Hazard County Girls top list of year's concerts
Hazard County Girls
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., December 25, 2003) – As always, it was the concerts that surprised the most that were the most memorable ones of the past year -- the ones where going in a listener didn’t know what to expect, or didn’t have high hopes, but left feeling raised up the discovery of something new and exciting. Those, plus a few reliable old favorites, made the past year a pretty good one for concert-going in the region.
1. Hazard County Girls (Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, April 5): They were just a last-minute addition as a late-night follow-up to singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, but the all-female, New Orleans punk-rock trio seemed to channel everything that was great about late-1970s, early-‘80s punk – including the anarchic spirit and the sense of fun -- without succumbing to any of the clichés or self-pitying tendencies of the 1990s version. The fact that they were women playing in a testosterone-heavy genre made it all the more subversive.
2. Moonraker (La Choza Cantina, Pittsfield, February 1): Charismatic frontwoman Kelli Scarr led her Boston-based quintet in a fusion of soul, jazz and contemporary dance grooves that boasted sensuality and intimacy while suggesting for trip-hop to retain its organic, human quality.
3. Randy Newman (Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, N.Y., October 1): What could be better than two hours with Randy Newman at a piano? He dug deep into his catalog and came up with a veritable Great American Songbook all his own, delivered with stylish piano accompaniment and his trademark sardonic vocals.
4. Alicia Svigals (Spencertown Academy, Spencertown, N.Y., December 20): Alicia Svigals nearly singlehandedly revived the art of the klezmer fiddle and along the way elevated it from its role as a mere functional folk instrument to, in her hands, a solo instrument of intense artistry and expressive power.
5. Jazz Passengers (Mass MoCA, North Adams, August 2): Accompanying the classic B-horror film, “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” the members of Roy Nathanson’s Jazz Passengers played an evocative blend of sound effects, musical jokes and quirky jazz.
6. Ralph Stanley (Mahaiwe Theatre, Great Barrington, August 31): At his best, Ralph Stanley was the equal of sacred singers like Mahalia Jackson and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, singing transcendent odes that speak to the deeply emotional aspects of life and death.
7. Norah Jones (Proctor’s Theatre, Schenectady, N.Y., June 30): Credit Norah Jones for displaying a lot more depth, breadth and talent than is apparent from her best-selling album, “Come Away with Me.” Her voice showed more range and sophistication, her arrangements ventured off stylistically, and she demonstrated far more poise than anyone would have suspected from a nearly-overnight sensation.
8. Jen Chapin (Club Helsinki, June 7): Speaking of poise and talent, Jen Chapin has all that plus an amazing songwriting talent with a poet’s ear and a gift for melodies that are both catchy and surprising. That, plus a lusciously raspy voice and a band that can funk or swing on a dime makes her the singer to watch in 2004 once her album, “Linger,” is released in February.
9. Bob Dylan (Look Park, Northampton, August 19): Dylan knows how to keep everyone, including his band, teetering on the edge. He’s mastered the art of spontaneous rock drama, pushing every song to its limit to find new meaning and significance. Presumably inspired by the natural beauty of the outdoor amphitheater, he drove his band and the audience to new heights.
10. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting (Tanglewood, Lenox, July 27): A marvelously eclectic program featuring selections ranging from the classical Top 40 (Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell”) to sublime work by Mozart to orchestrated folk dance by Kodaly to contemporary song settings by Osvaldo Golijov, as well as stirring performances by soloists Garrick Ohlsson and Dawn Upshaw, made this concert a populist delight.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on December 26, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]
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