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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Songs you know; songs you'll get to know

The bands landing gigs at the Coppertop pitch their ability to entertain. It doesn’t matter if they come from the rock world, or from country land, or are folkies, or blues dudes; the bands know they have to win over listeners with a mix of talent and familiarity.

But this week’s lineup reminds that there’s no shortage of original creativity trucked into the Coppertop as well. Check out this video Tom Hurley from Drunken Uncles doing"Running Out," one of his own songs.

 Tom_ who first proved his writing chops in the band Joe Rockhead_ and guitarist Robin Steiger formed Drunken Uncles a few years ago and quickly established themselves as an in-demand acoustic duo. They are playing in the Coppertop Thursday night. The pair knows countless songs by artists as diverse as Dropkick Murphys and Della Reese. But when the Uncles play Thursday night, maybe we can get an original in the mix too.

Trebek, the band playing Friday night, likewise has a good store of its own songs. In addition to racking up a few awards in Pulse magazine readers’ polls and Worcester Music Awards for its live show, Trebek also released an album, “In the Dark,” that garnered the band regional airplay. More than straight-up rock, Trebek airs a polished, powerful brand of pop.

Fred Ellsworth returns to Wachusett Saturday night with his band. Ellsworth can go in any number of directions; he can be stone country or dig into bluesy rock, depending on he sizes up a gig.

The shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday run 8 to 10 p.m.

And we’ll be checking in later this week with finger-picking guitarist Sean Fullerton who holds down the ’Top Sunday afternoon starting at 4 p.m.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Keyes' roots run deep

James Keyes (Photo by Ted Theodore)

James Keyes came to the mountain in September, playing two sets of earthy folk-blues at the Wachusett MusicFest. A few weeks later he was bashing away on electric guitar with the Numbskulls, the punk band that predates his solo efforts.

And while it may seem these two projects are vastly different, Keyes makes you realize just how closely related folk and punk are; related at least when someone like Keyes can burrow into the raw honesty punk and folk can supply a musician. And whether playing punk or folk, Keyes performs like he is shrinking the distance between artist and audience, and forming a common ground

If you missed the MusicFest appearance, the solo Keyes is back at the Wah on Monday playing an afternoon set in the Coppertop starting at 3. With a store of tunes by Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and the like plus a batch of originals, Keyes' performances dig into the good and bad of the here and now, even when sounding like he's pulling from the past.
Catch Keyes while you can, as this guy has rambling on the mind. Keyes says he wants to stretch his touring out to Chicago and Texas. A successful road trip last year led to a lot of connections with other roots-music musicians and helped Keyes curate the Bloody Roots music festival in Worcester last fall.

Keyes is also working on “Yankee Peddler,” his third solo album, with producer Mark Thayer, who has done good things with Chris Smither and Eilen Jewel. “Yankee Peddler” will also feature drummer Duncan Arsenault and bass player Jeff Burch, and while more rocking than previous albums, will not, in Keyes words, reach the Numbskulls’ level of sonic assault.

But Keyes does not need to be loud to be heard.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rugged Road stays off beaten path

Rugged Road

Quick- name Robben Ford’s biggest hit. All right, unfair question unless you’re a guitar freak who has followed Ford’s trailblazing career through the band L.A. Express or collaborations with Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell (and Kiss!), or his own sophisticated blues albums.

Which makes Ford an unlikely source of material for band playing the local circuit. But that’s how Rugged Road started out six years ago. Guitarist Mike Young loved Ford’s melodies and phrasings and pulled together a band to air Ford's jazzy blues in area clubs and bars. Eventually Rugged Road broadened its repertoire, but still prefers to sidestep the norm.

“I’m always looking for the ‘other hits’ of the ’70s,” Young says. “We’ll do Steve Miller songs, but not ‘Fly Like an Eagle.’ We’ll do ‘True Fine Love.’ And if you like Steve Miller, you’ll know that song. With a lot of classic rock, people know the albums as well as the hits.”

Young says he keeps pen and pad nearby when listening to satellite radio stations that favor popular artists’ deeper cuts; hence with Rugged Road you’re going to get Steve Ray Vaughan’s “Tightrope” rather than “Pride and Joy”

“‘Tightrope’ is hard, but we have a lead guitar player who can pull it off,” Young says.

