Kill Henry Sugar

Kill Henry Sugar comes to Club Helsinki on Sunday, February 23

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 19, 2003) – Erik Della Penna has played guitar and various other stringed instruments for the likes of Natalie Merchant, the Chieftains and Joan Osborne, who included several of his songs on her album Righteous Love. But with his musical partner, Dean Sharenow, Penna’s full talents are on display in the duo Kill Henry Sugar, which performs at Club Helsinki on Sunday at 8:30.

On the group’s brand-new CD, Sell This Place (Surprise Truck Entertainment), Penna’s songs and vocals are so vividly realized that a long time goes by before you realize that for the most part the arrangements include only Penna’s guitar and Sharenow’s drums (shades of House of Freaks).

From the romantic bossa nova of “Can’t Afford” to the Dire Straits –style, cinematic roots-rock of “Little Faker” to the Tom Waits meets the blues of “Rodeo” to a banjo song about the hanging of Mussolini to the Elvis Costello-like noir-pop of “In the Mission,” Penna keeps a listener guessing about what comes next on Sell This Place.

Jay Messer

On his most recent recording, Bayside (Shejaz), guitarist Jay Messer pays tribute to some of his favorite musicians. The surprise, however, is that they aren’t guitarists. The title track is a nod to the phrasing of saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and “Chet” was composed in memory of trumpeter Chet Baker. Perhaps these are clues to Messer’s playing style that avoids the cliches that plague jazz guitarists. Instead, he approaches his instrument like a horn, and the result makes for a more pleasant, varied listening experience.

The CD, which includes a couple of sambas by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal and a version of Pepper Adams’s “Bossa Nouveau,” features cornetist Rob Faulkner, reedman Paul Lieberman, bassist Dave Shapiro, drummer Claire Arenius and percussionist Eduardo Leandro. Messer, who performs with his trio at the Castle Street Café on Saturday night, has performed and recorded with Herb Ellis, Marion Brown, Eddie Jones, Eddie Lock, Benny Waters and the Paradise City Jazz Band.

Mamadou Diabate

It’s often said that the blues have their roots in African music, but to the untrained ear it’s not always readily apparent just how. Malian musician Mamadou Diabate makes the apparent manifest on “Dounuya,” a song on his delightful album, Tunga (Alula), which grafts the Gambian Manding classic, “Massane Cisse,” on top of a Chicago blues groove right out of Muddy Water’s “Mannish Boy.” The two sound made for each other.

Equally transparent is the connection between Diabate’s kora and the vocabulary of the blues guitar. The kora is a 21-string lute-like harp, with a skin stretched across a large gourd that in Diabate’s hands sings with the sparkling beauty of classical guitar and the haunting, spiritual depth of delta slide.

Diabate – who performs at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown on Saturday night at 8 as part of the museum’s “Out of Africa” series – is descended from a long line of jelis, Manding musician-storytellers sometimes referred to by the French term griot. At age four, he began studying kora with his father, who played kora for the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali.

Since 1996, Diabate has lived in the U.S., performing widely his fusion of traditional Manding and western music and collaborating with blues musicians like Guy Davis and jazz musicians including Randy Weston and Donald Byrd.

Woody Guthrie Tribute

The Berkshires’ own Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion are winding down their gig as part of a month-long, cross-country tour celebrating the legacy of Guthrie’s grandfather, Woody Guthrie. The “Ribbon of Highway – Endless Skyway Tour” stops at the Iron Horse in Northampton on Monday night before running down to New York, North Carolina and Florida. Joining Guthrie and Irion for most of the tour in Guthrie’s 90th anniversary year are Ellis Paul, Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, and Jimmy Lafave, who spearheaded and scripted the tour and who hosts an annual Woody Guthrie Festival in Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Okla.

More than just a concert of Woody Guthrie songs, “Ribbon of Highway” is a stage show featuring stories and writings by and about Guthrie, songs inspired by him, and unfinished poems and lyrics by Guthrie put to new melodies by the performers.

Marsalis Family

It’s hard to believe that the Marsalis family never shared a bandstand before August 4, 2001, when trumpeter Wynton, saxophonist Branford, drummer Jason and trombonist Delfeayo all converged in New Orleans to celebrate the educational legacy of their piano-playing father, Ellis Marsalis, on the occasion of his retirement from the University of New Orleans. The concert was captured on film (it debuted on PBS-TV last night and will be released on DVD in the spring) and on a newly released CD, The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration, on the new Marsalis Music imprint distributed by Rounder Records.

The recording features four Ellis Marsalis compositions – and, perhaps surprisingly, none by the most famous Marsalis, Wynton, who keeps somewhat of a low profile on the album, offering an amusing, somewhat self-effacing introduction to brother Branford’s composition, “Cain and Abel,” on which the brothers trip over each other in their attempt to duke it out. As a performing unit, the family acquits itself marvelously on Ellis Marsalis’s Brubeckian “Nostalgic Impressions.” The Marsalis Family hits the road as a touring act beginning next Thursday at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, N.Y.


Kathleen Edwards

“Failer” (Zoe)

It’s easy and tempting to compare newcomer Kathleen Edwards to Lucinda Williams. The country singer-songwriter and Ottawa native shares Williams’s lazy twang, her narrative instincts, and her penchant for songs about heartbreak, losers and outlaws. But on “Failer,” the 24-year-old lets her voice waver like Neil Young at his most earnest, and her band soars with the energy of a contemporary Crazy Horse channeling some Stax/Volt soul. This is what Cowboy Junkies could, would and should sound like if they woke up and got off the couch.

Kathleen Edwards is at the Iron Horse in Northampton on Wednesday, February 26.

Terri Hendrix

“The Ring” (Wilory)

Texas singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix is a multiple threat on her latest. At first she comes across as a rootsy country singer, a rawer version of Nanci Griffith. But several songs in she starts going off in different directions – towards some Bruce Cockburn-like folk-jazz on “Truth Is Strange,” into some swinging jump-blues on “From Another Planet,” and some Celtic-tinged folk-pop on “Long Time Coming.” She ties it all together with her positive outlook and organic disposition. Should appeal to fans of Dixie Chicks, for whom she has written songs.[2/23/03]

Terri Hendrix is at the Iron Horse in Northampton on Thursday, February 27.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 21, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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