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Sounds Local: ‘Godfather’ of local music scene releases new CD


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

It’s a great time of year for music fans — summer concert series are starting to roll out (we’ll have more about that next week) — and a number of our finest local musicians have recently released new CDs.

Ray Mason, the man who is frequently referred to as, “the Godfather of the local music scene,” recently released, “The Shy Requester,” his first album in seven years. In addition to his work with the alt-country band, The Lonesome Brothers, and his own more pop-oriented group, the Ray Mason Band, Mason also works steadily as a solo artist.

Many of the shows he plays here in Franklin County at venues like the Montague Bookmill or Mocha Maya’s (where he will perform on Sunday afternoon) are solo shows: just Ray and his trusty, old 1965 Sears Silvertone electric guitar.

Mason will be performing at Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls on Sunday, May 22, at 2:30 p,m.  Mocha Maya’s is a great room to experience a Ray Mason show as it has the feel of a house concert. Mason chats with the crowd, tells humorous stories between songs and even takes requests.  Besides, beautiful downtown Shelburne Falls is a great place to be on a Sunday afternoon!

“The Shy Requester” was produced by Henning Ohlenbusch, who released his own new album with his band Gentle Hen recently and was featured in my column last week.

“The Shy Requester” was recorded at Ohlenbusch’s Rub Wrongways Records studio in Northampton, and is a collection of 13 appealing tunes sung in Mason’s instantly recognizable voice.

It seems like the local legend can write a song about anything, and on “The Shy Requester,” you will find him musing on things like, “Supermarket Friends” and “General Malaise.” But it’s not all lighthearted fare here — the disc opens with an upbeat track called, “Heavenly Ladder,” which, as it turns out, is a catchy song about death. “Life’s heavenly ladder, we’re all going to make that climb,” Mason sings. “There’s no way around it, no peaceful way out,” he also reminds us.

Then there’s, “Come Out and Play,” another song about mortality that includes the line, “Close your eyes/ let the morphine drip flow/everyone around saying ‘it’s OK to let go. “ While the title might indicate otherwise, this is a sad and moving song.

But don’t worry! This is not a downbeat album, and in songs like “Not Everyone Can Live in California,” Mason name-checks bands like the Beach Boys and The Lovin’ Spoonful, whose musical influence can also be heard on this song and throughout “The Shy Requester.”

As a producer, Ohlenbusch realizes that the best thing to do with Mason is just let him do what he does best, and this means putting the focus on the songs and capturing the best guitar sound possible.  Ohlenbusch, along with Lesa Bezo (The Fawns), provides backing vocals on four tracks and on “Leroy Saw Me Do It,” a wailing sax solo by Dave Trenholm (King Radio) that gives an edge to an already edgy tune.

“The Shy Requester” succeeds in capturing what a Ray Mason solo show is all about — a guy with a beat-up guitar, who plays and sings the heck out of some great tunes. It’s a simple formula, but one that Mason has been successfully working for years. Whether you are a longtime fan or a newcomer, “The Shy Requester” is a welcomed addition to Mason’s impressive catalog.

 “The Shy Requester” can be purchased at the Mocha Maya’s show and at Turn it Up! stores in Montague and Northampton. Mocha Maya’s is located at 47 Bridge St. in Shelburne Falls. Admissions to this shows is free, but tips for the artists are always welcomed. Visit: www.raymason.com

Jim Armenti

Ray’s partner in the Lonesome Brothers, Jim Armenti also has a new solo album out called, “The Poetry of Longing.”  

Unlike Mason, who plays solo shows all the time, Armenti’s solo work has been a bit more low-key.

While he is a regular performer here in the Valley, it is usually with the Lonesome Brothers or one of his other projects, such as playing in the backing band of the Young at Heart Chorus.

So when Armenti plays a CD release show at Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton on Saturday night, it will be a rare chance to see him solo.

Armenti recorded “The Poetry of Longing,” his third solo disc, in his home studio in Westhampton. It is a stripped-down affair, consisting of 11 tracks on which he plays acoustic guitar and some harmonica.

Armenti writes in the liner notes that this disc is a collection of “songs of longing for the usual human things: hope, love, redemption, joy; in the presence of loss of the usual human things.”  

“The poetry of longing/is a deeply clinging bell/they say, ‘you never miss your water/til there’s no water in your well,’” he sings on the outstanding title track.

The disc opens with the melodic, “What Good is a Song,” where Armenti asks, “what good is a song if it doesn’t capture you?”

This melodic song is the perfect opening for this haunting work, which is full of beautiful melodies and honest, poetic lyrics that come directly from the heart.

From the bluesy, “Skipping Stone,” a tune that will provide perfect soundtrack to the summer days ahead, to the heartbreaking, “The Same Words,” which reminds us that people are more alike than they care to acknowledge, this is a collection of songs that will stay in the mind of the listener long after the disc is over.

And Armenti’s stellar guitar, with its traces of rock, blues, country and more, is one more reason to delve into this disc. Just listen to him tear through the rollicking, “Like a Train,” and you’ll know what I am talking about.

It will be great to hear these songs live, and you can do that when Armenti takes the stage on Saturday, May 21, at 7 p.m. Luthier’s is located at 109 Cottage St. in Easthampton.  

Local favorites, the Rick Murnane Band and the Ray Mason Band, will also be playing that night. Admission is free, but tips for the performers are always welcome.

Visit: www.jimarmentisoloalone.bandcamp.com

Betsy-Dawn Williams

Li’l BeeDee & the Doo-Rites round out the CD releases with their new one called, “Betsy-Dawn Williams Presents ... Li’l BeeDee & the Doo-Rites.” The title is a bit of a mouthful but Williams, who is the leader of the popular rockabilly/R&B band, felt that she needed to keep both her name and the band’s in the title, since her first album was only credited to Betsy-Dawn Williams.

The new album is the band’s second release for El Toro Records, a roots music label that specializes in rockabilly music and is based in Barcelona, Spain. El Toro Records distributes world-wide.

“Betsy-Dawn Williams Presents ... Li’l BeeDee & the Doo-Rites,” features 15 tracks, all written by Williams, who produced the album with Jeff Potter and Norm Demoura from Harmonium Studios in Haydenville.

In addition to Williams, who handles all vocals and adds some rhythm guitar and percussion on the album, the Doo-Rites features Jeff Potter on piano, harmonica and drums, Mark Neveu on bass and Frankie Blandino on lead guitar.

The disc also features a guest appearance by Big Al Anderson (NRBQ), who adds some fiery lead guitar on “Try to Have Fun.”

And fun is what this disc is all about. From Williams’ sassy, twangy vocals, to the surf guitar and pounding drums that propel “Guacamole,” this topnotch band makes music that makes for burning up the dance floor.  

And they’ll do just that when Li’l BeeDee & the Doo-Rites celebrate with a CD release “shindig” on Saturday, May 21, at the Florence VFW at 7 p.m.  The VFW is located at 18 Meadow St. in Florence. Admission is $10 at the door. Copies of the new CD will be sold at the show at a discounted rate. Visit:
www.lilbeedee.com

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com