Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wow, Great New Shows Just Added

Got the weekly notice from Kathy at the Narrows that in a few weeks we'll be hosting the New York Dolls' frontman David Johansen January 13. You may know him as Buster Pointdexter or his solo song "Funky But Chic."


Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson February 11.


Robert Cray February 23.


Ralph Stanley March 5.


Tommy Castro March 19.


Chely Wright March 26.


Neil Innes (remember The Rutles?) May 14.


All the other great performers already scheduled like Judy Collins, Eilen Jewell, Aztec 2-Step, Rodney Crowell and many more.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Good Cookin' with a Camino

Congrats to the Narrows' new fave Elizabeth Cook for having one of Rolling Stone mags top songs of 2010, "El Camino."

The track is from her Welder recording, and tells the story of a liaison with a mulleted guy who drives a 1972 El Camino, a guy who wears shirts "trippin' on LSD," and whose car "is creepy man, not in a gangster kind of way, but in a perv kind of way."

She and her group played the Narrows special show for donors in November. On the right is Ms. Cook with Narrows treasurer Tom Murray during the show's intermission.

See the Rolling Stone brief write up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yule Grass for Y'All

Darol Anger's Republic of Strings brought the season's cheer to the Narrows on Friday night. Mr. Anger, on the right in the photo, and his ensemble melded bluegrass and classical and spun it into a Christmas "yule grass" show.

Mr. Anger was a longtime member of the acclaimed Turtle Island String Quartet, and played in the David Grisman Quintet and other groups. If you've listened to NPR's "Car Talk," you've heard Mr. Anger's music. He plays on the theme song.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rock's Greatest Generation

A representative of what is arguably rock 'n' roll's Greatest Generation, Ian Hunter, made his Narrows debut Saturday night.

Hunter, 71 years young, was Mott the Hoople, the glam rock band from the 1970s. Their hits include All the Way from Memphis ("You look like a star but you're really out on parole"), a cover of Lou Reed's Sweet Jane ("Standing on the corner, suitcase in his hand"), and David Bowie's All the Young Dudes, which gave Mott the Hoople a career after they were on the verge of being the next big thing that never was.

After Mott, Hunter went on to a solo career and songwriting. His greatest commercial successes were his Cleveland Rocks (the theme song of the Drew Carey Show, recorded by the Presidents of the United States), Ships, sung by Barry Manilow, and Once Bitten Twice Shy, covered by Great White. Did I miss anything, fans?

Saturday night he was in great voice, with plenty of energy, spurred on by former Wings member Steve Holley on drums and guitarist extraordinaire Andy York.

Hunter is one of the oldest of Rock's Greatest Generation, but Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Paul McCartney, David Crosby, Dan Hicks, Steven Stills, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen, John Sebastian,Pete Townsend, Ray Davies, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Jeff Beck, Leon Russell, Van Morrison, Judy Collins, Donovan, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, etc. aren't far behind. And many still pack venues, despite being on the scene for 40 or more years. To put that in perspective, if you were living in the 1960s, it would be like performers from the 1920s still competing in the concert halls and on the record charts. With the exception of Louis Armstrong, I don't think that was happening much if at all.

So Hail! Hail! Rock's Greatest Generation. Long may you live. Hope to see you, like Ian Hunter, at the Narrows soon.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Nanci Griffith Makes Her Narrows Debut

What can one say? Nanci Griffith warmed us on a frosty December night.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Top Shows of 2010

It's getting to be that time of year again.

What were your favorite shows at the Narrows?

Some of mine in no particular order:
J. D. Souther
Ralph Stanley
Ralph Stanley II
The Holmes Brothers
Paula Cole
James Hunter
Hot Club of Cowtown
Shelby Lynne
Carolina Chocolate Drops

How 'bout you?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tickets Moving Swiftly

Hmmm...let's see...

Last I checked there were 25 tickets to the Nanci Griffith show left.

Several dozen for the 7 Walkers/Bill Kreutzmann, George Porter etc. show.

And we're starting to run out of tickets for Ian Hunter and Johnny Winter, but there should be some available if you move pretty soon.

Be sure to check out the 2011 schedule, and maybe get a Christmas present or two. Marshall Crenshaw, Eilen Jewell, James Hunter, Buckwheat Zydeco, Leon Redbone, Steve Forbert, Dave Mason and many more.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shake Some Action

Keeping Time--Jenny Dee and the Deelinquents--Remember the line "you had me at hello"? Boston's Jen D'Angora and her group had me at their version of the Flamin' Groovies tune "Shake Some Action," which, as posted on the Jenny & company site, has won the endorsement of co-writer Cyril Jordan. (You may be familiar with the Flamin' Groovies' version from the movie "Clueless." ) Keeping Time, though, is mostly filled with her original songs performed "retro," recalling 60s "girl" groups like The Shangri-Las. "I've been a fan of that music since I was really young and my interest was rejuvenated as I started getting into Blondie and the New York Dolls--their interpretations of songs by The Shangri-Las and other groups fascinated me," she writes on her website. Jenny Dee and the Deelinquents come to the Narrows January 21, opening for the Spampinato Brothers. Get warmed up by this video of the group performing "Shake Some Action" last year in the UK. And, I couldn't resist, a video of The Flamin' Groovies too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quirky Cool Country

Welder--Elizabeth Cook--She's got a voice like Dolly Parton's and she's played the Grand Ole Opry. She's country as heck, and funny too. And she's got the looks of a supermodel. So how come you (and formerly me) don't know her? Maybe it's because she's quirky, and sometimes, you know, people don't appreciate that kind of thing. Quirky people's brains are, ahem, different.

Some of her lyrics as evidence of her sublime quirkiness:

"If I wake up married, I'll have to annul it/ Right now my hands are in his mullet." (From "El Camino." Also from that song "I told him your car is creepy man/And not in a gangsta kind of way/But in a perv kind of way.")

"She stripped for awhile in Connecticut/Got married at least 5 times/Everyone of them men was crazy about her/So she married a couple of 'em twice." (From "Heroin Addict Sister," in which she also writes "She's a certified underwater welder/She can cook, clean and crochet/She can flash a smile from her sweet weary soul/That'll melt all your doubts away.")

"When you say yes to beer, you say no to booty." (From "Yes to Booty"--you get the picture.)

"Likes to talk about Elvis, but only in the Sun years." (From "Rock N Roll Man," in which she also writes "He's got sheets over the windows and records on the floor/A poster of Jimi Hendrix on his bedroom door." I don't know about you, but I've known people like that.)

Welder was produced by Don Was (who's produced The Rolling Stones, among many others). Buddy Miller, Dwight Yoakam and soon-to-be-Narrows alum Rodney Crowell contribute assorted background vocals.

Unless you've got something against quirky cool country, you'll love Ms. Cook, as did the Narrows audience when she made her debut earlier this month (that's her in the photo signing).

