Look! Look! – Music
August 1, 2013
Irish Fest happens a bit north of Bay View, at the Henry Meier Festival Park. But in August in Bay View there will be another celebration of Irish music and dance at Chill on the Hill and the South Shore Farmers Market.
Saturday, August 3, you can hear Frogwater at the South Shore Farmers Market. The local duo, Susan and John Nicholson, play a lively blend of Irish, Scottish, Cajun, blues, and old-time fiddle music. “I call it eclectic acoustic music,” Susan Nicholson said. She plays fiddle, while John adds guitar, banjo, and other instruments.
The two met in a band called The Gillies back in the 1990s, and when that band broke up in 1997 or 98, Susan said, they kept playing together as Frogwater. A few years later they started dating and they married in 2005.
Frogwater is “always the two of us,” Susan said, although they occasionally collaborate with friends, such as Milwaukee’s Lil’ Rev (who played the South Shore Farmers Market in July) and other “honorary members,” as Susan called them.
The band’s unusual name comes from a jug of water Susan used to keep for her African clawed frog—she labeled it “frog water,” so it wouldn’t get used for anything else—and John thought it was funny. “Everyone else though it was lame,” Susan said, but no one could think of an alternative, “so it stuck.”
The duo plays up to five shows a week when they are busy, touring the state from their home base in the Milwaukee area. Locally you can see them regularly at the Milwaukee Ale House, County Claire, or Waukesha’s House of Guinness.
At the farmers market, John and Susan will be playing their usual mix of traditional and original tunes. They will play some Celtic music, to promote their appearances at Irish Fest (August 15 and 18), as well as some blues, which is a new thing for them.
“John is really into Blind Blake,” Susan explained, “and found out he’s buried in Milwaukee.” (The famous Delta blues singer is actually buried in Glen Oaks Cemetery in Glendale.) So John has been working on blues songs, she said.
They enjoy playing farmers markets, Susan said, noting that they have been playing the Westown market for a number of years, as well as South Shore. “Everyone at South Shore is so incredibly kind, welcoming, and accommodating. They make everything so easy, playing there is just a joy.
“We’re totally psyched,” Susan said.
Later in the month, on Tuesday, August 13, Kinsella Academy of Irish Dance and local Celtic rock band McTavish perform at Chill on the Hill.
McTavish has been together for 25 years, according to founder Dan Mullen, who plays guitar and mandolin with the band. Earlier this year they marked the occasion with a show at the Nomad World Pub.
But they did the show without founding member Mark Shurilla, who passed away suddenly in May 2012.
“It was a shock,” Mullen said of Shurilla’s death. “We had a lot of shows scheduled, and even up to the day before he died he was talking about doing those shows. It was a struggle to get back together,” Mullen said.
Mullen and Shurilla, along with other musician friends of theirs, started McTavish in 1988 in the Riverwest neighborhood where they lived. They were playing together in the Greatest Hits, a ’50s rock tribute band, where Shurilla was famous for his Buddy Holly tribute. They also played as a Celtic rock band, McTavish, in what Mullen said was supposed to be on one-off performance that spring.
“But somebody saw us and asked to play a 4th of July show, and from that we were asked to play Irish Fest,” Mullen said. Though there was a lot of overlap between McTavish and the Greatest Hits—“the bands kind of became one,” Mullen said—McTavish’s sound was very different.
“We were like the Pogues,” Mullen said, “the first big Irish rock band. When we started, we would do things like take Clancy Brothers songs”—very traditional Irish and Celtic music—“and put a rock beat behind them.”
Mullen said that in 1988, this posed a problem for Irish Fest.
“Because Irish Fest was all folk and traditional,” he said, “they didn’t know what to do with us. So they made us the bar band in some guy’s play. Then because of us they got one of the rock stages for Irish Fest, and we were the first Irish rock band to play at Irish Fest.” (Plays are part of the festival lineup. There is a theater tent in the cultural events area of the festival grounds.)
The band is not on this year’s schedule, though.
McTavish’s name came from one of its founding members, Paul Cotter, Mullen explained. Cotter had a joke about his old neighborhood, that “whenever something went wrong, it was, ‘Blame it on the McTavish boys,’ the local troublemakers. They may never have existed, but it became the joke and it stuck,” Mullen said.
At Chill on the Hill this month, Mullen will be playing with long-time McTavish members Tommy Greywolf on fiddle and Terry Garguillo on drums, along with bass player Rick Holmes and singer-guitarist Randy Adams. Mullen added that there may also be some special guests joining them to add to the band’s trademark Celtic rock sound.
Frogwater plays the South Shore Farmers Market Saturday, August 3 at 10:15am. McTavish plays Chill on the Hill Tuesday, August 13 at 6:30pm (Kinsella Academy of Irish Dance performs at 6pm.) Follow Jay Bullock on Twitter @folkbum.
April 29, 2012
Chill on the Hill is an outdoor, summer local music concert series on Tuesday nights at Humboldt Park. This year’s dates are June 5 – August 28.
Opening acts start at 6pm with main acts running 6:30-8:30pm.
June 5th — Headliner: Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys (Blues)
June 12th — Headliner: Honkytonkitis/The Carpetbaggers (Alternative Country) Opener: Brian Smith from God’s Outlaw
June 19th — Headliner: The Squeezettes (Polka) Opener: Sophia’s Heart Chorus
June 26th — Headliner: Great Lake Drifters/Vitrolum Republic (Alternative Americana/Indie)
July 3rd — Headliner: American Legion Band (Traditional Patriotic)
July 10th — Headliner: Opus Jazz (Jazz) Opener: Nastassja Bates
July 17th — Headliner: Fresh Cut Collective (Pop Funk)
July 24th — Headliner: Dick Satan Trio/The Exotics (Go-go Fun)
July 31st — Headliner: I Am Not a Pilot (Alternative) Opener: Magnificent Performing Strings
August 7th — Headliner: Orpheus/The Bottom Line (Kids/Family Night) Opener: Iron Jawed Angels
August 14th — Headliner: The Gleasons (Irish) Opener: Kinsella Academy of Irish Dance
August 21st — Headliner: The Barrettes/Venus in Furs (Womens Rock Night)
August 28th — Headliner: D’Calleson (Salsa)
September 27, 2011
By Gian Chivas Pogliano
The walls of the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center rang with music, but also with clapping hands and stomping feet. SMPAC’s 2011 season kicked-off Sept. 25 in rousing style with a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (PHJB), a heritage act that has spent the past 50 years bringing traditional New Orleans jazz to those both familiar and unfamiliar with its lush swing.
Like the Swingle Singers, PHJB is an entity that has succeeded its original lineup; its current musical director, Ben Jaffe, is the son of (the late) Allan Jaffe and Sandra Jafee, who were PHJB co-founders. Ben’s version of the band is a diverse blend ranging greatly in age and name recognition. Some are from Uptown, some from the Ninth Ward. Some were born with a jazz pedigree, and others rose from obscurity.
