Saturday, February 2, 2019

Remembering Dennis

      The last of the sober cowboy poets has left the building, and things won't be the same around here.  Dennis's stories, (and boy he had some stories) were colorful, poignant, and sometimes true.  He'd be the first to tell you, with a central casting Irish twinkle in his eye "never let the truth get in the way of a good story."  Yes, he had the Irish storyteller's gift for a bit o' the blarney, yet he was probably one of the most honest of our members when it mattered.  And I don't think anyone's attention ever drifted when Dennis was holding court in a meeting, because he had so much to say, and always said it in the language of the heart.  Dennis inhabited a world of jakey bums, tickle bullets and cash register honesty, and his stories were laced with these colorful gems.  A favorite of mine was the one about rolling off a freight train and careening down the stairs of the old Centerville where his sober journey miraculously got its start.  Long before he passed on, whenever I heard a train whistle, I would think of him and smile.  Dennis's gratitude for the sober life was obvious, and yet he was stubborn in his concern that the program might change his personality.  As far as I can see it didn't, except for the quiet generosity in his considerable commitment to helping other alcoholics.  I know he was a praying man, because so many of his sentences began with the invocation JESUS CHRIST!

I met Dennis at the nooner, when we were both brand new and a bit ambivalent about sticking around.  We did, and gradually got comfortable with the terms of our surrender, which in the long run turned out to be the best deal in town.  Dennis met Annie in a hail of tickle bullets, and a great love story ensued.  I treasure having known the two of them, constant reminders of the simplicity of the program, just show up, don't drink, go to meetings.  So when you hear that train whistle, think of Dennis, he was one of the great ones. 

Richard Mayer

January 2019                             

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Fab Faux: Repertory Rock and Roll

Despite the growing popularity of so called tribute bands, in some circles the mere mention of them sometimes elicits groans and shudders of revulsion.  Among fellow musicians especially, contempt prior to investigation is the rule.  This is partly because tribute bands are increasingly dominant in the marketplace, sometimes edging out acts that play original music.  I have experienced more Beatles tribute bands than most, partly because of a love of the music, but also because of a musician grandson who also really digs the Beatles and Ringo Starr in particular.  From what I have experienced, Beatles tributes typically strive for the look of the real Beatles, which sometimes involves ill-fitting Pepper costumes, wigs, and vain attempts at cheeky Liverpudlian accents, and perhaps a modicum of workmanlike bar band competence with the repertoire.  As an exercise in nostalgia, it might be fun the first time, but after a while acts of this ilk often strike me as "phoned in" and maybe even cynical.  Not so with New York City's Fab Faux, whom I would call the world's only Beatles repertory group, with a mission akin to Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Mingus Dynasty, or even sometime Jazz at Lincoln Center.  What these outfits all have in common is that they provide access to vital important music that is no longer available in a live context.  This is not so different from the many fine European Classical orchestras who would probably be horrified if they were to be referred to as a Handel or Bach tribute.  I think of the FF as a repertory group because of their ability to put across a loving, respectful performance of the greatest repertoire in all of Rock and Roll history.  what's more it's the entire repertoire of Beatles music, including works that the Beatles couldn't and didn't perform live.  To hear a Fab Faux concert is to hear high caliber versions of the Beatles book, with all the live energy and presence intact, and without the hype and costumes.  It's clear that they love the music and that they have researched it with an archaeological intensity.  It is beyond note for note, and with a quintet of multi-instrumentalists, and access to the now digital electronic innovations of Abbey Road in place, the Beatles canon is in capable hands.  I have experienced the Fabs in concert many times now, and I believe they are providing an essential service in making available the best live Beatles experience anywhere.

Richard Mayer


Friday, September 15, 2017

Theater Review: Heartbreak Hotel

While on vacation in Maine this Fall, I was privileged to see the world premiere of Heartbreak Hotel at the Ogunquit Playhouse.  This latest offering is from the pen of the prolific Floyd Mutrux whose previous works, Million Dollar Quartet and Baby It's You have enjoyed much success in recent years.  I saw Million Dollar Quartet last year, and while it was a worthwhile experience overall, HH is the stronger and more compelling story, with a superior cast, at least in the Ogunquit production I attended.  HH is the story of the young Elvis Presley, from his discovery at Sun Records in Memphis by Sam Phillips to the sale of his contract to RCA a few short years later.  Portrayed by the captivating Eddie Clendening supported by a cast of solid musicians deftly paying respect to the music of Rock and Roll's dawning days, the Elvis character was lovingly played both as a believable character and a musician with a gift for the world.  Clendening nailed the subtleties of the shy, awkward kid that first walked into Sun to make a record for his mother.  In a world of hyped, cliched,  and overstated impersonation, and the callous treatment of the tragedy that his life ultimately became, Clendening's respectful rendering of Rock and Roll's number one icon was refreshingly poignant.  This, in short, is the Elvis I wish to remember.  Musically, you couldn't do any better than this extraordinary cast serving up not only Presley's music, but the African American canon of  music that influenced and shaped him.  As is the case with many musicals in the Rock and Roll genre, the music itself is the real story, with trite dialogue serving as filler between the great and memorable repertoire we all came to hear one more time.  HH is a story that deserves to be told with reverence and relevance, which is what happened here.  Along with Million Dollar Quartet, Baby It's You, and Heartbreak Hotel, director Mutrux is also the author of the American Pop Anthology whose history informs his writing of Rock and Roll plays.  His success and competence with these musical vehicles has earned him a Broadway run of MDQ with Clendening in the lead role, so it seems likely that HH is Broadway bound as well.