That would be Mike Jiencke joining Young on guitars. Rugged Road also includes keyboard player Rick Ottman, bassist Paul Morrell, and drummer Herdi Xha.

The band played after last season’s Great Race and is coming back Friday for a show in the Coppertop starting at 8 p.m.

Ford’s stamp on Rugged Road goes beyond supplying choice tunes; Rugged Road will also cover songs that Ford has covered.

“He did a great arrangement of ‘Peace Love and Understanding.’ Most people know the Elvis Costello version, but we’ll play Robben’s,” Young says.

Of course they will.

Fun. at the mountain

Fun. singing in the Granite Room Wednesday night
Before their upcoming performance at President Obama’s inauguration, sold-out concert at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre, and appearance at the Grammy awards, where they have six nominations, the main men of Fun. first visited Wachusett Mountain.

Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost, and Jack Antonoff  sang a few songs and kidded around with MIX 104.1 DJ Gregg Daniels during a 40-minute appearance Wednesday before a crowd of 150 contest winners welcomed into the radio station’s “Mix Lounge” (which you and I know better as the Wah’s Granite Room).

Granted, fame is fleeting, but at the moment Fun. is pretty huge, locking down Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Act among its Grammy nods. “We Are Young” was THE ubiquitous hit last year bouncing around Top 40, rock, and independent radio.  And it’s not like Fun. is having trouble selling concert tickets.

So a little publicity blitz is probably the last thing Fun. needs at the moment, yet the trio seemed to genuinely dig playing in front of a small group as the band cracked  jokes and stoked sing-alongs. The appearance was brief, but Fun. was anything but aloof. And those wondering how this band could leap so effortlessly from “Glee” to Grammy needed only to listen to the three songs Fun. played at Wachusett.

Fun. first played “Some Nights,” a song that swings even harder for the fences than “We Are Young” does, with Ruess belting out urgent lines about fighting the good fight while the trio inflated the anthem with whoa-oh-oh-oh chants.  Next came “Carry On,” a song about not giving up that’s such a pop confection only a full-on curmudgeon could resist. And “We Are Young” wrapped up the set, which even stripped down to the basic trio (maybe Wah can get Janelle Monae to visit on her own, no?) is all tumultuous, cinematic pop. Fun. certainly puts its focus on entertaining, but does not skimp on substance. Add a streak of goofy humor and pointed principles (during a Q&A session, one fan thanked Fun. for its work with Ally, which supports gay-equality initiatives), and it’s little wonder why so many people are welcoming Fun. into their lives.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Jacques returns and bonus day at the 'Top

Bruce Jacques

With the MLK Day holiday on Monday, the Coppertop tacks on an extra day of music, and party starter Bruce Jacques gets the cycle going Thursday.

Jacques has redefined the concept of one-man-band with his use of computers and other electronics to enhance his show, which all start with a guy and a guitar. But from there he can layer on backing tracks, sound effects and other sonic dressing, which he further augments with plenty of theatrical twists. Jacques is a funny front man with a seriously deep repertoire of crowd-pleasing tunes. His show Thursday starts at 8 p.m.

Rugged Road then pulls into the Coppertop on Friday (not to be confused with 5 on Friday, which plays Saturday). Rugged Road blends classic rock hits with deeper rock and blues cuts, touching on a spectrum from Allmans to Cheap Trick. The Friday and Saturday shows are from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Rugged Road

The acoustic duo Brian and AJ returns to the Coppertop Sunday for an afternoon gig starting at 4 p.m.

Then the bonus offering on Monday features James Keyes and gets under way at 3 p.m. Keyes returns to the mountain after being one of the featured local performers at the Wachusett MusicFest held in September. While some may recognize Keyes from his work in the Numbskulls punk band, his solo shows offer a whole other bag. When working alone, Keyes favors the steely resonance of acoustic guitar and haunted lyrics of the sort you come across in a Johnny Cash song.  I’ll have more details on Keyes’ latest project in a post coming later in the week. ’Til then, happy schussing. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Something new (of course) from Goodrow

Evan Goodrow

On Saturday, Evan Goodrow and Sergio Bellotti will debut their duo project at the Coppertop. Goodrow, singer and guitarist in the soul-rocking Evan Goodrow Band, and Bellotti, a drummer with several projects and instructor at Berklee College of Music, have been plotting to work together for some time, and the intimate setting of the Coppertop looked like just the type of venue for bringing the project public.