Say no to beer, but yes to quirky.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Boogaloo Dudes

What do you call the sound of the subdudes. Hard to put a name to it, but rock, folk for sure. And, being from New Orleans, one can hear The Big Easy. Heck, I even thought Doobie Brothers.

Guitars, accordion, lots of harmonies, gentle toe-tapping rhythm.

What's safe to say is that people love it--witness the sold out show Friday night at the Narrows! Might be awhile before we see them again. Their website says they're cutting back touring in 2011 to focus on side projects.

You might see them on HBO: They just did filming for Treme.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

9 Years! What A Rush!

Saturday night the Narrows marked its 9th anniversary with a sold out Tom Rush concert. Can you believe it? Nine years!

Thanks to Bert Harlow, Patrick Norton, Deb Charlebois, Peter Belanger, Brian Shriver, Congressman Jim McGovern, Sam Shapiro, and so many others--especially our patrons.

Your humble blogger for the first time missed the anniversary concert but Narrows volunteer Herb Tracy was there, took the above photo and writes:

"Tom was in fine voice and his playing was stellar. At times during the show you could hear the proverbial pin drop or roars of laughter at his banter. But it was a rousing rendition of Galveston Flood as an encore that brought the audience to its feet. As those who've seen him before know, he makes a personal connection with his audience while on stage and off. Last night was no exception. During the break and after the show Tom spent times with fans genuinely enjoying the stories they brought to him about what his music means to them.

"He introduced us to his first song for children--about a child's experience with a magic fish. Tom has an 'interactive' coloring book to go with it. And, as he said, 'I'm the author and the child is the illustrator.' What better collaboration could you want? Will a children's album follow? We'll have to wait and see."

Nice job Herb. Thanks! Anybody else at the concert want to add to Herb's observations?

Friday, November 12, 2010

We Salute Our Donors with Quite a Cook!

Funny. Who knew Elizabeth Cook was that funny?

Maybe we should have suspected since she's well known for her song "Sometimes It Takes Balls to be a Woman."

Friday night was an exclusive concert for the Narrows' donors, and Ms. Cook was the perfect match. Great songs, fabulous singing, great playing by her husband, guitarist Tim Carroll and bassist Bones Hillman (remember Midnight Oil?).

And funny. Her mom, she said, is from West Virginia. "50 million people and 5 last names." Elizabeth is from Central Florida, which, she said, is part of the south. Once you get to Orlando though, "it's New Jersey then Cuba."

If you're a Sirius satellite radio subscriber, you might be familiar with her show "Elizabeth Cook's Apron Strings" a mix of music, recipes and household tips.

Speaking of radio, the concert was streamed live on, which should have it posted in its archives soon.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yer Bonerama

It hit 75 degrees in New Orleans today, and despite the 40-something temperatures in the Spindle City, NOLA's Bonerama chased the chills at the Narrows.

Kicking off with The Star Spangled Banner on this Veterans Day, Bonerama fused rock, trippy prog, jazz, and whatever, even doing the rarely if ever covered (from the Beatles' White Album) Yer Blues ("My mother was of the sky/My father was of the earth/But I am of the universe/And you know what it's worth"). At times they reminded your humble blogger of the old Blood, Sweat & Tears, with the emphasis on electric guitar (Remember Steve Katz?) despite being a horn-dominated ensemble.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Above are the wonderful group Red Molly, who performed a lovely bluegrassy show at the Narrows Friday night. I took this photo "backstage." If you missed them this time, be sure to keep an eye on the Narrows schedule, because no doubt they'll be returning in 2011.

Many groups sell CDs at their performances, usually at around $15 apiece. Red Molly, however, let people decide how much they wanted to pay. As they joked on-stage, the more people who have their music, the more likely they'll be invited on "Oprah." They're probably right. Anyway, knowing the generosity of Narrows patrons, chances are at least some paid more than the standard $15.

Red Molly's kindness to their fans got me thinking.

By coincidence, I'm reading You Are Not A Gadget, a book by Jaron Lanier, one of Time magazine's 100 people in 2010 who most affect the world. He's a guy who knows computers, the Internet etc. He describes himself as a "digital technologist." He is also a musician who is worried about what the Internet is doing to the earning potential of people paying the bills based on "mental activity," such as musicians, filmmakers and writers.

Over the course of my 9 years at the Narrows, I have spoken to musicians--some well known across the country and beyond--who are barely getting by as they create the soundtracks of our lives. They make us tap our feet and laugh. They comfort us in bad times, and help us enjoy good times. They encourage us to think, to love, to live life. They help us survive jobs we may not enjoy, and, even worse, unemployment. They hold our hands when a loved one passes, and provide the songs we sing with our children. They enrich us with their life's work.

So, in this light I respectfully suggest that those of us who partake of "free" downloads might reconsider such actions. Am I wrong?

Friday, November 05, 2010


The Narrows crew continues to mourn the loss of longtime Narrows supporter Ronnie Brandt, who passed away recently.

We thought we'd post his photo, since many knew his smile but maybe not his name.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Tries To Be Good"

"I'm glad I found Slaid Cleaves, because my life would have been poorer without him."

--Stephen King

A good crowd enriched their lives Thursday night at the Narrows, as singer/songwriter Slaid Cleaves brought his bag full of story songs to our stage for the first time since 2006, according to our records. You can look it up.

We're particularly fond of Slaid because he was one of the first performers ever to play the Narrows back about 9 years ago. He was at the Narrows before the Narrows was cool!

Through the years, his motto has remained the same: "Grew up in Maine. Lives in Texas. Writes songs. Makes records. Travels around. Tries to be good."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Too Cool to Miss

Praise & Blame--Tom Jones--Powerful vocals. Powerful songs. Tom Jones, who turned 70 this year, has tossed the tux to get into a rootsy wrassle with John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell" (watch TJ do it on Jools Holland's show), Bob Dylan's "What Good Am I?" and other gospel-like tunes. Jones "reinvents himself but is always the same guy," says producer Ethan Johns in this clip about making Praise & Blame. Which is about right--remember when he did--who would have thought?--Prince's "Kiss"? And it was perfect! (Note for history buffs: Johns is the son of famed producer/engineer Glyn Johns, whose name you may have spotted on a Stones or Beatle album.) Backing musicians in addition to Johns include Gillian Welch and Rhode Island's Dave Rawlings, Stax legend Booker T. Jones and Tom Petty associate Benmont Tench. This is a keeper that may not get its due because roots fans will overlook a bump and grinder. Resist the urge. This one's too cool to miss.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

"I'm a cross between Pete Seeger and Don Rickles," said Vance Gilbert during his debut at the Narrows Saturday night.

This delightful self-effacing performer--who started in jazz and is a mainstay in the folk scene--charmed the audience with his soulful vocals and stand-up comedy stage banter.

When your humble blogger went "backstage" to shoot a behind-the-scenes photo (above) before the show, he rose to the challenge to make it fun and different.