The show began with the lone piano playing of Rickie Monie, who started the evening off with a piece reminiscent of Jelly Roll Morton. Jaffe joined Monie onstage and one-by-one introduced the band, each of whom took a solo as they entered. When the whole group was present, they settled into the classic “Basin St. Blues,” as popularized by Louis Armstrong. Trumpeter Mark Braud thankfully made no attempts to mimic Satchmo’s delivery, relying instead on a suave yet jivey croon that conjured images of Louis Jordan working over the Copacabana crowd.
Each performer got a showcase song, displaying the great variety of their highly individual styles. Mark Braud, trombonist Freddie Lonzo, and drummer Little Joe Lastie, Jr., brought the taste and simplicity of the traditional Dixieland style (even if Lonzo added a bit more gnarl to his low notes).
Clarinetist Charlie Gabriel, despite being the oldest member, had the most modern approach to his instrument, adding large doses of fast and fluid bebop licks. Gabriel took the mic as well, notably for the Nat King Cole chestnut, “I Want a Little Girl”.
Saxman Clint Maedgen struck a middle ground between Gabriel and the others, sneaking in some speed but often focusing on lyrical and sensuous melodies. The arrangements likewise were balanced between authenticity and modernism, with unexpected touches like two-bar double-time segments, tuba pitch bends, an angular solo from Lonzo, Rachmaninoff-style arpeggios from Monie, and a four-horn simultaneous solo that stunned the audience with its complexity.
The showcased songs showed plenty of range as well, from the expected Fats Waller alligator crawls, struts, and uptempo marches, to ballads, gospel, big band-style arrangements, and two Latin-flavored instrumentals—an important component of the New Orleans jazz style that is often overlooked). Even the intermission music, consisting of Appalachian folk and hymns, was a surprise.
But the most obvious aspect of the band’s performance was the looseness and jocularity they displayed throughout. Other members stuck their watches in Jaffe’s face during his upright bass solo, before turning an imaginary crank in the back of his instrument in order to increase his speed to a white-knuckled blur. After a snare break that would put anyone in the drum corps to shame, the diminutive Lastie stepped from behind his kit and posed as Superman in flight. Braud, who handled most of the stage banter, made lightly self-deprecating comments about the band’s lack of commercial appeal and referred to an exhaustedly slow original called “Sugar Blues” as “the diabetic’s anthem.” However, his wit did not render him immune from some friendly heckling during his unaccompanied trumpet solo, courtesy of Gabriel.
The good feelings climaxed in their finale as some members traded their horns for percussion and whipped up a Latin clave rhythm. Braud chanted, “It’s your last! Chance! To dance! Tear the roof off the sucka!” As the audience rose to their feet, the band made its way into the orchestra pit and led dancers down the aisles like a troupe of Storyville Pied Pipers.
When they returned to the stage the audience members joined them. One young student and her grandmother, in matching red berets, danced together before the elder celebrant burst into a spirited Charleston.
The encore got the audience singing along, too. Following a chant of “Who dat sayin’ they gonna beat them Saints, who dat!” the band went full-tilt (what else?) into the archetypal New Orleans song, “When the Saints Go Marching In”.
Future attractions in this season at the South Milwaukee PAC include saxophonist Joe Lovano, The Improvised Shakespeare Company; spoken word artist George Watsky; and Milwaukee historian John Gurda. More information can be found at www.southmilwaukeepac.org.
October 31, 2010
By Randy Otto
Jimi Hendrix, West Coast Seattle Boy
Earlier this year, Sony Legacy acquired the much-coveted rights to the Jimi Hendrix catalog. Phase I consisted of deluxe reissues of the Hendrix studio albums, plus the well-received Valleys of Neptune collection of previously unreleased studio tracks.
Phase II is the crown jewel of the reissue project, the brand-new boxed set West Coast Seattle Boy. This marks the first time Jimi’s entire musical career has been documented in a single anthology. In fact, the first disc of the four-CD set consists entirely of Jimi’s pre-Experience work backing the likes of Little Richard, the Isley Brothers, Don Covay, and King Curtis. The remaining three CDs contain songs familiar to Hendrix fans, but the vast majority of these tracks are previously unreleased outtakes or live tracks. Among the tracks are a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tears of Rage” and the legendary studio jam with Hendrix and jazz organist Larry Young. The Hendrix/Young track offers a hint of the direction Jimi’s music would have taken had he lived.
Topping it all off is a new DVD documentary on Jimi’s life from director Bob Smeaton, who was responsible for helming the Beatles Anthology series, done with the same care Smeaton brought to the Beatles programs.
Finally, an anthology worthy of this musical giant.
Bruce Springsteen, The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story
One of the year’s most-awaited releases is the new Promise box set that offers a never-before-seen look at Springsteen’s creative process during the creation of Darkness on the Edge of Town, which many consider a defining moment in his career. In addition to the newly remastered CD of the original Darkness on the Edge of Town, there are two CDs packed with songs recorded for but not included on Darkness, including “Fire” and “Because the Night.” There are also three DVDs: the recent HBO documentary on the making of the album, another featuring a rollicking E Street Band gig filmed in Houston in December 1978, and one more featuring Bruce and the E Streeters performing the entire album live in an empty Asbury Park theater, filmed in 2009.
Calling The Promise a bonanza for Springsteen fans is the understatement of the year.
The Who, Live at Leeds (Super Deluxe Edition)
Oh, no! Yet another reissue of Live at Leeds? Sure, it’s one of the greatest live albums ever, but it’s been previously issued on CD several times, including the 1995 edition that featured the entire gig (with its complete performance of Tommy) for the first time.
A little historical perspective is in order. During their UK tour in February 1970, the band decided to record several of the gigs with the intent of releasing a live Who album. On the 13th, they recorded their show in Hull, one of the band’s best gigs ever. On the 14th, the band recorded their show in Leeds, mainly as a backup just in case there were technical problems with the Hull tapes.
Which, as it turned out, there were. When listening to the first few songs of the set, it was discovered that John Entwistle’s bass parts were missing. After hearing the first couple songs sans bass, the band abandoned the Hull tapes, and the Leeds tapes became the Live at Leeds album.
But as it turns out, the Hull tapes were recently pulled from storage, and upon listening to the entire show, it was discovered that the Entwistle bass parts were actually on the majority of the tapes. So, thanks to some slick digital editing, Who fans will get to hear this legendary show for the very first time. This monster box contains the original remastered Live at Leeds double CD, the complete Hull show on two CDs, the original Live at Leeds LP on heavy duty vinyl, and a special collectible 45 featuring tracks from the show. In addition, tons of memorabilia from the band fill out the box, just like on the original LP. All in all, a true rock masterpiece just got even better.
See bayviewcompass.com/archives/category/did-you-hear-that to read my exclusive online Now Hear These picks for November, including our annual look at local musical offerings for the upcoming holiday season.
NOW HEAR THESE!
Musically Celebrating the Holidays in Milwaukee
With the myriad of musical events celebrating the upcoming holiday season here in the area, once again Now Hear These presents my list of recommended events that might slip under the radar of more well-known traditional events like the Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker and the Rep’s Christmas Carol. So climb aboard the sleigh, and away we go!
