Spring pop forecast
Intriguing folk-pop group Groovelily plays Club Helsinki on May 2
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 17, 2002) – Perhaps no spring season within memory has been as full with the promise of live pop, folk, rock and jazz in the Berkshires as the one that unfolds over the next few weeks and months. And for the first time in memory, this includes concerts distributed throughout North, South and Central Berkshire County.
As of yet, no one comes close to Club Helsinki (528-3394) in terms of the number or quality of performers week in, week out. Tonight, the eclectic Great Barrington nightclub presents the Kerri Powers Band. As heard on her new album, You, Me and a Redhead, Powers is a rootsy folk-rocker, perhaps eastern Massachusetts’s answer to Lucinda Williams. Live hip-hop outfit DM Groove from New York performs tomorrow night, and next Tuesday, Janah brings its world-beat influenced jams with Middle Eastern overtones to Helsinki.
Helsinki brings back some favorite performers next weekend, including folksingers Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion (April 25), singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier (April 26), and Afro-reggae band Tribe of Djembe (April 27). Groovelily, an intriguing folk-pop trio led by singer-violinist Valerie Vigoda, whose CD Little Light recalls The Story, performs on May 2.
Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem bring their old-time country-swing back to Helsinki on May 3. On May 4, the action moves to the Mahaiwe Theatre, where Afropop legend Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe headlines the next in Helsinki’s W.E.B. DuBois Music series, celebrating the legacy of the civil rights leader and Great Barrington’s native son. Olu Dara will warm up the crowd for “Tuku,” as Mtukudzi is called, and after the show he’ll lead a jam session at the nightclub.
Highlights of Helsinki’s May schedule include blues-pop-jazz singer Maria Muldaur (May 9) in her Berkshire debut, Texas roots-rocker Jimmy Lafave (May 10), Alan Chartock and the Berkshire Ramblers (May 12), funk-jazz outfit Drive By Leslie (May 16), Jess Klein (May 17), Eastern Mass.-singer-songwriter Lori McKenna (May 18), world-jam ensemble Hypnotic Clambake (May 25) and blues singer-songwriter Chris Smither (May 31).
Helsinki’s June schedule includes the Hamiet Bluiett Trio (June 1) led by the innovative saxophonist, swing band Asylum Street Spankers (June 6), bluesman Carey Bell (June 7), singing sisters The Nields (June 20), New Orleans rockers The Iguanas (June 22) and pop-rock heartthrob Amy Fairchild (June 29).
Over in Becket, the Dream Away Lodge (623-8725) continues to host a revolving hootenanny of laid-back folk singer-songwriters and rootsy rockers, including Eric Underwood and Eladia (April 20 and May 25), John Nalepa (April 26), Rick and Lavina Ross (May 4), the Adams Brothers (May 10), Bobby Sweet (May 11), the Mammals (May 17), Adam Michael Rothberg (May 18), Bella Donna (May 24), and Hector on Stilts (May 31).
Up in North Adams, Mass MoCA is keeping the beat alive with a series of offbeat performances – some straight-ahead concerts, some, like tomorrow night’s event featuring the female, old-time country trio Be Good Tanyas, performing as part of a themed evening, in this case a Southern Food Feast featuring Appalachian recipes curated by the Lee Brothers.
Next Friday night, MoCA turns its Hunter Center into a Parisian nightclub circa 1930, and retro-cabaret quintet Paris Combo, fronted by chanteuse, songwriter, and accordion player Belle du Berry, performs its contemporary fusion of North African rhythms, funk, swing, tango, Gypsy, flamenco, blues and Parisian pop.
On May 11, pop-rock eccentrics They Might Be Giants bring their singular brand of post-modern, pop jump-cuts to Mass MoCA, which officially calls it summertime with its Viva Vienna dance party on May 25, featuring downtown jazz group Sex Mob providing retro waltz music with special Viennese guest artist saxophonist Max Nagl. The evening morphs into a techno dance party with Blow Up! Vienna, a DJ/VJ collective that will mix electronic music with projected images from the three Vienna-themed summer exhibitions at North County museums.
One week later, on June 1, MoCA will be the right place at the right time when it kicks the season into high gear with a jazzy double-bill featuring musical legends Dr. John, the New Orleans “Night Tripper,” and “Little” Jimmy Scott, the jazz-pop balladeer with the world’s most ethereal tenor.
For Mass MoCA tickets and info, call 662-2111 or visit www.massmoca.org.
Heading south, there are actually some things to do in Pittsfield during the next few weeks. The most prominent show is the next in the Berkshire Museum’s “Originals in Song” series featuring singer-songwriter and “sensitive new-age guy” John Gorka, on Thursday, May 9. Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Alice Peacock will warm up the audience for Gorka. Call 443-7171 for more info.
A few Pittsfield nightclubs are making fitful attempts to get into the live music business. The performers may not be household names, and sometimes information on the shows is sketchy or hard to come by, but in any case, in upcoming weeks Red (442-0313) is presenting Bluz House Rockers (April 26), Hector on Stilts (May 3), Patiokings (May 10), Sam Bisby (May 17), and Jennifer Greer (May 24). Looking ahead to summer, Red will feature regional cult favorite Ray Mason (July 12) and the sensational Jess Klein (July 19).
The Brewery in Pittsfield (442-2072) is also getting into show business, hosting a homecoming for Nashville country singer Susan Jayne, a native of Pittsfield, on April 27.
This Sunday at the Richmond Congregational Church, singer-songwriters Bernice Lewis and Mark Kelso pair up for their annual Earth Day/Birthday concert at 5. For more info call 458-0944 or 698-8008.
Jazz fans have two chances to catch the wide-ranging improvisations of the Art Lande Trio, at Williams College on April 23 and at the Castle Street Café (528-5244) in Great Barrington on April 27. Lee Shaw, the Capitol Region’s first lady of jazz, brings her trio to Castle Street on April 26.
And if this sounds like a lot to take in, buckle your seat belts – summer’s just around the corner.
The Infinite (Bluebird)
Perhaps not since Miles Davis in his prime has there been a jazz artist (in this case, like Davis, a trumpeter, bandleader and composer) whose work could be equally challenging and accessible, with one foot always in the avant-garde and the other in the pop arena. Dave Douglas knows it, too, which is probably why he gives a big shout-out to Davis in the liner notes of his latest, most pop-oriented album, featuring the timely Fender Rhodes keyboards of Uri Caine, versions of songs by Rufus Wainwright, Mary J. Blige and Bjork, and an original composition called “Yorke,” presumably named for the visionary behind Radiohead. But this is no crossover effort; it’s as valid and enticing as any of Douglas’s 19 recordings as a leader. Oh, and did I forget to mention he’s a fabulous trumpeter? [4/21/02]
Music for Courage and Confidence (New West)
A low-concept album from the former lead singer of cult-art band American Music Club, “Music for Courage and Confidence” features droopy vocalist Mark Eitzel covering 10 unlikely pop hits from the last 40 years, including the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You,” Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More” and Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.” His reading of Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” is almost intriguing enough to make one look forward to Murray’s Tanglewood appearance this summer, but it's the chill-out, ambient version of Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" that makes it almost worth buying this CD. I said almost.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 19, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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