Northeast Underground Celebrates Eight Years with Top Eight Posts

To paraphrase Elton John, “This blog’s still standing!”

Northeast Underground is celebrating its eighth anniversary today, and what better way to mark the occasion than by sharing the top eight most viewed posts from the blog’s entire run. Read below to see what stories made the list.

Three for Crowds: Trio of Music Festivals Bringing Family Atmosphere to Western Mass

The most popular post in Northeast Underground history tackled a fortuitous summer in Western Mass, when three different music festivals hit the area separated only by a few weeks to share music and fun in the sun in equal measure. Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, Stephen Kellogg’s Family Barbecue, and the Green River Festival, each got recognized for promoting a “family friendly” vibe, and for providing unique environments for local crowds to soak up some tunes and rays without traveling far from home. “As we become a more wired, less connected society, these kinds of events are more important than ever,” said Jim Olsen of Signature Sounds Recording. Readers surely agreed as the traffic to Northeast Underground for this story has yet to be equaled.

Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold is Celestial Smash

Reviewing the latest album from one of the world’s most popular rock bands seems like a surefire recipe to conjure up some clicks. What a no brainer! It helps though if the record is, you know, good. And the Foo Fighters delivered with the stadium rocking crunch of Concrete and Gold. The release was filled with guest stars, but also marked the return for Dave Grohl and company to recording inside a commercial studio for the first time since 2002. Tunes were cranked up, stadiums sold out, and Northeast Underground readers were able get a rundown the very day the album hit store shelves. Sometimes it pays to peek one’s head above ground every once in a while. Just watch out for bludgeoning riffs.

The Green Sisters’ “Endless Blue” is Familial Gem

On the lighter side of the music spectrum, this post reviewing an independent release from a family band comprised of four sisters from Hubbardston, Mass., attempted to detail the joys of a homespun slice of country and bluegrass music put to tape. With musicianship aplenty and voices that could wow the most obnoxious of skeptics, the Green Sisters made a reviewer’s job quite easy on the ears. The post also marked another in a long list of reminders that talent is everywhere in the Bay State. Whether seaside, on a farm, or up in the hills, there are artists putting time in on work that only a few may hear, but that doesn’t mean it is any less worthy of being heard or shouted about from the rooftops.

My Porch or Yours? Montague Music Festival Marks Second Year

Another festival piece of sorts, this post spoke to readers about where they live – homes – and how such places could be turned into DIY music venues. The Good Music Makes Good Neighbors organization of Montague was holding its second annual festival comprised of “porchfest” like concerts in a small collection of homes around the town, featuring 12 local acts, and Northeast Underground got the scoop on the history of the event and its plans for the future. The Underground also explored the inspiration for the festival and the origins of porchfests themselves through interviews with Ithaca and Jamaica Plain organizers of similar events. “A community economy is made up of the personal exchanges, the sharing or gifting of music, the opening of living rooms and barns, and a chance to enjoy a diversity of artistic expression,” local musician Leo Hwang was quoted as saying. “The Montague Music Festival fosters the kind of world we would like to live in.”

LuxDeluxe Delivers with New Album “Let’s Do Lunch”

Another review highlighting one of the bright stars in the local music scene, this post focused on the boys of LuxDeluxe, who turned in another slab of classic rock inspired music that was a treat from start to finish. Band member Gabriel Bernini said, “It’s the music we grew up on and still listen to and it’s what we do best as a band.” The Underground agrees, and urges listeners to attempt to digest the album as a whole as well as in individual courses. Any way you slice it, Let’s Do Lunch will no doubt fill you up.

No Regrets – an interview with Joanna Bolme of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

Over the years, one of the great joys of the Northeast Underground has been the opportunity to interview many of the artists whose music has been review or discussed on the blog. One such interview was Joanna Bolme, multi-instrumentalist and bassist for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Of course, not every word from an interview usually ends up in a story, but sometimes it’s fun to give readers the raw cut. Off the cuff gems that normally wouldn’t see print crop up all the time, and sharing those details with fans can turn even the simplest of posts into stories folks will remember and click on again and again.

Album Superlatives 2015

The latest and currently last in this blog’s formerly annual tradition of compiling an end of year best of list, this post tried to put a superlative spin on album highlights from 2015. “Most Obvious Smash,” “Most Geared Toward Hardcore Fans,” and “Most Well-Received Comeback” – were just some of the honors bestowed upon a rogue’s gallery of records that warranted extra attention just a few short years ago. Previous Northeast Underground best of’s had been listed via the alphabet, with numbers, and even in no particular order, but this edition grabbed the most views.

