Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cook and Rowan at Johnny Ds

On Tuesday, 11/16 we saw a somewhat odd pairing of Elizabeth Cook opening for Peter Rowan at Johnny Ds. Elizabeth brought her husband Tim Carroll along to play guitar of course, and I didn't catch the name of the guy on double bass. They were the opening act and so did all their hits pretty quickly, but the full crowd didn't want to let them leave. The only good part to their set being over was that that meant that Peter Rowan came on, with his current bluegrass band of the staggeringly good Jodi Stecher on mandolin, Keith Little on banjo, and Paul Knight on bass. They did a bunch of numbers from the new album (Legacy) and of course the stuff people expect, like Panama Red, Midnight Moonlight, and Land of the Navajo. Peter seemed to be saving his voice a bit ... but cutting back a bit for him is still miles beyond what most vocalists can do. It was one of those concerts where at several points my mouth just dropped open from astonishment at what I was hearing. Incredible musicianship, incredible lead singing and harmonizing, and a fount of incredible songs. It does *not* get better than seeing Peter Rowan from a table in front of the stage with some tasty brews.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Downstream in the Sunny Late Fall

Went for a possibly final Fall kayak on the Concord on 11/13, putting in at the 225 crossing and heading downstream to route 3 and back. A good number of people were hanging out on the bank and/or fishing, as it was a beautiful warm day.

Heading downstream there was a guy in a bass boat who was doing a remarkable job of blocking the river, though it gets very wide at that point. First he casted this way and so I steered that way and then he casted that way so I steered this way. Finally I decided he was going to be annoyed at me no matter how nice I tried to be so I just kept going, which of course made him stop and glare. Just then I noticed that the beavers in the lodge on the bank near him (or the flood current??) had brought down a sizeable tree with what looked like very tasty branches.

  • I asked him, "Do you think the beavers did that?"
  • "Huh?"
  • "That's a beaver lodge; do you think they cut down that tree?"
  • "They'll do that."

He was now even more annoyed at me for wasting his time with idle chit-chat about rodents, and I don't think he was smart enough to realize that I realized it.

Right after the route 4 bridge there were two young guys in hoodies just enjoying themselves on the bank. One of them waved manically at me and the other one grinned. I went down to route 3 ... just enjoying myself ... and then turned around and came back. Just before route 4 one of them waved manically at me and the other guy grinned, so I engaged them in a bit of conversation:

  • "What's up guys?"
  • [shrugs from both]
  • "Nice day."
  • "Yaya!"

Upstream from route 4 the real show started. The sun was shining bright and low in the Fall sky off my starboard bow and the oak and maple trees on the bank to my left were bare, as I paddled along rapidly about 35 feet from the shore. There was absolutely no wind and the black water was a mirror. The trees looked monochromatic above the bank against the blue sky, but their reflection in the water revealed streaks of green and brown in that tableau. The blue sky combined with the black of the water to provide a bright, almost glowing background. The reflection also contained the waxing quarter moon, riding behind the trees in the dark water like some fantaisical Halloween image, speeding along like it was going somewhere and the trees and I were standing still.

Mary Black at Berklee

Went to see Mary Black at the Berklee Performance Center on November 13th, 2010. Her daughter, Roisin O opened. The sound seemed over-mixed to me and there was little of the flashy playing or passionate performance I'm used to seeing at a smaller concert ... this was a different kettle of fish. But a good one! Mary sang Song For Ireland in the middle of her set with minimal accompaniment and that was all I needed to hear. Great stuff from a very accomplished musician.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NERAX North 2010