HMS Pinafore, Skylight Opera, November 19-December 19, Cabot Theatre (skylightopera.com)
In the over 50-year-history of this venerable company, the holiday season usually meant one thing: Gilbert & Sullivan. Many of the Skylight’s greatest productions have been their holiday productions of classic G&S operettas. The tradition returns for 2010 with a sparkling revival of the duo’s HMS Pinafore, the delightful comedy of hi-jinx on the high seas seasoned with good English humor. The show is loaded with memorable songs like “My Gallant Crew, Good Morning,” “When I Was a Lad,” “Poor Little Buttercup,” “Carefully on Tiptoe Stealing,” and of course, “He Is An Englishman.” In fact, there is nary a former piano student who didn’t learn this show’s jaunty “We Sail the Ocean Blue” as part of his/her training (My kid sister certainly did). While not containing a holiday theme per se, Artistic Director Bill Theisen’s production will certainly put you in the seasonal spirit. Bangers and mash, anyone?
A Nod to Bob, Linneman’s, November 24
Get an early start on your Thanksgiving celebration by attending this Milwaukee tradition, a benefit for the Hunger Task Force, where some of the area’s best musicians get together to perform their favorite songs by the Bard of Hibbing. A full list of performers and schedule is available at the pub’s website listed above. Don’t forget to bring several non-perishable food items and get a discount on the cover. And get there early, the place fills up fast. And the show does run pretty late, but so what? You don’t have to go anywhere the next morning, do you?
Whitefish Bay Christmas Parade, East Silver Spring Drive, November 26, 5 pm
Ever wanted to attend a nighttime Christmas parade like the one in A Christmas Story? Well, I’ve got just the thing for you. On the day after Thanksgiving at 5pm (after dark, of course), bundle up, fill the thermos with hot chocolate, and head to Whitefish Bay as their annual Christmas Parade rolls down Silver Spring Drive. Floats, bands, the whole shebang…and of course, Mr. Claus will be on hand. And instead of heading to Higbees’ store after the parade like in the movie, you can head to Winkie’s variety store on the corner of Silver Spring and Marlbourough and check out their awesome basement toy department, just like Ralphie and his buddies.
Wisconsin Lutheran College Christmas Choral Concert, December 2-5, Schwan Concert Hall, 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave .
Yes, I’ve been touting this event every year, and for the nominal ticket price, it’s truly a holiday performance everyone can afford. And apparently it’s no longer one of Milwaukee’s best-kept holiday secrets, as an additional evening has been added to the schedule for 2010. The college’s three choral groups perform gorgeous arrangements of some of the season’s greatest traditional carols, as well as Christmas music from around the world. So don’t look for Santa, Frosty, or reindeer running over Grandma here, just some of the most wonderful music ever composed. And limber up those vocal cords, as there are several opportunities for the audience to sing along as well.
Scrooge in Rouge, In Tandem Theatre, December 3-31
From the feisty group who brought you the much-beloved Cudahy Carolers’ Christmas comes this new classic which made its debut last year and makes a welcome return for 2010. An English music hall troupe comes down with food poisoning the night before the premiere of their musical version of the Dickens classic, leaving three healthy actors to carry on. And the show goes on, with the trio performing all 22 roles! It’s a version of A Christmas Carol like you’ve never seen before, and likely will never see again (not unless the play returns for 2011)!
Festive Soiree with Robin Pluer, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, December 9-11
It may not be the boulevards of Paris in July, but attend this perennially popular show with Ms. Pluer and friends at WCM, close your eyes for a moment, and you will indeed be transported to the streets of gay Paree (or at least Cathedral Square in Milwaukee where Robin performs annually during Bastille Days). While the majority of the show features many of Robin’s favorite chansons—including Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris”…en francais!—she also offers a nod to the season with an absolutely heartbreaking rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Handel’s The Messiah with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
December 16 and 19, Basilica of St. Josaphat. December 17 and 18, Cathedral of St. John
After several years’ absence, another Milwaukee holiday tradition returns with the MSO’s performances of Handel’s beloved oratorio, featuring the magnificent “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” “And the Glory of the Lord,” “I Know My Redeemer Liveth,” and of course, “Hallelujah.” It was here in America that Christmastime performances of Messiah began, and became a worldwide tradition, one that the MSO and its glorious Chorus bring back to Milwaukee for 2010.
Gershwin and Friends, Skylight Opera, December 19-January 9, Studio Theatre
It’s New Year’s Eve at George Gershwin’s New York apartment, and the hired help are on hand to work the New Year’s party, where the strains of many Gershwin standards fill the air. After the party winds down, the staff heads uptown to Harlem to continue the revelry, accompanied by songs from Gershwin “friends” Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Harold Arlen. A great showcase of some of the greatest songs from the 20’s through the 40’s, and a special way to ring in 2011.
New Year’s Party with Sha-Na-Na, Marvin Hamlisch and the Milwaukee Symphony Pops, December 31-January 2, Marcus Center
Speaking of novel ways to ring in the New Year, how about a live “Record Hop” with the kings of oldies revivals, teamed up with Marvelous Marvin and the MSO?
This band, assembled for a talent show while the members were students at Columbia University, got booked to play the legendary 1969 Woodstock Rock Festival, wound up in the subsequent classic film about the festival, and the rest is history. Grease, Happy Days, and countless other shows inspired by 50’s rock and roll probably wouldn’t have existed if Sha-Na-Na didn’t do it first. As far as they’re concerned, some 40 years on, Rock and Roll IS here to stay!
Now I’m just wondering if Bowzer is still part of the group all these years later. Guess there’s only one way to find out…check ‘em out with the MSO this New Year’s!!
World Rock Sessions, November 6 & 13, Highbury Pub
It seems appropriate that the pub where soccer fans of all ethnicities congregate to watch matches, namely Bay View’s own Highbury Pub, should host this nifty series of showcase gigs. WMSE and Alverno College are helping to present these shows, which ably demonstrate that Rock & Roll isn’t just an Anglo-American thing, not by a long shot. If you enjoyed the recent Global Union festival in Humboldt Park, make sure to check out these shows! Each session gets underway at 9 pm.
Richard Thompson Band, November 4, Pabst Theater
Please note the word “band” following the esteemed English singer/songwriter and guitar legend’s name. Although RT has appeared numerous times in Milwaukee over the years, it’s been quite a while since he’s taken the stage with a full backing band for an all-electric show. So this upcoming Pabst show is truly cause for celebration. Add to that he’ll be armed with songs from his great new Dream Attic album, and you have what’s certain to be one of the year’s best shows.
