Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Middle Sudbury after Early Summer Rain

On Sunday the 26th met up with a friend at Little Farms Road in Framingham and headed down the swollen Sudbury.  Another friend couldn't go but offered to pick us up and so we had a chance to do the many miles downstream to Lincoln.

This is a beautiful part of the Concord River system and we were very lucky to get the benefit of the flood after a few days of rain.  It would have been possible to navigate back upstream to Little Farms against the current but tough, especially skirting the newly fallen trees that were almost blocking the river and made us keep our eyes open.  After a few miles, in Wayland, the river widens significantly (though it doesn't get very wide), and the current slows and the vistas open up.  It was a partly cloudy day and we kept conjecturing about which towering bank of clouds would turn into a thunderhead ... we actually heard thunder at several points ... but we stayed dry and had the benefit of spotty sun.

We heard plenty of birds all the way downstream, but they stayed hidden while the trees were thick.  When we became but specks in the fresh water marsh, the red-wing blackbirds were all around us and the swifts started buzzing us with a frightening insouciance.  We finally saw a hawk or two, though at other times in that part of the river I've seen 6 or more at one time.  We spotted no river mammals, but assumed they were very busy under the water.  The level was way high all the way down, and we finally floated under the route 117 bridge and headed for the take-out just North of it, where our friend met us right on time.

Another wonderful day on the river.  Passed about 5 parties in that whole 3.5-hour stretch (not counting bass fisherman, who I suspect come from a different universe) and we all agreed that not being outside on a day like that was criminal!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dave Alvin and Los Straitjackets at Johnny D's

On Wednesday night we crowded into a *packed* Johnny D's for an incredible, ear-toasting musical experience.  We were really psyched about this show and bought tickets as soon as we found out about it; Johnny D's offered a few of their tables with a prix fixe dinner and we snapped that up.  As it turned out we were seated at the very front table, about 5 feet from the bass drum being hammered by Teen Spirit of Los Straitjackets and in danger of being whacked by Eddie's guitar neck when he started with the moves.

Los Straitjackets came out in their Mexican wrestling masks, tortured Spanglish, and matching outfits (that would not have looked out of place on car mechanics).  Their set of power surf-rock started out at a deafening volume level and got louder.  They did some of their patented moves on Casbah, and treated us to some incredibly lyrical guitar fantasies and a medley of Dirty Water, Moon River, The Girl From Ipanema, and lots of other songs.  After a long, raging, and exhilarating set they closed with ... what else ... Batman!  A good time was had by all who were paying attention as the crowd pushed in in waves.

Then their stuff was cleared off and we all settled in for the main act.  Dave Alvin brought a four-piece band with him on guitar, Lisa Pankratz on drums, Brad Fordham on bass, and Chris Miller on rhythm. I know you're probably getting tired of my superlatives, but this was one of the most incredible, enjoyable, rocking shows I've ever seen.  Dave ripped the place up with a gleeful grin ... his guitar was blazing and every time he touched the strings it screamed with the blues.

The background buzz from his amp itself was louder than some of the folk guitarists I've seen, and Dave has a great, teasing way of singing a sly bass lyric and then striking with a steely run that leaves your ears bleeding and your soul begging for more.  And sitting in the front row was the best.  I had only to tilt my head a little and there was Lisa playing drums like you rarely see, with a carnation in her hair and a stoic physiognomy, set like keeping up with (and bettering) Dave was the most important thing on earth.  Tilt my head a little more and there was Brad playing one of his two basses and hitting that bottom faster and louder than you could think (he sang some killer harmonies too I'll bet but we couldn't hear him in the front row due to an oddity of miking).  And off to the right was Chris Miller, doing his best Dicky Betts to Duane Allman, Bob Weir to Jerry Garcia, Mick Taylor to Keith Richard, etc.

They *opened* with 4th of July and then did Harlan County Line and then just blasted through songs from the new album like Johnny Ace Is Dead, new ones like Boss of the Blues (that had everybody raving), Out of Control, and classics like King of California, Dry River, Marie Marie(!), and Abilene (a long, beautiful jam on this one).  They laid back for steaming ballads like Black Rose of Texas (I hadn't known it was written for Amy Farris) and Run Conejo Run (written for Chris Gaffney), then topped off the night with Ashgrove, and then a three-song encore of Dry River, Blue Wing(!!!), and Long White Cadillac(!!!!).  With a few bars left in the song Dave jumped stage and ran for his dressing room like the blues God he is.  What a show!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Night Herons on Mystic

Went for a quick kayak last weekend, on the 19th, putting in between the two lakes and then cruising down the Mystic River.  Got to where the river starts to widen out past the Riverside Yacht Club and then turned around.  The amazing thing was the number of Black-crowned Night Herons where I've never seen them before.  They were really thick, about one every 50 feet all along both banks.  One guy who was watching them told me that they only show up along the Mystic in June.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rodney at Bull Run

Sarah and I heard Rodney Crowell's first record (Ain't Living Long Like This) soon after it came out in 1978.  It arrived at my ears at just the right time for my transition from rock/blues to country/blues and I still consider it one of the best records I've ever heard.  Incongruously, we'd never seen Rodney play, except for perhaps with Emmylou's band.  So we were very eager to hear him at the Bull Run, even when we learned that it would be an "intimate one-man show" where he would sing and read excerpts from his recent memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks.

