Tag Archives: Ralph’s Rock Diner

Great Scott! Ralph’s Show Features Music of Huck, Childhood, and Pistol Whipped

by Matt Robert/ photo by Louie Despres

Originally appeared in the December 27, 2012, Worcester Magazine.

“The main concept of this was that it isn’t really a memorial, it’s a celebration of music,” says Paul Dagnello, bassist with late local legend Scott Ricciuti’s longest running band, Huck, about the show Saturday night at Ralph’s that will bring together three of Ricciuti’s most enduring musical projects: Childhood, Huck, and Pistol Whipped. “The focus is on the music. The memorials were very visual for people. This is going to be the audio portion of that.”

Ricciuti’s untimely death in a car accident in April devastated a massive fan base that included among the most ardent fans a sizable core of local musicians, artists and club owners, and left a gaping hole in a scene in which Ricciuti played an outsized role, performing most nights of the week in one ensemble or another, or appearing solo. Numerous emotionally charged memorials were held – the most notable at Vincent’s – and a variety of tributes have occurred since, but none to this scale.

“We could have done a week’s worth of events,” says Dagnello. “He was involved in so many different things…[but we] kind of just whittled it down to those three bands.” The choice to feature Huck, Childhood and Pistol Whipped (and not Friday Farewells, A Pony for My Birthday, or Preacher Roe), Paul says, is that “those were probably the ones he was in the longest,” recalling that Childhood was together for about 10 years, and Huck for 17 or 18 years. Finally, Dagnello says, “It’s a good representation of his different types of songwriting, plus a decision just had to be made on what was possible to do for a night where it wouldn’t get too out of control.”

This event—sponsored by longtime Scott Ricciuti patron, Orcaphat Records owner, and executive producer of Huck and Pistol Whipped’s CDs, Colin Butler (“He was there in the studio with us every single day,” says Dagnello), and organized by Ricciuti’s friend and collaborator, Bee’s Knees (and Friday Farewells) guitarist Michael Thibodeau — faced several obstacles.

“I know, for me, and I think for Danny [Lucas, drummer with Childhood and Huck, and Ricciuti’s longest running collaborator], it’s the first time we’re going to play since…in a club or live. We all have a very hard time doing this, says Dagnello, further citing less obvious and more pragmatic difficulties, some of the material is simply hard to recreate.

“Childhood [is] kind of figuring out how to do Childhood with just the surviving members,” he says, “whereas Duncan [Arsenault], Jeff [Burch], and Scott were the core members of [Pistol Whipped]. And then with Huck [as with Pistol Whipped], we lost our lead singer, our guitar player and our front man, so I know it’s been difficult — beyond just the emotional — dealing with that: How do we actually play a show without a third of our band.”

“We were gonna need help,” he says.

“For this show,” Dagnello says, “Huck is going to have nine members. We have two guitar players playing the whole night, and then we have a couple people filling in vocal duties, and then I’m probably going to do a couple songs up on vocals.”

Additionally, the show will feature (including the numerous Huck extras) several special guests from Ricciuti’s rather large circle of peers, though organizers are loath to reveal them.

“In some ways we want it to be a surprise,” says Dagnello, “because we don’t want it to be part of the promotion for the event…because, as far as we’re concerned, on that night they’re in Huck…. The people that are involved are doing it because of their love for Scott and their love for his music, their friendship. As far as Huck is concerned, all those people are in the band that night, they’re part of the band that night.”

Recreating the original sounds, even with a roster of talented fill-ins, many of whom were familiar and even devoted to Ricciuti’s music, or intricately linked with its production, also proved a challenge.

“We kept everything as close as we could [to] Scott. He had a specific way of playing guitar; he had a specific way of singing and that’s hard to replicate, but the guys working on this are definitely trying their hardest to emulate that, because it’s part of our sound,” Dagnello explains. “Not having Scott there playing guitar, it’s not going to sound just like Huck. It’s going to sound close, but it’s still not going to sound like it.”

“[Ricciuti’s] vocal range, and the power behind it, was tough for people,” Dagnello says. “Danny and I and someone like Roger [Lavallee, who, as engineer at Tremolo Lounge Studios, produced most of Ricciuti’s career output] and somebody like Colin Butler, we’ve sat with these songs for hundreds of hours—recording, playing and everything. And it’s kind of like bringing these people into this world that they’re brand new to. So, they get to see more of Scott than the prior four got to see.”

Lastly, players had to grapple with a notebook of deeply personal lyrics whose genesis was the intimate bonds forged over decades of intensive, and mostly glamourless, work and play in clubs, rehearsal rooms, vans, studios – friendship, love, loss, mistakes, and hopes.

Dagnello notes the particular challenge faced by those who “are going to have to sing the songs. I think the hardest part was all of us all having to sit down and read all of these lyrics….To actually sit back and take these groups of songs, read the lyric and tell the story of the lyric definitely hit a lot of us…as pretty tough. Scott was definitely a magic worker with words. So, that was a real tough part with everybody.”

Even the venue has significance, though, this choice, too, proved hard, as Ricciuti, over the years, could have had his number retired in just about every music room in central Massachusetts. Organizers ultimately chose Ralph’s, though, because, as Dagnello says, “as far as Huck…and Childhood…was concerned, Ralph’s was one of our homes. I think [Huck] played Ralph’s more than any other club. There’s a connection with Vincent [Hemmeter, owner of Ralph’s, Vincent’s, and Nick’s]. He was good friends with Scott. Erick [Godin, owner] from the Lucky Dog was good friends with Scott [too].”

The $10 event will feature Pistol Whipped at 9:30 p.m., Childhood at 10:30 p.m., and Huck at 11:30 p.m., as well as a rolling soundtrack between sets of Ricciuti’s prodigious recorded output.

“We’re going to be playing all of the other stuff that Scott has been included on, like the Pony for My Birthday stuff and the Preacher Roe stuff…Huck songs we’re not playing that night, Childhood songs…and possibly unreleased Pistol Whipped material.”

While no CDs will be made available at the event, those wishing to purchase Ricciuti’s music can visit “Scott’s website where they can go song by song and pick and buy whatever they like,” says Paul. “Everything is online.” Scottricciuti.com.

Catch the celebration of Scott Ricciuti music on Saturday, Dec. 29 at Ralph’s Diner, 148 Grove St. at 8 p.m. Tickets $10.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Local Bands

A Nice Little Bar Turns 15: Vincent’s, Worcester, Celebrates 15 Years in Business

“It was a really ugly place, but I knew it had a lot of potential,” says Vincent Hemmeter of his eponymous bar, which this week celebrates 15 years.

“We’re just going to celebrate on that day,” he says of the milestone that falls this Sunday on Christmas Eve Eve. The show, featuring local electric blues act Big Eyed Rabbit, begins at 7 p.m. “Jon [Short – solo bluesman and front man for Big Eyed Rabbit] plays every Sunday, so it’s kind of cool to have Jon’s band play there. We’ll have some special things going on. We’ll have some giveaways. We’ll have some food.”

The neighborhood bar, tucked up on Grafton Hill past the CSX rail yard on Suffolk Street, enjoys a quiet popularity with a certain offbeat, musically inclined crowd – many of the same who patronize Hemmeter’s other bars, Ralph’s Diner and Nick’s. They like homegrown music and Hemmeter has given it to them.

“I pretty much stuck to what I liked,” he says. Over 15 years, in fact, Vincent’s has cultivated an excellent reputation for live music. The current schedule has delta blues with Jon Short on Sunday nights, where he’s been in residence for over 11 years; Zack Slick, playing old-timey and folk on Wednesdays; and crooner Cara Brindisi with the Feather Merchants on Thursdays; plus a rotating slate of talent from around the state on Fridays and Saturdays, except on the second Saturday of each month, when The RoadKill Orchestra appears.

A high-quality stable has been the hallmark at Vincent’s since the beginning. “Dennis Brennan used to play every Wednesday with Duke Levine and Kevin Barry,” says Hemmeter, “and Troy Gonyea played every Thursday. [Michael Thibodeau, John Donovan, and Scott Ricciuti] played every Tuesday. Night Train – Jeff Berg and Troy. Yeah, I was lucky to have a lot of good music.”

