If you read last week’s issue, you know that I had an unbelievable time carousing around New York City for the CMJ Music Marathon. But it wasn’t all free booze and rockin’. I was there to work, damn it.
Among my favorite finds at CMJ was a nifty little retro-pop band from NYC, Lily & the Parlour Tricks. I caught them on my first night in the basement of the Bowery Electric and, quite frankly, was blown away. The band is fronted by ultratalented chanteuse Lily Claire, who is flanked by a pair of equally compelling female singers and backed by a tight rock-and-roll rhythm section. The group floored me with a snazzy mix of jazz, roots and rock, filtered through the prism of a 1960s girl group — picture the Shirelles or the Ronettes with the modern indie sensibilities of She & Him and you’re in the ballpark.
Anyway, imagine my surprise to find that group will be in VT this week, at Middlebury’s 51 Main on Saturday. OK, I actually knew that already, since I approached Claire after the show to beg her to play in VT and she told me about the gig. But still, it’s a pretty cool coincidence, right? Do yourself a favor and check ’em out. You’ll thank me, I promise.
- Vermont sees its fair share of big-name blues acts making their way through the Northeast. But, perhaps more than with other genres, many of the most important blues names are familiar only to the most knowledgeable fans. This week, some lucky Vermonters will be treated to one such underappreciated giant: blues-harp legend James Cotton. Even if you don’t immediately recognize the name, you’ve probably heard him play. The 75-year-old is a blues monster in his own right, but is likely best known as a sideman who’s played with … well, pretty much everybody. Cotton got his start playing with Howlin’ Wolf as a teenager, inherited Sonny Boy Williamson’s band as a twentysomething, filled in for Muddy Waters’ legendary harpist Little Walter in the late 1950s and later joined that band on Waters’ Grammy-winning album Hard Again in 1977. Cotton scored his own Grammy in 1996, for Deep in the Blues. But wait, there’s more. Over the course of his 50-plus-year career, he’s played or recorded with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Todd Rundgren, the Grateful Dead, Santana and B.B. King, among many, many others. So, yeah, dude’s kind of a big deal. This Thursday, Cotton will perform at the Flynn Thea … wait, I’m sorry. He’s playing where? Really? Hunh. OK, apparently Cotton is playing at Ashley’s Sports Bar in Randolph. That’s the blues, man.
- Speaking of underappreciated, let’s talk about me … and my affinity for the local standup-comedy scene! Ahem. Seriously, our local comics don’t get as much love as they deserve. That’s too bad, especially as the scene is in the midst of a rapid growth spurt and producing some very, very funny people. People such as Martha Tormey, who is among the most accomplished standups in the Green Mountains. This Saturday, Tormey will perform what she believes may be the first solo show by a local comic at Higher Ground — “Martha Tormey: Half Bad” at the Showcase Lounge. Fellow VT standup veteran — and one of my personal favorite local comics — Tracie Spencer opens.
- Band Name of the Week: Dustin Wong. OK, so he’s not really a “band,” per se. And frankly, there’s not much interesting about the dude’s name. So, yeah, I’m reaching a bit here. But I needed an excuse to write about this cat’s music and, well, there are a lot of unremarkable band names on the slate this week.
Anyway, Wong is probably best known as the guitarist from wacky Baltimore pop outfit Ponytail. But his new solo instrumental album, Infinite Love, has been getting quite a bit of, well, love from media outlets all over the U.S., including a recent plug in the New York Times. Almost entirely guitar based, the record is actually one fluid composition that fractures into two tandem pieces roughly midway through. Kind of like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, but for your ears. I have no idea how this works in a live setting, unless Wong has an evil twin his reps at Thrill Jockey failed to mention. But you can find out when Wong plays the Monkey House this Thursday.
- Congrats to local DJ icon and all-around class act Craig Mitchell, whose label Slanted Black Records has seen its international profile bumped up considerably of late. A recently released single, “Don’t Be Afraid,” by rising British synth-pop sensations Eddie the Gun just topped MTV Music’s Top 100 chart. Over the summer Mitchell’s label released two remix packages of the ETG single, including remixes by our own Bonjour-Hi! as well as Dante, DJ QDO and a bunch of other internationally renowned DJs and producers. Congrats, Craig!
- Rock and roll is often viewed as a male-dominated pursuit. Except, perhaps, in Vermont. To wit, the two best-known VT-based acts not named Phish are both female fronted, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Anais Mitchell. Still, even here, being a young girl trying to break into rock can be intimidating. The Girls’ Rock Camp Alliance is trying to break down the divide and encourage young women to indulge their inner Joan Jett. The nonprofit has set up camps all over the world — including, quite likely, one in Vermont next summer. This Saturday, the Monkey House hosts a benefit for the GRCA featuring a slew of VT’s finest female-fronted acts, including Swale, Julia Josephine Slone, Pink Fury, Nuda Veritas and Linda Bassick.
- Speaking of Swale, I had a lovely chat with keyboardist and vocalist Amanda Gustafson the other day, ostensibly about Radio Bean for this week’s cover story. But, I admit, I had ulterior motives. Swale fans have been waiting nearly a decade for the Burlington band to release it’s “new” full-length. And there have been whispers that it’s almost, kinda, maybe ready to be released. Gustafson confirmed that the record is really close, but said a few tracks still need to be mastered. I’ll just point out that the holiday shopping season is almost upon us — or maybe it’s here already — and I can’t think of many things I’d like more than the new Swale album in my stocking.
- A few weeks back, I wrote a poorly worded and inaccurate spotlight for underground hip-hop star Immortal Technique and his longtime collaborator DJ GI Joe. I won’t bore you by revisiting the past, except to say that Joe is back in the state this week — thank you, Halogen Records — tearing up the turntables at Positive Pie 2 in Montpelier on Saturday.
- Speaking of Halogen, we should probably thank them for bringing legendary funk band the Headhunters to Club Metronome this Thursday. And if you don’t know who the Headhunters are … you’re beyond my help.
- Welcome back, ramblin’ Rick Norcross! The “Rick” in Rick and the Ramblers has been pretty quiet lately, but he gets back in the saddle this Saturday at the Music Box in Craftsbury.
- Know what’s better than a party? The after party. Swing by Nectar’s this Saturday for the “Official, Unofficial Queen City Sessions After Party” featuring DJ Demus, punk rockers Lord Silky, postrock up-and-comers Spirit Animal and ska torchbearers Husbands AKA.
- Last but not least, Kelly Ravin’s October residency at Nectar’s went so well, he’s riding it into November. Catch the lanky roots songwriter any and every Wednesday this month.
And once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.