Say Yes to Expanded Elliott Smith “Either/ Or” Reissue

Rounding out the top eight posts in Northeast Underground history, this review tackles a deluxe reissue of an album first released in 1997. Live tracks, demos, and even a remastered version of the record itself – all were treats to listen to, while critiquing what has changed after 20-plus years. Whether you were a reader that had never heard of Smith, or someone with his whole discography etched in your memory, you received a balanced breakdown of an album that remains an important part of the music landscape, underground or not.

That’s all for now. Will there be a top 10 on Northeast Underground’s 10th anniversary? Stay tuned.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

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BLAZE Soundtrack Paints Moving Tribute to Fallen Legend

Various Artists
BLAZE: Original Cast Recording
(Light in the Attic Records)
Release date: 9/21/18

Listening to the soundtrack of a film one has yet to see is a test for the ears. Free of images to pair with the music, the mind digests the sounds heard in as-is fashion. While such an experience can be just as fulfilling as playing a record linked to a well-watched favorite movie, the flip-side is akin to looking at an incomplete picture. The bones are there, but the rest of the canvas is waiting to be fleshed out.

For the soundtrack to the new biographical film “Blaze” directed by Ethan Hawke, the above description is pretty apt. Centered around the tumultuous life of deceased country singer and songwriter Blaze Foley, “Blaze” sounds like a movie that attempts to paint a picture of a character who defies easy description. The soundtrack to the film, featuring performances by the musician and actor portraying Foley, Ben Dickey, amongst others, is a fitting companion piece. What the project lacks in completeness, it makes up for with musical highlights.

Foremost among these highlights are Dickey sung covers of some of Foley’s best-known songs “Clay Pigeons” and “Picture Cards.” The former is a seemingly hopeful tune played on acoustic guitar in Foley’s signature loping finger-picking style. Over added sound effects that mimic chirping birds, Dickey sings of starting over again and going “down where people say y’all.” However, the song’s bright melody belies additional lines about hiding sorrow and changing the shape the singer is in. It’s an optimistic number shrouded in sadness, and given the tragic outcome of Foley’s short life the sentiment is liable to cut straight to a listener’s heart with repeated listens.

Perhaps even more aching in nature, “Picture Cards” is a love song sung from the edge of despair. Again featuring Dickey on vocals and finger-picked acoustic guitar, the track is accented by lonesome harmonica that trails over lyrics that talk of finding daylight in a lover’s eyes, but also of not trying to fall in love and trying instead to wash those feelings away. Still more heartbreaking is the addition of the sound of pool being played in the background of the song’s latter half, as if Dickey is performing the number in a lonely bar with apathetic patrons focused more on their billiard game than on the singer in the corner.

If the impression given so far is that the Blaze soundtrack consists of nothing but melancholy country tunes, then let the record also show that there are moments of levity too. Snippets of chatter like Dickey’s introductory “Okey-dokey smokey” that opens the album, or what appears to be director Hawke cheering at the conclusion of the song “Big Cheeseburgers and Good French Fries” give an added air of informality to the recording of the soundtrack as a whole, and promote jovial feelings of what the atmosphere may have been like on set. This observation goes double for the off –the-cuff sounding duet between Dickey and co-star Alia Shawkat on the cover of Roger Miller’s “Oo-De-Lally” best known from its appearance in Disney’s animated feature “Robin Hood.”

It is also worthwhile to note the album is not just a showcase for Dickey’s talents, though he shoulders the majority of the workload, even writing his own tribute to Foley and the singer’s former partner Sybil Rosen, entitled “Blaze and Sybil’s Lullaby.”  Musician Charlie Sexton, who appears in the film portraying another ill-fated singer and songwriter, Townes Van Zandt, gets in on the action too, contributing a cover of the Van Zandt song “Marie.” And Alynda Segarra of the band Hurray for Riff Raff, who plays Blaze’s Foley’s sister Marsha in the film, is tasked with bringing the soundtrack to a close with her sparse rendition of the Lucinda Williams’ penned tribute to Foley “Drunken Angel.”

The lyrics to Williams’ song provide a telling summation of Foley’s life and untimely death. “Sun came up it was another day / And the sun went down you were blown away,” the words go. “Why’d you let go of your guitar / Why’d you ever let it go that far.”

Those are good questions. Blaze Foley lived a life full of contradictions, so many in fact that even a film garnering as much early praise as “Blaze” probably has its hands full trying to accurately portray every angle of a man, who spent his time running away from tidy identification. The pieces of his story are there, like breadcrumbs ultimately crafting a phantom trail to some firm resolution, but legends are always more than the sum of their parts.