As one of our longtime audience members (Fred) pointed out, a Vance Gilbert performance is a personal experience. It certainly was!

A sad note: Before the concert, Vance learned his 82 year old step father had just passed away in CT. Our condolences to him.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Howlin' for The Black Keys

Brothers--The Black Keys--These two guys from Akron are doing what musicians--like Led Zeppelin, Canned Heat, the Rolling Stones, the Animals and others--did in the 1960s: take sounds from way back and make them your own. The Stones and the others took blues music and transformed it for a new age. The Black Keys are taking classic rock--with more than a touch of the likes of Screamin' Jay Hawkins and even Gary Glitter--and molding it for a new generation. Call it retro, call it garage. It works!

All the songs were written by The Black Keys except for "Never Gonna Give You Up," written and recorded by soul singer Jerry Butler (Who covers Jerry Butler?), but the riffs sound familiar, even though you may not be able to pinpoint why. And the songs are more than songs--they feel like atmosphere. It's old, it's new. It's everywhere too. This morning I heard their "Howlin' For You" from Brothers in a car commercial. Not a bad thing. If you're, like me, late to The Black Keys--they have been around for about a decade--Brothers would be a nice introduction.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Texas Tornado

The Lone Star State's Jimmie Vaughan made his Narrows debut Sunday night before a sold out venue of appreciative fans (including guitar god Duke Robillard)!

Accompanied by a blazing band and roadhouse singer Lou Ann Barton, the Fabulous Thunderbirds founder showed why he is one of the most celebrated guitarists in the world.


Learned of a death in the Narrows family just before the Jimmie Vaughan show Sunday night.

Ronnie Brandt passed away suddenly this weekend. Narrows honcho Patrick Norton led the audience in a toast to his memory before the concert.

Our condolences to his family and friends. He was remembered fondly by members of the crew at the Narrows.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Temptations are Still Here!

Still Here--The Temptations--Yes, those Temptations. "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" Temptations, "Ball of Confusion," Temptations, "My Girl" etc. Great songs, very cool sweet and, in the late 1960s, psychedelic soul. Only one member these days is original, but throughout their hit-making history they kept changing personnel anyway. Never mind that. Still Here is a wonderful listen, a recording the Temps call a "concept album" because it reflects various styles from their history. If you like soul, you'll like Still Here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Raul Malo: The Voice

He's got the subtle heartbreak in his voice that Roy Orbison possessed--and he brought it to the Narrows Thursday night for the first time along with his band and kind of Tex-Mex sound.

Raul Malo, formerly of The Mavericks, charmed from his first note.

The concert was streamed live on and hopefully will be in the archives in the near future.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Did You Know This About Peter Wolf?

Peter Wolf, solo artist and J. Geils singer, makes his Narrows debut in November, although he has attended at least one show (Shelby Lynne's) at our fabled location.

Peter lived an interesting life even before he came to national attention as the wild man voice of the J.Geils Band.

Some fun facts:

--His father was a musician and had his own radio show in New York City; his mother was a teacher; his grandmother, an actress.

--His older sister was a dancer on Alan Freed's television show.

--As a child he took part in a child music series with Woody Guthrie.

--Peter has dyslexia, a condition which makes it difficult to play an instrument. He studied piano, guitar, drums and violin.

--When he was seven his family moved to the Berkshires due to his father's work at Tanglewood, and young Peter used to hang out in the studio of Norman Rockwell, developing an interest in painting.

--Peter hung out with Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village in Dylan's early years.

--Peter's high school was in Harlem, not far from the Apollo Theater, where Peter watched shows by Ray Charles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson and others.

--Peter roomed with David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) in Boston while studying art at Boston's Museum of Fine Art. He also befriended Jon Landau, later Bruce Springsteen's manager and a writer for Rolling Stone magazine.

--Peter had an apartment in Cambridge, MA which became a refuge for touring musicians, including Muddy Waters.

--Barry Tashian, of New England legends Barry and the Remains, and later a member of Emmylou Harris' group, roomed with Peter.

I could go on.  Learn more at

Friday, October 08, 2010

Cheryl Wheeler made her annual appearance at the Narrows Friday night--but this time she was accompanied by a lovely book called Nice Rendition, Cheryl Wheeler's Lyrics in Calligraphy.

Sixty artists have done beautiful work in interpreting the lyrics from 73 of Cheryl's songs.

The book will continue to be for sale at the Narrows for a couple more weeks. Also check out

Friday, October 01, 2010

Notwithstanding Pompatus

Bingo--Steve Miller Band--The smooth production rock powerhouse who gave us "pompatus of love," is back after almost 2 decades, and doing blues with the help of veteran R & B singer Sonny Charles. Like most, perhaps all, of Steve Miller's work, what's not to like? It's catchy, it's fun, it's quality, and it's mostly silky smooth (except, maybe, for a rhythmically jarring rendition of Howlin' Wolf's "Who's Been Talkin"). Soon-to-be-Narrows-alum Jimmie Vaughan had a hand in writing 3 tracks, by the way.

For those who may not be ultra-serious blues students, there's a possibility you are unfamiliar with the tunes on Bingo. You might know B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" (reportedly the most covered blues song of all time), though. But, no matter. This is a fun, fine recording you can listen to a lot without growing tired. I'm mean, have you ever tired of hearing "Rock 'N Me,""Jet Airliner," or "Swingtown"? Not me. Okay, I am tired of "The Joker," "pompatus of love" notwithstanding.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Marc Cohn Surpasses

Listening Booth:1970--Marc Cohn--This guy, a Narrows fave and best known for "Walking in Memphis," may finally put that song behind him with this interesting recording of important tracks from 1970. "It was the year that the Beatles broke up. Simon and Garfunkel too...but it wasn't really 'the '70s' yet. 1970, at least musically, still felt like the '60s somehow," he writes in the CD notes.

When I saw the song listing on the CD, I was less than enthused about another cover of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed"--a great song, but hasn't it been covered enough? But Marc makes it worth hearing with new ears, along with Cat Stevens' "Wild World," Bread's "Make It With You," and Badfinger's "No Matter What."

But he makes this more than a trip down memory lane for those listening to Top 40 radio at the time. He reaches for deep tracks, like John Lennon's "Look at Me," from the Plastic Ono Band album that contained the better known "Mother," and "Working Class Hero," and blends it with the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus." And "The Only Living Boy in New York," from Simon and Garfunkle's Bridge Over Troubled Waters album containing the better know title track, "Cecelia," and "The Boxer." And the Dead's "New Speedway Boogie" from Workingman's Dead, an album containing the better known "Uncle John's Band." Frankly, I don't think I've heard "The Only Living Boy in New York" or "New Speedway Boogie" before, so this is an introduction to those songs for me.