Fittingly “the first person that played was Scott Ricciuti,” says Hemmeter. “We were close friends. Since the place is so small, I said, ‘You’re going to play acoustic,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m playing acoustic.’ So, acoustic, to me, meant you sit down in the corner with an acoustic guitar and it’s not amplified. Well, he came in with his amp and all this stuff, and we had a big laugh about it.”

Though it’s hard to think of Hemmeter today as anything but a bar owner – THE bar owner – in Worcester, his journey has been long. “When I started working at Ralph’s [in 1986] I didn’t even drink,” he says. “I never worked in a bar before, I didn’t bartend, so I pretty much learned everything [from Ralph Moberly]. I learned a lot from Carol [Moberly], too. I ended up taking over the booking there, and I pretty much did all the hiring and fi ring and took care of all the money.”

“I learned right away that I enjoyed doing that,” he says. “I like old bars. So, I just traveled around and took ideas from a lot of other bars and made a place that I would want to hang around at, the same way Ralph did.”

“I thought that [it] was a nice little bar and it had a lot of potential. It was in rough shape and it needed to have a big facelift. It had a dropped ceiling and paneling, and it didn’t have a back bar. I had just closed on [the building], and I had a lot of renovations to do, so we were working pretty much around the clock. I had a lot of help from a lot of my friends.”

“I had bought a back bar from Ralph’s years before – the bar that was in Bowlers [the short-lived, cavernous club co-owned by Ralph’s and the original owners of the Dive Bar]. Ralph had bought that out of an old hotel in Connecticut that was probably from the ’40s.”

“The bar that you sit at…was brick. I bought this paneled room out of a mansion off south Main Street – a beautiful oak-paneled room from the 1800s. So, I covered over the brick, and did over the top of the bar [with the infamous lacquer-coated pulp-fiction paperback covers]. But the back bar, all it had were a couple of shelves, a bunch of knickknacks and a few bottles.”

“[The walls were] all covered up with some paneling. I ended up buying a whole room of tongue and groove from the guy that was the postman for that area, right around the corner on Norfolk Street. So, I had to go into his place and take it all down.”

But he did it, and opening day was December 23, 1997. “We were working around the clock just to try to get it open, because David Clark, the company across the street, would always shut down [for the holiday] and they would have their employees go over to that bar…and they wanted to still do that. So that was my rationale for working hard to get it open as fast as I could.”

Weekends, he says, were “pretty busy right away,” though “it took a while to get the weeknights busier. “I worked at Ralph’s and Ralph’s was a really popular bar…so I had a pretty strong clientele of regulars who came to see me at Ralph’s. I had the opportunity that they’d at least come down and see me once to look at the place and try it out, and, if they liked it, they’d come back hopefully. Lucky for me, they did.”

Hemmeter’s winning formula, evident at all three of his bars, is to know (and be a part of) your crowd, to know your way around a bar, and to know music and understand and respect musicians, all things Vincent’s does well. Because of this, musicians want to play there. Stu Esty, whose RoadKill Orchestra plays monthly at Vincent’s, says, “There are always great folks on both sides of the bar, an amazing menu, [and] a fourseason smoking lounge. All this and a photo booth combined with bizarre taxidermy? What’s not to like?”

Longtime bartender and Vincent’s fixture, Frank Inangelo, who says that he “started working there about five months after they opened,” says that “it started as a couple of shifts bar backing, and 10 years later I’m bartending five nights a week and booking some of the area’s most talented performers.” Frank says that he loves “the diversity of the crowd” and that “it’s like a company that runs three shifts: you have the afternoon crowd; then, around 4 p.m., the after-work crowd comes in; and, finally, around 9 p.m. the night shift is ready to have fun.”

Though Frank expresses great regard for all of Vincent’s live acts, he remembers most fondly “Dennis Brennan playing Wednesday nights about 10 years ago with Duke Levine, Bill MacGillivray and Kevin Barry. It would be jam-packed just to hear those great tunes and amazing players” and “the great nights with Scott Ricciuti, whether it was with Huck or his weekly Tuesday gig with Michael and John, or Pistol Whipped.” Of the current crop, he notes the Feather Merchants on Thursday, which he says “are the latest to impress me every week. Cara, Mike, Chelsea and Chris have been able strike a balance of great musicianship with broad appeal.”

Way back when, bartending at Ralph’s, Hemmeter was saving his money and “looking for the right place.” Thankfully for us, he seems to have found it.

Stop by Sunday night to continue the tradition of great music in a warm environment and to congratulate Vincent Hemmeter.

Vincent’s, 49 Suffolk St., Worcester.

Leave a comment

Filed under Local Bands, Uncategorized

CD Review: Good Times Ne’er Forgot, by Hey Now, Morris Fader

Good Times Ne’er Forgot, by Hey Now, Morris Fader

 

In “Sounds the Same,” from their new independent release, Good Times Ne’er Forgot, Hey Now, Morris Fader asks if the muse is gone away for good. This dire existential dilemma hits like a mid-life crisis, signaling the maturing of the group and its members. Good Times Ne’er Forgot is the result of growing up, facing life’s growing complications, and, sonically, it stems from recent outside musical pursuits of the band members. Brooks, for example, has become a mainstay on the local scene, providing his virtuoso chops to a variety of lineups based out of Green Street’s Dive Bar, and Pez plays with uber-pop locals, The Luxury.

The good news is, as this record testifies, the muse isn’t gone, at least not for this band. The record teems with ideas steeped in pop, with Brooks Milgate’s piano playing – as the lead instrument – defining the band’s sound, while his potent arsenal of blues and jazz chops have infused HNMF’s music with some historic presence, and elevated its appeal much the way superlative playing elevates the pop of Ben Folds or Phish.

The new tunes present the usual topics –social and relationship critiques – but often from less obvious vantage points, and with subtle suggestions of broader meanings. “Sounds the Same” finds the singer questioning his own creative sense (“Is anybody with me in thinking that the muse is gone away for good? It all sounds the same”) while seeming to call the state of all current music into question. Similarly, hidden beneath the bright, up-tempo, RnB/jazz-style piano hammering and blaring trumpet of “Not for You Anymore,” the band delivers the artist’s manifesto to create for the self rather than pandering to audiences. (“It’s not for you anymore, and it never will be again. “I won’t write your song and I won’t sing along.”). Or, perhaps it’s all just directed at a former lover.

Most of the songs presented on Good Times Ne’er Forgot are pop, and move in unpredictable ways that are hard to pin to one genre or another. Some, though, incorporate well used tropes to positive effect, like “Suits,” a condemnation of phonies (“A crooked smile, insincere and smug, you’ve got all new scams to pull”) with its Ray Charles-like Rhodes riff and bluesy right-hand trills (as well as a great Rhodes solo and a barrelhouse piano bridge); and “Two Weeks Notice,” a five-minute soul/blues revue that would be right at home on Joe Cocker’s Leon Russell-led Mad Dogs and Englishmen, borrowing chord changes from Ray Charles hits, like “A Song for You” and “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” The tune is big and bluesy, with tasteful lead guitar and a scorching solo courtesy of Troy Gonyea (The Howl, Booker T. and the MG’s), who also delivers some sweet slide guitar work ala Derek Trucks on the opening track, “The Blues and Alcohol.”

The work hangs together and makes good use of musical friendships developed by the band members. In addition to Troy Gonyea’s fine guitar work throughout the record, track four (“Gone for Good”) features strings by Boston guitar ace Ian Kennedy (Reverse, Groovasaurus), and track five (“Cop Show”) features Dana Colley (Morphine, Twinemen, Hi-n-Dry studios) on saxophone.

Overall, the record stays true to the band’s belief in having a good time. So, while the themes can be bleak, critical, and sometimes anxious, the mood is carried by the arrangements and production, which are driving, up-tempo, and slick, making the overriding vibe light and fun.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How does it feel to get what you want?: Worcester’s Hey Now, Morris Fader Release 3rd CD

by Matt Robert
 
From Worcester Magazine’s September 6, 2012 issue.
Photo by Steven King
 
A significant contingent of Worcester’s rock scene has a strong and unabashed attachment to pop. I mean white pop rock. One of the area’s greatest proponents was the late, legendary Scott Ricciuti, who embraced a lot of things, but whose music always kept its foot in the good old hook-laden pop gem.

