ’n’ roll, R&B, and country. He knocks out more than 200 dates per year, some as a solo artist, some with his namesake band, and some with fellow travelers _ he and James Montgomery make a pretty nice team, and for a few years Marhsall was a mainstay in former Marshall Tucker Band member Toy Caldwell’s band.
Bruce Marshall

“It’s been good for my head, maybe not for my career,” says Marshall of his genre hopping; more than one record label has praised his craft but passed on signing the artist who does not fit a niche.

But over a series of self-produced albums and handful of recordings for independent record labels, Marshall has kept a pretty recognizable voice to his work regardless of the stylistic slant he gives a song.

Most things begin as a chorus or title penned in Marshall’s “Book of Hooks.” Technology makes it pretty easy to capture and flesh out ideas on handy devices such an iPhone; there’s no more having to call his own answering machine to preserve a melody or lyric.

Marshall and his band recently made a video for his song “Victor Talking Machine,” included above. The clip is in contention for “video of the month” to be aired on WooTube television program. Public balloting determines the vid to be aired. To vote on videos, go to

Regardless of the voting outcome, the song is a winner _ a nice rocker with swing blues beat paying homage to the days of vintage vinyl. Look for it on Marshall’s next album now in the works.

To sweeten his debut at the ’Top, Marshall has set up some lift-ticket discounts. For details, email Dave Giammatteo at Show time is 4 p.m.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Threshold on the brink

You’d think Kier Byrnes would be pretty psyched that the rest of the world is catching on to the sound he’s been chasing for years with his band Three Day Threshold.

“In popular culture right now there are a lot of folk-rock acts like Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers. The music style we’ve been doing seems to be peaking,” Byrnes says. “But I’ve never been one to sit there. I want to push forward and stay ahead of the curve while staying true to our sound.”
Three Day Threshold

To that end, the forthcoming Three Day Threshold record is going to have some traditional Gypsy rhythms sitting alongside the Celtic, bluegrass and country influences already in the band’s rollicking rock-meets-tradition sound. Byrnes, who plays guitar, banjo and mandolin,  also suspects the new songs will reflect some of what the band heard musically while on a U.S.O. tour of Qatar and Kuwait about a year-and-a-half ago.

And the experimenting doesn’t end there. When Three Day Threshold plays Saturday night in the Coppertop, it’ll be the first time that bassist John Stump wields an acoustic upright for a show. Byrnes says the performance will also be heavy on Irish tunes, something the band likes to do around St. Paddy’s Day. The Coppertop show starts at 8 p.m.

Besides the Irish fare, count on Three Day Threshold to bang out its energetic brand of songs about big hearts and bad behavior (you don’t get a personal invite to play the Jim Beam distillery like these guys did by being choir boys).

Another highlight for the band is coming up this summer when it performs with the Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show in New Hampshire during Bike Week, a massive gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts.

Three Day Threshold has shared the stage with big names before_ Trace Adkins, Zac Brown, and Quiet Riot among them_ but Byrnes says he’s especially psyched for this upcoming event.

“We’ve played with members of Old Crow before and we’ve covered some of their songs,” Byrnes says. “It’s great when you get to play with people you admire.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The fresh stuff just isn't on the slopes

The music is as good as the snow at the mountain these days. Andy Cummings is back Thursday night in the Coppertop, playing songs off his recently released “Backyard Superhero” album and putting his stamp on classics from Sinatra to the Who.

Then on Friday it’s a return trip for McAlister Drive. Go wish ’em well ahead of their trek to the South by Southwest Music conference _ that magical music fest in Austin where careers get stoked.
Three Day Threshold performing overseas for U.S. troops

Three Day Threshold’s Coppertop date Saturday likewise comes ahead of a busy run for these country-rooted rockers. Three Day Threshold has a new album in the works and gig with the Avett Brothers this summer. TDT singer Kier Byrnes lays it all out in a post later this week.