As for moving beyond "Walking in Memphis,": "Listening Booth: 1970" surpassed it on Billboard. So there.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

His Name is Luka

A packed, enthusiastic Narrows audience Saturday night greeted Ireland's Luka Bloom for his first visit to our fabled stage.

He charmed us with his own compositions as well as inspired covers such as "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," written by late Englishman Ewan MacColl and made famous by Roberta Flack. His beautiful guitar sound was also of note, filling the space with acoustic warmth.

Though he may be from the Emerald Isle, his is not a Celtic show, although his accent is--or more precisely Irish, dropping the "th" sound and filled with self-deprecating wit.

If you missed this visit, be sure to catch him next time.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Working Artist

Marc Ribot was one of the first musicians ever to play the Narrows, way back in 2002.

We were pleased to have him return after so many years to do what might be termed an "avant garde" set at the Narrows Thursday night. And as you can see in the photo, he seriously preps before a performance.

Not surprising, since he is the "go to" guy for Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, producer T-Bone Burnett and others. If you heard Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, you heard Marc Ribot. It won a slew of Grammys.

Most recently he performed on John Mellencamp's mono release, No Better Than This, recorded in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, where Robert Johnson recorded in the 1930s; at the oldest African-American church in America, which is located in Savannah, Georgia; and in Memphis, Tennessee at Sun Records, where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf and others cut sides in the 1950s. "The experience of doing that in that room was amazing," he said, noting with a chuckle that perhaps more studios should have been built with parquet linoleum floors.

Marc's most recent solo release is called Silent Movies.

Though I didn't get a chance to ask him about it, he apparently will be appearing as part of the back up band in the upcoming Elton John/Leon Russell collaboration.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Top 10 Most Influential Guitarists of the 1960s

I was looking at the Rolling Stone's list of the greatest guitarists of all time--and got to musing if greatest meant the same as most influential.

I concluded it didn't, because the prowess on the frets award probably should go to a jazz guitarist that comparatively few listen to.

How about the top 10 most influential guitarists from a single era? How about the 1960s? A time which began around 1963 and ended in the early 1970s. Here's my thinking:

1. George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney (yes, Paul played guitar on those records too)--I've counted these three guitarists as one because the records they produced inspired at least one generation to play guitar. That's influence.

2. Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor--These guys, of course, played guitar in the Rolling Stones, and as an ensemble they made great and influential guitar-centered records.

3. Bob Dylan--He changed the world when he went electric. Now, that's influence.

4. Dave Davies--One song: "You Really Got Me." His brother Ray wrote the tune, apparently on a piano. But, unless a session guitarist (rumored to be Jimmy Page) sat in, Dave gets the credit. The riff won't go away, and overshadows Ray Davies' other songs, many of which are arguably better.

5. Roger McGuinn--The jingly-jangly sound that was his trademark was lifted by Tom Petty, one of the most important recording artists over the last 3 decades, who, at times, seems to be a Roger McGuinn tribute artist.

6. Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir--They influenced the whole jam band movement through their work with the Grateful Dead.

7. John Fogarty--It's easy to forget how important Creedence Clearwater was in the late 1960s. For all intents and purposes, Fogarty was Creedence. Love his version of "Suzi Q."

8. Eric Clapton--Cream. Derek and the Dominos. Period.

9. Jimi Hendrix--Clapton, Hendrix and Jimmy Page (below) were important in launching the influential Album Oriented Rock phase.

10. Jimmy Page--He influenced several generations of air guitarists. Try to listen to Led Zep's "Black Dog" without moving your hands.

Honorable mention: Gram Parsons, who wasn't much of a player, but his vision of Cosmic American Music was critical in spawning the guitar-centered country rock in the 1970s, and later Americana.

Agree? Disagree? Who are your top 10?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Electric Blues Guitar 101 from a Guitar Hero

So you want to be an electric blues guitarist. What do you need to know and do?

I posed such questions to a guitar hero, Kim Simmonds, who was at the forefront of the late '60s wave of British blues that gave the world the Yardbirds, Cream, Eric Clapton and others, including his band Savoy Brown.

I interviewed him before the Savoy Brown performance at the Narrows Center for the Arts on Saturday, September 18, 2010. I wanted to get hands-on practical advise for the aspiring guitarist. And he gave it.

First of all, "my advice has always been to focus in on one particular music," he said. "Hone in on the style at the exclusion of everything else. I mean to this day I can't play a Beatles song." When he became interested in guitar, he listened to jazz, old style R & B, etc., but by the time he was a teenager he realized he wanted to play the electric sounds emanating from Chicago courtesy of Muddy Waters and others. So he focused on that style as he learned to play his instrument.  

Another piece of advice to the would-be electric blues guitarist: "Don't start on the acoustic guitar because it's very difficult to make the swap...The first thing you should do if you want to play good electric blues guitar is start with electric guitar and an amp. Because it's a different head space altogether." While he plays acoustic blues when he performs solo, he says he's still learning how to play the acoustic guitar.

Thinking about becoming a lead guitarist in a blues band? "You don't play scales. You don't do anything start off listening to records, you start off getting licks, you know, you get one or two licks, you play those, you get a couple more licks, and you build up a library of guitar licks..." He never knew what a scale was until he was in his 30s, well after he became a blues guitar star. "It's all about feeling, you know, and playing scales is too technical." 

He adds new original licks to his repertoire nearly every performance. "Which is a big surprise to myself. I'm trying that hard every night to play the's a very nice feeling to have. It means that you're on the edge, it means that you're really pushing yourself, and you're trying to improvise."

Anybody out there can play what I play, he says. "But can you play it and mean it? That's the only difference." When you play a simple phrase, it has to carry meaning. "You've got to find a way to make that full of meaning," like Muddy Waters and other classic old-time blues guitarists did.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"I intend to live to a ripe old age"

Tonight British blues guitar pioneer  Kim Simmonds returns to the Narrows with his band Savoy Brown.  Figured I'd  dig up the 2007 interview:

During your last visit to the Narrows you played with such joy. Is it always fun these days?  

KS: The "joy" is always there. It's a blessing. Tough to hold on to if you take it lightly. I try to not make it "work" which this business of being a traveling musician can quickly become. Therefore I take less gigs so that the ones I do play, I can give 1000% to the audience and to the music. I can't give any's the way I'm built.  

What recordings are you listening to these days? Any recommendations?

KS: I like listening to the artists I grew up with. All the old blues and rock records are still fresh to me. I like people like Mose Allison and Tony Joe White and Dion and so forth. Older artists that still make great new music. I've been also listening to The Smiths lately which will tell you just how crazy my tastes are!  

How about your recording plans?  

KS: I'm currently recording my next solo acoustic CD tentatively entitled "Out Of The Blue" for release next May. I have the songs written but now I'm waiting on a special Martin from the Martin factory and also I've been promised a couple of newer Guilds so there will be a guitar shoot out in my studio soon....may the best guitar win.  