“This duo was made for a setting like that. I think the band would be too much,” says Goodrow about coming to the Coppertop after playing at a Wachusett festival with his group. “There’ll be a lot of adapting songs I do with the band and stuff happening on the spot. It’s no pre-planned.”

Goodrow will come armed with an acoustic guitar and looping pedals to create layers of sound, while Bellotti works with a battery of percussion. The show starts at 8 p.m.

Expect the sort of musical balancing act Goodrow has been performing routinely around the Northeast (and spring trips to the Caribbean), as he fuses musical adventure with solid entertainment.

“Everything has to be left brain and right brain,” he says. “You can’t do this without nurturing the creative side, but if you just turn inward you end up in your bedroom waiting for the world to come to you. Or if you just want to be an entertainer, it quickly becomes the flavor of the month. The greatest music has always been a mix.”

With his band, Goodrow has crafted a lively sound that stretches out musically into funk and soul in a tight, three-piece setting while never losing sight of catchy hooks and welcoming melodies.

Goodrow describes himself as a voracious writer, and even as well-received as his last album "Say It" was, he already sees the new material for the band pushing off into fresh directions.

“This group functions like a jazz band even through we’re not playing jazz. Everyone is intently listening to each other. There are no set lists when we play, every show changes. It keeps it fresh for us, and I think that keeps it fresh and interesting for the listeners.”

And those ideas, no doubt, inform the new duo he’ll be springing on Saturday. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Caribbean cool from Connecticut

Moto mixes contemporary grooves into its reggae and soca base

Drummer Paul Bozzi fell for reggae in the early ’70s when Bob Marley’s music started making waves in this country. He never lost his taste for the Jamaican groove even as he went off to play in all sorts of rock, funk, and R&B bands.

“It was a few years ago when I finally asked myself why am I not playing this music that I really like,” Bozzi says.

As he was ready to place an ad on Craigslist seeking other musicians around his Connecticut base interested in forming a reggae band, Bozzi noticed a similar ad posted by keyboard player and singer Roger Lum You, whose path wended through Trinidad and Miami before leading him to New England. Once Bozzi and You connected, the band Moto took shape, offering a blend of traditional roots reggae spiced with contemporary touches as well as more traditional Caribbean soca material.

Moto makes its Wachusett Mountain debut Thursday, performing from 8 to 10 p.m. in the Coppertop as part of the Gosling’s Dark and Stormy bash.

Moto hit its groove when it picked up keyboard player and bassist Guy Wallis and sax player, singer and ukulele plucker Lyn Ryan McKenna, two members of popular Jimmy Buffett tribute Changes in Latitude. McKenna also plays accordion which gives Moto a chance to show the kinship between reggae and zydeco.

Bozzi says Moto can run through the standards set down by Marley, Gregory Isaacs, Steel Pulse and the like, but prefers to shake up the material.

“We’ll toss a Peter Gabriel song into the middle of a Bob Marley song,” Bozzi says. “And the sax makes us a little jazzy too.”

And one of Moto’s concert staples is a reworking of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” that Bozzi says has become a crowd favorite.

But You keeps an eye_ and ear_ on the details

“Roger is from Trinidad and he busts my ass all the time if I don’t play it the way he thinks it should be played,” says Bozzi, noting the “weird drum stuff” in reggae and soca. “We’ll be playing and he’ll make a motion with his hand for me to close the high end. He likes it tight.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Funky reggae party plus

Ok, so Wachusett Mountain has a night of Caribbean music on tap Thursday, but let’s not let the thermometer climb too high, shall we?

Moto is heading up from Connecticut to deliver its brand of reggae/soca and groove rock to a Gosling’s rum event starting at 8 p.m. I’ll have more on Moto tomorrow.