Music begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Then Bruce Marshall, a staple of the Boston scene for decades who when not leading his own band has at times teamed with blues man James Montgomery and Southern rocker Toy Caldwell, wraps up the weekend with a show Sunday that starts at 4 p.m.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Party for shore and slopes

A beach band works pretty well on a mountain too, or so learned Straightjacket Slumber Party.  When the band formed in 2009, Straightjacket Slumber Party focused on Cape Cod gigs.  Then a friend of the band wooed it to Sugarbush where SJSP now plays annually.

This year the group grabbed a winter gig closer to home and hits the Coppertop Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m.

“We found the same vibe,” SJSP bassist Ted Wyman says of beach and mountain. “In both cases people are coming to see us after they’ve been doing some other planned activity and just want to unwind. It’s like coming off the beach and grabbing a lobster roll or coming in from skiing and grabbing a thick ale.”
Straightjacket Slumber Party

In either case, SJSP’s mission is clear: “We play short and danceable rock 'n' roll songs,” Wyman says. “We keep an eye on what keeps people interested and gets them up dancing.”

SJSP guitarist and songwriter (and snowboarder) Bob McKelvey taps into English pub rock, garage-punk,  and reggae/ska for his songs. The band puts out songs every few months, with a couple of fresh tracks worth checking out online at

Wyman recalls SJSP's  early days when clubs only wanted bands that were playing cover songs. “We had to teach them they didn’t want that,” he says. “If we’re playing three sets, then we’ll definitely put in some covers, but plays songs you never hear other bands playing live.”

Wyman points to tunes by the Pixies and Lemonheads (a little Mass love) and by the Clash and English Beat as examples of artists that SJSP likes to cover when necessary.

That’s good company to keep, but SJSP's songs sound like the band doesn’t get overwhelmed by its influences. The slinky “Be Alive,” for example, really shows off the group’s originality.

“That song has such a different groove that at first we didn’t see people dancing,” Wyman recalls. But it eventually sunk in and this past summer, “Be Alive” had people “going nuts."

Thursday, February 28, 2013

OldJack swings into Coppertop

Dan Nicklin sounds like he doesn’t try to overcomplicate things.

“Any time you have two guitars, a bass, and drums, you get rock ’n’ roll,” he says, and that’s what is at the heart of OldJack, the band Nicklin sings and writes for. Playing around Boston for the past few years, OldJack has been described all sorts of ways, but Nicklin says it all boils down to basic rock ’n’ roll.

Of course it looks like Nicklin isn’t trying to keep things simple, either, as OldJack in full force consists of eight members.

“I always loved a wall of sound,” he says. “The more people on stage doing what they are supposed to do, the better.”

Given this big-but-basic sound and Nicklin’s broad songwriting, OldJack has room to roam_ hence the various ways people categorize the band. “Green,” for instance, has a country twang to it, while “Hey Miss” is all rock ’n’ soul swagger.  (And for a sense of raw showmanship, I tossed in the cover of the Black Crowes' "Sometimes Salvation" performed above with Will Dailey.)

Now there’s no way all of OldJack can pack itself into the Coppertop, so Nicklin will show up with a couple of pickers, a drummer, and maybe another singer when the band plays from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. There are plenty of occasions, Nicklin says, when not everybody can make it to a gig, so OldJack is good at adapting.

OldJack has been at work on a full-length album due for release in the fall. Like many independent bands, OldJack is crowd-funding the project and putting together different incentives for contributions, so check back on its web site to see what’s shakin’ as the project moves forward.

Old Jack has already released an E.P. and some singles, working with various producers around Boston over the past couple of years.

“We’ve been touched by a lot of musical minds,” Nicklin says. “We’ve learned a lot from other people, now it’s time to try our own thing. It’ll either be great or break us up.”

In this case, I trust Jack.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A new Jack and Straightjacket

Old Jack and Straightjacket Slumber Party are a couple of fresh bands in the spring mix playing at the Coppertop this week. They’ll be joined by some returning faves, starting Thursday when Bruce Jacques sets up shop in the ’Top starting at 8 p.m.
Old Jack hits the mountain Saturday (Michael Basu photo)

Hoodoo Revelator will serve one more shot of the blues Friday night. Then it’s a double header Saturday. Old Jack, an explosive old-school rock 'n' roll band that’s been playing around Boston the past few year, makes its Wachusett debut with an afternoon set starting at 3 p.m. Saturday. We caught up with Old Jack singer and songwriter Dan Nicklin and are crunching his thoughts into a post for later in the week.

