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Joan Osborne captures moods of Dylan

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Fans of Joan Osborne have long known she’s a fan of Bob Dylan. She included a cover of his “Man in the Long Black Coat” on her 1995 debut, “Relish,” which included the international hit “One of Us.”

But she’s not just a casual fan. She’s enough of a fan that she put together a show called “Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan, which she performed at two-week residencies at New York City’s Café Carlyle in March 2016 and 2017.

She’s also taken that tribute on the road, including Sunday night’s show at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro. The 90-minute, 14-song concert served as a preview for Osborne’s “Songs of Bob Dylan” CD, which will be released Sept. 1.

The new disc might just as easily have been called “The Many Moods of Bob Dylan.” On “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” she was joking, scornful and mocking. On “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” she was wistful. On “Buckets of Rain,” she was soothing and flirtatious. On “Tangled Up in Blue,” she was reflective and resigned but also assertive.

One of the night’s highlights was “Masters of War,” (the oldest song in the set, which included tracks ranging from 1963 to 2001). She delivered Dylan’s scathing condemnation of the military-industrial complex with barely restrained anger. As she said afterward, “that’s a very intense song.”

Osborne can effectively cross the borders of rock, R&B, soul and jazz, as she showed throughout the night, which ended with an almost mournful rendition of “One of Us.” She was helped quite ably by Kevin Bents on piano and organ and Andrew Carilllo on acoustic and electric guitar.

The trio changed the arrangements and the tempo of most of the songs, especially the better-known ones. She made the case for that in introducing a slowed-down jazz-blues version of “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35.” One of Dylan’s biggest hits (No. 2 on the Billboard charts), the “everybody must get stoned” song is “so familiar that it gives us license to change it,” she said.

My lovely companion asked if I thought she was messing with it too much. My quick answer was, no. Longer answer: What would be the point of doing a tribute like this and not taking the songs in a new direction?

Among the performers who made stand-out versions of Dylan covers are Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, the Byrds and George Harrison. Osborne belongs on that list.

The show included nine songs from the new CD and four Dylan songs that aren’t on the new release, giving Osborne and Dylan fans reason to hope there may be a volume two down the road.

Franti brings sound of sunshine to Tent

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

Were your arms tired Saturday morning? Probably so, if you were at Friday night’s Melody Tent show by Michael Franti and Spearhead.

Some performers lead sing-alongs. Franti does that, but he also likes to lead wave-alongs, and for much of the night he had audience members swaying their arms to his mix of reggae, rap, R&B, and rock.

Franti didn’t leave all the work to the crowd. He was dashing up and down aisles and zipping along the edge of the rotating stage. He invited fans to join him on stage to sing and dance (one big dude got belly-down on the stage and did the Worm quite impressively). In short, this is a guy who knows how to engage the crowd.

Franti’s music is upbeat, both in its tempo and in its lyrics. The visuals back up that spirit. “Love out loud” was printed in big letters on Manas Itiene’s bass drum and the guitar strap on Franti’s battered acoustic guitar has block letters saying “stay human.”

Early in his career, Franti was blatant with his politics, in his work with the rap duo The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and on the early Spearhead CD “Stay Human,” which focused on the death penalty.

Lately he’s more focused on a Marley-esque “one world” message with a feel-good vibe. As he said in introducing “Good to Be Alive Today,” “Every person on this planet deserves to be happy, healthy and equal.” He also mixed in plenty of love songs, the best of them being “Crazy for You” and “Life Is Better With You.”

Another highlight was “I Got Love for Ya,” one of seven songs Franti played from last year’s “Soulrocker” CD. The song was inspired by his son’s graduation from high school, and Franti worked in a bit of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” before finishing the song by smashing the bottom of his guitar against one of Itiene’s cymbals.

Got to give a nod to the rest of Franti’s tight band: guitarist J Bowman, bass player Carl Young and keyboardist Michael Blankenship.
Near the end of the 100-minute show, Franti talked about his Do It for the Love charity which provides concert experiences for people who are seriously ill or have a disability. Beyonce, Kenny Chesney, the Red Hot Chili Peppers – whatever performer they’ve dreamed of seeing. (“I never thought I’d buy so many Taylor Swift tickets,” Franti joked.)

The charity, which has sent 900 families to shows so far, lists its mission as “hope and healing through live music” – which pretty much sums up Friday’s show and Franti’s career.

A great athlete and a better friend

Friday, November 30th, 2012

“Hey, Ronnie. What do you want to do today?”

In any group of young kids, there’s usually one whom the others look to for leadership. In my Centerville neighborhood, it was Ronnie Ouellette.