Solo performing versus playing with a band...any preference?

KS: The positives and negatives for each. I was surprised to hear James Taylor talking of the difficulties of putting on a one man show. I would have thought it was second nature to him. There is a real challenge to standing on stage alone with just an acoustic guitar. I love the challenge. With a band you can relax on stage and just let it happen (if the band is good) can't relax just by yourself. Of course on the upside there is a wonderful solitary vibe that goes along with traveling and playing alone which appeals to the Celt in me.

What kind of gear do you use, and why?

KS: I use Gibson guitars because they give me a beefy sound and one that exemplifies the "UK blues sound" that I am apart of. I was also using Marshall amplifiers for the same reason but recently I've switched to a Dailey amplifier that has much the same characteristics as a Marshall but with hand made components etc.

What's your favorite kind of audience...quiet and attentive, or kind of rowdy, shouting out requests, that kind of thing. The Narrows has both, and in-between.

KS: For solo acoustic performances I like an audience that's not too quiet because then I may get too self conscious. Attentive but responsive I suppose is what I mean. As regards the band shows...I don't mind...quiet is good...boogie loud is also good...crazy maniacal is also good!!! Really, with the band, there is nothing better than a loud, ready for the moment audience.

What are your long-term future plans?

KS: I intend to keep being a traveling musician until I'm.......really old. It keeps me healthy and inspired. I also draw and paint every day at home (as well as practice the guitar) so even if I wasn't a professional I would still do those things. More and more I am grateful for the ability and blessing that have made me able to make a living at doing what others consider a hobby. I will continue to record band and solo records and with luck, I intend to live to a ripe old age!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Old School Returns

More from the Narrows Festival 2010 last Sunday:

Deep funk hit the outdoor stage with Nashville-based the Dynamites featuring longtime soul vocalist Charles Walker.

Mr. Walker's story reminds us of that of Narrows fave Bettye LaVette: Starting in music decades ago; tasting mainstream success but never breaking out huge; taking a hike from the music biz; rediscovery by a new generation.

There's an old school soul movement, wrote USA Today back in 2008:

"This summer artists such as James Hunter...Ryan Shaw, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker are doing more than waxing nostalgic. Though commercial radio bypasses them in favor of glossier R&B and their niche-label record sales remain modest, these acts are wowing live audiences coast to coast with fresh songs and slamming performances."

James Hunter, by the way, played to a packed Narrows house a few months back, so maybe there's something to this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not Just a Regular Joe

Continuing with coverage of the Narrows Festival 2010:

On the inside stage, a Chicago fellow named Joe Moss (above) gathered his troops around 3 p.m. Sunday.

Your humble blogger, who was emceeing two stages (one inside the Narrows proper and one down the street at a park sporting the "Gates of the City"), wasn't able to hang out and listen. But fortunately we had the ears of morning host (5:30 to 11:00 a.m. M-F) Laurel Redington tucked next to the sound board:

"Joe Moss completely blew my mind. He plays it off like he has no talent, a humble, gracious guy...and then he launches into his set and your jaw drops! Joe should be known by circles outside the die-hard blues fans! His voice has depth and raspy passion. His guitar playing is outrageous...plays as well behind his head and with his teeth! His band is tight, soulful and groove-y!"

'Nuff said!

Monday, September 13, 2010

She is the Morning DJ on WMVY!

Continued follow up to the Narrows Festival of the Arts 2010, held Sunday:

Our friends at were at the festival recording the performances for future archiving for your enjoyment on their website.

Program head and mid-day host Barbara Dacey (right), celebrating 25 years at the station, was overseeing production at the main stage. In the photo above she's introducing headliner Shemekia Copeland. Morning host Laurel Redington (left) worked the inside stage.

The station is based on Martha's Vineyard, but truly serves the world via the Web with a programming mix rarely, if ever, found on commercial radio. If you are unfamiliar, give a listen!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Narrows Festival 2010

The 9th annual Narrows Festival of the Arts is now in the history books, and it was truly a memorable one.

The weather, while a trifle cool Sunday, stayed dry for the outdoor stage performers, from Amy Speace (photo) at 12:30 p.m. until headliner Shemekia Copeland's encore at 7 p.m. A few minutes later, some raindrops sprinkled the area.

Indoors, roots-oriented The 'Mericans kicked the day off at 11:30 a.m., followed by jazz fusionists Marcus Monteiro Quartet, blues guy Joe Moss, and singer/guitarist Andrea Belanger.

Also performing on the outdoor stage, funkster Charles Walker and the Dynamites, rushing in from New York City, and Entrain from Martha's Vineyard.

More photos coming up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Stomping Good Time!

A sold out room greeted the Carolina Chocolate Drops Friday night as they made their Narrows' debut.

The group's repertoire reflects the forgotten black string band tradition down south. Thanks to National Public Radio and others, including the Narrows, this tradition is once again being explored.

It all sounds so serious, but it wasn't Friday night as the band members joked around, stomped their feet and led the fans in sing-alongs.

Our friends at streamed the show live; it should be archived on their site in a few days.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hot Doggin' with Deke

It was good rockin' on a rainy Tuesday night at the Narrows!

California rockabilly guitar cat Deke Dickerson and his group cruised in with their high octane rhythms and riffs.

Local heroes the Cobra-Matics set the roots rockin' stage with a kickin' opening set.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

RIP Kenny Edwards

Very sad to note the passing of Narrows alum Kenny Edwards, founder of the Stone Poneys ("Different Drum" was a hit for them in the late 1960s with Linda Ronstadt at the vocals), musical associate of Linda Rondstadt during her prolific 1970s period, and longtime musical associate of Narrows alum Karla Bonoff as well as Andrew Gold ("Thank You For Being a Friend").

The LA Times reports he was suffering from cancer and a blood disorder. He collapsed in Denver while on tour with Karla, the paper reported, and hospitalized, dying Wednesday in California.

I know the crew at the Narrows who worked with him liked him and enjoyed working with him. A great talent and fine gentleman.

Karla Bonoff posted this message on her website, marking his passing: "I want to thank him for being my teacher, my musical partner and my best friend for the last forty-three years." Linda Ronstadt called him a "beacon to me" in an extensive remembrance of Kenny in an LA Times blog. To see that remembrance, click here.

For all of the entries about Kenny I've blogged, please click here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Retro's Reality

I Learned the Hard Way--Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings--When is retro a retread? With a number of retro acts on the scene, it's worth exploring. Hmm. One of the more over-the-top retros is the Chesterfield Kings, sounding like the Rolling Stones. I've got their Psychedelic Sunrise CD, and I like it, although it's "name the riff" when I listen. ("Doesn't that part sound like 'Ruby Tuesday?'") The group that invented retro in the rock era--if such a claim could be made--was the Flamin' Groovies. They're fun, although to these ears they covered songs that didn't need it--like "Kicks," and, with all due respect, "Tallahassee Lassie."