Richard Mayer

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Friday, December 9, 2016

Performance Schedule

1-6-20 American Pop Duo @  Westwood, Keene, NH

1-9-20 American Pop Duo @ The Arbors, Greenfield, Ma

1-10-20 American Pop Duo @ Thompson House, Brattleboro

1-14-20 American Pop Duo @ Elm Wood, Claremont, NH

1-15-20 American Pop Duo @ Springfield Day Service

1-15-20 American Pop Duo @ Pine Hts, Brattleboro

1-22-20 Classic Country Duo @ Howe Village, Spencer, Ma

1-27-20 American Pop Duo @ Keene Ctr

2-12-20 American Pop @ Louis Barrett Apts, Lynn,

2-12-20 American Pop @ Apple Village, Beverly

2-14-20 American Pop Duo @  Bradley House, Brattleboro

2-18-20 American Pop @ Coolidge Apts, Sudbury, Ma

2-19-20 American Pop Duo @ Springfield Day Service

2-19-20 American Pop Duo @ Pine Hts, Brattleboro

2-21-20 UU Jazz Jam, Amherst Mass

2-24-20 American Pop Duo @ Keene Ctr

2-26-20 American Pop Duo @ Springfield Health

2-26-20 American Pop @ Mission Towers, Haverhill

2-28-20 Thompson House

3-6-20 UU Jazz Jam, Amherst, Ma

3-10-20 American Pop Duo @ Elm Wood, Claremont

3-11-20 American Pop Duo @ Springfield Day Program

9-24-20 American Pop Duo @ Westwood, Keene, NH

10-10-20 Seth Yacovone in East Dover, Vt

10-20 American Pop @ Orchard View, 

10-23-20 American Pop @ Michaels House, Northampton, Ma

12-18-20 American Pop @ Michaels House, Northampton

Thursday, April 24, 2014

CD Review: Joinery (802 Records 2014)

Joinery Personnel:  
Chuck Davison-lead acoustic guitar and mandolin and backing vocals
John Pozzi-lead vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar
Andy Foster-lap steel guitar and backing vocals
Colin Blazej-upright bass and backing vocals

Guest Musicians:
Vocals-Laura Molinelli, Lizzie Ross, Ruby DeFelice, Rebecca Way, Nora, Will, and Liz Mc Teigue, Donnie Davison, Jennings Berger, Mary Merill, Erin Carroll, Suzanne Jackson, Terry Davison.
Hammond B3 Organ-Felix McTeigue, Drums and Percussion-Tony Leone, Drew Guido, Bones-Tommy "Bones" Logan, Djembe-Perry Ryan, Cello-Eugene Friesen.

Producer-Felix McTeigue
Sound Engineer/Mixer-DrewGuido
Photos-Karen Knight, Gene Peroni
Recorded and mixed at- Vel Studios, Brooklyn, NY and Chuck's cabin, Londonderry, Vt
Mastered by Tom Hutton-Chester, Vt

 This review evolved out of a chance meeting with Colin Blazej one recent evening at The Works in Downtown Brattleboro.  I'd known the Joinery bassist since the early 80's, but we would only run into each other about every decade or so.  At one of our earlier encounters, Colin told me he had been learning to play the bass.  At this recent meeting, he'd been at it for 14 years and was pleased to report that this band he's a part of had just finished their first CD.  Caught up in his enthusiasm about the project, I offered to give it a listen and review it.  One of the nice thing about Vermont musicians in general is that they tend not to be aggressively competitive, and big egos are the exception rather than the rule.  By and large, we support each other's efforts and celebrate each other's successes.

Joinery's debut is a collection six originals; four vocal tunes by John Pozzi, and a pair of instrumentals by Chuck Davison.  Pozzi writes and sings with his heart on his sleeve, with a pop inflected presence that draws the listener into his world.  Davison's instrumentals are varied and deliciously exploratory.  The repertoire is rounded out with an eclectic batch of tunes by other artists which I would hesitate to call "covers" by any stretch.  One of the obvious strengths of this collective of craftsmen is their ability to recognize a strongly lyrical piece of music and to boldly take it to where it's never been.  Sam Cooke's Good News is rendered in a style that is reminiscent of certain Southern White Gospel at it's joyous and rural best.  Pink Floyd's Time is stripped down and re-purposed in a Bluegrass bag that lets the vocal have the prominence it deserves without the Floyd's signature plodding denseness.  A high point for me, Billy Bragg's You Woke up My Neighborhood features a "cast of thousands" approach to the backing vocal chorus; I wish I'd been there, it sounds like a splendid time was had by all as Joinery brought a little bit of Vermont to Brooklyn. 

Richard Mayer

April 25, 2014