Sarah took the train to Haverhill and I took #@%&ing 495 on Friday, November 12th, and we met at The Tap for a quick wrap (turkey for me, chicken salad for Sarah), and then headed across the deck to NERAX North. Beers we sampled are listed below with our unvarnished notes (actually, the level of varnish varied greatly ... we had to try all these beers and keeping our objective mien was sometimes a challenge, to put it frankly, especially as the night drew on). These may be listed in the order we sampled them:
  • Baroque Ale from Breconshire Brewery (Brecon, Wales) - smooth, little hop aroma or taste except in the aftertaste
  • Dark Horse Stout from Elmtree Brewery (Snetterton, England) - light chocolate, black patent aftertaste
  • Christmas Bock from Mahr's Brewery (Germany) - very tingly, sugar sweet, light hoppy aroma
  • Cwrw Madog from Purple Moose Brewery (Porthmadog, Wales) - grainy taste, very light floral and sweet aroma, nice hop taste
  • "Fresh Hopped Beer" from Grain Brewery (Waveney Valley, England) - faint earthy aroma, thick bitterness, pleasant session beer with no aftertaste, hops on the top of the palate
  • County Ale from Breconshire Brewery (Brecon, Wales) - rubbery aroma (Simcoe hops?), hard water mouthfeel, crisp taste on the palate, gentle malt notes
  • On the Huh from Beeston Brewery (Norfolk, England) - light caramel, fresh aroma, crystal malt thickness, bitter aftertaste
  • Tradewinds from Cairngorm Brewery (Aviemore, Scotland) - acidic hop aroma which carries through to the taste, slight heather notes, beautiful amber color
  • Harvest Pale Ale from Castle Rock Brewery (Nottingham, England) - wonderful creamy aroma, high on the nose hop taste, creamy mouthfeel, blonde velvety taste, great balance
  • Hollyrood from Stewart Brewery (Edinburgh, Scotland) - mysterious aroma (what is that?), great balance!, lasting bitterness on the tongue and sweetnees on the palate in the aftertaste
  • Big A IPA from Smuttynose Brewing Company (Portsmouth, N.H.) - nothing subtle about this, like jazz on a banjo (just 'cause you *can* do it doesn't mean you *should*), incredibly aggressive hop aroma and taste, but still it didn't disguise the alcohol, this was the only beer I almost poured out
  • Black Gold from Castle Rock Brewery (Nottingham, England) - distinct hop aroma, almost caramel malt flavor, some tingle in the mouth, aftertaste is like a soda, like 7-Up
  • Preservation Fine Ale from Castle Rock Brewery (Nottingham, England) - great drinkability, some hops and some malt ... nothing to not like
  • Golden from Winter's Brewery (Keelan Close, England) - aggressive hop aroma, very light body, no malt, lasting tongue-feel
As you may notice, we concentrated on the UK beers. They had a great number of US beers, but we live here and will probably catch up with those sooner or later. The Tap's in a funky old block backing up on the Merrimack in Haverhill and the hall the event was in is a nice old space with lots of wood, high ceilings, and some haphazard lighting. All in all we had a great time and would whole-heartedly recommend it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Richard Shindell at Passim

Got one of the front tables at Club Passim for a Thursday night show with Richard Shindell on Veteran's Day 2010. As with most concerts we've been to there, we met some people who were middle-aged and reasonable but were fanatics of the artist we were about to see. Rose Cousins opened with some neat songs with unexpected stops and starts. Then Richard came on, looking a bit unshaven in a flannel shirt like a good folk-singer, accompanied by his long-time bassist, Lincoln Schleifer and new guitarist Marc Shulman.

Shindell left the guitar heroics to Shulman (he rubbed the strings with his palm and blew on them to make another strange sound) and concentrated on the vocals, to great effect. They opened with three new songs and then covered all the chestnuts, including: Fishing, Northbound 35, Arrowhead, Are You Happy Now?, There Goes Mavis, You Stay Here, Transit, Reunion Hill, and perhaps others I forget. This seems like a conservative formula and perhaps they were trying to pace themselves on the first of a two-night gig. But jeez, what powerful, wonderful, lyric songs he's written! The imagery of Reunion Hill, the wit and faith expressed by Transit, and the life lessons embodied in Arrowhead shone through, even if you've heard the songs a million times. To see Shindell himself preaching them to you in his mellow way is something not to be missed.

The band encored with a Dylan song and then wrapped up an early "school night."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Norby and Daggett's Home

On November 7th I threw the kayak on the roof for a mid-Fall paddle on the Ipswich River, and on the way there began to worry that I wasn't wearing my orange hat, prompted by the many signs of hunting season in full swing. On the river though, I heard no shots though I saw plenty of signs advising hunters, posted where neighboring farms stretched close to the river.