Mark GE Video Showcase, November 18, Oriental Theatre, 7 pm
Now this should be a pre-Thanksgiving treat. Local filmmaker and composer Mark GE will be presenting previously unseen music videos made for his 80’s TV show Joy Farm. Among the many acts featured in these professionally shot concert videos are Red Hot Chili Peppers, Violent Femmes, BoDeans, Husker Du, and They Might Be Giants. In addition, Victor De Lorenzo of the Femmes will be on hand for the festivities. It’s a special opportunity to see the key bands that represented the true alternative vanguard of the early to mid 80’s. Journey back to a time when MTV really meant Music Television. For ticket info call 414-276-8711.
La Guitarra, November 11, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music
Speaking of guitar, in case you didn’t get enough fancy fretwork at last month’s guitar faculty recital, here’s another great guitar showcase. This trio features fingerstyle guitarist (and guitar faculty chairman) Matt Schroeder, classical guitarist Brad De Roche, and jazz guitarist Matt Warnock. Each guitarist performs an individual set, winding up with the threesome playing together as Trio La Guitarra. There should be musical fireworks aplenty!
Various Artists, Dear New Orleans
Here’s a musical Christmas gift suggestion for someone who has everything, because you won’t find this in a record store. This 2-CD tribute to the Crescent City comes five years after Katrina, and the material reflects the continuing struggles in that city as well as its resilience. Plenty of stars provided special tracks for this collection, but special mention must be made of the tracks that fill the second half of disc 2. The almighty funk brass band Bonerama are joined by a cast of guest stars on these live tracks, capped by the trifecta of Nicole Atkins on the band’s absolute killer version of “When the Levee Breaks,” REM’s Mike Mills on the CSNY classic “Ohio,” and MC5’s Wayne Kramer on the band’s anthem “Kick out the Jams” which absolutely smokes (and also includes a flute solo!). Proceeds from the album’s sale benefit musical charities in New Orleans, and the album can be downloaded from iTunes or Amazon.
Bee Gees, Mythology
Well, here’s another boxed set scheduled to arrive November 16. I felt it deserved to be mentioned separately from the collections in my main article because it commemorates a very special milestone. Pop music icons the Bee Gees first started harmonizing 50 years ago, and thus this new 4-CD set. However, this isn’t just a typical hit parade collection (last year’s Ultimate Bee Gees fills that niche very well). Each disc is devoted to songs personally selected by Barry and Robin Gibb, as well as Maurice Gibb’s widow and kid brother Andy Gibb’s daughter. There are plenty of the classic hits all right, but just as many album tracks that may well surprise you. However, conspicuous by its absence is “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Tell You.” Guess you can’t have everything, right?
Elton John and Leon Russell, The Union
Elvis Costello, National Ransom
Producer supreme T-Bone Burnett (Grammy winner for the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? And the amazing Robert Plant/Allison Krauss album Raising Sand) caps a busy year with these two outstanding releases. The Union may well do for Sir Elton and the legendary “Master of Space and Time” what Raising Sand did for Plant and Krauss. However, this pairing of keyboard-tickling shouters makes more sense on the surface. As it turns out, EJ is a longtime admirer of Russell, going all the way back to Elton’s first days in America, when both were lighting it up playing shows on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Suffice it to say this is Elton’s best effort in years, and Leon’s vocals and piano totally complements the Rocket Man. Plenty of stellar guest stars, including Neil Young and Brian Wilson, are on hand as well. Keep in mind the Deluxe Edition of the album features two additional songs, plus a DVD on the making of the album from acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe.
National Ransom reunites Costello with Burnett, a relationship begun in the 80’s on Costello’s King of America album. The prolific Costello doesn’t disappoint, delivering a whopping 16 songs with nary a misfire in the bunch. The sharp Costello wit is much in evidence, and Burnett surrounds him with great musicians, including members of Costello bands the Imposters and Sugarcanes, plus guests Vince Gill, Buddy Miller and Leon Russell (boy, he’s sure making up for lost time!).
Eric Clapton, Clapton
Charlie Musselwhite, The Well
Two veteran bluesmen return with outstanding new albums. Clapton is Slowhand’s first studio album in five years. For those looking for guitar fireworks, go back and dig out those Cream and Derek and the Dominos albums, because you won’t find them here. This is a man comfortable in his own skin, and this album mostly contains his takes on standards, some that date back to his childhood (ie, Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean”). Plus, he’s surrounded by a stellar lineup of musicians, including some of New Orleans’ very best (including jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and legendary songwriter/arranger Allen Toussaint). Nice production work from Clapton band member Doyle Bramhall II on an album that may eventually be ranked with EC’s very best.
The Well is truly a watershed release for the great blues harp maestro Charlie Musselwhite. It’s his first album in which he wrote all the songs, and it’s deeply autobiographical, dealing with topics like overcoming alcoholism and the tragic murder of his mother in her Memphis apartment. Guest vocalist Mavis Staples is on hand to provide some extra punch to the proceedings. It’s not too far-fetched to place this album along other deep soul baring works like John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, and Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English. To say it’s one of 2010’s very best releases is a huge understatement.
David Bowie, Station to Station (Deluxe Reissue)
For the past several years, EMI has been reissuing the classic 70’s David Bowie albums with additional bells and whistles. But for this reissue of this very pivotal album in the Bowie canon, the label has pulled out all the stops. Transitioning from the funky hipster of Young Americans to the classic Bowie/Brian Eno Berlin trilogy that began with 1977’s Low came this album that was definitely fueled by drugs combined with the L.A. scene, from which emerged the persona of the Thin White Duke. And it also provided some truly great music, including Bowie classics like “Golden Years,” “TVC 15,” the amazing cover of “Wild is the Wind,” and the amazing title track. Besides a newly remastered CD of the original album, the new edition contains 2 CD’s of live tracks recorded during Bowie’s 1976 tour, featuring songs from this album as well as earlier Bowie classics. For the true Bowie geek, there’s also a Collector’s Edition that contains the CD’s, vinyl LP’s of all the music and oodles of Bowie memorabilia from the period. I will be eager to see what EMI has in store for the reissues of the Bowie/Eno trilogy.
Neil Diamond, Dreams
Josh Groban, Illuminations
Now what could these two possibly have in common? Well, they’ve both worked with master producer Rick Rubin. Groban’s Illuminations, his first new album since the bajillion-selling Noel, also marks his first work with a producer other than music guru David Foster. The resulting album sounds quite different from anything else associated with this pair. And considering Rubin’s prior work with the likes of Diamond, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica, that’s saying something. While he could have made another album like his previous work and sold tons of copies, Groban deserves credit for taking chances musically with Illuminations.
After making several highly-acclaimed albums of original songs with Rubin, Diamond takes a break from Rubin and emerges with a covers album which features his takes on some of his favorite songs of the rock era. Ironically enough, Rubin is currently working with Crosby, Stills and Nash on their own covers album! Among the songs Diamond has chosen are “Blackbird,” “Yesterday,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Let It Be Me,” “A Song for You” (there’s Leon Russell again), and “Alone Again (Naturally).” If nothing else, it should be fun to hear Diamond’s takes on these familiar tunes.