Hey Now, Morris Fader, comprised originally of drummer Alex Sacco and keyboardist Brooks Milgate, stormed this scene late last decade, playing an ironic, bombastic pop that bore inevitable comparisons to early Ben Folds Five (in no small part due to Brook’s piano chops, though the band cites the band as an influence, too). HNMF was immediately embraced by the scene, and won best new pop act in Worcester Magazine’s 2009 Reader’s Poll.

Hey Now, Morris Fader 2012 – Brooks Milgate (keyboard), Alex Sacco (drums), and Justin “Pez” Day (bass) – has a new CD, Good Times Ne’er Forgot, and will celebrate with a party at Ralph’s on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m., featuring Boston band Lights Out; local power pop icons Thinner; Jon Short, Duncan Arsenault, and Jeff Burch electric blues trio, Big-Eyed Rabbit; and New Pilot.

“Basically [it’s] just a big party, and we hope everybody comes out,” says Brooks of the event. “Our objective is just a party celebration, so you can expect a good time.”

A good time is what the record provides, though the process wasn’t always easy. “We started making this record about a year and a half ago,” says Brooks, of Good Times Ne’er Forgot, which was tracked at a number of studios, including Wooly Mammoth, New Alliance, Hi-n-Dry, and Tremolo Lounge, and, according to their website, mastered three times.

The album, he says, evolved out of “a bunch of songs that we just started writing in practice” as a collaborative method, though, sometimes, he or Alex would “bring in a completed song.” More often, though, Brooks says, “I’ve got a verse and a chorus and I show it to those guys and we kind of piece it together, and there’s probably one or two that were completely written in the studio.”

“The second to last song on the record,” he relates, laughing, “we legitimately didn’t even have finished. We had the time booked at the studio, but we finished it right before we recorded it, which was pretty exciting.” Time and money both influenced the making of the record. “Over the next year or so we just kind of – as we had the money to do it, we would try to add a little bit more.”

As recording progressed and the band moved from studio to studio and engineer to engineer, a vision began to emerge. They liked the songs and the progress, and “started hearing horn parts and string parts,” Brooks says, and the band “felt like [they] needed to make a bigger production of the record.”

Additionally, HNMF wrestled with a philosophical debate familiar to any musician or music fan. “Our last record,” he says, “we were very in the mindset, ‘We don’t want to record anything we can’t do live.’ But the record, we felt, this time around, needed to be something a little more special.”

Now that the recording is done, the packaging has been designed, and the CDs have been duplicated, Brooks is enjoying the result and looks back with fondness. “We just got our CDs in the other day. I’ve never done a record that was that big of a production,” he says. “It’s a great feeling when you hear it back and it’s that huge.”

The band has high ambitions for the record and has hired Powderfi nger Promotions in Framingham to manage them. “We’re doing two campaigns,” Brooks says. “The first is just to get it reviewed in different magazines and blogs, and after we release the record, next month we’re going to do a six-week [campaign] targeting college radio, and see if anything sticks to the wall.”

“We’re not really expecting anything,” he laughs. “We’re hoping it helps us get the word out, but we’re not really hoping to become millionaires.”

Check out Hey Now, Morris Fader at Ralph’s on September 8th, on Facebook or Myspace, and at heynowmorrisfader.bandzoogle.com. Pick up Good Times Ne’er Forgot at Bandcamp.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Local Bands

Roadkill Orchestra’s Sonic Shower

From the June 14, 2012 Worcester Magazine

Read my April, 2012, interview with Roadkill’s Stu Esty here.

See my slideshow of photos from Roadkill Orchestra’s April Vincent’s show here.

by Matthew Robert

Most of you who have been paying any attention in recent years know Stu “Dr. Gonzo” Esty, the giant of a man who cuts a big figure on the local scene, whether it’s his bigger-than-life personality, his landslide-inducing laugh, his big stature, or his big hands pounding out big bluesy, gospel-tinged tunes on the piano backed by his big, big voice, which you could hear in his ubiquitous appearances at any local club with an upright or a stage, or at his former lair, Dr. Gonzo’s Uncommon Condiments, where he holds down his straight job (ha!) conjuring up mustards and relishes and other ungodly concoctions meant to test your molecular fortitude, all the while bringing big-time cheer to the “hysterical courthouse district.”

Expect big-time energy and funky, up-tempo boogie music in the vein of Little Feat and Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” as Esty’s Roadkill Orchestra holds a CD-release party for its latest effort, “The ‘B’ Set from High Atop the Secret Underground Laboratory,” on Saturday, June 16, at Ralph’s.

The show will also feature Providence’s Kevin Williams and the Invisible Orphans (introspective power rock) and Worcester’s What (loose-limbed, Dead-inspired rock), all emceed by Worcester’s own comedian/late-night host, Flip McClane (Shaun Connolly).

“I’m hoping that folks can make a conscious decision to just put [all their cares] aside for even an hour or two,” says Esty. “Music is a powerful medium and everyone needs a little downtime or escape from the norm. Consider us as a sonic shower or bath that you can use to wash away some woes. Lather, rinse, repeat.”

The new CD finds the band in its best form to date, with a great, complementary lineup, featuring Esty on piano and vocals; Austin Beliveau on drums; James Bennett on saxophone; Jerry Maday on bass; and Darren Pinto on guitar; and with a slew of material, some from Esty’s recent creative hot streak, and some dating back to the ’70s and ’80s.

“I’m currently going through an incredible creative spurt,” Esty says. “I don’t know who I’m channeling, but I’m writing more lyrics than I can shake a stick at – on the back of Dunkin’ Donuts bags, bits and pieces of trash….I’m just writing lyrics all over the place.”

The new album, Esty says, was helped along considerably by his long-running “Turd (third) Thursdays Songwriting Challenge, a monthly event Stu has hosted at Dr. Gonzo’s Uncommon Condiments storefront for years. This was a place where local musicians could try out material composed along a series of alternating themes and guidelines.

“These events were a lot of fun (and well attended) and a lot of good music came about because of the event, mostly because we had a deadline,” Esty says.

“The first song on this CD, ‘Norton 850,’ was actually a product of two months’ worth of challenges. The first was to write about a moment in your life where an experience changed your life’s path or direction (the summer of ’68 when I first hear the rumble of an English two-cylinder bike). Found that I had the idea but the story and hook just did not reveal itself to me in the time frame. The next month’s challenge was where the tune’s hook and feel came from.”

“Norton 850” is a good representation of Gonzo and RKO’s work: rootsy and rocking with a narrative teeming with humor and shades of meaning, hidden beneath progressive blues-rock rhythms, blistering lead guitar and jazzy sax lines.

“My intention is to write songs that move me but have a broader message that will resonate outside of this moment and have a story line or hook that will appeal to a larger audience,” says Esty. “The tune should move you physically and emotionally and might even have you humming it in quiet moments. I make an attempt to incorporate different levels of meaning into the lyrics, so that if you have the time and inclination, you can read into the tune and enjoy it on another plane.”

RKO plans to work more of the new CD’s material into the current lineup for its slew of upcoming shows, which includes its usual spot at the annual Paulie’s NOLA Fest, in Worcester, in June, and its monthly second Saturday show at Vincent’s. They also hope to sneak in some recording dates.

“We have an aggressive June schedule—you can spend the summer following us in your VW bus,” says Esty. “And we’re planning on capturing two or three of the new tunes, hopefully again with Roger [Lavallee, of Tremolo Lounge Studios, where “The ‘B’ Set” was recorded], and releasing them as singles over the summer.”

Check out the RKO CD-release party on June 16 at Ralph’s Diner (95 Prescott St., Worcester, ralphsrockdiner.com), become a fan of the band at Reverb Nation (reverbnation.com/theroadkillorchestra), and pick up a copy of the new CD at an upcoming show, at Dr. Gonzo’s Uncommon Condiments (at its new location at 90 May St., Worcester), or online at music retailers like CD Baby, Amazon, Spotify, Rhapsody or Googleplay.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Local Bands

Scott Ricciuti: Epilogue (The Extended Cut)

After publication of “Scott Ricciuti: Epilogue,” in Worcester Magazine, on April 12, 2012, I continued to interview and to work through the material. Here is the “extended cut,” which I will continue to add to if/when more interviews occur.
Buy Scott’s music with Huck here.