Well it was a fantastic show and he is an incredible talent in that Texas/Southern singer-songwriter vein that's so valuable in our national character.  He opened with a song we'd never heard before that would have made me perk up my ears wherever I heard it ... incredibly lyrical and passionate at the same time, about stealing a diamond for Janet and what it meant to him.  Then he knocked us over with a Lightning Hopkins cover (Come Back Baby) and then launched right into 'Til I Gain Control Again, one of his classics.

Rodney took a break to talk some and make himself and all of us comfortable with each other.  Then he read us a wonderfully descriptive-of-people passage from his book, in which his mother got the devil driven out of her and he had to deal with it.  Then he got right back up and thrilled us all with a low-down bluesy rendition of the afore-mentioned Ain't Living Long Like This, did some of his later songs (Beautiful Despair) and earlier songs (Ashes By Now), read a couple of more passages, and made the time go by like a soft, humid day.  There was such a beautiful, slow pace to his show and it made me reflect that what I've always valued in him is not just his way of writing an excellent lyric, but his way of presenting it conversationally and then musically.

Rodney's closing number was Pancho and Lefty and he was so sympatico with the audience by then that when the chorus came around he just stepped back from the mike and nodded at us and we all filled the hall, right on time (and mostly on key), with Van Zandt's perfect words.  Sarah and I were exhausted from the Bruins' Stanley Cup victory the night before but wouldn't have missed that concert for the world.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Boston Folk Festival 2011

... though they persist in calling it the WUMB Music Festival.

Sarah, Dave, and I showed up a little past noon and scurried up to the Coffeehouse Stage to catch the Squeezebox Stompers in progress.  Rockin' Ralph and friends took us through a laidback Cajun/rocking set that was a nice way to start off the festival.

We got out of there as soon as they were done for the long walk down to the Field Stage, where we saw Buskin & Batteau's last song (Guinevere, which was kind of long and overwrought but so is everything B&B do, so it was ok) and half of David Mallett's set.  His voice is so inviting and warm and he and his long-time bass player ran through some of David's  newer stuff while we were there.  Then we careened back upstairs to catch the second half of James Keelaghan's set.  He and Mallett were scheduled in the same slot and we wanted to see both.  Keelaghan has that beautiful, in-command baritone voice and had a funky accompanist who filled in some bass runs and a little lead on his bouzouki.

Keelaghan's set ended and we moved way down to the front (they actually had the front two rows "reserved for patrons" who never showed up) for Amy Black.  She brought the full band as well as her sister and just knocked us all dead, as we knew she would, with songs from One Time plus a couple of covers.  She "finished" with Meet Me On the Dance Floor but then ignored Dave Palmatier's insistence that her time was up and let loose with her cover of Love Me Like a Man.  This was worth the price of admission.

Our plan was to go back to the Field Stage immediately after Amy's set to see Red Horse but as much as we wanted to see that remarkably talented Kaplansky/Gorka/Gilkyson trio we hated the thought of missing Pesky J. Nixon, whom we had never seen before.  Since Amy ran late we thought Nixon would be just about starting and so dashed back up to the Coffeehouse Stage in time to catch Greg Greenway's last couple of songs (B&B and their conga player were accompanying) ... which was great.  He's so serious I don't know if I could have taken him for a whole set but a little bit was fun.

Pesky J. Nixon came on (with their monkey, Newman) and were a delightful treat.  We only stayed for three songs but they included Will You Miss Me and This Thing in Atlanta and seeing them was the hidden gem of the festival for us.  They all have wonderful voices, their mix is so professional, and they have some remarkable songs.  We would have loved to stay but on the other hand would have felt like fools if we missed Red Horse, and so tore ourselves away and grabbed seats at the PACKED Field Stage in time to see the last song and a half: Kaplansky sang lead on Wayfaring Stranger while Gorka and Gilkyson contributed harmony and Duke Levine played lead guitar.  Talk about star power!

Next up was Lennie Gallant from PEI (though currently residing in Nova Scotia) and he played a great set of originals with a funky violinist and a Bruins fan on Chapman Stick.  I toured around and got some curry and some CDs during his set, and then the final act came on: Susan Werner.

Werner has done some music in her career that hasn't been to my taste, but has some real tools and has delved into many musical styles.  I love her latest songs and she played a great set with plenty of help from the also-extremely-talented Trina Hamlin (who played percussion and harmonica at the same time) and Natalia Zuckerman ... they needed a bass player and so Zuckerman picked it up and played it like it was her primary instrument.  Werner soloed on piano on her incredible recent song Manhattan Kansas and also did My Different Son, both of which are the type of soul baring, lyrical pieces that will stop your heart.  She closed with A Long Time Between Trains and had the crowd eating out of her hand.

All in all a beautiful (though chilly for June) day and a fun time.  I wish they could get their act together to bring in more marquee talent, but we could not complain at all about what we'd just seen and heard.