Five Hole then takes the reins Saturday for the 8 p.m. show.

Straightjacket Slumber Party typically plays around the beaches of Cape Cod during the summer time, but mountain and band alike felt the ski and board crowd would also dig this group’s primal groove. Find out when Straightjacket Slumber Party checks into the Coppertop at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Classic considerations from MCats Band

MCats Band
The MCats Band specializes in classic rock, or more accurately songs with classic sensibilities, so you see some Jet and Black Keys in a repertoire heavy on Who, Tom Petty, and Stones. Keyboard player Erik Heels, bass player Eamon Tighe, saxophonist Bob Adams, drummer Josh Stein, and guitarists Jon Oltsik and Paul Greenspan joined forces in 2006 to play a fund-raising show for the McCarthy-Towne School (MCT) in Acton, where all of their kids were students at the time. .

They stuck together and raise a ruckus around the Acton-Boxboro area. Ahead of the MCats show Friday in the Coppertop, we put some classic-rock queries to the band, and Heels provided the following responses

1) Imagine you're in charge of the MCats-Stock music festival, and you can book any band from any era. Who are the top five acts?
Tom Petty
The Rolling Stones
Pink Floyd
The Who
Not necessarily in that order!

2)If MCATS could perform a whole album live, which would it be?
"Full Moon Fever" by Tom Petty (1989)

3) Best song to open a show?
"Good Lovin'" - The version we do is a mash-up of the versions by The Rascals and Grateful Dead.  It's a good song to sound check on, and we often open with it if we're pressed for time, which is admittedly an odd reason.  It also has a defined ending, unlike many songs.

4)Best song for the big finish?
" Runnin' Down A Dream" by Tom Petty.  Because of the epic guitar solo.  Tough solo to top.

5) Complete the sentence, "Man, I wish I wrote...."
 Man, I wish I wrote "Use Me" by Bill Withers (from his 1972 album "Still Bill").  Smooth tune, smooth vocals, smooth lyrics.  Did I mentions smooth?
MCats go on at 8 p.m.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fairhaven: a modern classic

For a young band, Fairhaven has some strong ties to an older generation of rock. The band’s manager used to handle tours for Boston and the Doobie Brothers. Jeff Watson, the original guitarist for Night Ranger (you remember “Sister Christian,” right?) produced Fairhaven’s excellent “Plan A” album, which came out last year.

It makes sense for these “big rock" vets to get behind Fairhaven, as the Providence-bred band has the hooks and the sweep of those popular bands while managing to put its own modern, alt-pop spin on its songs.

“It was a good fit working with (Watson),” says Fairhaven singer Alan Connell. “We were in a really creative space up in Mill Valley (CA). It was really relaxing, and we just worked on the music.”

Following the release of “Plan A,” Fairhaven made its first national tour and is already sketching ideas for its next batch of songs.

“That tour really opened my eyes. I saw many parts of the country for the first time, and as the vocalist and main lyric writer, that tour gave me a lot of ideas. It was also a great experience for the whole band chemistry,” Connell says.

Hear for yourself when Fairhaven performs from 8 to 10 p.m. Tuesday in the Coppertop. The show will feature the core band of Connell, keyboard player Trevor Gould, and drummer Brian Moura (on bigger stages, Fairhaven swells to a five-piece).

“The songs have a big sound and lot of emotion. We’ll get creative,” Connell says of the stripped-down show.

Fairhaven songs run from the bright “The World is Waiting” to edgier “Fear,” the latter gaining some decent radio play.

Connell says a spring tour of the East Coast is on tap, so take a tip and catch this band in the intimate ’Top setting while you can.

More snow, more shows

With a busy school-vacation week on tap, the Coppertop is adding shows to further entertain the skiers and riders heading to primo conditions at the Wah.