The News

“I was in the studio and my phone rang, and it was my friend John Donovan, who performed every Tuesday night at Vincent’s with Scott. Why would John be calling me at 11:30 AM? I answered it and he began with, ‘I really don’t know how to say this….’”
This scenario, experienced by Roger Lavallee, began his nightmare – one we all fear. Around Central Massachusetts and throughout the Bay State, and up to Vermont – where childhood chum, Childhood band mate, and one of his earliest friends, Ken Ebell, lives – similar phone calls announced the same horror to a nexus of distraught family members, a life partner, musicians, fans, friends, club owners and club goers, bartenders, music writers – a massive web spun over forty-eight years of life, and almost as many making music: James “Scott” Riccuti had succumbed to injuries incurred when his car left Route 290, in Northboro, and landed in the median strip.
“I ended my (recording) session, and like a zombie, went to be with my girlfriend and my dog. I spent the day cycling between numbness and breakdown,” added Roger, who, over two decades that began when sharing bills with Scott’s band Childhood and evolved as Roger became the central engineer/producer of the vast majority of Scott’s prolific body of work, inadvertently became one of his closest friends.
“[Scott] had just been up to my house [in Vermont],” said Ken. “Your girlfriend answers the phone; her face turns white….I still haven’t processed that.”

Duncan Arsenault’s photo collection of Scott

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Scott Ricciuti, posted with vodpod

The Musician

Roger’s sentiments echoed a veritable deluge of outpourings on Facebook and in articles in a host of area publications, and at memorial services at Vincent’s bar and in Scott’s home town of Marlboro, MA, as the local scene and loved ones attempted to grasp the reality that the glue of the local scene was gone.
“The area – not just the local scene – just lost the most prolific, talented songwriter they will ever see so close,” said a reeling Paul Dagnello, thirteen-year bassist for Scott’s most enduring band, Huck, expressing the overwhelming consensus about Scott, universally lauded as a poetic, smart, tireless, humble, competitive, generous, and, above all, thrillingly energetic musician.
“The obvious hit that we all take is the fact that he was at his most prolific at writing and busiest ever at performing these last few years,” said Roger. “Pretty much every night of the week, he was performing somewhere, and so many people who would see him every single week are now going to feel the loss of his presence.”
“Two summers ago, when they started recording the Pistol Whipped album, Like the Red Haunts the Wine, I dropped by the studio, and being Scott, he, of course, invited everyone in the room to sing harmonies,” Recalled musician Anne Eggleston, adding, “he wanted everyone to feel special and included. He was not afraid to invite a near stranger to sit in with him. If he knew you played or sang, he was inviting you, his ‘dear friend,’ as he called everyone, up on that stage, whether or not you knew the song.”
“His songwriting is untouchable,” Annie added. “Even the saddest tunes are upbeat; the strangest lyric fits perfectly. The magic in Scott’s music has to be his humility.”
“He was always super talented,” remembered Ken. “We started writing songs about the same time. He, of course, always wrote a lot more songs than I did. Scott would have twelve, and I’d be like, ‘These six suck, these are good,’ and he’d be like, ‘Your two are cool!’ He was churning them out even back then. He always loved The Beatles and writing music, and we always wanted to do that.” About Scott’s technical schooling in music, Ken added, “He knew everything about that. He was good at that – we both were. He was a great soloist [on sax]. Then, he picked up the [baritone] sax and would solo on that. He played tuba.”
“One of my oldest memories of him was – remember those old Magnus Chord Organs? Before we even knew what was going on, we’d be like, ‘What’s this G mean?’ (Ken sustains a long G sound).”
“I always liked how I sang with Scott, the way our voices melded. But it was also very competitive. He wanted to write a better song than me, and I wanted to write a better song than him.”
Musician, Michael Thibodeau’s professional relationship with Scott was similar, he said. “Scott and I were fiercely competitive with each other, in a friendly way. Whenever one of us would write a new song, we would love to show it to each other, and the next step was to see who could write one better than that.”
“We played so many gigs together that I don’t even remember how we started, how many we’ve played,” remembered Michael. “We’ve been playing together for six or seven years, and we did four years every Tuesday night together. I’ve played multiple hundreds of gigs with him.”
“A thousand times you’re going to hear ‘he’s a great songwriter’,” Michael added. “It’s absolutely true. He’s probably the best songwriter I’ve ever known. Good guitar player. Not the best singer in the world for everything, but, for what he was doing, you couldn’t get any better. His voice was so individual. Scott’s great gift as a musician was he knew how to make everybody else around him better. He knew that people were always focusing on him. He knew that he knew a lot of people, and that a lot of people had been following him for a long time. But he knew how to take that attention and let someone who was sitting next to him shine. Sometimes to a fault. He’d pull anybody and everybody up on stage to stand with him, because he just wanted to share every moment he had up there with somebody else.”

The Person

Scott’s close acquaintances were quick to clarify that his gifts went way beyond music. Hours of interviews revealed reverent tones about a guy whose art was his life force, and a personality of complete “inclusiveness.”
“Who’s closer than a brother,” asked Ken. “We spoke the same language. We didn’t even have to talk about stuff. We’d finish each other’s sentences. I don’t think there’s been a better person ever born,” he said.
Michael (for whose wedding Scott acted as Best Man) and Annie, both told stories of being warmly pulled into Scott’s spotlight, fostered, and nurtured. “He took the attention on him and put it on others,” said Michael. “I’ve known him for a decade, but it felt like a lifetime. He was my best friend. He was the person I was most intimate with musically, and who I talked to about everything. I travelled a lot with him. My wife and Maro – the four of us would hang out quite a bit.”
“When I started playing with him, he could have said, ‘just sit next to me and we’ll play two of my songs and then play one or two of yours.’ But it was – from day one – ‘We’re going to trade songs, we’re going to feature your songwriting next to mine.’ He really brought me along. I learned so much from him.”
“My first memory of spending time with him,” remembered Annie, “was shortly after I met Duncan – I came by the house and they had been writing music, cooking, and drinking wine, some of Scott’s favorite things to do. Meals were spiritual experiences for him and his lyrics often mention cooking. He was so kind and warm to me. He loved Duncan [Arsenault – musician in Pistol Whipped and a variety of other projects with which Scott was involved] dearly and that just seemed to pour over and include me. His love for his friends ran endlessly and he never missed an opportunity to tell you how much he loved you and give you a big hug and a kiss.”
“(Scott) had true love for other musicians. He was really inspired by everything,” said Duncan.