When we were in kindergarten or first grade, our running around was unstructured. By the time we were 7 and the Red Sox were in their “Impossible Dream” season in 1967, baseball was the focus.

Most mornings I’d go out my backdoor, cut through the woods that connected Five Corners Road and Bent Tree Drive, and go up the little rise to Autumn Drive to Ronnie’s house. His house was near the top of a hill. In a valley below that hill was an undeveloped area we called the sandpit. It was like an oceanless beach surrounded by woods – the perfect spot for touch football, hide-and-seek, tree forts and winter sledding.

In one corner of the sandpit, there was a steep dropoff from the woods to the dirt, which formed an ideal backstop for a catcherless game of baseball. We used red rubber balls that would land in the street when Ronnie connected with one of my pitches. When I was at bat, let’s just say, the balls were a lot easier for the fielders to grab, especially if they moved in a little.

Mostly the days were filled with baseball, but sometimes Ronnie, Scott, Mark, Eugene and I would spend some time playing other games. My dad installed a pole at the edge of our driveway that had a basketball hoop at the regulation 10-foot height and another below it for the younger kids to aim at. Ronnie was the master at shooting the ball with a high arc, so it would swish through both nets.

He was one of those natural athletes who makes everything look easy. He could run faster, jump higher and throw farther than anyone else on the playground. Looking back I can see that his skills were refined though hours of practice, as casual as much of it was.

Ronnie was a star of the sixth-grade soccer and basketball teams. He played quarterback for the Barnstable Middle School team. In high school, Ronnie didn’t sprout up or bulk up the way some of our friends did, so he was too small to play football. But he stuck with basketball and was the shortest starter on the Barnstable High varsity team.

I can’t think of my childhood without thinking about Ronnie. He was my first friend, but eventually we stumbled into new interests and found other friends. In high school, we’d always end up in the same homeroom, but there was an O’Reilly and an O’Toole between us, so Ronnie and I weren’t within whispering distance.

Then we graduated and went our separate ways. Even though we both ended up living in the town of Barnstable, we didn’t see each other often.

Thursday night I found out that Ronnie had passed away after a battle with cancer. Once upon a time, I thought Ronnie could do anything, but here was one struggle that was too big for him.

There are pictures on Facebook that show Ronnie looking pale and frail, next to Carol, his wife for 33 years. That’s not how I’ll remember him. Instead I’ll think of the smile on his face as we dashed down the hill to the sandpit, he always a few strides ahead of me, when he’d look over his shoulder at me and I’d shout, “Hey, Ronnie. What do you want to do today?”

Spring poem

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Little bird, above in a tree,
Don’t treat me like your enemy.

The stuff that dropped from your tiny end
Should not be aimed upon a friend.

While trimming branches, I did my best
To not disturb your fragile nest.

Perhaps I know why you’re upset.
My morning breakfast: an omelet.

If an apology’s due, it’s to you I beg
If a relative of yours was in that egg.

— By Bill O’Neill, 3/21/11 (inspired by a close call)

Lewis Black at the Tent

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Comedian Lewis Black jogged to the stage as Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” blared over the speakers. When the show was over, the song of choice was the Grateful Dead’s “U.S. Blues.”

Those two titles pretty much sum up Black’s performance Aug. 20 at the Cape Cod Melody Tent and his comedic style in general. He has a bleak take on the state of the country, and he’s not subtle about pounding home his message: Politicians and pretty much everyone else have totally screwed things up; we’re insane or delusional if we don’t see it that way; and things won’t be getting better soon.

“I know that things have gotten worse because I’ve become a mainstream comedian, and that’s wrong,” he said. “I hear the things that come out of my mouth and I’m appalled.”

His is not exactly a feel-good message, but Black’s style of over-agitated anger makes it easy to laugh anyway. Part of it is that he’s as willing to put the blame for his blues on himself as anyone else. “You’re more excited to see me than I have ever been to see myself,” he said when he started. “I get up every morning and look in the mirror and say ‘(Forget) it. It’s you again. I guess it was all a dream.’”

He said a Utah paper described his act as containing “mental breakdowns” and that’s not a bad two-word description of what he does. During a bit about politicians’ ineffectiveness at fighting terrorism, he got so wound up that he said, “I’m starting to scare myself.”

Black doesn’t get why some people celebrate New Year’s Eve with the thought that the coming 12 months will be the best year ever. No way, he says. “It could be less (lousy). It could be more (lousy). But I guarantee you this: It’s going to be (lousy).”

One of his rants was about Valentine’s Day. “I believe there should be a holiday of love, but not in February. … Why would you pick the most depressing month of the year to remind many Americans they’re alone?”

From a rant on his iPhone woes: “AT&T is a carrier in much the same way a mosquito carries malaria.”