Jason Graham is back in the Coppertop Monday, playing an early set that starts at 3 p.m.

Fairhaven is a big add for Tuesday. This rocking indie-pop trio out of Providence has pretty good buzz around it following the release of its “Plan A” album. Recommended for fans of Kings of Leon and Muse. Fairhaven goes on at 8 p.m.
Fairhaven plays Tuesday

Hit the Bus pulls in for a Wednesday night show that starts at 8 p.m.

Rich Murphy and Gary Girouard are two solo performers on tap at the ’Top. Murphy is playing from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday, while Girouard is on stage from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

On Friday, the MCATS Band is set deliver a couple of hours worth of classic rock starting at 8 p.m.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wild ride with Road Kill Orchestra

When you hear the word “orchestra,” you tend to envision a rather large group of musicians.  The Road Kill Orchestra, however, suggests that an “orchestra” can get away with just five members as long as they are willing to think big.

And that’s exactly what this Worcester combo does, mashing up blues jazz, funk, and primal rock ‘n’ roll in concoctions that run from funny to dark all the while aiming for the provocative.

“The band has a unique style and we wanted to do more than one-offs about the Turtle Boy statue or walking on Main Street,” says J. Stuart Esty a/k/a Dr. Gonzo T. Nightcrawler, of the RKO's reputation for mulling Wormtown in song.
J. Stuart Esty in Dr. GT Nightcrawler mode

Esty and drummer Austin Beliveau have had the RKO running in one fashion or other for 18 years. In addition to playing keys and singing with the Road Kill Orchestra, Esty is the creator of Dr. Gonzo’s condiments and opened a store for his products in downtown Worcester about four year ago. The band took to playing at Esty’s salsa and relish emporium and word spread about this boogie woogie sensation brewing in Worcester. The RKO moved from the shop to be a featured artist at the annual Paulie’s NOLA Jazz N Blues Festival in Worcester and  a regular in the regional clubs.

The RKO makes its Coppertop debut Friday playing from 8 to 10 p.m.  Sax player James Bennett, bass player Brian Sampson, and guitarist Mark Leighton are the current members of the orchestra playing alongside the group’s founding fathers. Esty says the new lineup has spurred the RKO into new areas and the band has been sharing bills with jam bands, punk troupes, and ska outfits.

“We really are playing to all ages. At one show there was an 80-year-old break dancing,” says Esty, the surreal never far from his reach.

Though the RKO can cross genres, its sound is an identifiable, swampy brand of rock that carries with it sharp lyrics. “Nigerian Lottery Rag,” for instance, is a wry jab at the greedy couched in the humor of someone falling for one those online scams.

“‘Reminiscing with Perfect Strangers’ is our Traffic-meets-Santana-meets-Tom Waits song. The lyrics are pretty angry, but you’d never know it from the music,” Esty says.

Making the most out of  things not being what they seem, the RKO is at work on a new CD and will be on tour this summer.

“I’ve gone through a lot of changes with the band,” Esty says. “But every time there’s a change, things just seem to get better musically and venue-wise.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jazzy Valentine's Day

Jean Mancini Gough is a classically trained singer, and some may recognize her from her longstanding role as a featured vocalist at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester. But about 10 years ago Gough decided to explore the jazz scene in Worcester and was told that a good place to start was the weekly jazz jam guitarist Jay Tyer was at the time running at the Java Hut .

“I was surprised,” Gough says looking back. “Just because I was trained in classical, I didn’t know what I was doing in the jazz setting, especially about the improvising. It opened my eyes.”

But the experience didn’t turn her away from jazz. Gough studied with Tyer and attended summer programs at the Vermont Jazz Center.

By the time came to record her CD “With Friends,” Gough had plenty of experiences working a jazz repertoire throughout Massachusetts with a good bench of fellow freelance players.

“With the CD, the master plan was not detailed.  I just trusted the players I chose to do their own thing,” she says.

And she did hers; Gough sings with a precision and control that simply enhances the emotional resonance of her performances. She can take the well-trod “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” for example, and turn it mesmerizing.