Jeff Beck, Live and Exclusive from the Grammy Museum
If you saw the guitar great play Summerfest this year, or if you’re just a fan of jaw-dropping guitar, you’ll want to check out this album, recorded live earlier this year to coincide with the release of the latest Beck studio album Emotion and Commotion. The song list features a palette of styles that would be the envy of most guitarists. The set list includes his soaring take on the opera aria “Nessun Dorma,” a tribute to guitar icon Les Paul with “How High the Moon,” some get-down jams on “Hammerhead” and “Brush with the Blues,” a great instrumental take on Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and yet another Beck take of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” But with the masterful way Beck handles this classic, I certainly don’t mind in the least.
Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 DVD
Now regarded as “the original music videos,” Walt Disney’s 1940 classic Fantasia, along with its 1999 sequel Fantasia 2000, will be available for the first time on Blu-Ray on November 30. Besides the fact that both movies will be available in a single package, the Blu-Ray edition contains a bonus feature for which animation fans have been waiting for decades. Destino, the never-completed collaboration between Disney and artist Salvador Dali, finally sees the light of day on this DVD. When these movies were scheduled for release on Blu-Ray, the staff at Disney Animation (which is now headed up by John Lasseter, the founder of Pixar Studios) decided to exhume the existing footage of Destino and then complete it. A daunting task, to be sure, but it’s certain to get the same response from animation buffs that the restored classic Metropolis received earlier this year. Heck, I just want to see the amazing “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria” sequence from the original Fantasia in glorious Blu-Ray!
Michael Jackson, Vision DVD
While the fate of the hours of unreleased Michael Jackson session tapes is up in the air, this DVD release will more than compensate. Arriving November 22, this is the ultimate Jackson video retrospective. The set’s 3 discs contain every Michael Jackson video (or “short film”) ever made, including a whopping 10 previously unseen videos! And all the existing videos are uncut (including the car window smashing finale to the “Black or White” video). The set is a vivid reminder that Jackson’s work practically defined the art of music videos…and they still look and sound great!
Ray Davies, See My Friends
Now here’s a new release that totally snuck up on me. Rock legend Ray Davies, who with his band the Kinks recorded some of rock music’s great milestones, has teamed up with some “friends” to record a collection of some of these tunes. When the album leads off with “Better Days,” on which Davies is joined by Bruce Springsteen, you know you’re in for quite a party! Also joining in the fun are Metallica, Jon Bon Jovi, Mumford & Sons, Lucinda Williams, Jackson Browne, Black Francis, Spoon (on the title track), Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. Sadly, this album also features the final recorded performance of the late, great Alex Chilton. But all in all, it’s a grand celebration of one of rock music’s greatest songwriters. Keep in mind the album will be available on import only until April 2011.
October 31, 2010
By Jason Haas
It all started when a Johnny Cash cassette tape got stuck in Brian Smith’s truck.
As that tape played over and over during his commute, the plunking guitar and Cash’s baritone voice grabbed Smith like never before. The music took the Bay View resident back to his childhood and memories of road trips with his grandfather, who would play music by country singers Boxcar Willie, Conway Twitty, and, of course, Johnny Cash. Hearing Cash’s tales about an honest man’s struggles, a prisoner’s longing to be free, and his classic Christian message resonated with Smith’s own religious beliefs.
Smith had been the singer for the hard rock band Double Life until its breakup in 2002. Following a year and a half of “musical abstinence,” Smith said that he felt driven to pick up a guitar and figure out the three chords that comprise most of Cash’s songs.
With those songs in hand, Smith found a chance to play at the Commodore (now Hector’s) on Delaware. Folks thought he sounded pretty good, so he pressed on. By 2008, Smith had begun playing the aptly named “Sunday Morning Coming Down” shows at Frank’s Power Plant. Soon he had a ragtag band behind him to fill out the sound. Smith’s former band mate Eric “E-Man” Bulgrin rejoined him, with a twangy Fender Telecaster electric guitar in hand. That same year, upright bass player Steve “Naked Man” Ramlow joined the band. (He acquired “Naked Man” status for riding his Harley through a campsite wearing nothing but a beard.) With the addition of nickname-less Jason Loveall on fiddle, the band lights people’s britches on fire with their raw country sound.
What Makes It “Outlaw”?
The songs that God’s Outlaw play are the sort of music that people played to deal with the overarching skies of the Western plains and the heat of farmland on a hot day.
“It’s different from what everyone else is doing. We don’t use fancy effects, no exploding barrels of hay. I’ve seen naked guitar players…” Smith said. “I’ve seen it all.”
Smith and company take a different approach from the charts-driven country music that fills the airwaves today.
“Keep it simple so people can understand it,” Smith said is the band’s philosophy, noting that to make the hay explode, “somebody has to light the fire—I’d rather be the one lighting the fire.”
His music is rowdy enough to please the members of Outlaws Motorcycle Club on First Street, where Smith once played a solo show. At the same time, it’s deliberately simple. Their sound breaks away from the norm of overproduced modern country music, hearkening back to a time when the United States had more train tracks than clogged freeways. “I don’t want to do anything that I can’t play live,” Smith said.
While God’s Outlaw performs rowdy covers of songs like T. J. “Red” Arnall’s classic “Cocaine Blues” and has over 95 Johnny Cash songs in their muster, like so many Americans, the band walks the line between sin and redemption.
Take their original song “Ten Rules,” which has a straightforward chorus: “God has just 10 rules. How ’bout you?” Hope for redemption is also the theme in the song “U-Haul,” which is based on a story from Smith’s life. Following a long argument with his wife, Smith took a drive to cool off. Coming home, he saw a U-Haul truck pull up in front of his house. Was it a sign that his marriage had come to an end? Not so—the truck turned around and pulled away, leaving his home intact.
Local Band, Local Focus
When Smith’s voice washed over the crowd at the 2010 Bay View Bash, people instinctively began to tap and nod their heads, do a private little dance. The music felt like hearing from an old friend who’s been gone too long, but is sure glad to visit.
God’s Outlaw’s sound is similar to the Milwaukee honky-tonk band The Carpetbaggers, who have similar instrumentation, even similar hats and clothes. Two key differences are Smith’s voice, which is lower than The Carpetbaggers’ singer-guitarist Matt “MF” Tyner’s, and that God’s Outlaw gets the crowd moving without the help of a drummer. They get along mighty fine without one.
Smith, 40, was born in Pittsburgh, and has lived all over the country, from New Mexico to Michigan. Following his service in the U.S. Air Force, in which he served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Smith settled in Bay View with his wife Lori Walenczyk Smith. The birth of their two daughters in 2001 and 2004 prompted him to trade his career as a mixed martial arts fighter and complete his degree in marketing and mass communications at UW-Milwaukee. He works in sales for RCC Western Wear.
Today, Smith and his band are in the fortunate position of not having to ask for gigs. Instead, venues come to him, a status God’s Outlaw achieved by establishing themselves as a raucous, hard-pickin’ country band. According to the band’s website, they have played dozens of shows in the past two years, ranging from the aforementioned Bash, Harley-Davidson’s 105th Anniversary festival, and Smith’s solo shows for patients at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care. There, even the infirm come alive, moving their hands and heads to the familiar sound of Johnny Cash.
