Lonesome Brothers need not be

Lonesome Brothers celebrate new CD at Club Helsinki on Saturday night

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., July 1, 2004) -- So what if they live in the Pioneer Valley? If you had to pinpoint the one group that epitomized the sound of the Berkshires, it might well be the Lonesome Brothers. A cooperative venture led for nearly 20 years by fellow twang-rock singer-songwriters Ray Mason and Jim Armenti, the Lonesomes encapsulate nearly everything about the region: its soft-spoken beauty, its homegrown essence, and the spirit of harmony and friendship that seems ingrained in the slope of the hills and the curve of the landscape. As heard on the group’s brand-new CD, “Fences” (SpiritHouse), the trio, rounded out by drummer Tom Shea, boasts all these virtues and a whole lot more – including a wry sense of humor, an easygoing sense of melody, and a laid-back, funky groove -- in abundance. Fans of The Band, The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, or of any of the legions of younger, alt-country pretenders to their thrones, will not only love “Fences” – they’ll never look at life the same way. Catch the Lonesome Brothers at Club Helsinki (413-528-3394) in Great Barrington on Saturday night at 9.

Milagro Saints: Folk-rock retreat

The annual residency of Milagro Saints at the Dream Away Lodge (413-623-8725) is fast becoming a summer tradition, and the North Carolina-based group will once again be ensconced at the Becket hideaway this weekend, during which time the folk-rockers will perform three shows – Friday and Saturday at 9 in the music room, and Sunday at 4 for an outdoor barbecue and Fourth of July party.

As heard on albums including “Midnight America” and “Sunday,” the Saints combine the diverse influences of singer-songwriter Stephen Ineson, a native of Sheffield, England, who performed with the rock group the Jack Rubies, singer-songwriter Joyce Bowden, who previously sang with Taking Heads offshoot groups including Tom Tom Club and Casual Gods, and keyboardist Lee Kirby, an Arkansas native who spent time active in the Chicago blues scene. For this weekend’s residency, the Milagro Saints will be joined by bassist Ernie Brooks and drummer Ed Root. Like Bowden, Brooks was a member of Casual Gods, and before that he played with Jonathan Richman and Casual Gods frontman Jerry Harrison in the Modern Lovers.

Bowden recently released her first solo album under the name Jolei. Called “Jolei” (Moon Caravan), the CD is a collection of a dozen original tunes in rootsy, acoustic arrangements fleshed out by an organic ensemble including violin, harmonica, banjo, saxophone, piano and cornet. The album has a dreamy, quiet, hypnotic quality that luxuriates in Bowden’s intimate vocals, carving out a place somewhere among old folk and country, early Joni Mitchell and art song, and perhaps connecting the traditional to the avant-garde.

Burning Spear: Reggae redux

Of all the original reggae artists still cranking out vintage-style, conscious reggae, Winston Rodney, aka Burning Spear, arguably has the greatest claim to wearing the mantle of the legacy of the late, great Bob Marley. As heard on his most recent CD, “Freeman” (Burning Spear), Spear continues to make reggae in its classic, Marley-pioneered style, devoid of the later influences of dub, dancehall, and synthesizers. Spear’s is still a pure, groove-driven sound, led by the heavy bass riddims sliced and diced by chunky guitars and colored by organ chords and call-and-response horns. Songs like “Not Guilty” also evince the hint of an African influence, with circular guitar lines snaking through the arrangement.

But equally as significant, Spear is one of the few to perpetuate Marley’s belief that reggae music is the voice of liberation – protest music at its essence. Songs like “Rise Up,” “Changes” and the title track continue the tradition of using Jamaican dance music to voice universal and particular messages of political freedom, and to speak about Spear’s Marcus Garvey-derived belief in self-determination and self-reliance for people of African descent. Not that the Grammy Award-winning Spear – who performs at Club Helsinki in a rare, small-club appearance on Tuesday, July 6 – doesn’t believe in reggae’s power to heal or to get people moving on the dance floor; on “Rock and Roll” he sings “No more sadness/It’s good to be happy/You shaky, shaky, shaky/Come, come rock and roll.”

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 1, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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