With BLAZE: Original Cast Recording both Foley and Ben Dickey have been cast as stars. Listeners who track down the album and see the film will gain a fuller picture of both men, but if the soundtrack is all one gets to experience just the songs will do. The best of the bunch rise above the level of simple stars. Their timelessness, like Foley’s own saga, will live on forever.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

The Green Sisters’ “Endless Blue” is Familial Gem

The Green Sisters
Endless Blue
(self-released)
Release date: 6/30/18

Call it a family affair. Given these turbulent times, this debut release from four singing multi-instrumentalist sisters from Hubbardston – Rebecca, Betsy, Brianna and Melody Green – is a welcome slice of sibling harmony and country living put to music.

Opening track “To Build My Dreams On” sets the amiable tone. Penned by Brie Green and featuring lines about the sun, land, water and fire, the tune forgoes instrumentation and rides along on the sisters’ shining voices alone, employing a group a capella delivery to charming effect and giving a preview of sounds to come.

Since the Green Sisters grew up singing together while doing chores on the family farm, their practiced vocal interplay is what steals the show on Endless Blue. No matter which sister takes the lead, the backing of the others accents the proceedings often achieving the effect of sounding like one voice.

The quartet picks up its instruments though for the album’s second number “Sailor’s Valentine.” Fiddle, guitar and mandolin, all appear to have their place in the mix and contribute to the song’s Celtic-tinged tale of a seaman and his love. Not content to stick with one traditional style, the sisters continue to merge multiple genres throughout the rest of the record’s run time.

For example, “Walkin’ After Midnight” is perhaps best known as a country classic popularized by Patsy Cline. But re-interpreted here by the Green Sisters, the tune takes on a more jazz-inflected style exemplified by its string-bass intro and the group’s inventive vocal arrangements.

Another merger occurs on the aptly-titled “Fiddle Medley.” For nearly six minutes, the sisters turn the track into an old-time and bluegrass instrumental showcase that picks up speed around the two-minute mark, while still allowing for a breakdown or two to spotlight the group’s string playing prowess.

Elsewhere, the Brie Green written “Here and Gone” emerges as one of the album’s latter half highlights. Filled with reflective lyrics focused on the passage of time, the song is one of the record’s most mature efforts aided by both its engaging melody and the sisters’ sighing harmonies.

Yet, it is the languid album closer “Oak Tree” that may best exemplify the Green Sisters’ roots as well as their ambitions. Revolving around a repeating guitar figure, the song starts as a story about finding peace and truth in the welcoming arms of a stately oak, however, more philosophical questions come to light as the tune progresses. Soon the narrator’s rising voice explores a higher register as listeners are transported along, higher into the tree’s branches, asking, “What am I doing up here?” and “Am I a bird or am I really a human?”

The answers aren’t as important as the act of asking. Still, the number as a whole is very telling. The Green Sisters are four individuals who take obvious solace in the charms of nature, but they aren’t afraid to push at their own boundaries, or the forms of music they choose to employ. Where their searching takes them next will be intriguing to see. There’s plenty of space to explore in the “endless blue.”

The Green Sisters perform Aug. 16, 8 p.m., Luthier’s Co-Op, 108 Cottage St., Easthampton, (413) 527-6627, http://www.luthiers-coop.com/

For more information on The Green Sisters please visit https://thegreensistersfour.com/.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Set Sail with Snackbeard

According to a passage in his novel “Redburn,” no less an authority on seafaring life than Herman Melville states, “It is a great thing in a sailor to know how to sing well.”

For, he explains, those at sea who are blessed with a talented voice may help raise the spirits of a lagging crew, and make even the most drudging of work feel less monotonous. Could, though, such a songster on a ship even lead one to buried treasure?

To test said hypothesis, enter into this swashbuckling tradition the figure of Snackbeard the pirate (aka former Valley Advocate writer and editor Tom Sturm), who embarks on such a quest on a self-titled children’s music album, which is available now.

Consisting of 10 tracks that merge a narrated tale of adventure on the high seas with songs that give life to such topics as getting a ship ready to sail, and what happens when someone is forced to walk the plank, the album is not short on storytelling moxy.

The record’s opening cut sets the scene with a backdrop of sounds that include water lapping against the shore and gulls soaring overhead. Snackbeard/ Sturm provides a fine voice for the proceedings, consisting of equal parts wizened sea scallywag and cryptic storyteller, who alludes to interactions with a “harebrained” scientist as well as informing listeners of his own intriguing backstory.

The music doesn’t start until track two, where the speedy “Ship Shape” blurs by like an old LP played at 78 rpm instead of the recommended 33 and 1/3. The sub-two minute blast also introduces a plethora of additional voices that paint a picture of a merry band of scoundrels running around decks trimming sails, tightening lines, and trying to obey the captain’s orders.