At this moment, aside from playing military tribute shows at Rocco’s, the band is focused on recording their first album at Basement Tapes in downtown Milwaukee. True to form, the recordings will be made with analog tape, rather than digitally. And when the album comes out next year, you’d be right to reckon they’ll throw a mighty good party—without any exploding hay bales.
Upcoming Gigs: Rodeo Bar, 4177 S. Howell Ave., Nov. 23, 2:30-5:30pm. With Cathouse Drifters and Western Starlanders.
Releases: three EPs due out in late 2010, full album early 2011.
August 1, 2010
By Kathy Nichols
You might have heard an unusual sound at South Shore Park July 11—the strumming of ukuleles.
You might have heard an unusual sound at South Shore Park July 11—the strumming of ukuleles.
Or on the Café Centraal patio June 13, where about 15 people played their ukes and one man played a Birdsley Bucket Bass, an upside-down bucket with a big rubber band attaching it to a broomstick handle.
The players were all very friendly, some singing along to songs like “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian,” “Stand by Me,” and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” by Bob Dylan. At one point, one of the group members handed out sheet music for “What a Day for a Daydream” and everyone joined in. Other diners in the area seemed to enjoy the serenade, as the group often got a round of applause.
Growing in Popularity
Started in 2008 with a group of eight people who gathered at a Bay View residence, the Milwaukee Ukulele Club has today grown to more than 65 members.
“There are a lot of people who are bitten by this horrible, addictive instrument,” said member Mark Peterson, a philosophy professor in the UW system, with a smile. “It’s sort of spreading around. There are more and more people out there [picking up the ukulele]. We try to make sure that everyone who wants to get involved can.”
The group meets monthly at Café Centraal and other locations, including the Jewish Community Center. Anyone with musical ability or inclination is invited to play or observe. Most who attend have musical backgrounds, but all experience levels are welcome.
Club member Jim Howitt attended his first ukulele club meeting in April after purchasing two ukuleles, one each in March and April.
“The ukulele just gives me pleasure to play,” said the 66-year-old retiree. “You can play hundreds of songs just by knowing a couple chords or you can become a true musician on this little four-stringed instrument. You’d think it’s easy but there is a lot to learn, just as with any instrument.”
Milwaukee resident and professional musician Lil’ Rev is the group’s director. But he’s quick to point out it operates as a democracy, and members continue to gather even when he’s unable to attend due to his performance schedule.
“Ninety-eight percent of them [group attendees] are amateur musicians,” he said. “It’s a hobby for most of them. It’s also a therapy for many of them—it’s a really happy-go-lucky, fun instrument.”
Adding that he offers workshops to improve members’ skills if they so desire, Rev contends that “for many people across the United States who are in ukulele clubs, it’s more about the social aspect, having an extended family to make music with and sing some nice songs. It’s both therapeutic and a social network.”
Relatively speaking, ukuleles keep things simple. By the time she was introduced to the ukulele, Cherylann Kelly, who works as a massage therapist and caterer, already had experience playing the guitar. But she said she found ukulele chords a lot easier to play.
Her brother, who belongs to a ukulele club in Kansas City, first showed her how to play this mini-guitar-like instrument. Within an hour of being shown the chord pattern she had learned to play. “Ukulele strings are nylon, so they are relatively easy on your fingers,” Kelly said, as opposed to other stringed instruments, such as the guitar, whose strings are often made from steel, bronze, or nickel.
Her luck inspired Kelly to contact her old friend Lil’ Rev and suggest they put together a Milwaukee-area club of their own. Originally using her home as a gathering place, they started their free monthly meetings, later moving to Anodyne, Central Library, and the Jewish Community Center.
The group receives a warm welcome wherever it goes, Kelly said. “What happens is when we play in public places, people often clap for us—they really seem to enjoy it, but we’re just doing what we do.”
Kelly said the club attracts a wide range of people. “We have kids who come out with their moms or dads—there are some teenage boys and some little 8- or 9-year-olds who come.”
What is it about the ukulele? Why do so many people love it?
As Howitt put it, “You can’t be sad when you play the ukulele. It’s just fun and it’s great to find so many others who enjoy it so much.”
Ukuleles are best represented in Hawaiian, vaudeville, early American string band, and Tin Pan Alley music—popular music from New York City-centered publishers and songwriters from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Examples include “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “Hello! Ma Baby (Hello My Ragtime Gal),” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”)
The ukulele was first created in the 1800s when Portuguese agricultural workers brought a similar instrument, the braguinha, along with them to Hawaii. Hawaiians were enamored, and craftsmen there began producing it for residents. Nicknamed ukulele, which means “jumping flea” (uke in Hawaiian means “flea,” and lele is “jump” or “leap”), a name which reportedly came from the way a players’ fingers jump across the strings while playing the instrument, the ukulele experienced a number of episodes of resurgence in popularity over time. “The first in the teens and ’20s, and then in the ’50s and ’60s, and the third wave of ukulele revival started in the 1990s and has been building since then,” Lil’ Rev said.
Rev points out that the instrument’s sound is even in the number-one hit song by Train, “Sweet Soul Sister,” and it has made appearances on Oprah and American Idol. He said there are also a lot of ukulele festivals and clubs all over the United States.
There are four basic types of classic ukuleles: the soprano, the concert (also known as the alto), the tenor, and the baritone. Each is a different size and produces a different range of sound. Ukuleles have between four and 10 strings and are generally made of ply or laminate woods (although some have been made partly or entirely of plastic), and there are more expensive varieties produced from a hardwood such as mahogany. Prices range from around $20 to upwards of $1,000.
Milwaukee Ukulele Club Events
Aug. 29, meeting at Bradford Beach main pavilion, 2pm
Sept. 11, ukulele concert at Central Library, 10:30am
Sept. 19, meeting at Café Centraal, 2pm
Sept. 25, Milwaukee Ukulele Festival at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 631 N. 19th St., 9am-10pm. Advance tickets available online at mufest.com. Lil’ Rev is mc; ukulele club will perform with other musicians.
July 7, 2010
By Cara Slingerland
Something strange happens when the musically subdued Conrad Plymouth take the stage, whether it’s at an open mic or an open-air festival like Summerfest. People listen.
This attentive atmosphere is by design. Christopher Porterfield, front man of Conrad Plymouth, creates it by producing a melodic type of music that won’t knock one over the head right away but inspires a closer inspection. When the band starts quiet, the music has room to build and expand, and can take its time in reaching a musical climax.
“It’s been sort of a conscious effort to play shows with bands and at venues that foster that listening environment, rather than just being background to someone’s drunken night,” Porterfield said. He enjoys playing at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn and Club Garibaldi because of the separation between the bar and stage.
“Sometimes when people are getting too loud I’ll let them know by getting really quiet, or getting really loud—so it’s a give and take, just kinda react to your audience.”