The Early Years

“We grew up together in Marlboro,” said Ken. “The first time I met him, he was a funny looking kid with a funny haircut that could play a little bit of saxophone, who was in the school band. I was in fourth grade and he was in fifth. By sixth grade, we had already become fast friends and wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. We even had a little rock band in sixth grade – the Richer School Rock Quartet. We played “Proud Mary” – trumpet, two saxes, and a drum player. We were like Glee. The cool kids didn’t like us. We didn’t smoke cigarettes back then. We were in the band room and Scott would be playing his Yamaha [acoustic guitar] and I’d be jamming away on the electric piano.”
“We were very lucky to have a great music system at Marlboro High School in the early ‘80s. Cosmo Valente ran it – I think he still does – and there was a whole band room with sixteen Yamaha electric pianos and guitars, and anybody that was interested could come down on their free periods and play. We played all the time, and we kind of cut our teeth that way. Scott and I were joined at the hip. There were just the two of us in the theory and harmony classes. We learned all the theory and harmony.”
“We were in the Framingham Blazers Band together [Framingham Public Schools band still active today]. Being in a band at school is a funny thing. They called us band geeks all the time. But by the time when Scott was a senior and I was a junior, we were rock ‘n’ roll, playing at the proms and stuff. We had a little band called Midnight Sun, and we had a sax player, and we played Springsteen. We even played nightclubs! Sixteen years old! Like the Dew Drop Inn, in Northboro, and Manny’s, in Hudson. They let us come in because we brought…our family and friends.”
“Way before Childhood,” Ken continued, “a lot of people don’t know, but during the Midnight Sun days, we were doing old country and it was apparent early on how well we sang together. We even did a three-piece for a while, and played gigs all the way down to Rhode Island and shit.”
“And then Scott went off to college for a year, which didn’t suit him that well,” Ken continued. “And when he came back – I was kind of lost during that time – we immediately started playing music and reconnecting. And he had met a couple friends –his roommate was Danny Lucas [drummer for Childhood and Huck] at ULowell. They also met Greg Passler [guitarist for Childhood] at ULowell. Danny was the first guy. We kind of jammed with him, and then Greg came in. We also had our drummer, Chris Diraddo, and we formed an early version of Childhood – early ‘80s. We started writing songs, because that was the big thing. I still have a bunch of cassette demos. It’s funny, there was a photo on Facebook [after Scott’s death, an array of photos were posted to the site] of me with the perm? That’s when we were making those videos with Steve Diraddo, Chris’s brother, up in the cemetery!”
“Eventually, Chris Diraddo moved to Florida, and that’s when Danny came back, and that’s when we really started playing with Childhood – early ‘80s – ’84, or something like that.”
Childhood enjoyed significant local success, even winning the prestigious WBCN Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble in 1987, leading to, perhaps, their biggest gig: opening for The fixx, at The Channel, in Boston, according to former Childhood manager, Lisa Mondello Naujoks. “When the Rumble thing happened, it was kind of like a snowball effect in the opposite way, where it crushes you, you know? I don’t know why we never broke after that, but it didn’t matter. We just kept doing what we did: gigging a lot.”
“We were too young. I don’t know what happened. It all happened so fast. We were all just playing around a lot, making our music. It was a really great scene around in ’86-’87, with all the Danimal [local musician/promoter Dan Hartwell, later founder of the successful Locobazooka festival] stuff that was going on. All of a sudden bands got a little place that they could play, and the crowds started to come.”
The two played for years before parting ways in 1990, though the friendship endured and Ken still joined Scott for recent shows, including Childhood reunions and a set on piano at a Ralph’s Pistol Whipped show.
“When I left the band, it was a little acrimonious for a while,” said Ken. When asked how he and Scott managed a relationship both in and out of the band, Ken said, “One funny thing about Scott was that….It was getting to be a little bit too much for me, and the girl that I was with at the time was with child, so we got married, and I told Scott, ‘I can’t do it,’ and he was adamant to keep going on, and he was mad, and Greg was even madder. But Scott was best man at my wedding a month later, and we stayed in touch.”
“I moved to Vermont in 1992 and we were out of touch for a little while, but we would come down and see him, and after I got divorced I got back into music,” he added.
“I loved all the Huck stuff he did – I always kept in touch about that – and then we did the Childhood reunions and things like that.”
“I first met Scott in 1993 when The Curtain Society got to open up for Childhood at P.T. Beanie’s Music Box, on Main Street, in Worcester,” remembered Roger. [I, too, met the band this way, sharing bills with my band, Flubber, the same year at the same venue.] “They were absolutely rock stars to me at that point, because I had heard them on the radio and read about them in magazines. I was just blown away by them at that show: To meet them after the sound check and to be immediately welcomed into what was the best bunch of people I would meet in this business. We immediately became friends.”
“Very soon after that, Childhood had decided to come to a close, and Scott and drummer Danny Lucas, who Scott had been musical partners with since at least college, as far as I knew, put together…Huck. [They] came into the studio [Tremolo Lounge, in West Boylston, where Roger has engineered since the mid ‘90s] with me to for a few demos. From the absolute start, I jumped in with both feet…as their producer…because I loved what they did so much and understood what they were trying to achieve….We became a unit. I loved that band like I was one of them.”
“I first heard Scott and Huck play around 1995,” Said longtime Huck bassist/vocalist, Paul Dagnello.” I had heard of Childhood, but never got a chance to see them. I had a girlfriend in college who was obsessed with Huck, so I had to deal with her swooning while I just listened to the great music.”
“The first time I met Scott, I believe, was on September 21, 1996,” Added Paul. “It was the night of The Curtain Society CD release of Life Is Long Still [at the now defunct Foothill’s Theatre, in the former Galleria Mall/Worcester Common Fashion Outlets]. My band at the time was playing at The Cove [Sir Morgan’s Cove – now The Lucky Dog Music Hall] with Black Rose Garden and Huck. I remember Scott coming up to me before, in his sweet and gracious way, and saying, ‘Hey, man, I have heard so many good things about you guys. I can’t wait to hear you guys. I’m so happy you guys are on the bill.’ While the setup was happening at The Cove, he skipped out to watch The Curtain Society sound check at Foothill’s. He made sure he was back in time to catch our set. I hit the first chord and looked up to see Scott walk through the door.”
Paul added, “From there, we started meeting up from time to time…and just started developing a professional relationship. After Dave Robinson [of Black Rose Garden and original bass player with Huck]…left the band, I got a call from Scott. ‘I know you don’t play bass, but we really need a bass player, but specifically we need someone to sing harmony.’ This was a Saturday. He gave me twenty songs to learn…and said, ‘Come to practice on Monday and [we’ll] just see what happens.’ I borrowed a bass and worked my ass off to learn as many songs as I could. I showed up at practice, met Danny, and just started. After rehearsal, all I got was a ‘that wasn’t bad. Come back tomorrow night and let’s try again.’ I showed up the second night and we did the same thing. Again Scott said, ‘That was all right, and, by the way, we have a gig tomorrow and it’s a battle of the bands.’”

Recent Years

“The first gigs we played together were at the Bijou [Art Cinema, on Foster Street, in the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets, which closed in 2004],” said Michael. “And there was a series on Wednesday nights at Vincent’s for a while that Huck, Curtain Society, and Mossberg [band featuring keyboardist/songwriter Steve Mossberg] would rotate. Then, they got moved over to Ralph’s, under the moose, when they first started doing stuff downstairs after Vincent bought Ralph’s. I got pulled into that group via Steve Mossberg; and Roger and Duncan. I met them first. Scott and I just started playing songs together at those things.”
“We just hit it off,” Michael added. “I vividly remember one night him pulling me aside and telling me that he thought I was a wonderful songwriter, but that he hated me, because I was so young. We just started playing gigs together.”
Drummer Duncan Arsenault’s relationship with Scott blossomed exponentially in recent years, as Scott became a regular feature of Duncan’s Thursday night series at The Dive Bar, in Worcester, where, along with bassist Jeff Burch, Pistol Whipped germinated, when Scott began introducing the pair to his original songs.
“He was so fired up and inspired by music,” Said Duncan. “I think he’s the greatest songwriter. He didn’t need to do any more work, but he was still working at it really hard.”
Roger, who engineered and produced Huck’s material, added, “He had already proven himself as a gifted songwriter for years by the time he and Danny moved on to start Huck. It’s like they started at full-tilt and somehow it kept getting better and better and better. We would finish making a CD and I would be thinking, Whoah. This thing is a masterpiece! A year and a half later, I would get a scribbled-on cassette tape of rehearsal demos of a new batch of songs and I would be thinking, Wtf? How the hell do they top that last CD? Every time.”
“In the last few years, after being really inspired by a few trips that Scott took with Michael Thibodeau to be a stagehand at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Scott really cranked the valves wide open and turned himself into a songwriting machine,” added Roger. “He threw anything and everything he had onto the page and honed his craft into something like I’ve only heard about. He became so good at it. We would be on the road somewhere and someone would say something in passing and he would laugh and say, ‘That would make a great concept for a song!’ The next morning, I would hear him strumming in another room and a few minutes later he would come up for a coffee and say he finished that song idea.”
“He was incredibly willing to participate musically in anything,” said Duncan. “[He had] endless energy for gigging. He was down to play. There were times when he would leave a gig he was already playing and come over to The Dive and do that one, as well.”
“We had spent the last six years doing a duo,” said Ken. “Scott never stopped [putting his full energy into music]. His greatest songs came out later. His Huck songs, to me, are friggin’ incredible.”

