Sounds Local: Rocking the old year to sleep

Last modified: Monday, February 01, 2016
*Archive Article*

As we bid farewell to 2015 and prepare to welcome 2016, it’s time to look back and reflect on what proved to be a memorable year for the local music scene. It was a year where music fans applauded valley stalwarts The Lonesome Brothers, who celebrated their 30th anniversary and mourned with the reggae band The Alchemystics, who lost founding member and drummer Demse Zullo and band roadie Brian “Budzy” White when the pair were killed in a car accident in May.

It was also a year of changes with ownership of various music venues shifting hands and bands like Colorway, The Gaslight Tinkers, and The Boxcar Lilies seeing changes in their lineups.

But if anything stands out this year more than ever, the national spotlight shined brightly on some of the valley’s very own musicians. All this attention proved what we here have known all along — there is some impressive talent living in our area.

In January, the online music magazine Pitchfork ran an article titled “The Next Generation of Western Massachusetts Indie Rock” which gave shout-outs to a new crop of talented young bands hailing from the area. Among them were Speedy Ortiz, a band from Northampton fronted by Sadie Dupuis. This group had a strong year as its album “Foil Deer,” which features Dupuis’ clever and literary lyrics, received widespread praise from a host of major publications and helped draw even more attention to this deserving band.

Also mentioned in the Pitchfork article was the pop-rock band And the Kids, a trio from Northampton who released its debut “Turn to Me” (Signature Sounds) in February. That album, one of my favorites of the year, is bright, bold, quirky and downright catchy.

And the Kids also had the honor of being included in an article in the Wall Street Journal as “2015‘s Next Big Thing: 8 Music Acts to Watch.” (California X of Amherst also made the list). If you were lucky enough to catch one of their many local performances this year, you know they are one of the most exciting live bands around. You can actually catch them tonight when they open for Rubblebucket at Gateway Arts in Holyoke. The band is already making plans for their next album, so we can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Shelburne Falls native Seth Glier had a strong showing this year as he released “If I Could Change One Thing,” his third album for MPress Records. This collection of memorable pop songs led to opening gigs for artists like Leon Russell and Brent Dennon. Glier also completed his first European tour, opening for the legendary Ronnie Spector.

Glier wrote one of the strongest tracks on the album, “Love is A Language,” about his non-verbal autistic brother Jamie, who he has always cited as one of his greatest inspirations. Sadly, Jamie died in October, but his spirit and inspiration will live on in Glier’s music.

The quartet Darlingside now call Boston home, but they launched their career here in the valley when they were all living in Hadley and they still have a strong fan base here. Their 2015 release, “Birds Say” is one of the strongest albums of the year, full of beautiful harmonies, smart lyrics and superb musicianship.

Some other favorites of the year: Colorway’s second album “The Black Sky Sequined” is full of classic rock music and plenty of fiery guitar work from leaded F. Alex Johnson. Then there was Heather Maloney’s “Making Me Break,” which found her Joni Mitchell-like expressive voice and songwriting chops in top form. “Make Time” by The Suitcase Junket proved that one guy playing guitar and homemade percussion instruments can sound better than most bands.

And I have to agree with the many other writers out there that include the blues infused “Salt As Wolves” by Jeffrey Foucault on their year-end “best of” lists.

And I would have to say that the best single of the year has to go to the Fawns, whose “High School Party” and its accompanying video is blast of power pop fun.

And we can’t talk about national attention without mentioning the Green River Festival which won high praise this year from publications like USA Today, Rolling Stone and the New York Times, all agreeing that it is one of the best music festivals in the country. Presented by Signature Sounds of Northampton, GRF 2015 lived up to the praise with an outstanding festival that included a new night of music on Friday night. This year the festival celebrates its 30th anniversary and will be held on July 8 to 10 on the grounds of Greenfield Community College. As a way to better accommodate visitors to the area the festival will offer camping at the nearby Franklin County Fairgrounds. Look for the lineup announcement in early spring.

Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival in North Adams and the Amourasaurs festival, curated by Lake Street Dive and held at the Pines Theater in Florence, were also festival high points of 2015.

Musicians from western Massachusetts also drew attention to the pressing social issues this year, as Peter Mulvey, a singer-songwriter who records for Signature Sounds and has strong ties to our area, made big news when the killings in Charleston inspired him to write a song urging South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag at its statehouse. The song was called “Take Down Your Flag,” and he wrote it backstage at the Calvin Theatre as he prepared to open for Ani DiFranco.

Mulvey played the song that night and later urged other musicians to add their own verses to it. About 100 musicians posted versions of the song including local artists like Pamela Means, Seth Glier, The Nields and Erin McKeown, and in the process became part of the national conversation on the subject.

In September, the three young women that are the members of Kalliope Jones, a rock band from Shelburne Falls, set social media on fire when they posted a letter voicing their concerns over a written comment made by a judge in a local ‘battle of the bands’ competition held at the Three County Fair in Northampton. The judge noted the band should “use the sultry” to enhance their stage show and the story was picked up across the country by People.com and Today.com, sparking a heated discussion about sexism in the music world.

This past year also saw some major changes in the places where we go to hear music. In July, Greenfield periodontist Bob Goldsher purchased both the Pushkin and the Arts Block in Greenfield from former owner Ed Wierzbowski who had filed both buildings under bankruptcy in 2014. Replay Gear remains in the Pushkin. While the Arts Block is in a state of transition, it has been booking lively shows and events in multiple venues in the building. We do know that Goldsher is committed to the building remaining a vital performance spot in Greenfield.

Another big change occurred in August when WRSI radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte was awarded the lease to take over the Shea Theater effective in January. Belmonte has made it clear that his goal is to make the Shea a vibrant home for the arts, including all types of music, with the hopes of even bringing in larger scale acts. If anyone can make this happen, it is Belmonte and his group, The Shea Theater Arts Center. The theater is currently closed for renovations.

Let’s hope that The Arts Block and the Shea Theater, two venues with huge potential that have been underutilized in the past will open their doors to much more music in 2016.

Overall, 2015 was a good year for musical venues. Now under new ownership, the Ashfield Lake House has turned into a musical hot spot and regularly hosts excellent local acts. Bella’s Bartok and the Gaslight Tinkers are just two of the bands that have graced the stage at the Lake House. Hubie’s Tavern on Avenue A in Turners Falls is another example of new owners transforming a venue. Hubie’s started presenting live music on their patio this summer, and while some of the neighbors were not happy about the noise, music fans found it a welcomed addition. Then there’s the O’s in Sunderland which is now calling itself The O’s Music Bar, as they are putting more emphasis on music — bringing in both cover bands and original music.

We need more venues as there is going to be a lot of music coming out this year. Just looking at the calendar — Zak Trojano, The Fawns, And The Neighbors and Sonya Kitchell already have CD release shows scheduled for January. And 2016 will also bring new releases from Bella’s Bartok, The Snaz, Jamie Kent, Parsonsfield, Winterpills and many more. Here at Sounds Local we will keep you informed of all these new releases and shows in the upcoming year.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy New Year full of great music!

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