Gough admits to a fondness for melancholy songs, but promises an appropriately cozy performance for her Valentine’s Day show at the Coppertop. The music starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, and Gough will have a keyboard player, drummer, guitarist, and bass player joining her

“I like happy-go-lucky songs too,” she says

Monday, February 11, 2013

Romance to rock 'n' roll

How about some romantic jazz standards on Valentine’s Day? Or how about some hard-core-party-music-’cause-your-baby-dumped-you for the day after Valentine’s Day?

Either way, you’re covered this week at the Coppertop. 
Jean Mancini Gough in the studio

The Jean Mancini Gough Jazz Group is performing Thursday from 8 to 10 p.m. Gough is a versatile vocalist whose work spans gospel to opera to jazz. Her jazz CD “With Friends” puts a fresh spin on such staples as “Caravan” (perhaps best known as an instrumental) and “Cry Me a River."
J. Stuart Esty of Road Kill Orchestra

The Road Kill Orchestra is the ongoing musical adventure started by keyboard player and singer J. Stuart Esty and drummer Austin Beliveau. While the remainder of the lineup has been a work in progress, the RKO has stuck to a fierce brand of primal rock 'n' roll yet is pretty adventurous in the songwriting and jamming departments. We spoke with Esty and will have his updates and musings written up here ahead of the band’s show Friday night.

Now & Then is in the Coppertop Saturday night at 8 p.m., and Evan Goodrow returns Sunday at 4 p.m.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Funk for your flow

Paul Caraher

Well now it looks like winter. And not only is there fresh powder on the trails but also some fresh sounds in the Coppertop on Sunday.

Guitarist Paul Caraher will make his ’Top debut with a 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. set on what will likely be a busy Sunday.
Caraher is a member of Funkatronic, a band that fuses improvisational jams rooted in funk and jazz with electronic flourishes. And in his solo shows, Caraher tries to capture that same broad spirit.

To achieve what he describes as “Funkatronic craziness,” Caraher uses live looping and octave pedals to augment and manipulate his guitar sound. It’s a technique that fans of
Keller Williams or Wah regular Chris Reddy will recognize.

Caraher further stretches out with his repertoire.

“There are some original jams, and my jams run from bluegrass to funk,” he says. “And there’s a lot of songs people will recognize. I love the ’80s and have some Hall and Oates in there, and I have a bunch of ’90s stuff, like Sublime and Oasis.”

Caraher says he has always been all over the musical map, starting as a kid learning guitar in his native Nashville, where he practiced classical guitar and Randy Rhodes licks.

Caraher and his brother Justin, a drummer, moved to the Northeast for its music scene and made Providence a base of operations for Funkatronic and their other endeavors.

Caraher may be a jazz player at heart, but he also loves playing a strong, memorable melody, and will keep a popular song intact. At least until it comes time for a solo.

“That’s when I express myself,” he says.

Sort of like the way picking a line makes even the most familiar trails feel a little different every time.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Richard making the rounds

I have no idea what’s going to be happening amid the storm, but if plans hold, here’s a little update on Friday’s Coppertop happenings:
Brian Richard
Brian Richard is mixing good tunes with good work.

The popular North County singer and guitarist is the go-to guy when the Greg Hill Foundation needs entertainment. Unsurprisingly, Richard is also a frequent performer for events hosted by WAAF-FM (107.3), the FM rocker where Hill is the morning-drive guy. And that’s the case Friday when ’AAF presents Richard in the Coppertop starting at 8 p.m.

The Foundation works directly with families in need, and the fund raisers typically are who’s-who gatherings of Boston sports and entertainment stars. Though, Richard isn’t one to get star struck; Richard after all welcomed former Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page on stage for impromptu collaborations during a WXLO Christmas party.

Richard released a CD of his songs a few years back and has a stack of pop and rock faves. His latest endeavor_ which sounds like a player’s dream_ is working R&D at Giles Guitar in Franklin. When Richard plays with his trio, he busts out a Giles electric (and he’ll have one of those gigs in July playing a Boston Harbor cruise for the Hill Foundation… see how this all loops?) .