The current configuration of Conrad Plymouth reflects the way the band is headed. For just shy of a year, the current lineup has consisted of Porterfield on lead guitar and vocals, Nick Berg on keyboard, Travis Whitty on bass, and Damian Strigens on drums. When anything resembling this current lineup played at Summerfest last year, Porterfield felt like Conrad Plymouth moved from simply being a stage name derived from his initials to an ensemble group.
Berg engineers most of the music, and “does a good job of flushing stuff in soundscape-wise,” while Whitty has been incorporating more loops into the sounds, Porterfield said. “We try to fill up as much space as we can without taking away from some of the holes that are also consciously there too.”
This sparse sound is a construct of Porterfield’s influences, such as Mark Eitzel from American Music Club and Red House Painters.
“I think we’ve probably borrowed from the Wilco playbook a little bit,” he also said, which explains the hooks in songs like “Fergus Falls.” A multi-part vocal harmony rounds out the song’s final chorus and cries out for a sing-along. Aware of the song’s quickened tempo and catchier material, Porterfield joked that the song was “to reward people for slogging through the first three [songs on the EP].”
Conrad Plymouth’s latest album is being released for the first time in physical format. Porterfield plans to have an unofficial release show in July for the self-titled 10-inch EP, pressed on clear vinyl. It is given special treatment as the first release on the new record label, Ten Atoms, created by Ryan Matteson, who runs the Muzzle of Bees blog and does promotions for the Pabst Theater.
The summer is quickly filling up for the band. In August, a mini “barnstormer tour” is planned, which includes playing a biker fest in Matteson’s hometown of Hillsboro, Wis., and a show in Eau Claire, where Porterfield attended college.
Before then it plays a Summerfest slot on July 3 at the U.S. Cellular stage and a show at Bradford Beach as part of WMSE’s Music by the Fire series on July 22. Conrad Plymouth also opens for Longacre at Chill on the Hill in Humboldt Park on July 13.
“Bay View listeners tend to be people who listen to and like good music and it’s really an honor to be a part of it,” Porterfield said. The band practices in the Hide House, and Whitty and Strigens both reside in Bay View. Strigens and his wife, Betty Blexrud-Strigens, also play with Longacre and another band on the Chill lineup, the always-fun Bikini Beach Combers. Strigens is best known as the drummer in Testa Rosa.
With a fan base carved out in Texas from attending South by Southwest, Minnesota from the song “Fergus Falls” on the EP, and Wisconsin, widening (or at least connecting) fans should be the next step for Conrad Plymouth—and would be, if not for a self-imposed hourglass running out of sand. “I had arbitrarily given myself to the age of 30 to get this out of my system,” Porterfield, 29, said.
However, he also added, “setting those arbitrary numbers isn’t really a realistic way of going about things.” His drummer Strigens is in his 40s and has a son and a career, which gives Porterfield a model on which he hopes to balance music and his married and professional life. “I can’t really imagine just stopping.”
Besides, sometimes uncertainty is the only certainty, and the resulting change can be a vehicle for growth. “We’ll never get to the point where we say this is what we are, and that’s on purpose. The struggle is the fun part, really,” Porterfield said. “If anything comes too easily, it’s easy to get bored with it. And the guys who I’m playing with now—the members of Conrad Plymouth—get that.”
June 1, 2010
By Cara Slingerland
After two full-length releases and a slew of EPs, The Lilies don’t need much gilding. For nine years the father-daughter duo of Mark and Lilly Czarnecki have kept Lilly’s vocals in the forefront of The Lilies’ sound. Other members have come and gone, but adding more to the bouncy harmonies and straightforward, walking guitar parts would be superfluous.
The band draws inspiration for its sound and ego-less enjoyment of performance from “the shore of Lake Michigan, immediate blue-collar factories, and quirky art scene.”
Lilly writes the songs, plays guitar, and sings. Mark plays the drums, and also sings. Both live in Bay View. The band has practice space in Bay View, too. After a mention that being family members must make it easy to harmonize, Mark said, “A lot of people say that!”
For many years, it was a three-piece band. In the current lineup, Mike Coyle plays the bass guitar, and The Lilies recently added Martin Slotwinski as an additional lead guitarist and keyboardist.
Listening to The Lilies, it is difficult to make comparisons to other female-fronted bands, because none of them quite fit. There aren’t very many female-fronted pop/rock bands to relate to outside of the American Idol sphere, but it is safe to say the band’s music falls somewhere between the unabashed rock of Joan Jett and the careful songwriting of the more poppy Sixpence None the Richer.
The difficult-to-pin-down sound is also apparent in two of Lilly’s favorite musicians: Neko Case and Scottish band the Trashcan Sinatras. The Lilies as a whole also follow the Pretenders, which might be an apt jumping-off point for the band’s mid-’90s sound.
Likening The Lilies to other male bands also doesn’t seem quite right, since Lilly has so much influence over the direction of the songs.
“Usually I come up with a pretty strong structure, and then it sort of morphs…but I think jamming is less effective because then we don’t remember what we did the week before. But if I have a chord progression and a melody, we can go from there,” she said.
“We don’t sit there and plink around,” Mark said. “I find that to be very aggravating. I like when [Lilly] has an idea. In general I like to have somewhere to jump off from, otherwise I get mad,” he said, laughing.
Lilly also exercises her creative muscles as a short-film maker and associate lecturer in the film department at UW-Milwaukee, and artistic talent runs in the Czarnecki family. Lilly’s mother designed the band’s website and doctored a photo of the band performing in front of a Bay View custard joint, with the stand’s name changed to The Lilies.
The band just finished recording a new album, Can I Fill a Role, recorded at DV Studios in Shorewood, but samples of it aren’t up on the website yet.
However, The Lilies have other ways of getting their music to the masses. Lilly and Mark recently returned from a music conference in Los Angeles where they met with music supervisors to see if and how The Lilies’ music would work on TV. The Lilies are also looking to play more live shows, but are “still kind of looking for that spot where you can…reach more people beyond some of your friends,” Lilly said.
Nevertheless, one of Lilly’s favorite concerts she played was in Bay View. “I had a really good time playing for Chill on the Hill last summer in August. Unfortunately it was raining when we played…but there were still people still sitting out watching us under umbrellas and tents, and I was really blown away by that.”
Her father concurred. “I would say that was pretty rockin’,” he said.
As of late, the band has no shows scheduled. Lilly said that being a female-fronted band makes it difficult to fill a bill sometimes. “In terms of getting shows, other male-fronted bands don’t think you’ll work together,” she said of the differing sounds. Mark hopes to find a niche where this isn’t a problem. “I think it’d be an advantage though sometimes, because most bands are male-fronted,” he said. “If you can get into that niche, when you can find certain promoters in that niche, it’s a huge advantage.
“We’re available for private parties,” Mark added. “For anyone who wants to have original music at a party, not a tape player or disc player.”
More info: thelilies.net.
