Favorites of 2014
FAVORITE ALBUMS “Numbered Doors,” by Lori McKenna and “Milltowns,” by Mark Erelli These two locally produced albums are as authentic and moving as any released nationally. After making two very personal albums, McKenna steps back a bit, lyrically creeping around the hallways of hotels and motels capturing stories of broken lives, heartbreak, and hope. What can I say about Mark Erelli – songwriter, producer, and a kick-ass guitarist – except that I want to be him. Besides producing McKenna’s album, he also recorded “Milltowns,” a wonderful tribute to fellow folksinger Bill Morrissey. Most of the songs on this album are Morrissey’s – the title track is an Erelli original he wrote about his time with his mentor. The opener “Birches” about a husband and wife’s long-time relationship is just a beautiful, personal song, and Erelli’s soulful voice suits it perfectly.
SURPRISE ALBUM “Indian Ocean,” by Frazey Ford I first heard Frazey’s distinctive voice years ago on a cover of Neil Young’s “For the Turnstiles” done when she was in the Be Good Tanyas. It’s a voice that twists you: melodic for sure, but the phrasing of lyrics is stretched and turned to the point where you have to lean in toward the speakers to catch what she is singing. “Indian Ocean” was recorded in Memphis, with that unmistakable sound complete with horns. The song “September Fields” is an instant earworm.
FAVORITE NEW ARTIST Parker Millsap At 21, the Oklahoma-native Millsap has a real presence and commands the stage. His songs, a mix of country and blues, are delivered with an age-old surety that is hard to believe they come from someone so young. And he seems like he’s really enjoying his success. Catch him on small stages now before he makes it big!
FAVORITE VENUE Prescott Park, Portsmouth, N.H. A two-minute walk from the center of town, this park is beautiful space right along the water. The shows are free ($10 donations are suggested and are worth it!), they rent chairs and blankets and sell food there. The sound is impeccable and the crowd is mostly respectful of the music. Portsmouth has become a go-to town, with varying-size venues the Music Hall, the Press Room and the Book & Bar also hosting shows.
FAVORITE CONCERT MOMENT Mavis Staples joining Lake Street Dive onstage at Newport Folk Festival I decided to take a break from the mainstage and wander to the other stages to see what was happening. I caught the last two songs from Grateful Dead songwriter Robert Hunter (wish I had heard more!), and when his set was over, dropped by the Fort stage only to realize Lake Street Dive was playing. I missed most of their set, but for their last song, they brought out Mavis Staples to help them sing their hit “Bad Self Portraits.” That’s what I call timing! To see a video of the performance, click HERE.
FAVORITE CONCERT PHOTO Kermit Ruffins at Brighton Music Hall (see top) This photo was taken by my friend Reid Simpson at a show we were both at. Earlier in the year I caught Kermit at a jazz club in New Orleans and was psyched to see him again. He didn’t disappoint. He’s such an amazing showman, knows how to work a crowd. I love this photo, the way Kermit’s body arches to hit the note. Especially in black and white, the photo has an old-time feel to it. Except for the stage lights overhead, it looks like it could have been taken in the ’40s.
BEST TIME AT A SHOW Green River Music Festival Now that my kids are grown and in college, anytime I am with them makes me smile. Green River is already a great family festival, but when my family and friends all converge in one place, and you throw in some of my favorite bands, including Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, Barnstar! and the Lone Bellow (pictured)… well, even a little rain couldn’t dampen the fun. To see more pics, click HERE.
FAVORITE CONCERTS Trigger Hippy at Brighton Music Hall; Peter Mulvey and the Crumbling Beauties at Oberon Want to have some fun? Go see Trigger Hippy. Joan Osborne has such a great, soulful voice, Jackie Greene’s guitar playing will blow you away, and the band rocks its socks off. I’m not your buy-a-T-shirt-at-a-show kind of guy … but I got myself one from Trigger Hippy. And, no, they didn’t play any Dead covers. (So stop asking!) Mulvey and his band the Crumbling Beauties performed the entire Tom Waits album “Rain Dogs,” complete with a burlesque troupe, the Lipstick Criminals, which was just perfect. And while it wasn’t easy keeping your attention off of the dancers, the music was completely funky and fun. For video of Trigger Hippy show, click HERE; for Mulvey pics, HERE.
FAVORITE QUOTE “My iPhone notes are full of song titles – some are good – some are terrible. Some titles are typed in the middle of the night when I’m half asleep – some are typed discreetly during a conversation with a friend that I should be paying better attention to – and sometimes I have my kids type them while I’m driving. My 13-year old daughter doesn’t even blink when I hand her my phone and say ‘type ALL A WOMAN WANTS into my notepad.’ She knows what’s happening in my head.” — Lori McKenna, on her songwriting process