But on his own, with acoustic guitar, Richard ably gets the job done.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Irish, blues, and more

Mick Carr

Why wait until March to get in some Irish pub songs? Mick Carr will be in the Coppertop Thursday from 8 to 10 p.m., kicking off this week’s run of shows that will provide a soundtrack to (hopefully) a fresh dump of snow.

Brian Richard returns to the ’Top Friday, followed by blues-guitar ace Chris Fitz on Saturday. Jazz/pop/funk guitarist Paul Caraher will play in the Coppertop from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Carr grew up in Scotland, but his parents emigrated there from Ireland, and brought along their music.

“My background is all Irish. I had no relatives in Scotland and we’d go back to Ireland every year to visit aunts and uncles,” says Carr.

Carr studied guitar as kid and joined youth bands that performed around Ireland.
Looking for the proverbial “greener grass,” Carr moved to Boston in 1991 and started playing in the Donegal Cords. His solo career took root in the pubs of Allston.

While Carr is well-schooled in fare such as “Wild Rover” and “Fields of Athenry,” he says he also enjoys playing country songs as well. He’s got a mean version of the Billie Jo Spears hit “57 Chevrolet,” for instance, that you can check out on his Web site here

“The Irish songs always have a story behind them, that’s why I like them,” Carr says. “Country songs are like that too, so I started learning some of those. I do a lot of the Irish songs, but maybe 40 percent of the set can be anything from country to Eagles.”

At least that ratio works until March rolls around.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Acoustic rock pre-Bowl show

Heidi-Jo Hanson, left, performing with Fern Parker

Don’t let the acoustic guitar fool you; Heidi-Jo Hanson is a rock chick. She likes Zeppelin, Seger, the Mac and has the sort of earthy, bluesy voice and full-bodied guitar tone to pull it off _ alone.

“I never want to do a song like you hear it on the radio. I like to take a song and put my own little flavor in it. You can’t say, ‘Here’s a song I wrote by Van Morrison,’ but you can give it some of your own personality,” Hanson says.

Hanson, her guitar, and her personality will be at the Coppertop Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m.  While we can’t vouch for what you’ll see during the Super Bowl half-time show, we can assure there won't be lip-synching at this gig happening before kick-off.

Hanson started playing out 20 years ago, gaining a name as a member of Moonstruck before going solo. She released an album of original material ten years ago and is building material for follow up to “I’m Still Me,” which garnered some airplay around Massachusetts.

Hanson carried on with shows that keep her hopping around the North County and a regular summer gig in Maine at Old Orchard Beach. She’s opened for Jonathan Edwards and helmed open-mic nights, and lately been playing duo sets with up-and-coming guitarist Jesse Graves. And for a real left turn, Hanson started playing drums in the Angry Debutantes (think combat boots, pretty dresses, and Black Sabbath).

You get the picture_ Hanson likes to keep things interesting. She’s even ready to get another album of her own songs together.

Though that may mean fewer pub shows and more trips to the coffeehouses, where  Hanson can test out new material.

But don’t expect Hanson to ditch her covers catalog.

“I play songs that I love,” she says. “It’s all stuff I grew up on, and it seems to connect with people from 10 to 60.”

Friday, February 1, 2013

Acoustic, but not quiet

What could Carly Rae Jepsen’s sugary “Call Me Maybe” and Rage Against the Machine’s furious “Killing in the Name” possibly have in common? Simply, the band Five Hole.

Those are just a couple of songs the popular North County band added to the repertoire over the past year. Besides being a talented group of players, the guys in Five Hole are pretty open-minded about trying to do songs they know people want to hear. But they also give those songs a twist of their own. And with its broad range, Five Hole can find common ground for Sean Kingston’s “Fire Burning” and the old Red Hot Chili Peppers’ gem “Suck My Kiss.”

“That’s how we roll,” singer Ken Berry shot back in a note when his list of new tunes drew a “whoa” on this end of the conversation.

On Saturday, Five Hole will shake it up even further with an acoustic set at the Coppertop. Just like its regular plugged-in shows, Five Hole won’t limit itself to songs you expect to hear done acoustically. You can see Berry and guitarist Rick Brown acoustifying "Billie Jean" in the Jan. 30 post.

