Sounds Local: Musical chemistry
June and Johnny Cash, Meg and Jack White, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Karen and Richard Carpenter, Richard and Linda Thompson ... and the list goes on. The world of music is full of men and women like these who record and perform as a duo. Some of these are romantic partners, while others are siblings or even feuding foes. Regardless of their relationship, there is something inherently special about the music these couples create. The blending of the male and female voice combined with the chemistry they share is often a big part of what makes these duos so appealing.
Lisa Austin and Chris Elliott of Montague have making music together since 2003, performing under the moniker of Austin and Elliott. Elliott sings and plays guitar while Austin sings, plays guitar, bass, 6-string banjo and percussion. The way they describe their musical relationship is that Elliott takes a cerebral approach to music making while Austin is more intuitive, creatingoriginal harmony lines by ear and unearthing the emotional core of a song.
Austin and Elliott will perform at Mocha Maya’s, 47 Bridge St., Shelburne Falls, on Saturday, May 24, at 8 p.m. Michael Metivier will open.
Elliott said that he and Austin listen to all types of music, but admitted that there are some duos that hold a special place on their playlist.
“Both of us are fans of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Low, and the Handsome Family, as well as other singer-songwriters, a few of which are Todd Snider, Patty Griffin, Tom Waits, James McMurtry, Randy Newman and, of course, Bob Dylan,” said Elliott in an email exchange.
Elliott does the majority of the songwriting, drawing his influence from rock and folk.
The influence of songwriters like Welch and Rawlings can be heard on songs like “Liza Jane,” in which a man displays his undying love for a woman who doesn’t share his feelings, and on “Blackwater Dam,” a dark song full of deaths by drowning. The song begins with the line, “Let me tell a story about a peaceful town/One day at the reservoir the mayor’s daughter drowned” and only gets darker from there.
While songs like these have a timeless quality and could fall under the Americana label, other tunes in the Austin and Elliott catalog have a more folk-rock, contemporary sound. There are even times when Elliott’s frantic strumming of his guitar combined with Austin’s driving percussion finds the couple edging into indie rock territory. One of their strongest songs, “Hard Not to Fall in Love,” is a beautiful ballad filled with the kind of memorable melody and poetic lyrics that are a staple of their music. “It’s hard not to watch the water shine/Everybody stares at the things that make them blind/ And you’re so bright from afar/Not to fall in love with you is hard/It’s hard.”
Austin and Elliott were both pursuing solo careers when their paths crossed on the open mic circuit in Boston.
“We started collaborating in 2003, at first arranging harmonies to my songs and then later adding more instrumentation,” explained Elliott. “After performing around Boston and New England for several years, we moved out to western Mass in 2008.”
Since joining forces, the pair had performed throughout New England.
The duo’s first CD, “13 Songs Plus,” was 20 songs of just their voices and guitars. The follow up, a full-band record called “Truth That Hurts,” featured five songs about love lost and gained. They are currently putting the final touches on a new record they hope to release later this year.
“In our home studio over the last several years, we’ve recorded dozens of songs, including songs often requested by audience members, such as ‘Fat Man With a Flower,’ ‘Justice Song of the Birds,’ and ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Break, It.’ Our next record will also include two of Lisa’s compositions: ‘Flycatcher’ and ‘Drowning Song,’” Elliott said.
He went on to say their goal for this record is to capture the energy and clarity of their live sound, especially the blend of their harmonies.
“The performances were recorded live at home, fresh and ‘in the moment.’ Unlike ‘Truth That Hurts,’ there will be no band and little extra instrumentation, much like our other CD, ‘13 Songs Plus,’” Elliott said.
Austin and Elliott will be playing some of the songs off the upcoming record at the Mocha Maya’s show. We should also mention that they are longtime members of the Franklin County Musicians Cooperative.
In addition to the Mocha Maya’s show, you can also catch them performing as part of the cooperative’s Co-op Concerts Thursday night music series on July 3 and Aug. 3. The Coop Concerts are held at the Greenfield Energy Park, 50 Miles St., every Thursday during the summer months from 6 to 8 p.m. All of the above shows are free, but donations are always appreciated.
Jazzing it up at The Arts Block
You’ll find all types of music at the Arts Block, but this venue has been particularly committed to bringing jazz to its stage, a genre of music that we have not always had the opportunity to experience in Franklin County.
On Saturday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m., the Arts Block, 289 Main St., will welcome the Joe Belmont Guitar Jazz Trio with an opening set by the Northampton Community Music Jazz Ensemble.
Belmont has been working as a professional guitarist for more than 30 years. Over the years, he has worked with various ensembles here in the Pioneer Valley and played an assortment of genres. He is also a respected teacher and is a performance faculty member of the Music Department at Amherst College and director of Jazz Studies at Northampton Community Music Center.
He also is a member of the band Viva Quetzal and works with flutist Sarah Swersey in duo fusion. His guitar trio features Jason Schwartz on bass, Sturgis Cunningham on drums and, for this show, special guest Nancy Janoson on flute and saxophone.
“The youth group from Northampton Community Music Center are an amazing group and they’ve got a great set planned. It should be entertaining and uplifting to watch these kids stretch out,” said Belmont. “Then at 9, it’s my jazz guitar trio along with Nancy Janoson sitting in. I’ve got a bunch of new jazz compositions, which we’ve been rehearsing, and I’m really excited to add to my repertoire. I believe it’s an original sound.”
Advance tickets are $7 and can be purchased at www.theartsblock.com. $10 at the door. Seating is general admission.
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 email@example.com