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Totally 'Mental 

Soundbites: Oak, Catie Curtis

Shortly before he departed for the nation’s capital, the estimable Casey Rae-Hunter handed me an inconspicuous-looking album and asked if I’d heard it. I replied that I hadn’t and in true, succinct, Contrarian form he uttered simply, “You should.” The album was EP1 & EP2, the debut double offering from experimental Burlington trio Oak, one of the finest local releases of 2007.

Like a fair number of folks, I’ve historically viewed “experimental” music with about as much enthusiasm and interest as, say, watching curling on Canadian television. In short, I just never got it. While I’m still not sold on grown men and women with little brooms sliding rocks on an ice rink as legitimate entertainment, I am starting to come around on avant-garde noise. That’s largely because of the suggestion of a respected peer and a fascinating double album by three über-talented local musicians.

There’s something compelling about wordlessly creating near-indescribable soundscapes with largely unrecognizable musical tools. It’s pure expression in its most deceptively simple, elegant form, and few acts, local or otherwise, do it better than Oak.

This Saturday, the trio headlines an evening of horizon-broadening psychedelia with fellow Burlingtonians the le duo and A Snake in the Garden at Radio Bean. Bring an open mind and some dough for the collection plate.

MONKEY SHINES

Last weekend, I strolled into The Monkey House in Winooski for the first time in a few weeks, and, near as I can recall, the only time I’ve set foot in the joint during the day. Apparently, the bar serves as the de facto waiting room for hungry souls in need of tables at the always-packed neighboring breakfast spot, Sneakers, and on Sundays it hosts an informal bluegrass session to drown out the sounds of rumbling bellies. Take that, Penny Cluse!

As an aside, I wonder if people can just sleep over at the bar since most of Sneakers’ clientele looked as though they’d spent the previous night reveling in the Monkey’s cozy confines. Just a thought.

Anyway, the music lineup at the Onion City hipster haunt has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year, thanks to the tireless efforts of booking maven and songwriter Paddy Reagan. And this week, the hit parade just keeps on a-rollin’.

Thursday night, Wyld Stallions Records presents “Kiss My Butt!” an evening to benefit the fight against Crohn’s disease and Colitis with three of the area’s finest songwriters: pop prince Gregory Douglass, indie-pop potentate Colin Clary — and a Magog! — and Reagan himself, who probably deserves a clever hyphenated “pop” label of his own.

In my review of Reagan’s debut EP last week, I suggested he ought to book himself more often. I had no idea he’d actually do it. Since my powers of suggestion are apparently so keen, might I submit that Nectar’s should book fewer funk bands? Oh, and The Avett Brothers should play Higher Ground. And I want a pony.

Moving on, Saturday night’s lineup is pretty spiffy as well. Farm’s Ben Maddox opens the evening with a rare solo set. In trio form, the dude’s music is deliciously eerie. I’m curious to see the results when left to his own strange devices.

Next up is a local super group of sorts, My Dearest Darling, comprised of members of Tell No One, Lendway, Moonbank and the aforementioned Douglass’ backing band. The psychedelic indie-rock quartet is fresh off an opening slot with The Fiery Furnaces at Higher Ground and has holed up in the studio to work on a spring release.

Headlining the gig is Portland, Maine’s ass-whoopin’ quartet Cult Maze. I caught a bit of their set the last time they swung through the ’noosk and found them thoroughly indie-licious. Whatever that means. Seriously, though, they rock.

Coming around full circle, the show on Wednesday, March 12, should be one for the ages as traveling troubadour Moses Atwood — see the glowing CD review in this very issue — joins forces with Reagan’s alt-country outfit Cannon Fodder. The group has been performing an ongoing series as the backing band for various solo acts, most notably, In Memory of Pluto’s Seth Gallant and indie-folk songstress Maryse Smith. Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Nicole Erin Carey opens the show.

WHERE’S FRODO?

While The Monkey House’s star is undoubtedly ascending, one area club in particular has not been as fortunate and, sadly, has decided to close its heavy wooden doors for good.

Bradford’s Middle Earth Music Hall has been one of the region’s most unique venues since it opened in May 2002. Modeled after Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole from J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, walking through the nightclub’s doors is like stepping onto the set of Peter Jackson’s masterful film adaptation. It’s a hoot. (Note to LOTR purists who take exception to calling the film version “masterful”: Get a life.)

But the joint was more than just a gimmick. Owner Chris Jones regularly brought world-class talent to the tiny town of Bradford, including the likes of folk icon Ritchie Havens and, more recently, Chris Smither and John Gorka. Unfortunately, Bradford’s size and location are likely major factors in the decision to close up shop. There’s just not enough population in that part of the state to support the venue. And with Barre, about an hour away, being the closest “metropolitan” area, the journey is perhaps too daunting to regularly draw outsiders. Bummer.

I’ll be sure to remind you again, closer to the actual closing in May, because Jones and company have a pretty awesome sendoff planned. But if you have the chance before then, make the trip and check out Middle Earth Music Hall while you still can. Trust me, it’s worth it.

MAD RIVER FOLLIES

Despite the closing of one of my favorite clubs, I’m happy to report that all is not lost, musically speaking, in central Vermont. This Saturday, the Mad River Unplugged Music Series rides again with folk-pop chanteuse Catie Curtis and Vermont’s very own righteous babe, Anaïs Mitchell, at the Valley Players Theater in Waitsfield.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mitchell . . . um, read more. We’ll wait …

Now that we’re all back on board, scoring Curtis is a coup for the long-running acoustic series. The songwriter has been praised by everyone from Paste magazine to The New Yorker and has contributed music to numerous indie films and TV shows including “Dawson’s Creek” and, of course, “Grey’s Anatomy.” But perhaps her coolest accomplishment was taking the grand prize in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition for her tune “People Look Around.” The contest was judged by none other than Loretta Lynn, Sonny Rollins, Macy Gray and — drum roll, please — Tom Waits. Tom freakin’ Waits. ’Nuff said.

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About The Author

Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles

Bio:
Dan Bolles is the Seven Days music editor. His column "Soundbites" appears weekly.

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