There are others. And then there's Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, who just played the Newport Folk Festival. A friend who saw them said he didn't care if they sounded like old Motown--what's original these days anyway? His bottom line: he likes 'em.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' I Learned the Hard Way, recorded, like in the olden days, on an Ampex 8-track tape machine according to the group's website, does sound like Diana Ross and the Supremes and maybe the Superfly soundtrack. But--and here's the important point to me--it's not an imitation. This is not a tribute group; rather, these musicians are embracing a sound, a niche, yes, a gimmick, that works for them. Sharon Jones is a talented, soulful singer who gets it done. The instrumentalists--clever and cool! The songs: as far as I can tell they're all of recent vintage, mostly written by the listed performers.

Deep in my heart--I can't help myself here--I believe the world would be a better place if the music of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (and blue-eyed soul singer/guitarist James Hunter, too) was blasting out of radio stations targeting the younger set, and their iPods and smartphones.

Friday, August 06, 2010

T Bone Fixes Willie's Guitar (and Voice)

Country Music-Willie Nelson-Is it me, or is Willie Nelson's trademark guitar sound grating? And his voice--man, I don't ever again want to hear him sing "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," or "Always on My Mind." Enough with "On the Road Again." And that "Baby It's Cold Outside" duet with Norah Jones is, to me, offensive. Stop it, I say. You've gone karaoke! You're an outlaw, for goodness sake.

That said, Mr. Nelson's new one, aptly titled Country Music, produced by roots tastemaker T Bone Burnett, is about perfect. The songs are country classics, so that helps. Gotta like "A Satisfied Mind" no matter who records it. But T Bone mixes Willie's distinctive singing and guitar in a way that complements the other instruments, instead of dominating them. Narrows alum Jim Lauderdale does a lot of harmonizing, which perhaps takes away the boring karaoke edge I've noticed in some of Willie's stuff.

In short: Country Music is the Willie Nelson album for non-Willie Nelson fans, few we may be.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


A couple from Rhode Island's South County said they came to the show because they hear her on WUMB radio, and think she sounds like Dusty Springfield.

Understandable, since Shelby Lynne (left) did a tribute to the iconic Springfield a couple years back called Just a Little Lovin' that included Dusty classics "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "Wishin' and Hopin'."

Another couple, this time from across the Taunton River from the Narrows, Somerset, MA, attended because she has a unique sound, a great voice.

It was clear and strong Thursday night at the Narrows, as Ms. Lynne made her 2nd visit, this time in support of her new recording Tears, Lies and Alibis.

Last time she had a band, and longer hair too. J. Geils' Peter Wolf was in the audience--we think because he was working with her on his CD Midnight Souvenirs, or recruiting her to appear on it (she's on the first track, "Tragedy"). This time she simplified her approach as she trimmed her tresses. No tour bus; no drummer; no bass; no Peter Wolf; just one side player, guitarist John Jackson, who worked with Bob Dylan for 6 years. A good choice, you think? And of course Shelby on guitar. She's not afraid to strum.

A quiet performance overall, though not laid back, as she's too intense for mellow. She set aside her guitar to do an intimate, pleading reading of Dusty's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," from A Little Lovin'. If a pin dropped it would have sounded like a bowling ball.

Some news she announced: She and her sister, alt country's Allison Moorer, will tour together later this year. Can we bring the sisters to the Narrows?

Watch this space.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ain't No Grave for Johnny Rebel

Was driving home from doing historic site-seeing in Lincoln and Concord, MA, towns of the first shooting of the Revolutionary War.

Saw the Old North Bridge, where townsfolk stood tall against the Redcoats, even killing a couple still buried nearby, Union Jacks on their graves. Within a musket shot is the Old Manse; "manse" means home of a clergy person, and this was the home of Rev. William Emerson, the grand-dad of writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. Rev. Emerson was a fiery rebel who died not long after the April, 1775 action at the bridge. Ralph, at the Old Manse, helped create the rebellious American transcendentalist movement; funny thing, writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived there for a few years and hung out with transcendentalists, goofed on 'em. Even rebels have their critics, sometimes their best buds. Down the road is where rebel silversmith and horseman Paul Revere got nabbed by the King's soldiers in the wee, wee hours as he was passing the word that they were coming--although I wonder how historians pinpointed precisely where such an encounter took place. Even with
our modern technology, we still don't know the facts, Jack. Think of the woman in the agriculture department who recently lost her job due to people messing with the truth, and then was offered it back, receiving a presidential apology. Oops.

So, driving back from all this I popped into the car's CD player Johnny Cash's Ain't No Grave, a recording released a few months back that features his final vocals before his 2003 exit. Johnny was a farm boy, a country performer, a troublemaker and troubled guy, and, in recent times, prince of the punks. After being immersed in history as I was, the CD particularly struck me as a conscious fade into history by someone who was counting down to his final moments. With titles like "Ain't No Grave (Gonna Hold This Body Down)," and "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound," producer Rick Rubin and associate producer John Carter Cash (Johnny and June Carter's only child) were certainly making this a farewell tour (Johnny didn't know there would be such an album). But the closer is what nailed me: "Aloha 'Oe," a Hawaiian tune, an odd choice for a guy born in Arkansas, and a seemingly quirky way to end the recording. "One fond embrace/A hoi ae au/Until we meet again." A tired sounding Johnny Cash doing what sounds like a song for a luau. Sad, maybe a little silly. I wonder what The Man in Black was thinking as he sang it. That crazy Rick Rubin! The guy who was more or less one of the Beastie Boys--is he messing with me?

After the last notes, the car fell silent. Hmm. Seemed about right.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hot Chording for Beginners

So let's say you know how to play the G, C and D chords. Can you dress 'em up without getting too complicated?

“It just would be kinda fun to learn two or three different versions...the major chord, and the 7th chord and then you mix it all up," said the soft-spoken Whit Smith, guitarist/vocalist for the internationally touring western swing/swing jazz trio called Hot Club of Cowtown. He spoke as he warmed up "backstage," strumming his 1946 Gibson guitar, before the group's appearance Friday (July 23, 2010) at the Narrows. "Maybe learn a diminished chord or an augmented chord to slide between them. And so you’re still playing pretty simple music basically but you’re making it kind of ornate. Makes it fun to play and it sounds cool.” The fleet-fingered Connecticut native, now based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has created an instructional DVD, "Chordination," to offer such tips to would-be pickers and grinners.

Mr. Smith has earned a living with his "axe" for a couple decades, choosing to focus on swing styles associated with American fiddler Bob Wills and French "Gypsy jazz" guitar icon Django Reinhardt. “I cannot stop watching that clip on YouTube of him. I love Django Reinhardt clearly." I'm not sure which YouTube video of Reinhardt he's referring to, but perhaps it's this one apparently from 1939. “His interpretation of American hot jazz and then culminating in when he discovered Louis add that to the Gypsy and the European mix...I think that’s what gives him the edge," Mr. Smith said.