The water level was above normal and the water was pretty cold when I waded in it for a bit while I set off. My feet have probably never been colder for an extended period then they were that afternoon. But the environs were beautiful and, after leaving the road and Bradley Palmer State Park behind I didn't see any people for hours. I didn't see any beavers either but what I did see was a wealth of signs that they'd been busy as ... well you know. This must be Norby and Daggett's home.

I took a few videos but they don't get the point across about the massive impact on the environment that these animals make. There were large trees that were totally girdled of bark (when not felled) by beaver teeth, huge lodges all over the place, and the most impressive thing was that, though the river was high, they had dammed it in two places. And by this I don't mean small attempts at damming a small stream: these were very successful dams that I couldn't get by and that raised the upstream water level by a half foot or more. I portaged around the first one and when I came downstream I was able to get by where the water had forced a sluiceway through the neighboring weeds. But the second dam was just incredibly well constructed totally across the river and there was no way I could have gotten around it without getting out of the kayak, getting very wet, and perhaps not succeeding anyway. So I turned around and rode the current back to the put-in.

Here's a video:

three concerts

We were lucky enough lately to go see three excellent music shows. Here's a bit of a recap.

11/3/10 - Hot Rize at National Heritage Museum in Lexington (Boston Bluegrass Union show)
  • I routinely describe Hot Rize as the best bluegrass band that's ever existed and I saw nothing Wednesday night to make me change my mind. They played an assortment of their fantastic songs and mixed in a few "new" ones (new to them at least) like Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and "Sinner" from Tim's new album.
  • Brian Sutton has taken up Charles Sawtelle's lead guitar part and did a really fantastic job: no singing but some awesome leads and tasteful fill in the Hot Rize tradition.
  • Speaking of vocals, Tim, Nick, and Pete sounded as good as ever, especially on chestnuts like "Colleen Malone" and "Won't You Come and Sing With Me." To me, their vocals was what sent me back to the days of yore and was the highlight of the show.
  • But the real surprise of the show was when Hot Rize left the stage and some other act that wasn't on the bill came out and ripped it up with some good ol' Western tunes. Their steel player was quite a card, their guitarist was flashy like you wouldn't believe, and their repertoire was impeccable ... they even did a medley of 60s hits (in a better key). The sexiest guy there was their young bass player, "Suede," who almost spoke a few times.
11/05/10 - Carrie Rodriguez and Jim Lauderdale at the Me and Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead
  • It's a %^*@ of a long drive to Marblehead, but I met Sarah at a great bar in Salem (Gulu-Gulu Cafe) and we had some time to get in the right mood before the show. We got there just as they opened the doors and grabbed a seat in the front row ... which isn't a huge victory for that coffeehouse (it's a small room) but counted aesthetically.
  • Jim Lauderdale went on first and is a sincere, authentic, nice country singer with no ego, a great sense of humor, and a veteran's stage presence. If you've never seen him, run don't walk.
  • Carrie came on next with her accompanist, Hans Holzen (who Sarah says is at least as pretty as Carrie is) and they did a flawless set. Two of my favorites were "50s French Movie" and "La Puñalada Trapera," which was much better live than on record.
  • Sarah took some great videos of Carrie singing Waterbound and the two duetting on a Louvin Bros song for an encore.
11/06/10 - Eilen Jewell Band at Johnny Ds in Somerville
  • We weren't going to go to this, but at the last minute said "why not?" and got standing room tickets.
  • Boy, was that place crowded. It sold out soon after we got there (though there was still an hour until the show), and you had to stake out a place if you wanted to get a good view of the stage.
  • I had heard that they were going to start the show with a set of their Loretta Lynn material, but they bagged that (they just returned from a European tour and were probably sick of the routine) and only mixed in a few Lynn songs, like "Fist City" and "You Wanna Give Me a Lift" with their classic numbers like "Rain Roll In" and "High Shelf Booze."
  • Of course they did "Shaking All Over" and there was some dancing going on during that.