The Holmes Brothers come home

The Holmes Brothers (photo: Stefan Falke)

by Seth Rogovoy

GREAT BARRINGTON – Musical events in and around the Berkshires this weekend and next week offer a diversity of sounds – a veritable festival of American music in the largest sense of the term.

Drunk Stuntmen

The Pioneer Valley group Drunk Stuntmen has a deliriously old-fashioned sound. In one song they can move from Neil Young-style grunge to Lynyrd Skynyrd Southern rock, and then take a sudden left turn into prog-rock territory. As heard on the group’s most recent CD, “Iron Hip,” the group – which appeared a few years ago at Mass MoCA performing its original score accompanying the 1924 silent film “Peter Pan” -- is always soulful and somewhat easygoing. At Club Helsinki in Great Barrington on Friday night at 9, Drunk Stuntmen will probably appeal equally to fans of Wilco, the Replacements, Thin Lizzy and Steely Dan.

The Holmes Brothers

If you had to name one group the house band at Club Helsinki, it could well be the Holmes Brothers. Ever since the Great Barrington nightclub opened nearly four-and-a-half years ago, the New York-based soul trio has been a steady presence there, delivering its patented blend of r&b, blues, gospel and roots rock. On the group’s latest album, “Simple Truths” (Alligator), brothers Wendell and Sherman Holmes and drummer/vocalist Popsy Dixon steer things south, emphasizing their country roots – The Holmeses originally hail from Virginia -- with versions of songs by Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Gillian Welch, and Southern rockers Collective Soul, to whose “Shine” they lend a remarkable, Grateful Dead-like feel. The album also features a stirringly intimate, acoustic version of Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle,” as well as several original tunes. The group celebrates the release of “Simple Truths” in a return engagement at Helsinki on Saturday at 9.

Grupo Fantasma

As heard on its new CD, “Movimiento Popular” (Aire Sol), Grupo Fantasma -- which performs at Helsinki on Sunday at 8 – is a veritable festival of Latin American music all tied up in one neat package. Fans of the Buena Vista Social Club, Los Lobos, Barbarito Torres, Flaco Jimenez and the Fania All-Stars will all find something to groove to on the album, which kicks off with the new-school cumbia of “Peligrosa,” and includes the dancehall reggae of “Utility Rock,” the salsa of “Vida Guerra,” and the Tex-Mex of “Soy el Hombre.” What ties all the music together is a relentless dance groove, and Grupo Fantasma concerts, powered by the Austin-based group’s four-man horn section, tend to quickly evolve into full-fledged dance parties.

Yiddish music, Lucy Kaplansky, Jen Chapin coming to Helsinki

A slew of new bookings at Club Helsinki in the next month or two includes Kate Taylor on April 30, Olu Dara on May 1, Gloria Deluxe on May 9, singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky on May 14, Roomful of Blues on May 15, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Preview Tour on May 18, a klezmer and Yiddish vocal double-bill featuring Mikveh and Golem on May 20, Chris Smither on May 22, Hot Club of Cowtown on May 25, singer-songwriter Jen Chapin on May 29, Erin McKeown on May 30, the Howard Fishman Quartet on June 5, and Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys on June 11, and a rare solo gig by Fred Eaglesmith on June 17.

Laurie Siersema

On her new CD, “Love Flows Like the Blood of a River,” Pioneer Valley singer-songwriter Laurie Siersema alternates original compositions, traditional folk and gospel songs, and spoken-word poems, all tied together by her high soprano voice and a rare sense of quietude. Siersema’s songs are meditative, Laura Nyro-like, soul-piano ballads with subtle percussion and occasional cello. A one-time nurse and alumna of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Siersema sings in a soft, soaring coloratura soprano that lends her compositions an art-song feel – imagine Dawn Upshaw does Tori Amos. The Virginia native grew up in a musical family -- her parents had their own folk music group, the Hon-o-lees –and she learned to play piano, ukulele and guitar. Siersema performs at the Dream Away Lodge in Becket on Saturday at 9.

Avery Sharpe

Springfield native Avery Sharpe kicks off the Williamstown Jazz Festival next Wednesday, April 21, with a concert by his trio at the Clark Art Institute at 8. Sharpe is best known for his work with McCoy Tyner, but as heard on his latest CD, “Family Values,” he is a dynamic composer and bandleader in his own right, drawing on a deep well of gospel and funk as well as mainstream and out jazz. The music on the CD ranges from vocal gospel music to instrumental r&b, funk-laced jazz, contemporary chamber music and other influences. While some of the music tends toward the experimental – Sharpe has worked with such cutting-edge legends as Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef and Tyner, whom he has been accompanying for more than 20 years – there is also an accessible streak running through his most difficult pieces.

Other highlights of next week’s festival – which is built around the annual Intercollegiate Jazz Festival that takes place at Williams during the day next Friday and Saturday -- include a Cuban dance party at Mass MoCA next Friday, April 23, at 8, and a concert by the Benny Green/Russell Malone Duo at Chapin Hall on Saturday, April 24, at 8:30.

Martyn Joseph

Martyn Joseph doesn’t get much play in the U.S., but back home in Wales he apparently holds a position somewhere in between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Voted “Male Solo Artist of the Year” in the Welsh Music Awards this past February, Joseph writes personal, topical and political songs and sings in a voice that crosses Richard Shindell and Mark Knopfler, as heard on his most recent album, “Whoever It Was That Brought Me Here Will Have to Take Me Home” (Appleseed). Joseph is on a rare concert swing in the U.S., stopping at the Iron Horse in Northampton on Saturday at 7, when he shares the stage with Boston singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst.

[Dream Away Lodge, 413-623-8725; Club Helsinki, 413-528-3394; Williamstown Jazz Festival, 800-214-3799; Iron Horse, 413-586-8686.]

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 16, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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