But with all that fancy chording, never forget the blues. "Everything about blues--you want to include that in your playing..." He likes to spice things up with scales from classical or jazz, "but there's always blues tucked away in there."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Self-Critical: Crooked Still's Vocalist Working To Improve

"I’ve gotten totally slammed for my horrible diction in the past in reviews," said New England Conservatory-trained vocalist Aoife O'Donovan, 27, of the alternative bluegrass ensemble Crooked Still.

We were chatting "backstage" at the Narrows about 45 minutes before show time Thursday night (July 22, 2010), and I had complimented her on being a disciplined vocalist. "I think that I tend to mumble when I sing," she said. Some of her former teachers attend Crooked Still shows and provide her criticism afterwards. "And I encourage it from friends who I respect as well." She said she's working hard to improve. This from one of the finest young singers on today's roots music scene. "It all comes down to Aoife O'Donovan's vocals," wrote the Washington Post in May, 2010. "Sure, the music...owes much to the players' mastery, but it's O'Donovan's vocals that set it apart."

Ms. O'Donovan's upbringing, in West Newton, Massachusetts, was filled with music. Both her parents are musicians, and her father, Brian O'Donovan, from West Cork, Ireland, has a long-running Celtic radio program on public broadcasting powerhouse WGBH in Boston. You would, of course, think she grew up immersed in the culture of the Emerald Isle. Maybe, but when she and her parents would sing together at home it would be songs from Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson, and she was "into" Joan Baez. "I wasn't really singing that much Celtic music." She spoke fondly of her time as a student of the Newton (Massachusetts) North High School music department.

We can only hope her "poor" diction--not evident to these ears during Crooked Still's concert Thursday night---continues to be overlooked by the public, since she claims she has no other skills that will enable her to earn a living. That's the danger of going to music school, she said. "I'm not really equipped to do anything else at this point."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Girls Just Wanna Have The Blues

Memphis Blues--Cyndi Lauper--Well, you may ask, does she pull it off? Can quirky, perky Cyndi Lauper sing the blues? Yes she can! Passionately and authentically. Clearly, she did her homework. What may strike some listeners more, though, is the work of her backing group and guest stars Allen Toussaint on the piano, B.B. King and Jonny Lang, guitar and vocals, nearly forgotten singer Ann Peebles, and Narrows alum Charlie Musselwhite (in photo, Narrows, 2009), harmonica. And the song choices: Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (with Narrows alum Amy Lavere on bass), Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," and other lesser known but inspired choices. "I was very careful to pick songs that were blues but had a soulful, joyful journey, too. They were very human and really depict the times we live in today," she told Recorded in Memphis in March of this year--a quick turnaround for a project by a major artist--Memphis Blues proves this fifty-something girl can still have fun. And so can we.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Heritage Dance

Why play zydeco? "It think it's because I grew up listening to this type of music," Louisiana's Rosie Ledet, the "zydeco sweetheart," says, relaxing on a couch before she and her group Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys hit the boards at the Narrows Friday night.

"My parents were always singing it and playing it around the house," she says. "I'm Creole French, you know, so it's heritage music."

Not a way to get rich, but "I'm just glad I'm not a shrimper from home now," she adds, referencing the BP oil disaster.

No doubt the audience Friday night also felt glad she's not a shrimper, as they stepped smartly to Rosie's heritage.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ignore Your Better Instincts

I Am Ozzy (book)--Ozzy Osbourne--Seems like every time over the past few weeks I mentioned I was reading Ozzy's book, people rolled their eyes. Why? they ask. He's a clown, druggie, etc., etc. And who listens to him anymore, anyway?

Let's start with the last point: His latest recording, Scream, made it up to #4 on Billboard's Top 200 chart. So somebody, including me, bought the CD (which is pretty good, by the way). And the book I Am Ozzy made it to the upper echelons of the NY Times bestseller list. Aside from all that, yes Ozzy is a clown and was a druggie. He's also lived an interesting, funny, tragic, ridiculous life, if you believe even half of I Am Ozzy. And did I mention funny? This is an outrageously funny book.

He writes how his dad said he'd be "big" one day--or he'd go to prison. Dad was right, he points out, because he was in jail before turning 18! From there Ozzy and co-writer Chris Ayres take the reader on an F-bomb-replete road rage defined by abject poverty in post-war England; dyslexia; loving but dysfunctional parents; trips to jail, sometimes in bizarre garb; terrifying, violent death; waking up in unusual places; rock & roll, and an abiding love of The Beatles; booze and drugs and even more booze and drugs; loads of dough and even more loads of dough; and, we hope, permanent sobriety. Note: The part about Ozzy's employment at a slaughterhouse is worth the price of the book.

So ignore the advice of friends, co-workers, and family, as well as your better instincts. Read I Am Ozzy. It's vile, scatological, offensive and a scream.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's Old Is New

Black Rock--Joe Bonamassa--If you wonder why they don't make records like they used to, take heart: Joe Bonamassa hears you. This thirty-something upstate New Yorker has taken British blues guitar rock and trademarked it. Do you dig Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher, Steve Marriott, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, and Kim Simmonds (coming to the Narrows soon leading Savoy Brown)? Add Joe Bonamassa to the pantheon. He comes a-roarin' at you from track one, with thick riffs, recalling the past but no way retro, and guitar idol vocals. And the tunes? He mixes more than sturdy originals (check this out) with the Jeff Beck/Rod Stewart/Ron Wood penned "Spanish Boots," and Leonard Cohen's "Bird on the Wire," famously and agonizingly recorded decades back by Brit Joe Cocker. (Everybody's covering Leonard Cohen these days, aren't they? Not a bad thing!) If Clapton is god, then this is his American son. Hasn't played our beloved Narrows, but one never knows. In the meantime, get some tea and crumpets and listen to Black Rock.

Monday, July 12, 2010

On Her Own

Tears, Lies and Alibis--Shelby Lynne--"I like this record a lot. I spent a year making it and made a lot of decisions and changes during that period," Ms. Lynne writes on her Facebook page.

"It was fun at times, not fun sometimes. But in the end, this is the record I wanted you to hear and the one I thought you would love."

She's celebrating her independence these days because she's created her own label, called Everso Records.  "I finally have the creative control I’ve needed to get my vision out there..."

Her vision on Tears, Lies and Alibis is one of heartbreak and, oddly enough, Airstream trailers:

"When the sun hits her right/She'll blind you with her light a beacon of royalty, ooooh/Yeah, she's like a Van Gogh or an old Picasso oh what a sight to see."

