Sounds Local: Old Flame still fierce on new album ‘Hush Money’

  • Northampton-based band Old Flame will perform at Fitzwilly’s in Northampton Friday night at 9:30 p.m. Contributed photo

  • The Sweetback Sisters will play at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Contributed photo

  • Sheryl Hunter

For the Recorder
Thursday, May 31, 2018

“My head is a honeycomb/Where the sorrow grows and grows/The darkness is my treasure trove/Can’t let go this way I’ve known,” sings Emma Ayres on “Hollow,” the opening track off “Hush Money,” the new EP from the Northampton-based band Old Flame.

As the title implies, the song is a study in emptiness, but one that also captures the sadness and anger that many are feeling during the turbulent times we are living in. With a sharp opening guitar riff that sounds like early Talking Heads and a potent message that can be taken on both a personal and political level, “Hollow” is the perfect start to this new disc. (The band recorded an excellent video for the song at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls.)

Ayres and guitarist Sam Perry formed Old Flame, which they declared “an agent of resistance,” in 2017 as a response to the election of President Donald Trump. Soon after forming the band, they released the EP “Wolf in the Heather,” a solid debut that featured a folk-blues sound and a strong political message.

And now with the release of “Hush Money,” Old Flame lives up to its earlier promise. The six songs, while quite different from each other, manage to work together as a cohesive whole. The addition of bassist Nate Mondschein and drummer Ken Birchall help flesh out the sound, as the band makes its way through a variety of styles ranging from the contemporary indie rock of “Three of Swords Reversed” to the swampy blues of “Venus Fly.”

In addition to “Hollow,” one of the other highlights here is “Hey Kid,” a song about the challenges of pursuing life as an artist. Buoyed by a sludgy guitar, Ayres sings, “You aren’t fed if you aren’t singing what you’re meant to sing” in a voice full of conviction. But what starts out as bluesy folk song suddenly shifts and develops a new fierceness, as Perry delivers a psychedelic guitar solo and Ayres repeatedly belts out the line, “I won’t back down/I ain’t gonna take your hush money baby.” The song beautifully captures the raw power that is Old Flame.

Ayres has a strong background in theater and is able to use her honeyed voice to capture the myriad of emotions that run through “Hush Money.” You can hear the frustration in her vocals as she sings of barely getting by with a minimum wage job on “Service Industry,” and she musters a sense of hope while warning of the damage of climate change on “Paris Accord, 2017,” a beautiful, yet intense, song that closes the disc.

Old Flame is a must-see live act that was awarded first place in a recent Valley Music Showcase contest held at New City Brewery in Easthampton. You can catch the band Friday night during a free show at Fitzwilly’s in Northampton at 9:30 p.m. as part of a new music series presented by The Buzz, A Honey Pot Production. Old Flame will also perform at The Stone Church in Brattleboro, Vt., on June 8 at 8 p.m., in a lineup that includes Workman Song and The Pinkerton Raid. Old Flame will also perform at this year’s Green River Festival on July 14.

Not one to sit still, the band will be back in the studio this summer to begin work on its next release. Ayres will also release a solo album, “Graduate,” next month and will host a CD release show on Saturday, June 16, at Cushman Market and Café at 491 Pine St. in Amherst. Music begins at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available in advance at Cushman Market.

You can hear/purchase “Hush Money” at: www.oldflameofficial.com.

The Sweetback Sisters at Hawks & Reed

The last time the Sweetback Sisters — Emily Miller and Zara Bode — played in western Massachusetts, it was at their annual holiday hootenanny held at the Academy of Music in Northampton. While the band is known for these annual Christmas extravaganzas, don’t expect any holiday tunes when the band plays Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center at 289 Main St. in Greenfield Friday night at 7:30 p.m. But do expect to hear plenty off its latest release “The King of Killing Time,” a collection of honky-tonk and country tunes. Band members have also said they’ll will be breaking out some old classics for this tour.

It’s a treat to have the Sisters playing an intimate setting like Hawks & Reed, but this show is special for a couple of other reasons; it’s drummer Stefan Amidon’s birthday and it’s one of the final shows before the band goes on a bit of a break, a baby break to be exact, as Bode is welcoming a new arrival in early July.

So don’t miss out on this chance to see the band now! And get there early to check out the trio of harmony-filled folk and soul songs of local band Eavesdrop.

Advance tickets are $20 and available at: www.hawksandreed.com, or $25 at the door.

Low Lily at The Parlor Room

Low Lily, an American roots trio out of Brattleboro, Vt., also has a new CD out called “10,000 Days Like These.” The trio will celebrate its release tonight, May 31, with a show at The Parlor Room at 32 Masonic St. in Northampton at 7 p.m. The band will share the bill with Mile Twelve, a bluegrass band out of Boston.

Low Lily includes Liz Simmons on vocals and guitar; Flynn Cohen on vocals, guitar and mandolin; and Lissa Schneckenburger on vocals and fiddle. For this show, the band will have Corey DiMario (Crooked Still) as a guest on bass. Each of the band members have enjoyed formidable solo careers, and came together to form Low Lily three years ago, creating a sound that is a merging of contemporary and traditional. “10,000 Days Like These” is the band’s full-length debut and is a mix of traditional tunes, covers and originals.

The disc opens with Simmons lending her crystalline vocals to the lovely version of the traditional tune “Sovay.” Other highlights include a cover of Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” and the Celtic-influenced “The Good Part.” Whether swapping off on leading or weaving their voices together, the vocals on Low Lily’s disc are outstanding. Add to that strong songwriting and super musicianship and you have a satisfying listen from a rising band on the roots music scene.

Tickets are $15 at the door.

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.