May 1, 2010
By Cara Slingerland
from the album electri-violet
They’ve played together for 12 years, but the R&B-inspired Milwaukee duo of John Plankenhorn and Bay View resident Carole Ferrara only recently released their first major album. On its opening track, “Do Right Baby,” Ferrara channels Sharon Jones’ soulful voice and displays it powerfully over a funky bass line. This track wastes no time in brandishing the strength of the duo’s harmonies over the smattering of musicians they employ to fill out the neo-soul sound. Later in the album, they transition into a B.B. King and Bill Withers medley, but this single establishes their sound so clearly that their take on these noteworthy greats is just that-notes worthy of interpretation.
from the album Mr. Sad Clown
In this song’s lyrics, vocalist Kurt Neumann claims he wants “to tempt the devil’s daughter.” His wish comes off as insincere over this sleepy, adult-contemporary track that seems to strive for Top 40 status through sheer musical inoffensiveness. Credit is due, however, as the group is creating new music and trying to maintain its artistic integrity after breaking onto the Milwaukee scene 27 years ago. The blithe, incongruous, Latin-tinged trumpet on this track could use an injection of both authenticity and the bouncy spirit of the younger BoDeans.
from the upcoming “mini-album” Heretofore, summer 2010
“Volunteers” ambles purposefully over finger-picked notes like a warm summer night spent reminiscing with friends. Brothers Brad and Phil Cook from South Carolina join Eau Claire’s Joe Westerlund for lyrical harmonies referencing nature and wistful themes that will long outlive us all. Clearly rooted in Southern folk, these themes have universal appeal, as Megafaun just returned from a European tour. Megafaun is three-quarters of the now defunct band, DeYarmond Edison, which counted Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as a member. Despite local ties, Megafaun does not have a Wisconsin stop scheduled in its first headlining national tour in support of Heretofore.
from the upcoming album Relayted, May 11
Eau Claire’s Justin Vernon of Bon Iver contributed his falsetto to this massive Midwestern collaboration that spans genres and convention. Minneapolis hip-hop artists P.O.S. and Dessa join Megafaun and a dozen other members for this electronic slow jam of epic proportions. Each track on Relayted is kept to 69 beats per minute, which is more a measure of indiscretion than discipline. All joking aside, the talent is still undeniable and unobstructed-no matter how heavy the smoke was in the April Studios and Minneapolis bedroom recording room.
February 28, 2010
By Jeremy Packer
The St. Joseph Center Chapel, 1501 S. Layton Blvd., provided a visually stunning and acoustically perfect setting for the MacDowell Club Milwaukee’s Feb. 21 “Organist’s Choice” concert. The chapel’s magnificent pipe organ was the centerpiece of the program and was heard both as a solo instrument and in ensemble with instrumental and vocal performers. Each of the five organists played with mastery, giving the audience an opportunity to appreciate the scope and power of the instrument.
The audience joined the performers in singing a well-loved hymn to open the concert, introducing the principal melody of the first piece on the program. The Partita on the Old 100th, composed by Sister Theophane Hytrek, is an elaborate variation on the original hymn in which the composer explores the range of melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic possibilities she is able to develop from the original melody. Organist Dennis Janzer’s sensitive interpretation of the piece highlighted the creative range of the variations without sacrificing the strong connection to the original melody that provides the essential coherence of the work.
The Milwaukee Jewish Community Chorale joined Janzer in performing his own settings of two psalms, Celebrate and Sing and Who Shall Ascend. Director Enid Bootzin Berkovits lead a lively and spirited performance of the psalms and it is to the credit both of the members of the Chorale and the excellent acoustics of the chapel that the singers were not overpowered by the organ and that the psalm texts were clearly understood throughout. Janzer performed one of his instrumental compositions, the Toccata Fluide, between the two choral works. His Toccata is a miniature work of program music that conveys the effect of rippling or flowing water in the higher registers of the organ, supported by a more jagged bass line that suggests the uneven surface below.
Wallace Cheatham’s interpretation of John Carre’s Sonata for Organ was majestic indeed, in keeping with the allegro maestoso marking of the first movement. The rich harmonic texture and stately tempo was in many ways mirrored by the third and final movement, with the addition of passages of imitative polyphony in the established tradition of organ music. The second movement stood in stark contrast to its neighbors. The translucent, almost ethereal texture of this movement made it one of the high points of the concert. The pipe organ is such a ponderous instrument, yet as Cheatham demonstrated, it can be infinitely delicate in the proper hands.
Composer Calimario Soares’ Preludes are based on folk tunes from his native Brazil. In keeping with the nature of the original melodies, the settings are simple, at times even childlike. Organist Mariann Landa utilized a wide range of stops in her performance, giving each prelude a tone quality uniquely suited to its character. The use of the organ in a context that was neither ecclesiastical nor classical was refreshing and showed another, lighter side of the instrument’s complex character.
Ana de la Cuesta Gerlach’s exquisitely lyrical flute performance was well suited for the two works by French composer Jacques Berthier, Liturical Meditations and Pastorale. Organist Suzanne Pajunen maintained a sense of dialog between the instruments despite the disparity in their size and power, the two performers creating a sound that was always enchanting and often haunting. The fine acoustics of the chapel enhanced the full-bodied tone of the flute so that it seemed as if one were hearing a human voice rather than a wind instrument.
The acoustics of the performance space had similar benefits for the sound of Gail Hodkiewitz’s clarinet in her performance of Bernard Sander’s Ornaments of Grace, accompanied by Sheri Masiakowski on the organ. The rich, woody tone of the clarinet complemented the lyrical and moving nature of the composition, filling the aural space with the beauty of its sound.
The performance of 18th-century Spanish composer Antonio Soler’s Concerto for Two Organs was one of the true highlights of the concert. The chapel is fortunate to have, in addition to its main organ in the choir loft, a second smaller pipe organ located near the front of the church. It is one of the few places in the city where this work can be performed as intended.
The heart of the Concerto is a minuet with six variations. The variations are distinct units, unlike continuous variations of the Partita heard at the beginning of the concert, and are fairly conventional in terms of how they explore the original theme. The sense of conversation between the two instruments, played by Sheri Masiakowski and Suzanne Pajunen, was truly exciting. The contrasting tone qualities of the two organs along with physical separation of the instruments greatly enhanced the effect. The placement of the organs made it impossible for the two players to see one another, necessitating the slightly anachronistic use of walkie-talkies to synchronize the performance.
Sister Marion Verhaalen’s composition Summoned, performed by organist Sheri Masiakowski, was commissioned by her cousin, Father Charles Verhaalen, in connection with the dedication of the renovated St. Francis Seminary organ in 1999. The work is programmatic, depicting the internal conflicts involved in a religious vocation and has a meditative quality. The audience was once again encouraged to take part in the performance by singing the hymn Now Thank We All Our God to close the program, accompanied by the organ and the trumpet, played by Kevin Erickson.
The St. Joseph Center Chapel is one of the city’s unique treasures and offers events, tours, and religious services open to the public. Information about the chapel and a schedule of events is available on the School Sisters of St. Francis website, sssf.org. A listing of upcoming concerts by the MacDowell Club of Milwaukee may be found at macdowellclubmilwaukee.org.