This recording, produced by Ms. Lynne herself, won't knock you over at first, like her last project, a tribute to Dusty Springfield, produced by legend Phil Ramone and sporting classics "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "Breakfast in Bed," and "How Can I Be Sure."  Her vocals, of course, are right on from the first phrase, but the songs, mostly short--she doesn't waste our time--may take several listens before you connect.  That's a sign this is going to have a long shelf life--speaking of which, soul organist and songwriter Spooner Oldham backs her on Tears, Lies, and Alibis.  You probably first heard him on the 1960s' hit "When a Man Loves a Woman," performed by Percy Sledge.

Shelby Lynne returns to the Narrows August 5.  See her perform on the Late Late Show by clicking here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Are There Ghosts at the Narrows?

Comedian Jim Lauletta--or as he called himself "co-medium"--thinks there is paranormal activity at the Narrows (especially after his mike made some inexplicable noise); he also thinks Don Knotts, of Andy of Mayberry TV fame, died before playing what could have been his greatest role: Batman.  

Mr. Lauletta headlined comedy night at the Narrows Saturday, as we featured standup, one of the most brutal of the performing arts.  

Steve Bjork (below) opened with a set celebrating

 married men at the supermarket, trying to understand what their wives mean when the shopping list says "c. cheese"--so they get Velveeta, a "man's cheese."

The Narrows plans to continue offering comedy shows in the months ahead.  So spread the word to comedy fans!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

"Live from Las Vegas via Austin"

Trio Del Rio made their Narrows' debut Thursday night with the introduction "live from Las Vegas via Austin!"

Whimsical, sort of a Dan Hicks-like approach. Old timey, rootsy.  The woman in the photo with the sunglasses, Maryanne Price, was an early member of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks and performed on the Kinks' Preservation Act II album!  That's a huge deal for your humble blogger.

The show was streamed live on and should be available on that site's archives in a few days, so you can hear more of the group.

Chatted with guitarist Tanner Swain about our heat wave, figuring it was no big deal for a guy used to the torrid summers in the former Republic of Texas.  Seems, though, even he felt the discomfort we Northerners have been experiencing because of the record heat over the past several days.

Friday, July 02, 2010


Lifted Off the Ground--Chely Wright--Narrows fans may only be vaguely aware of Ms.Wright's work as a mainstream country artist, with some major hits, including Single White Female, back about 10 years ago.  In 2001, she worked with Narrows alum Dr. Ralph Stanley, appearing on his Clinch Mountain Sweethearts album, so members of our bluegrass community may be familiar with her through that.  More likely, you know her because in May of this year her autobiography was published, revealing she is leading a life that some think is outside the mainstream country norm.  If you want to read about that, here's a link.  Let's talk music, instead. Rodney Crowell, whom we hope to have play the Narrows soon, produced the disc, played some guitar on it, and co-wrote one of the tunes with Ms. Wright, who wrote the rest herself.  And they're well worth hearing, starting with the first track, a catchy number called I'm Broken: 

Why can't you just believe in me?/ Not everyone is the enemy/I'm trying hard I swear I am/I'm doin' the best I can/But I'm Broken.

She's a fabulous singer, the production is tasteful--sometimes even Beatlesque--and Ms. Wright knows how to write a song, which isn't surprising since she's been composing for herself and others for a long time.  The CD has apparently not been a success on mainstream country radio, but is picking up support from Americana stations.  So she might be getting backlash from the Nashville establishment.  Nonetheless, Lifted Off the Ground is a winner.  Their loss.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Ralph Stanley II, son of bluegrass and country pioneer Dr. Ralph Stanley, stepped out of dad's shadow while embracing his legacy as son and nephew of the fabled Stanley Brothers.

He and his group made their debut at the Narrows on Thursday night, although the 30-something Ralph had been on our stage backing his dad as one of the Clinch Mountain Boys in the wintertime. 

The show included Stanley Brothers tunes, a Fred Eaglesmith song saluting Carter Stanley, and an original or two or three.

Excellent musicianship, harmonizing and arrangements.  Note for note, one of the best shows of the year.  Look for it in the archives at

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Merle Haggard: He Is What He Is

I Am What I Am--Merle Haggard--"What kind of music do you usually have here," asks Elwood Blues, in the 1980s movie The Blues Brothers.  "Oh, we got both kinds," says the waitress.  "We got country AND western."  That's what I Am What I Am is--both country AND western.  More specifically it reflects the Bakersfield Sound,  from Bakersfield, CA.  This is plain, down home C & W with few, if any, studio enhancements.  Mr. Haggard's voice is right up front, clearly articulating the lyrics so you don't miss his points.  The recording is dressed up a bit--with trumpet, piano, fiddle, backing vocals from his wife, and more--so this is far from rustic.  If you like Tom Russell, Dave Alvin or Gram Parsons but haven't listened much to Merle, I Am What I Am may be a fine introduction.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Other Dylan

Women and Country-Jakob Dylan--Yes, he's one of Bob's kids, and, no, he doesn't sound exactly like dad (to the relief of many).  Or maybe he does a little.  More like a cross between his dad and Mark Knopfler.  And no, he's probably not going to be the "voice of his generation" like dad.  But he did make a darn good record with boutique roots producer T-Bone Burnett, with whom he worked as a member of The Wallflowers.  If you liked T-Bone's production of the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant pairing CD, Raising Sand, then you'll probably like Women and Country. Low-key rootsy hipness,  perfect for a hot summer day driving in your car with the AC on, or when you're sipping a latte at Starbucks.  The songs are likeable, hummable, not exactly memorable at first. But they grow on you. A CD worth listening to!  Narrows history fans: Narrows alum Marc Ribot contributes guitar work. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Soul'd Out

It was blue-eyed soul night, and another sold-out show night, at the Narrows Friday as Englishman James Hunter brought his band and a sackful of catchy tunes that sounded like they could have been recorded in 1959 or yesterday.

If you're unfamiliar with his work, just stop by the Ruby Tuesday's in South Attleboro. Your humble blogger swears that he hears something from James Hunter in the soundtrack piped through the restaurant every visit.

A young fellow originally from Arlington, MA, Jesse Dee, opened the show doing his version of the retro soul man. After his set, audience members were asking us to have him headline his own show.

Nice job, Jesse (he's pictured right).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Like It Loud. Like It Blue.

 A loud, bluesy Friday night at the Narrows, that started acoustic with master blues picker Mark T. Small, playing some Charlie Patton, some Robert Johnson, some Mark T. Small.  Then the air got electric with Coco Montoya (above) and his group, sporting a new CD.

All kicked off a blues weekend that features Ronnie Earl on Saturday night.  Blues fans--take note! James Cotton, Taj Mahal, Savoy Brown, Jimmy Vaughn and Johnny Winter coming up in the months ahead!

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Jesse Winchester Kind of NIght

A lovely Friday night at the Narrows.  The weather kind of understated.  

The performer, Jesse Winchester, kind of understated, too.  Except with fabulous songs.

Kevin Connolly, who recently played the Kerrville Folk Festival, was the opener and received a more than enthusiastic response.