9/27/01: Local musicians release new CDs
Local musicians CD roundup; Jonell Mosser
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., September 27, 2001) – Berkshire musicians have been busy recently in recording studios, and as a result new releases have been trickling in at a steadier pace than we’ve seen in a while. This week we take a look at some new recordings by local artists, some of them familiar names and a few of them fresh faces.
One of the freshest is Chris Collins, whose debut CD, “Naked” (CDFreedom.com), is a virtual catalog of contemporary pop styles, ranging from the political hard-rock of the title track to the Byrds-like folk-rock of “Hit the Road” to the white-funk of “Tripped Over You,” which features some Red Hot Chili Peppers-like rock-rap and slinky guest vocals by another Berkshire native, vocalist Kristen Gray. The album also touches down for some more mainstream, heartland rock on tunes like “Shine” and “Turning Pages,” and nods to the jam-band nation with “Get a Groove On” and neo-hippie rock with “Three Birds Dream.”
It’s hard to know how much credit to give multi-instrumentalist Adam Rothberg, a veteran and master of stylistic genre-hopping himself who co-produced the album with Collins, but the album sounds highly professional. There are plenty of upbeat tunes with catchy melodies that one could imagine hearing on commercial radio.
As with a lot of first efforts, Collins has yet to really define himself as an artist. What’s going on here is more a writer, musician, and singer showing off his natural assets and talents and less an artist distinguishing himself by making a unique, creative statement in terms of form or content.
Collins performs this Saturday at Palace Park in Pittsfield, as part of a benefit concert to raise money for the victims and families of those killed in the recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The concert, which begins at noon and which was originally slated to be a CD release party for Collins, will also include appearances by Commercial Faith and Bobby Sweet. Collins will be joined by several musicians who appeared with him on the album, including drummer Gordy Hebler, keyboardist David Vittone, and vocalist Kristen Gray, who has sung and recorded with artists such as Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics.
Collins isn’t the only Berkshire artist to respond quickly to the terror attacks with music. Singer-songwriter Joel Sturz had several topical, politically-oriented songs already in the can, and rather than wait to release them on his upcoming solo album, “Almost with the Fishes,” he has printed up copies of “Berkshire Broadside Ballads,” a CD which features three songs, “War Machine,” “Bonner, Idaho” and “O Columbine,” the proceeds of which will benefit disaster relief in New York and Washington.
Sturz has a long history of writing topical songs – he claims to have written his first song in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy back in 1963. “War Machine” is a solo acoustic, protest-folk tune in the tradition of writers like Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan – it even swipes a guitar lick from Dylan’s “It’s All Right, Ma.” Written months before the recent attacks on the U.S., the song indicts the current administration for warmongering. The song “O Columbine,” which has a bit of a ragtime feel to it, is written from the point of view of an alienated adolescent in an attempt to understand the mentality of teen-agers who shoot up their schoolyards.
Pittsfield singer-songwriter Bob Thistle recently released his first CD, “Three Wishes.” Featuring 10 original songs, all sung by Thistle accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, are quiet and unassuming at first, featuring portraits of small-town life and romance familiar to fans of Bill Morrissey. On repeated listening a brooding, edgy quality becomes apparent – a feeling akin to the solo, acoustic Bruce Springsteen of “Nebraska” or “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
Thistle performs this Saturday night at the Dalton CRA (684-0260) at 7. He will also warm up the crowd for Darryl Purpose at the Railway Café in North Adams (664-6393) on October 27 at 7. Thistle recently performed at the famed Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he has been invited back to do a Saturday night headline show some time next spring.
Even local bar bands have been getting into the recording action lately. Shake and Bake has been entertaining Berkshire audiences for 20 years, and its aptly-titled CD, “Twenty Years,” contains a selection of its favorite rock, swing, blues and rockabilly cover tunes. The members of Advanced Phunk – people like Bobby MacVeety, Jeff Stevens, Tom Flood and Ram Miles – are also longtime veterans of the Berkshire scene, and on their debut CD, “Seeking Balance,” they prove themselves worthy of their name on 11 funky original, horn-laced songs – some, like “ESD,” with touches of New Orleans jazz, others, like “Goin’ to Canaan,” drenched in the blues -- and a cover of Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright.”
Long-running blues outfit Catfish Blue is on the verge of releasing “Carrera Targa,” the long-awaited follow-up to the group’s debut, “Stella.” The sophomore effort, a five-song EP, finds the quartet widening its palette far beyond the basic three-chord blues format to embrace pop and rock song structures on songs like “Forecast” and “White Plains.” The group next performs in the area on October 6 at LaCocina in Pittsfield.
In other local musician news, Robby Baier – the Terence Trent D’Arby of the Berkshires -- has won the Musician’s Atlas’s Independent Music Award for “Best Rock/Pop Artist” for his great song “Whiskey, Whiskey.” The jury included Tom Waits, who gave Baier, of Housatonic, the highest possible marking in his category. Baier is putting the finishing touches on the debut album by his new band, Genepool, and hopes to release his second solo album next spring.
Another red-headed blues mama
Jonell Mosser was doing just fine in Nashville contributing backup vocals to recordings by the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Jesse Winchester, Etta James, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Delbert McClinton, B.B. King and others when she was discovered by John and Johanna Hall, the husband-and-wife team at the nucleus of pop-rock band Orleans. The Halls first heard Mosser perform at Nashville’s Hall of Fame, and undoubtedly were struck by the singer’s resemblance – both vocally and tonsorially – to Bonnie Raitt, whom they had worked with back in the “No Nukes” days.
The Halls began collaborating with the singer, who harbored ambitions to break out on her own as a singer-songwriter. Fifty songs and two albums later, Mosser performs at the Lion’s Den at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge on Friday night, when John Hall will join the Kentucky native.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Jan. 19, 2001. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2001. All rights reserved.]
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