Picking up the Pieces

“We’re going to survive, we’re going to get by, we’re going to make it through, we’re going to pick up the pieces,” said Michael. “It’s not like we’re never going to play again. But how can you replace a guy who played with everybody? You can’t get that back, because not everybody is that guy that can just sort of make everybody else around him feel good and feel better about what they’re doing.”
“Publically speaking, there’s going to be a huge void,” Michael added, “because Scott was so ubiquitous; he was everywhere. He played everywhere, he played anything. I used to bust his chops, because he’d play in a parking lot. He didn’t care how big or small the gig was. If someone asked him and he had an open date, he’d be there. As a music community – even just people who like to go to bars and drink – they’re going to notice that he’s not around. He was sort of one of the elder statesmen – the guy who’s been around so long – who had this amazing catalogue of songs. He’s going to be sorely missed. Somebody can come in and fill that public void, but personally, I’ve lost my music partner. I’ve lost the guy I played most of my gigs with. I spent more time honing my musical skills with him than anyone else.”
“You can’t have this wonderful musical community and expect when something bad happens for it to be easy,” Duncan said, though he takes heart in the “outpouring of respect for him,” including phenomenal response to the online stream of his extensive collection of mp3 recordings of Scott’s music, and downloads of Scott Ricciuti and Pistol Whipped’s “Like the Red Haunts the Wine” on Bandcamp. Others, meanwhile, have taken solace in hearing Scott’s music being piped at Oxford’s Casual Dining, in Oxford, and at TT the Bear’s Place, in Cambridge; and in the recent Boston Rumble set dedicated to Scott by Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck.
“We stopped in at a deli in Oxford to try to eat something,” said Roger [about the day he heard the news of Scott’s passing], “and the owner, a good friend and member of the local music scene, as well, was listening to Scott’s music in the store. I broke down hearing the song ‘Saddest Side of Monday’ as we walked in.”
“I can’t even begin to untangle what effect Scott’s loss will have on the local music scene,” said Roger. “It has already had profound effects on me and my closest friends, from wanting to make music in his honor to feeling really lost and wondering how do we go on without him. Among the many things that I am so heartbroken that I will miss: knowing that I no longer have the next song to record with him to look forward to is really making me think about the shape of my future as a producer.”
“Trying to picture the hole that is left in the music scene just tears me up inside,” lamented Annie. “You cannot replace the songwriting ability, the voice, the guitar skills, and the occasional saxophone moment, with any one person.”
“It’s been an unspoken promise,” lamented Roger, “that there will always be a great time ahead of me where I get to be with Scott and be a part of making another musical miracle, and with the thought that I will never be able to do that again, it really shifts my perspective about my future. I just need to hold tightly to the spirit and inspiration that he has left with me and keep trying to make new miracles.”
“We aren’t sure how to honor him without him there to play,” said Annie.

4 Comments

Filed under Local Bands

“Notes on the Rise”: New Faces in Worcester Music

This article ran on Thursday, January 26, 2012 in Worcester Magazine, a popular cultural weekly. See it at Worcester Magazine.

Notes on the Rise

Up & coming local music

by Matt Robert

Story Created: Jan 25, 2012 at 2:57 PM EST

Story Updated: Jan 26, 2012 at 6:07 AM EST

A new year can bring inventive resolutions and fresh beginnings. This year, while you resolve to lose 10 pounds, clean out your garage, write your memoir, or get that fractured relationship together, you can also vow to get out and enrich your life by taking in one of Worcester’s emerging musical acts, who, like the new year, bring fresh life to the cultural scene with new sounds, some spun from traditional mores put into new contexts, and some with a conscious abandonment of tradition. We’ve spent the past few weeks seeking out these new groups, visiting local clubs, scouring the web, and consulting club owners as well as the public at large in an attempt to bring you at least part of the emerging picture of where Worcester’s scene is headed and what new zeitgeist is springing up in the form of the area’s performing artists. What follows is a list of some promising artists or acts, which, by no means represent the entire local scene, or even all of the up-and-coming artists, but, rather, a sampling of promising or interesting talent recognized by the Worcester Mag staff, local club owners, or readers. Take it as a primer or starter kit. Get out and see what others you can discover, and keep us in the loop. Your comments and letters really help us to keep abreast of the local happenings!


THE LOCALS

On a recent Friday night, a text from my friend Jim, an aficionado of folk music of the U.K., alerted me that he’d be over at The Greyhound at Kelley Square seeing a new band. I decided to join up with him, and by the end of the evening, I knew that this 14-month-old duo from Brighton was one I’d want to write about.

On first appearances The Locals (Cormac Marnell and Brian Mooney) might seem like nothing special: an acoustic duet playing mostly Irish songs. The impression that quickly emerges, though, is that of a tight, confident pair of performers with a deep and interesting repertoire that will please fans of barroom drinking songs (“Wild Irish Rover,” “Molly Malone”) as well as those preferring quieter, perhaps lesser known tunes (“Fields of Athenry,” “The Wild Mountain Thyme”).

Armed with the barest essentials (Mooney on vocals and guitar, Marnell on banjo, harmonica, and tin whistle) they craft a serious, authentic vibe that lovers of any roots music will enjoy. Marnell is a powerful and passionate singer in the Irish tradition with a rich tenor voice and brogue. And his tin whistle and harmonica playing, despite his self-deprecation—the tin whistle, he says, is “the bane of [his] existence,” adding, “maybe one day I’ll actually learn to play it”—is refined, with a clear, clean pitch and complex melodic style. Mooney’s acoustic strumming on his pretty and rich-sounding Gibson J-45, which he chose because it was “Woody Guthrie’s guitar of choice” (Jorma Kaukonen’s, too!), is understated, but serves as the critical rhythmic underpinning of their tight sound. And though he prefers to steer clear of the microphone, he too can sing, as evidenced by his spot-on, spontaneous rendition of Ray La Montagne’s “Jolene” to fulfill a request.

The Locals had The Greyhound’s patrons stomping and singing along to “Black Velvet Band,” “Dirty Old Town,” “Town I Knew So Well,” and “The Rising of the Moon.” Both profess themselves servants to the rich traditions of the music they perform, finding the audience’s “collective knowledge of…Irish music…far greater” than their own, and exuding a humility in performance that extends to their musical origins.

Marnell says that he “began learning songs in October 2008 with the desire to simply play a few songs on Paddy’s Day,” but after losing his job in 2009, he decided that he “wanted to pursue music further and so hatched a plan to become an Irish folk group.”

Meanwhile, like a train chugging along the opposite way on the same track, Mooney took a trip to Ireland, where he became enchanted with a music he had long heard, but felt he was hearing for the first time. “We spent more time in the pubs listening to sessions-style play and one-man bands than we did seeing the sights,” he recalls. Already a Boston-area performer of original music, when he came back to Boston and searched for that music locally, he met Marnell for the first time when he “was out having a listen and a few pints.” Soon after, they “crossed paths” again and, it just so happened, Marnell was losing his guitar player so he and Mooney joined up.

“He said he was on a mission to revive this music because it is so relevant to the times of today,” says Mooney of Marnell’s zeal for Irish music.

“Early on I was dead set on just doing old-style folk, but as a compromise…we incorporated more modern songs from The Pogues and The Saw Doctors,” explains Marnell. Finally, he says, he realized that “these modern songs were an important part of the Irish cultural narrative.”

The Locals play regularly on the Boston scene and have begun forays into Central Mass., playing The Old Timer, in Clinton, and debuting at The Greyhound the night that Jim and I went to see them. They also have plans to appear at Fiddler’s Green.

Check them out at the Greyhound on Feb. 3, The Olde Timer in Clinton, Mass., on Sunday, Feb. 12, and Sunday, March 11; look for their soon-tobe- released CD within the next few months; or friend them on Facebook or ReverbNation.com.


MIARS

Getting a handle on Worcester’s Miars, who, though formed in 2007, didn’t take on the current lineup until 2009, can be tough. Writers before me have heaped praise on them for their attractive, unique music as well as for their hard-to-pin-down concoction that sounds to me—if you squint a little—a bit like Macy Gray backed by Rush. The songs are rootsy at heart and warmed considerably by vocalist Kayla Daly’s mellifluous tone that cuts right through the hyper, synchronized, syncopated backing band.