Berry assures that Five Hole will bust out an acoustic “Baby’s Got Back,” the rap hit Five Hole has already once revamped as a hard-rocking show fave.

And from there, anything goes.

Show time is 8 p.m.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Many happy returns

This week, the Coppertop welcomes back a mix of fresh and seasoned audience favorites, starting Thursday with  Jason Graham.

I first came across Jason Graham when he was playing guitar in the Arthur Dent Foundation, one of the wildly creative bands playing around Worcester in the late '90s. Graham tossed off funky and jazzy riffs amid ADF’s frenetic jams. I next saw him in Soulstice, a big, R&B outfit playing mostly classics.
Jason Graham

But when he comes to the Coppertop Thursday, Graham will be solo and hopefully airing some of the original, contemplative work he has been crafting. In his acoustic act, Graham has tapped into a modern singer/songwriter vein, and you can hear his take on it (plus a couple of covers) here Definitely for fans of Ray LaMontagne, which is a direction I wouldn’t have predicted back in the days when Graham was funking up Tammany Hall.

Dr. Harp’s Blues Band is a perennial fave at the mountain and swings into the Coppertop Friday night. Dennis Martin_ a/k/a the Doctor_ plays a classic brand of harmonica-driven blues and is as comfortable with the acoustic material as he is with the electric jams.
Dennis "Dr. Harp" Martin

Five Hole is known for rocking whatever joint it’s in. Last year when the band came to the Coppertop it tried something different and crafted an acoustic repertoire of rock  staples. It worked so well that Five Hole is doing again Saturday. That's a couple of the Five Hole guys in the video up top putting an acoustic spin on the MJ classic.

The shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday start at 8 p.m.

Heidi-Jo Hanson, one of the busier singers around the North County makes an overdue trip back to the Wah Sunday afternoon with a set that begins at 4 p.m. Check back here for chat with this veteran performer.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fullerton's blues and beyond

Sean Fullerton (Photo by Nikilette Walker)

Talking about music with Sean Fullerton gets pretty far ranging. We started with Eddie Van Halen. Got into the legend of Robert Johnson.  Compared Bob Dylan to Paul Simon. Discussed the work of John Hammond, and learned a little about creating acoustic arrangements of Beatles songs. I also found out_ and never would have guessed_ that Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” is Fullerton’s favorite song.

Fullerton is simply a music omnivore, but he knows what he likes and why.

“I listen for anything that makes the hair on my arms stand up,” he says. And as a musician he finds that experience most readily in a solo acoustic setting playing the blues.

Fullerton is back in the Coppertop Sunday starting at 4 p.m. He’ll be wielding acoustic guitars and playing harmonica through a repertoire steeped in traditional blues and a variety of folk and rock gems and a few of his own tunes.

After years of being rock-oriented, Fullerton moved more deeply into the blues after heading off as a solo performer. And the style quickly become one his audiences encouraged him to pursue.

As a guitarist he was all for it, learning the intricate little twists that, like he says, make the hairs rise on your arm.

“The stereotype is that blues is all the same old three chords,” Fullerton says. And to an extent, he agrees that there is a simple structure most blues get built on, but adds, “It’s the way you use the three chords.”

Fullerton wears his devotion to the blues on his sleeve- his forearm actually.

After meeting Robert Johnson’s grandson Steven Johnson, Fullerton learned that the blues legend’s only living relative is a painter. Johnson has a series of paintings depicting juke joint scenes, one of which is a player wearing a harmonica rack and hunched over a slide dobro. Fullerton had the image tattooed on his arm, using it as a totem of sorts, like the spirit of Robert Johnson is playing along with him.

Beatle Wood is a project Fullerton has in development with two other Beatles-loving musicians, with the aim of working up a repertoire of acoustic Beatles songs.

“The idea lets us play the acoustic songs that the Beatles didn’t play live and create arrangements of electric songs. ‘Dear Prudence’ sounds great on acoustic guitars,” he says.

Sounds hair raising.