These rock 'n' roll babes can be hazardous
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 3, 2003) – Last Saturday night Club Helsinki featured all-girl rock quintet Antigone Rising, whose music was pretty much a throwback to 1970s classic rock, with big melodies and dramatic crescendos. Tomorrow night at 10:30, after alt-country singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier performs, Helsinki turns over its stage once again to an all-girl rock band, the Hazard County Girls.

The New Orleans-based Girls’ sound is also a throwback, but this time to the early-‘80s minimalist, no-wave/post-punk of Sonic Youth, with descending, muscular chords over bass drones and Velvet Underground-inspired melodies. In February, the trio was named Best Emerging Band by Offbeat Magazine, and last month, the Girls -- about whom one wag wrote, “They’re cute, they rock, they’ll kick your ass” -- released their debut album, “Never No More.”

In addition to Gauthier and the Girls, Helsinki’s all-female weekend kicks off tonight at 9 with the Jessica Lurie Ensemble, fronted by the composer/saxophonist for the jazz-fusion jam-band Living Daylights. And on Sunday night, Boston busker and former major label artist Mary Lou Lord plows a comeback trail. Local singer-songwriter Kelly Hagen warms up the crowd at 8. Call 413-528-3394.

Flying Garbanzos

The music played by contradance bands is usually functional – music to accompany the elaborate figures and sets that comprise a contradance. Typically these are reels, jigs and hornpipes, but they can also include polkas, waltzes, squares and swing.

So other than perhaps to use as an educational tool at home to learn the dance steps, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to listen to a recording of contradance music.

Unless, of course, there was more to the music than merely providing the soundtrack to dancing.

Not being a contradancer myself, I can’t speak to the utility of the Flying Garbanzo’s new CD, “Third Friday Contra,” as an aid to dancing. But speaking as a listener – and as one who has written a whole book on an obscure style of ethnic dance music that I argue is meant as much for listening as for dancing – I can say that the North County quartet’s recording makes for terrific listening, even for those with no interest in contradancing or no particular fondness for traditional music.

Partly what makes the music by the Garbanzos so distinctive is its pancultural sound. For example, “Irish Washerwoman” sounds suspiciously like the “Mexican Hat Dance.” The accordion accompaniment to the group’s rendition of Alicia Jo Rabins’s “Baker’s Waltz” emphasizes the composition’s mathematical precision and its vague air of Central European chamber music. And the bouncing drums and eerie guitar of “Oak Leaf” gives that tune the feel of Bob Dylan’s original, acoustic version of “All Along the Watchtower.”

The players – fiddler Eric Buddington, guitarist and accordionist Tony Pisano, percussionist Josh Pisano and bassist Dale Ott -- also add an easygoing spirit and wit to the arrangements that, while not violating the basically traditional approach of the group -- nor engaging in any blatant attempts at jazzy fusion -- also aren’t beholden to pristine tradition.

“Third Friday Contra” – so-called because the group stages a contradance featuring various callers on the third Friday of each month at St John’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall on Summer Street in North Adams -- was recorded with the band surrounding a single stereo microphone to help preserve the live sound the group strives for.

Tonight at 7, the Flying Garbanzos are holding a free Community Family Dance at the Adams Community Center, at 20 East St., Adams. Steve Howland will be calling and teaching contra, round and square dances, partner dances traditional to New England.

Wanda Fischer

For 20 years, the name Wanda Fischer has been synonymous with folk music throughout New England and the Northeast. As the host of “The Hudson River Sampler” on the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network, Fischer has played an important role in keeping acoustic folk, both traditional and contemporary, on the airwaves.

What’s little known about Fischer, however, is that she is a folksinger in her own right. While modest about her own talents as a singer and songwriter, Fischer acquits herself well on her first recording, “Singing Along with the Radio,” which features the radio host singing a baker’s dozen of her favorite songs, including compositions by Ian Tyson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Si Kahn, John Gorka, Tom Paxton and Woody Guthrie, and one of her own.

Joining Fischer on the album is a who’s who of contemporary folk music, including many with regional connections, such as Kim and Reggie Harris, Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen, Bernice Lewis, Amy Fradon, Artie Traum, Scott Petito, JoAnne Redding and Priscilla Herdman, several of whom will be on hand tomorrow night at 8 for a live, on-air, CD release concert at WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio in Albany.

Gordon Brisker

Gordon Brisker may not be a household name, but the tenor saxophonist, bandleader and composer has had a colorful career in jazz that has taken him from his native Cincinnati around the world with the likes of Woody Herman, Anita O’Day, Lionel Hampton, Gerry Mulligan, Herb Pomeroy and Tony Bennett; to Los Angeles for a stint working with the “Tonight Show” orchestra; to Sydney, Australia, where he taught for several years; and back home to Cincinnati, where he is once again based today.

The compositions on Brisker’s most recent album, “My Son John” (Naxos Jazz), show the Berklee College alumnus to have a highly evolved rhythmic sense, perhaps a remnant from his piano-playing days. Brisker performs with his quartet, featuring pianist Paul Arslanian, on Saturday night at the Castle Street Café.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 4, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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