Drummer and Open Road Festival producer Marcus Ohanesian says that Miar’s (Daly – vocals and guitar, Imer Diaz – bass, and Ohanesian – drums) aim is for audiences “to enjoy themselves,” which the band hopes to do by allowing each person to “find a groove or pocket that they can move to and feel something deeper than just one genre or vibe.” Miars is successful in their quest to produce a music that is “temporal in the sense that it moves and grooves in different ways.”

Their eclectic, label-evading sound seems the result of diverse influences, which range among band members as disparately as Daly’s taste for Jeff Buckley, Motown, and soul singer Dorothy Moore; Ohanesian’s love of Lettuce, Soulive, Tycho and the Deftones; and Diaz’s jazz background with Tower of Power, Marcus Miller, and Herbie Hancock.

Holy marketing niche problems, Batman!

Miars speaks to the sensibilities of the late ’60s and early ’70s when breaking barriers and broadening listening tastes was common. Simon Cowell would have a conniption over these guys. Despite their possibly limited “X factor” potential, though, Miars intends to continue seeking open-minded music fans and to “move forward with touring, writing, recording new songs, and pushing our abilities and talents to new heights.”

Check out Miars’ July 2011 foursong EP “Sound of Tremors” online at Myspace, Facebook, or Reverb Nation, where you can access free downloads, and live at Tammany Hall, in Worcester on Saturday, Feb. 11.


MANITOBA

This band, recently renamed from The Silence, came recommended by Lucky Dog Music Hall owner and promoter Erick Godin, who has hired the group for his Wednesday-night new music series.

Manitoba began with local guitarist/vocalist Matt Marcel, who had been teaching his original songs to bassist Andy Belanger in their “spare time.” As with most musicians, the “desire to play live” reared its head and the duo began seeking other players to get the band together, eventually hooking up with and playing a few preliminary gigs with guitarist Nick Van Someren, before eventually adding drummer Jay Contonio and cementing the present lineup.

The tracks from Manitoba’s self-recorded new release “The Silence EP” (Alazair Studio) are a polished collection of tension-filled, high-energy hard-rock/prog-rock tunes, like “Remission,” with its frenetic pace, liquid-clean guitar tones and pounding drums, reminiscent of The Mars Volta, complete with a sophisticated harmonized guitar solo. This tune, like “A Lasting Cure,” reflect Manitoba’s solo songwriter origins, as, despite the big rock arrangements, at the core, sound like good songs that could be strummed out on an acoustic guitar. They’re melodic and vocal based, yet contain utterly modern elements of melody and structure, and detached, introspective lyrics and vocals, enhanced by tight harmony lines.

Manitoba hopes to continue recording and release an eventual full-length recording, but mostly, says Marcel, they want to write music that pleases them and to have fun.

Look for Manitoba at their CD release show at Ralph’s on March 2, on Facebook at facebook.com/wearemanitoba, and check out their new EP at Bandcamp.com.


PRO RE NATA

Pro Re Nata, featured in these pages a few months ago, is a young postmodern band from south of Worcester, in Sutton, where they have been honing a sound in their transmissionshop turned practice space. In two short years (they began in January 2010), they have sharpened their approach and developed a sound that should put them right at home with the hordes of independent bands touring the United States and routinely filling The Palladium.

Their sound – as heard on cuts like “Femme Fatale” and “Cages” – is a reckless cacophony of layered guitars, pounding drums, and yelled and growled vocals that brings to mind the post-punk, post-rave sound of early Hot Hot Heat, and, with its pastiche of heavily delayed electric guitar lines, even the psychedelic abandon of Jane’s Addiction. The band cites a few of its influences – Incubus, Brand New, Modest Mouse, Mobb Deep, and At the Drive-In –while its Facebook page also lists Radiohead and Michael Jackson.

With guitarist Neal McLaughlin, bassist Justin Marion, drummer P.J. Guertin, and guitarist/vocalist Brian Montigny, the band has been busy, working up the local club ladder, with appearances at Club Oasis, Hotel Vernon and Leitrim Pub, among other places; completing an EP at Echo Room Studios in Uxbridge with another in the works for a March 2012 release; and beginning writing for a full-length release with a tentative release of January, 2013. Additionally, they plan to broaden their performance schedule, with shows beyond the Massachusetts’ border this spring.

According to Montigny, the band hopes to continue to write and play shows and do short tours, and even tour nationally if the opportunity arises and circumstances are right. “As far as cross-country tours go, we need to make sure our families are taken care of before we spend their college fund on touring,” he says. “It’s a tough industry and [we’ve] seen so many amazing bands never get the recognition they deserve.”

Asked about the prospects for a rock band in 2012, Montigny nevertheless remains optimistic. “The music around Worcester has been good for a lot of genres,” he says, adding that “a lot of places have started to host more live entertainment.”

Pro Re Nata say they have what you need, though they comport the message with an air of humility. “We wouldn’t be doing much if we didn’t have all the support from everyone,” says Montigny.

Look for Pro Re Nata on Facebook or at ReverbNation.com.


THE TWANGBUSTERS

Like many of the artists that contribute to nightlife in Worcester, The Twangbusters are not from Worcester. They’re from Lee. But thanks to a small, devoted audience for good-quality roots-based music and a few clubs rife with suitable ambiance for it, bands from across the state like to perform here.

Vincent’s has a “great audience and a great vibe,” says Twangbusters vocalist, pianist, and ukuleleist, Paula Bradley. “We love playing there, and are so grateful that they support live music.” Bradley’s lightly rollicking, back-porch blues sound and Patsy Cline vocal twang make a perfect complement to Vincent’s dark, Depression-era rural feel. “And their meatballs are delish!”

Bradley, of western Mass. honky-tonk group Girl Howdy, says that The Twangbusters, who have played at Vincent’s about three times, rose up out of a group of future Twangbusters—Peter Zarkadas, Billy Nadeau (drums), and Brian Rost (upright bass)—who already performed together in a group called Twin Guitar Swing that played monthly at Vincent’s over about a year. And when their steel player, Rose of Girl Howdy, left to pursue pedal-steel training in Austin, Texas, Bradley stepped in, bringing with her a batch of originals she was “itching to perform.”

Bradley describes their approach as “blues-influenced,” but enthuses that they’re “willing to try a range of stuff,” and so a set can encompass “a Jimmy Yancey piano piece followed by a ukulele number followed by a Patsy Cline country song” or even Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” into what Bradley calls “a musical cocktail of blues, boogie and hillbilly bop – kinda ‘torch and twang!’”

“We have a great time and the crowd seems to as well,” she says, as to why these seasoned players would drive all over southern Massachusetts to play. “Playing with these guys is supremely fun.” That the musicians are “versatile” and “have such a great feel for the music,” and that the group tries “new and different material every time” makes “the drive out I-90…almost inconsequential,” she says.

The spare, rhythm-and-blues chug of “Too Late to Cry,” with its cautionary tale of a love at risk, and its wonderful, authentic country-jazz guitar solo and bluesy piano, will have you staring down to the bottom of your glass, while “Cattin’ Around” evokes dreams of a ’50s dance with poodle-skirted girls being spun and thrown over shoulders.

Check out the Twangbusters at Vincent’s on Feb. 15, or at ReverbNation.com.

Watch a clip of the band performing live:


CARA BRINDISI

Cara Brindisi earned her place on this list after I had the opportunity to catch her Thursday-night residency at Vincent’s and an appearance as a guest soloist for Bobby Gadoury’s American Songbook at Nick’s, and after both Nicole Watson and Vincent Hemmeter—of their respective eponymous nightclubs—recommended her as an up-and-coming bright light on the local scene.