“Salmagundi,” the next track, features perhaps the album’s most appropriate subject matter – food. Described as consisting of “a bit of this and that,” the dish itself may be a mystery, but there’s no mistaking the tune’s Caribbean rhythm with acoustic guitar strummed over what sounds like distant steel drums.

Variety in instrumentation and overall story keep Snackbeard an engaging listen. As events progress from a treasure hunt to mutiny and even to an encounter with a dreaded kraken, the music changes too. Violin and guitar fade away as distorted riffs and tolling bells emerge like subterranean sea monsters crawling up from the ocean floor. Even the many voices in the mix evolve from upbeat pirates “yo ho hoing” to ghastly specters on a ghost ship cackling and chanting.

Listeners be warned. If your kiddo has already sat through all of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, then nary an eye will probably be batted at the ominous sounds that emanate from some of Snackbeard’s darker tracks. But, the tiniest of audience members may have a question or two for mom and dad regarding bilge rats, shanks, and just what happens down in Davy Jones’ Locker.

Parents may even enjoy Snackbeard as much as their children. The album is filled with references to pirate lore and history. So many details are included in fact that repeat listens are quite rewarding as opposed to the grating irritation that can come from hearing certain kid favorites ad nauseam. Sturm’s life as a writer shines through with a veritable treasure trove of a vocabulary sprinkled throughout, providing ample terms to research together, maybe even for a pirate-themed spelling bee or two.

Despite the record’s replay value, what Snackbeard begs for is a sequel. A bunch of adventure is crammed into 40 minutes, and many grateful parents will no doubt applaud the tales for not going on too long or overstaying their welcome, but by the time events conclude, sans treasure and the pillaging of even a single merchant ship, the ending of the story arrives sooner than expected.    

Will the Crimson Crest sail again? What too of the captain’s daughter? Has the kraken disappeared for good? Fans will just have to wait until Snackbeard takes to the waves again in search of gold and goodies to eat to find out the answers.

For more on Snackbeard please visit https://www.facebook.com/snackbeardthepirate/.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats “Tearing at the Seams” album review

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats “Tearing at the Seams” album review

 

Northeast Underground Scratches the Seven Year Itch

Seven is a tricky number. Lucky number seven, the seven deadly sins, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” – various attributes and symbols have been attached to this figure countless times. And no association with the number seven feels more applicable today than the “seven year itch.”

The so-called seven year itch is a term most often defined as a feeling of restlessness or increase in dissatisfaction that occurs during the seventh year of a marriage. Some divorce rates seem to bear this out, but many couples stay married past seven years, so evidence on this front remains inconclusive. Oh, and there was a movie called “The Seven Year Itch” that discussed this very topic. Yes, it was the film with Marilyn Monroe and the subway grate scene.

Now writing a blog is not the same as being wed to another person, but the passing of years does equate to a series of rises and falls in emotion no matter the endeavor. So what to make of the seventh anniversary of this blog’s launch on the Valley Advocate’s website? In last year’s anniversary post it was written that, “Benchmarks of five years or 10 feel more momentous than just another notch added to the belt during the intervening period.” That sentiment still holds true. Yet, there are stirrings, like the first spider-legged steps creeping up an arm or the small of one’s back.

A seven year itch is not a bad sensation. The natural tendency is to scratch. Since a new year has just started and (some) resolutions are still being kept, a seven year itch can be lumped in with the annual urge to start fresh. Some like to view January 1st as an impetus to try new things this time around. Why not now? 2018 is a clean slate, so too a seventh anniversary. To maintain interest and engagement, why not use a “seven year itch” as the catalyst to change, grow, adapt or mature? Scratch the itch, kick ideas around, and renew focus.

A seven year itch can bring strength. If a status quo has formed, break the wall down. Expand the view, question the situation. And if you’re not sick yet of this collection of cliché slogans, here’s another one – strive for a difference. Take inspiration from the notion that feeling restless at this point is not unusual. Use that reassurance as fuel.

Most importantly, a seven year itch is not final. Just like the desire to perform a household purge in which innumerable carloads of items get shipped off to Goodwill seems to well up on an annual (or seasonal) basis, so does the itch to shake up a longstanding commitment reoccur from time to time. Be emboldened by the opportunity, but don’t burn the house down.

In summation, here’s to 2018, more time spent underground (or snowed in), and reaffirmation. Plus, subway grates. Always watch out for subway grates.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos” Deluxe Edition album review

Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos” Deluxe Edition album review