Rani Arbo's new country swing
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., December 12, 2002) – A few years ago, New England bluegrass/folk outfit Salamander Crossing seemed poised for the sort of success that the youthful Nickel Creek is experiencing at this very moment. The group had garnered a loyal following throughout the region for its mix of old-time instrumental music, original compositions and contemporary singer-songwriter material by the likes of Shawn Colvin, Bruce Cockburn and the Beatles.

The band broke up in 1999, however, seemingly ending the story there. But the core of the group resurfaced last year under a new guise, with a shift in musical emphasis and repertoire. Since then, Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, as the group is now billed, is garnering acclaim for its mix of jug-band novelties, swing tunes, ukulele music and even some songs from Salamander Crossing’s songbook.

“Bluegrass has always been a little more rigid than swing,” said Arbo in an interview with the Eagle last year. “I really enjoy improvising in the swing genre. It’s more fun for me than improvising in bluegrass.

“Swing opens up more possibilities in my mind. I come up with better ideas, more unusual and rhythmic ideas. Bluegrass is very straight-ahead time, right on the beat. In swing there’s a lot of space between the beats and everyone in the band plays with that in a different way. There’s room for the solo instrument to mess with that micron of time.”

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem are at the Berkshire Museum on Saturday night at 8. Arbo will join Pioneer Valley singer-songwriter Brooks Williams, who produced Salamander Crossing albums, for an opening set featuring the two singers and musicians on a set of tunes unique to the duo.

Paul Shapiro is no stranger to area stages. As a member of Everton Sylvester’s Searching for Banjo, the saxophonist/flutist has performed at Mass MoCA and Club Helsinki. On Saturday night, however, Shapiro will be seen in a different format, out in front of his own band, the Dreydl & Holly Revue, for a holiday-themed dance party at Mass MoCA at 8.

“The theme is ‘Psychedelia,’ and it’s December, and we play funk, R&B and jazzy stuff, so we’re going to be psychedelicizing our funky repertoire and throwing some fun holiday stuff in too,” said Shapiro by e-mail from New York earlier this week. “It’ll be your usual psyche-disco-funka-Christmas-freilach kinda thing. We do have some fun, special surprises cooked up.”

Joining Shapiro, who has been part of New York’s music scene since the 1980s, when he led his own avant-funk band, Foreign Legion, and who was a founding member of the Brooklyn Funk Essentials and a member of Phillip Johnston’s Microscopic Septet, will be vocalists Babi Floyd (of Keith Richard’s X-pensive Winos fame) and Cilla Owens (Lionel Hampton), on vocals, bassist Booker King (Corey Glover, Searching for Banjo), keyboardist Adam Holzman (Miles Davis), and drummer Tony Lewis (Cyndi Lauper).

It will be interesting to see how the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra – one of the headliners of last summer’s BerkFest – fits its dozen-plus musicians on the small, corner stage at Club Helsinki on Friday night at 9.

There have been several all-girl rock bands over the course of the years, including the Runaways, Luscious Jackson and Babes in Toyland, but few with the classic-rock virtues that Antigone Rising displays on its recent live album, “Say It! An-TIG-uh-nee: Live from New York City.” The quintet, which performs at Club Helsinki on Saturday night at 8, plays a style of mainstream pop that connects Dave Matthews’s anthemic folk-rock to Peter Frampton’s pop, Melissa Etheridge’s heartland rock to Queen’s glam sound.

Usually you have to wait for the third week in July for the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival to roll around. This winter, however, the folks at Falcon Ridge have put together a traveling winter folk festival featuring three of the festival’s perennial favorite artists – the Nields, the Kennedys, and Susan Werner – who will be performing two shows at Club Helsinki this Sunday at 3 and 7.

In Falcon Ridge news, the festival will be expanding next summer by one day, beginning on Thursday, July 24, and running through Sunday, July 27, at its long-time home at Long Hill Farm in Hillsdale, N.Y. Falcon Ridge’s sister festival, Winterhawk -- which usually runs the weekend after at Long Hill Farm and features an eclectic array of bluegrass and roots-music artists – will take next summer off and return in July, 2004.

Looking ahead, party funk band Spookie Daly Pride from Boston returns to Helsinki on December 20, and Senegalese folk-electronic outfit Gokh-bi System returns on December 26.

Gokh-bi System will also kick off the “Out of Africa: Music from Algeria, Guinea, Mali and Senegal” series at the Clark Art Institute on January 25, 2003. Subsequent concerts in the Clark’s winter series include musician/storyteller Mamadou Diabate on February 22, guitarist/singer Alpha YaYa Diallo on March 8, and guitarist Pierre Bensusan on March 22.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on December 13, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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