The two gigs provide some insight into this Shrewsbury native’s range. At Vincent’s, Brindisi is the young woman I saw on her website performing Talking Head’s “This Must Be the Place” in a video that could easily pass as an impressive “American Idol” audition tape: a confident and competent performer, singing in a pretty, controlled voice. During her multi-set show at Vincent’s, at which she is armed with only a microphone and an acoustic guitar that mostly provides little more than support for her voice—she is a singer, first and foremost—her repertoire, over three or so hours, darts in and out of the ’90s (Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” TLC’s “Waterfalls”) to the ’60s (Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends”), the ’70s (John Denver’s “Country Roads,” Neil Young’s “Old Man”) to the ’50s (Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight”). Like her guitar accompaniment, the songs become merely vehicles to showcase a classic pop voice that shows hints of Judy Garland, Norah Jones, Nancy Griffith, and, yes, Patsy Cline. In other words, a voice that feels at home in almost any popular American music, perhaps suggesting why the Vincent’s crowd so warmly receives her.

Similarly, at Nick’s, when appearing as guest vocalist for Bobby Gadoury’s American Songbook show, by simply donning an elegant gown, she becomes the pre-rock chanteuse, performing elegant, skilled renditions of standards, like “All of Me,” “Moon River,” “Route 66,” and “Blue Skies.” Brindisi’s voice is the point. Like successful “American Idol” contestants, she makes each song a fitting piece in her own persona. She is a chameleon of sorts, who, because of a diverse range of exposure as a child—she cites Sinatra, The Beatles, CSN&Y (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), The Cars, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler, Natalie Merchant, and Nat King Cole as some early influences—seems not to see the distinctions among artists and genres, but merely the entirety of it all.

Brindisi says that “music has always been an integral part” of her life, as “music was constantly played throughout” her house. By senior year of high school, “after one campus tour, [Berklee School of Music] was the only thing [she] could think about [during her] senior year.” So, she spent four years at Berklee “soaking it all in” and “breathing, eating, and sleeping” music.

Brindisi says that she loves “raw vocal talent” in her favorite singer-songwriters and catchy hooks with a beat when she’s out and looking to dance, and this is evident in her vocal-strong selections. But she has an appreciation for the practical part of the job, too: “Some gigs it’s more appropriate to showcase what I love to do vocally. Other nights, it’s more appropriate to play music so that an entire bar will sing along. Either way,” she says, “my hope is to evoke some sort of emotion for the listener, be it a moment of peace or a night of fun!”

See Cara Brindisi Thursday nights at Vincent’s, or online at carabrindisi.com.


 HERRA TERRA

“We want people to party like George Michael on hallucinogens,” says Herra Terra guitarist Gregg Kusumah-Atmadja. With an energetic and aggressive presence befitting a major arena act, Herra Terra, a self-described “space/electronic/symphonic rock” band that calls both Massachusetts and Rhode Island home, is making waves with an introspective synth pop that consciously avoids traditions of blues, folk and jazz embraced by many alternative and mainstream acts today. They prefer, instead, moody rave rockers – metronome-rigid thumping drums and sixteenth-note bass, wildly fuzzed (and often synthed) guitar lines that seemingly jump right out of King Crimson, and, yes, layer upon layer of ambient and video-game synth, all topped by highly melodic lead vocals that, at times – it’s okay because Kusumah-Atmadja said it! – might evoke George Michael or Duran Duran. Not that these guys sound like Duran Duran. They’re more like a kinder, gentler Ministry. But there’s an undeniable self-consciousness and dignity that bears resemblance.

Herra Terra has been around as an electronic duo since 2008 when they released the threesong EP “Organs for the Afterlife,” but the band has only recently put together the act as it appears today. Founding members, John Paul Tonelli (vocals) and Kusumah-Atmadja (guitar) added drums (Brad Caetano) and, finally, bass (Adrian Bettencourt Andrade). In 2010, they released their first full-length LP, “Quiet Geist.” Their sound today results from those early days as a duo, according to Kusumah-Atmadja, who says, “Our beginnings were very experimental, especially because we lacked the element of live percussion.” And though the addition of a traditional rhythm section has “brought the energy level way up at shows” and “really helps everyone get into it, especially the crowd,” their “inspirations [still] come from free association jam sessions.” Kusumah-Atmadja says that “especially…with the new material we’ll be releasing this year…most of the material is born ‘off the cuff.’”

The performances are tight and unified and deliver a sonic blow in concert that incites crowds to stomp and cheer and body surf, as a number of videos on their site (filmed at Ralph’s) attest. The band has begun to generate steam and a significant reputation, and enjoyed a busy 2011 performance schedule, being invited to the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, in the spring for which they organized a mini-tour that ran across the southeast, and appearing in Philadelphia, Providence, Boston, Worcester, western Massachusetts, and New Jersey; and as this article goes to print, an all-night show on Jan. 14 at Worcester’s Club Oasis, ending at 10 a.m.

2012 looks to be even busier, according to Kusumah-Atmadja. “We’re currently in the studio recording a six-track EP, which is due for a 2012 summer/fall release,” he says, adding that “booking has begun for a 30-day tour to SXSW during the month of March to promote said release.” And if that’s not enough, Herra Terra also has “a cover-song EP and a split 7” in the works that” they are “super stoked about.”

Check out Herra Terra on Feb. 25, at the Lazy Dog in Marlboro and at herraterra.com.


DANNY FANTOM

Danny Fantom’s slo-jam raps are perhaps the most “local” of the local music covered here. His cerebral compositions, like “Reflections,” “More Reflections,” and “Longboards and Reefer (Remix),” teem with references to local streets and destinations. Fantom says that he is “born and raised” in Worcester and hopes to point out better options than hanging around to kids growing up today, though his tunes are also littered with happy memories of smoking weed, drinking beer and causing mischief.

The solo songs listed on his Facebook page and on Sound Cloud—he’s also a member of local act The Grand Arkanum—are very cool, and professional, despite a casual playfulness that permeates them with trippy samples that ping-pong left and right in complex rhythmic patterns, and backing vocals that effect off-mike conversations and small talk, often in hilarious, ironic call and response to crooning vocal samples. Fantom’s tracks are underpinned by deep clear beats and an array of unexpected samples: sped-up old ballads, jazz riffs, crystalclear piano and bouncy synth, as well as his friends chatting along.

“Another Reflection” includes all the typical name dropping found in rap but also takes an unusually complex look at the dilemma of producing music for self-amusement—i.e., “I just want to meet the big faces, get beats from Kanye, and rap with Kweli, give daps with Common, and puff on Whizza’s weed”; and, of course, business—“But none of this comes free. If I don’t try for money, how do I pay the fee?” Fantom’s music is smart, compelling and self-deprecating at times (he calls his music “nerdcore”), all of which makes it a lot of fun to listen to, while not evading the big issues that made rap important in the first place and which is often lost in the mega-commercial hits that populate FM stations and MTV.

Keep an eye out for Fantom or The Grand Arkanum in local listings, or find him on Facebook or SoundCloud.


Places to hear new bands: If you’d like to get out and hear new talent for yourself, a number of opportunities exist. The challenge is that most new acts face the dilemma of proving themselves on off-nights before being given the shot at premiere weekend slots. To catch them, and help them get to the weekends, you’ve first got to take a shot on them during the week. The Lucky Dog Music Hall, on Green Street, hosts new bands “just about every week,” according to owner Erick Godin. Opening slots on Wednesdays, Thursdays (and sometimes even Fridays and Saturdays) often feature newer bands. Check out weeknight slots at places like Nick’s, Vincent’s, Ralph’s, Beatnik’s, The Greyhound, and The Hotel Vernon; and open-mike nights all over Central Mass.

If weekends are your preference, established musicians often appear in new aggregates, which you can find on weekends at The Lucky Dog, Vincent’s, Ralph’s, and even JJ’s in Northboro. Bands like Happy Jack (covering The Who), Heavy Horses (covering ’70s arena rock), Pony for my Birthday and The Pistol Whipped, are all recent groups made of staple musicians on the local scene, while others are made up of new and established talents, like the duo Dan and Dorette (Dan Kirouac and Dorette Weld). Plus Duncan Arsenault’s Thursday night shows at The Dive Bar, on the corner of Green Street and Temple, routinely feature prime-time musicians in a range of formats, performing all kinds of music.

Tell us your favorite local band that we may have missed when you comment.

1 Comment

Filed under Local Bands