On Friday, blues favorite Chris Fitz returns to the mountain. Guitar whiz Fitz plays a lot of the outdoor shows at the mountain, so it’s nice to see him doing a couple of shows this season in the ’Top too.
Josh Briggs of Five on Friday

The Evan Goodrow Band is about as funky and soulful as a trio can get, and you’ll be able to hear for yourself when it plays Saturday at the Coppertop. Check back this week for an interview with Goodrow. The Friday and Saturday shows start at 8.

Five on Friday returns for a Sunday matinee show kicking off at 4.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Drive" time Saturday night

McAlister Drive's Christoph Krey

 McAlister Drive, you could say, was heading down the wrong road for a while. The band formed in 2006, but it wasn’t until working on 2010’s “Missing Figures” that it found a way to house pop songs in a more rustic sound that simply rang truer to singer and front man Christoph Krey.

When Krey teamed with fiddle player Scarlet Deering and banjo player Grace Van’t Hof, it changed McAlister Drive’s direction.

“The instrumentation brought out a different vibe. It complemented my lyrical style and it brought my voice into a better realm,” Krey says.

Now all eight members of McAlister Drive_ oh there are drums, keys, and bass alongside fiddle and banjo_ can’t fit into the Coppertop for the band’s show there Saturday. But Krey assures even stripped down_ which McAlister Drive often does for radio appearances and other intimate shows_ the essence of the band comes through. The music starts at 8 p.m.

“It’s pop-rock with Americana. It lets me bring in more alt-country and folk influences into the songwriting, which I like,” Krey says.

Krey thought “Missing Figures” would be the first small step toward maturing the group's sound. But the E.P. generated a lot of interest in the band, which plays throughout the Northeast and builds tours around festival appearances.

“People wanted to hear more, and we didn’t want to give them our first album, it just isn’t representative of what we sound like now,” Krey says.

So the original plan to work slowly and craft a series of four E.P.s got tossed and the band settled into Q Division studio in Somerville and made the full-length “The Goddess” album.

Krey’s pop sensibilities_ big hooks, dramatic sweep_ come through in songs ranging from the rambunctious “Best Dressed” to the driven “Ocean Skip Away.” But the twang and pluck give the songs an enduring texture.

“It’s been a maturing process,” Krey says. “The band went through puberty finally.”

“The Goddess” paved the way for McAlister Drive to earn an invite to the prestigious Folk Alliance conference happening this year in Toronto. After that the band will tour the South and head to the South By Southwest music conference in Austin.

There are also a bunch of shows booked around Boston and New York City.

But Krey enjoys playing at Wachusett, saying his loyalty is rooted in the days spent skiing the Wah as a kid.

“I like that room,” Krey says of the Coppertop. “It’s got a nice grassroots feel to it and people check out the music. It’s not like playing at a ski resort where the people are just out to get a drink.”

Name your tune

Hoodoo Revelator

On the mountain it comes down to whether you want to ski or ride. In the Coppertop, it can get more complicated.

Feel like folk-rock? Blues? Americana? Country? All of the above?

It’s that kind of run in the ’Top, starting Thursday night with Fern & Rita, veterans of the North County club and singer/songwriter circuit. The duo returns tonight at 8 p.m.

Hoodoo Revelator plays in the Coppertop Friday, bringing a brand of blues that stretches from Muddy Waters to Rolling Stones. The band does a great job shifting gears from gritty to funky to soulful without losing focus. To get a handle on what these guys are all about download or stream their free live E.P. from the band’s Web site,

Christoph Krey and a few of his McAlister Drive cohorts pull into the Coppertop on Saturday, and this troupe is about to break, if you ask me. The band’s new album is a fresh twist of pop and roots music that’s already earned McAlister Drive some coveted dates at the South By Southwest and Folk Alliance music conferences and festivals. Check back tomorrow for a more complete update and interview with Krey.

The Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m.
Joe Macey

Joe Macey played 217 shows in 2012. His stop into the Coppertop Sunday at 4 p.m. won’t even be his first of 2013; it’ll be his fourth. This is one hard-touring troubadour. Macey is a country artist, and one of the region’s few to go it mostly solo. But with a batch of polished originals and an ear tuned into what’s bubbling up on country radio, all Joe needs is his guitar to get the job done, like he has been doing since the ’80s.