Sounds Local: Bella’s Bartok to celebrate new album with Greenfield performance Saturday

  • Bella’s Bartok will hold a CD release party for its album “Is Me That Monster?” on Saturday at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. Contributed photo

  • Colorway will hold a CD release party for its album, “These Are The Days,” on June 21 at New City Brewery in Easthampton. Contributed photo


For the Recorder
Thursday, June 14, 2018

In their almost decade-long career, the Northampton-based band Bella’s Bartok has rightly earned the reputation as a “must see” live act, one known for its sweaty, rowdy shows where the audience and band come together for one big party. But it’s so easy to get caught up in the theatrical glitz and glitter of a Bella’s Bartok show that one overlooks all the interesting things the band is doing both musically and lyrically. That’s where the studio album comes in. Many bands that are known for their great live shows don’t always capture that energy in the studio, but that’s not the case with Bella’s Bartok, which has managed to do that, and more, on its new album “Is Me That Monster?”

“Is Me That Monster?” will be released Friday, and the band will celebrate with a CD release show on Saturday at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, 289 Main St. in Greenfield, at 8:30 p.m. Electronic pop duo Home Body will open the show.

Bella’s Bartok, who got its start in Great Barrington before heading to Northampton, is made up of lead vocalist Asher Putnam, bassist and vocalist Dan Niederhauser, trombonist/vocalist Amory Drennan, trumpeter/vocalist Gershon Rosen, accordionist/keyboard player Alex Kogut and guitarist/vocalist Lucas Solorzano. They describe the new album, which is their fourth, as “a culmination of three years of drinking, loving, thinking, raging, screaming, singing, traveling, shouting, living, dying and loving again.”

Bella’s Bartok’s music, which has a strong eastern European influence, remains hard to label, so the band simply calls it “circus punk.” From the snappy horns that punctuate “Life” to the folk waltz of “The Ballad of Lily and Billy Jack,” you’ll hear all types of styles and sounds here. And one only has to listen to the album’s first single, “Graveyard Funk No. 2,” a catchy, hip shaking mix of funk and old school rock to hear that the group is up to something new.

“We have been expanding our sound, including our standard ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ sound and vibe, but including a certain touch of the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’” Putnam said via email about the song. “We chose this tune because of this and the way it gets the audience moving and grooving.”

It’s not all grooving here, as the band does take on some dark subject matter. “Is Me That Monster?” opens with the sounds of a thunderstorm, some gentle acoustic strumming and some rather eerie backing vocals. As Putnam urges us to “walk with me to the end,” the sense of foreboding increases when some heavy horns kick in and concludes with him singing “See this mess I’ve made.” The song is called “End of the World Part 1,” and the journey continues when the disc concludes with the “End of the World Part 2.”

“While not necessarily a concept album, there is a narrative throughout,” Asher said about the songs that bookend the disc. “A personal story of loss, introspection, and the overarching sense of doom referring to our current national situation.”

“Is Me That Monster” is a fitting title to the album in more ways the one. The band has always loved monsters (and Muppets) and not only do its members sing about them (there’s a song called “The Babadook” here), but they’ve also been known to incorporate papier-mache monster heads into their show. The monsters explored on some of this material aren’t scary creatures but the monster that looms in all of us.

“It’s actually a phrase (the title of the album). Long ago, during an ancient epoch now known as the ’90s, a young father was filming his sons play build a castle out of blocks. The younger one began destroying the fragile structure while his father narrated the violent disassembly,” said Putnam. “The boy stopped as he listened to his father’s excited narrative, looked directly into the camera and asked his father if he was indeed that monster. The boy was and his father, with a laugh, confirmed as much.”

Bella’s Bartok has a busy summer, touring the Northeast and Canada, playing clubs and festivals, including the Green River Festival on July 14. If you attended the band’s New Year’s Eve show at Hawks & Reed, you know what a crazed costumed event that was, so it’s likely its members have big plans for this show. But Putnam wasn’t saying much.

“Our album title is also a theme,” he said. “How one interprets that is totally up to them.”

Advance tickets are $16 and available at HawksandReed.com, $20 day of show. Doors open at 8 p.m.

More new releases from Colorway and Spouse

Colorway, the Northampton-based trio led by guitarist and vocalist F. Alex Johnson, will release its third CD, “These Are The Days” on June 21. The trio will celebrate with a CD release show held that night at 7:30 p.m. at New City Brewery, 180 Pleasant St. in Easthampton. Johnson, who writes all the material, describes “These Are The Days,” as a journey through the highs and lows of an apparent midlife crisis.”

Quite a rockin’ journey, we might add, as the nine tunes here showcase his ability to craft hooky pop-rock tunes and fill them with his always inventive guitar work. Highlights include the feel good “Always Been Summer,” which features backing vocals from Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne, and the infectious “Give it Away.” At the CD release show, Colorway will play “These Are The Days” in its entirety, followed by some tunes from previous releases.

Easy Weasel, a band that includes Collingwood, will open the show.

Tickets are $10 in advance and available at laudable.productions, $12 day of show. You can also catch Colorway at Franklin County on Tap, the annual brew fest held on Saturday, July 21, at Berkshire East.

If you’ve been following the local music scene for a while, chances are that you are a fan of Spouse, a popular indie rock band that Jose Ayerve formed back in the mid-1990s. The band released five albums before going on hiatus in 2011. Last year, Ayerve, who now lives in Ecuador, decided to get the band back together. He gathered together longtime Spouse drummer J.J. O’Connell and guitarist Peyton Pinkerton, a newcomer to the band, guitarist Dup Crosson, to record a five-song EP called “Sell The Silver.” The five tunes are a reminder of what a great band Spouse is and how good it is to have the group back.

Spouse will perform at The Parlor Room, 32 Masonic St. in Northampton, on Friday night, June 15, at 7 p.m. and at The Stone Church in Brattleboro, Vt. on Sunday, June 17, at 6 p.m. Spouse will be joined by The Fawns and Ex-Temper.

Advance tickets are $12 and available at www.signaturesoundspresents.com, $15 at the door. Tickets for The Stone Church are $8 to $10 and can be purchased at www.stonechurchvt.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.