Mike Plume kicks off roots-rocking weekend at Club Helsinki
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., May 23, 2002) -- A busy, rocking weekend and week ahead kicks off tonight (Thursday) at Club Helsinki (528-3394) with the Mike Plume Band. Plume hails from Edmonton, Alberta, where from the sound of his most recent album, Fools for the Radio, time apparently stood still around 1985. Plume’s brand of blue-collar rock echoes that era’s efforts by John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen. Plume spent some time in Texas in the early-1990s, which may account for some of the rootsier, Steve Earle-style efforts on the rugged, hard-rocking album.

On Friday night, veteran blues-folk singer-songwriter Chris Smither is at Helsinki. An expert fingerpicker and slide guitarist, Smither is a walking encyclopedia of the blues who first came on the Cambridge folk scene in the mid-‘60s alongside the likes of Bonnie Raitt. But Smither is no retro-blues act; he has a trademark folk-blues style all his own, and Raitt among others has recorded Smither compositions including “Love You Like a Man” and “I Feel the Same.” In concert, as heard on Smither’s haunting album, Live As I’ll Ever Be (Hightone), Smither does double-duty as a percussionist, his foot tapping out a steady beat in the spaces between his guitar chords.

As for Josh Lederman y Los Diablos, who perform at Helsinki next Wednesday, Lederman’s own description of the group is too funny not to pass along: “a Jewish guy with a Spanish band name playing Irish-sounding music.” Indeed, the Boston-based Los Diablos’s It’s a Long and Lonely Time (Nine Mile) features Irish-sounding melodies and rootsy arrangements with mandolins, accordions and guitars that find the common ground between the Pogues and Uncle Tupelo. Lederman himself claims inspiration from Tom Waits and Allen Ginsberg – as a solo artist he is also a performing poet – and the group also occasionally makes forays into zydeco, Cajun and other all-American styles.

Alien Folklife: Shaggy cat story

When husband-and-wife folk duo Paul Mercer and Joan Kosby, who perform as Alien Folklife, recorded the original novelty tune, “Thomas Cat” for their album, Double Vision (Dinosaur), they had no idea it would eclipse the rest of the album’s more serious material.

“We thought we were just writing a silly little song about our cat. We had no idea it would become the ‘hit single’ off our CD,” said Kosby.

The song “Thomas Cat,” which includes meowing and the sound of a cat coughing up a hairball as sung to the traditional melody, “Sam Hall,” is also featured on two compilation CDs, including one released by Dr. Demento. It has received national airplay on “The Dr. Demento Show” and on Robert Conrad’s syndicated public-radio program, “Weekend Radio.”

“People have been writing, e-mailing and even phoning to order our CD, just having heard that one song,” said Mercer. “I guess it must have struck a nerve.”

Alien Folklife will perform “Thomas Cat” along with a host of other songs, both funny and serious, at the Dream Away Lodge in Becket (623-8725) on Saturday at 8:30.

The duo’s songs vary from the traditional-sounding “Sullivan Ballou’s Last Letter Home” to gentle, Aztec Two-Step-like folk-pop of “Stolen Car” and “Janie.” Mercer and Kosby have toured up and down the east coast. They are currently planning their second tour of England for late summer.

And to insure equal time for all, Double Vision also includes “The Barbecue Tail,” an epic tale of a lost family dog.

Critic’s picks

Over the years, Mac Rebennack – better known as Dr. John -- has applied his talents to a wide variety of musical pursuits, including pop standards, the work of Duke Ellington, solo piano music, and way too many TV commercials. But his latest album, Creole Moon (Blue Note), will please fans of Rebennack’s classic New Orleans funk, as epitomized by his 1973 hit, “Right Place, Wrong Time.” The album pairs Dr. John with classic rock ‘n’ roll songwriter Doc Pomus on several tunes, and the result is reinvigorated New Orleans r&b, vintage Dr. John shot through with voodoo, gris-gris and gumbo. Catch Dr. John in a double-bill with legendary jazz singer Jimmy Scott on Saturday night at Mass MoCA (662-2111) at 7.

Every time Hamiet Bluiett comes to play at Club Helsinki, it’s a different show – which is partly why he keeps getting invited back. Each time out he brings different musicians in a different format with a different repertoire. On Saturday night, Bluiett returns to Helsinki with the Bluiett-Jackson-El’Zabar trio, featuring keyboardist D.D. Jackson and percussionist/vocalist Kahlil El’Zabar. As heard on The Calling (Justin Time), the trio plays an original blend of soul, blues, ballads, funk, organ jazz, African and avant-garde – a real world-beat-jazz stew, tied together with the distinctive, smoky, r&b-influenced sound of Bluiett’s baritone saxophone.

Capriccio, the annual concert of new music by Berkshire composers, takes place this Saturday at 8 in the Kellogg Music Center at Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington. Among the composers who will be represented this year are Larry Wallach, Alice Spatz, JoAnne Spies, Clive Davis, Suzanne Higgins, Steven May and Chia Wu. Vibraphonist Larry Chernicoff will be premiering several new numbers from an upcoming recording with an all-star cast of musicians including pianist Karl Berger, the founder of the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, N.Y., bassist John Lindberg of the String Trio of New York, French horn player John Clark, and reed players Tim Moran and Charlie Tokarz.

Speaking of jazz, this summer’s Berkshire Mountain Music Festival – better known as BerkFest, and to be held at Butternut Basin in Great Barrington on August 9-11 – just got a whole lot jazzier with the announcement that John Scofield, Soulive, Garaj Mahal, Ozomatli, the Motet, and Medeski, Martin and Wood have been added to the bill.


Elvis Costello

“When I Was Cruel” (Island)

This newest collection of rock songs (no string quartets, no Burt Bacharach) is vintage Elvis Costello – power-pop catchy melodies powered by punk-rock attitude. Backed by Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, as well as downtown horn players Curtis Fowlkes and Roy Nathanson, Costello spits out venomous lyrics that read like a critique of the pop culture industry and specifically the commodification of female sexuality. Never have pretty songs sounded so scary.[6/2/02]


“Yaya3” (Loma)

It’s been too long since popular, mainstream jazz players joined forces for the sort of one-off exploration of a specific style that saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Brian Blade and keyboardist Sam Yahel attempt here. The result instantly shows why so many amateurish organ-jazz bands have the organ but not the jazz. This superstar trio approaches the limitations of the format as an excuse to break free from preconceptions, and the result is some of the freshest, mainstream bebop from a major label in years. Redman in particular shows a joyous flexibility and freedom lacking in his more self-conscious solo efforts. [6/2/02]

Radio Beat

Another in our series of periodic tallies of the most-played recordings -- most new, some old – on our imaginary radio station:

1. Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (Nonesuch)
2. They Might Be Giants, “Mink Car” (Restless)
3. Gogol Bordello, “Voi-La Intruder” (Rubric)
4. Shannon McNally, “Jukebox Sparrows” (Capitol)
5. Jessica Lurie Ensemble, “Zipa Buka!” (Zipa)
6. Dave Tarras and the Muziker Brothers, “Tanz!” (Epic/Legacy)
7. Cat Stevens, “In Search of the Centre of the Universe” (A&M)
8. Jewlia Eisenberg, “Trilectic” (Tzadik)
9. Amy Fairchild, “Mr. Heart” (So Fair)
10. Dave Douglas, “The Infinite” (Bluebird)

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 30, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

To send a message to Seth Rogovoy
content management programming and web design