From a rant on celebs in their 60s (he’s 62) who go on talk shows and say, “I’ve never felt better”: “When you were in your early 20s, were you living in an iron lung? Did your parents cover you with ticks and you just got the last one off yesterday?”

Black got plenty of support when he said the government should legalize marijuana. He disputed the theory that pot is a gateway drug to harder drugs. “Pot is a gateway drug to the kitchen,” he said. “Legalize pot and the government can make money the old-fashioned way – with a bake sale.”

Opener John Bowman had some funny lines about people who take their kids to Las Vegas. Their rationale: “It’s like the measles. We have to expose them while they’re young, so they don’t get the shingles when they’re 70.” His response: “If you really feel that way about them, put them in a big silver balloon and call CNN.”

He talked about his Polish-American friends who “hang out in large groups and screw in light bulbs.”

Bowman has some experience as an actor and appeared in “Miami Vice,” “L.A. Law” and “Seinfeld.” He showed his gift for physical comedy when he compared President George W. Bush to a bobblehead, saying, “Dick Cheney hit him on the head once in the morning and he kept going all day.” But he collected his biggest laughs when he did a spot-on imitation of Lewis Black’s sputtering response when Bowman asked the headliner for a raise. Sounds like Black’s as volatile off-stage as he is on-stage.

A few lessons

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

50 things I’ve learned

(some through experience, some through observation)

You meet interesting folks on the road less traveled.

If today feels like the worst day ever, the odds are really good that tomorrow will be better.

When you get wet, you eventually get dry.

When you get cold, you eventually get warm.

There aren’t too many things more fun than dancing with a bunch of friends.

A pint of Guinness goes well with just about anything.

Usually, you’re more in need of evolution than revolution.

When you work really hard, things seem to fall into place.

When it comes to exercise and cooking, there’s always a payoff when you try going a little farther than you’re used to.

Righty tighty, lefty loosey.

A broken heart never fully heals, but that doesn’t mean it has to break the rest of you.

Love is simple at first.

Then it gets complicated.

Then, if you’re really lucky, it gets simple again.

Playing with children always makes you feel better.

They like it, too.

Almost every guy looks likes a stud in a tux.

Almost every woman looks sexy in a little black dress.

My best advice for writers: All killer, no filler.

There’s no such thing as too much revising, but eventually you have to say, “I’m done.”

There’s nothing wrong with being a defensive driver.

Every generation thinks it invented getting drunk.

Whether it’s with family or friends, you have to have a sense of belonging.

If your gut is telling you that you should, you probably should.

If your gut is telling you that you shouldn’t, you definitely shouldn’t.

There’s nothing to cure the pain of the death of a loved one, so the best you can do is to live in a way that would make them proud.

There are few sounds better than an electric guitar, a canyon wren or a waterfall (just not all at once, please).

When playing poker, fold or raise.

But sometimes you have to switch gears.

There aren’t too many things that can’t be made better by some Pearl Jam.

For the rest, try some Rolling Stones.

After that, maybe some pizza will do the trick.

When all else fails, a walk on the beach should help.

In the age of the Internet, don’t do anything anywhere unless you’re OK with it being seen by everyone everywhere.

It’s not usually true that the smaller the bar, the better the band, but it’s usually true that the smaller the bar, the better the time you’ll have hearing the band.

Almost everyone on the dance floor is more concerned with whether they look dorky to be paying attention to how you look.

Even if you are the dorkiest person on the dance floor, you’re probably having more fun than anyone else out there.

It’s OK to call it an early night.

Good blueberry pie is hard to find, but it’s worth searching for.

Spending a couple hours hiking or paddling makes any day better.

A friend in need has friends, indeed.

When you really need a friend, you’re usually surprised who it is that shows up, but you’re sure glad they’re there.

Someday, today’s crisis will be just one more story you tell.

You don’t have to go very far to have a good road trip.

Eyes and ears open; mouth shut.

Don’t forget to breathe.

People who have no regrets have no morals, are forgetful or have been living too carefully.

Baseball is better on radio than TV.

You’re capable of more than you think you are.

The answer usually is not as elusive as it seems.

Buckle up

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I mostly stick to pop culture, particularly music, on this blog site, but I just saw a video that I had to share. It’s gone viral, so maybe you’ve seen it already. Someone very dear to me died who might have survived had she been wearing a seat belt. Ever since, I’ve buckled up every time I get in a car, and so has every passenger who’s ever ridden in my car. If you have people who care about you, buckle up for their sake.

Cape tunes

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

It’s been a bit over a week, so most Cape rock fans have heard by now that Suzanne Tonaire was let go by WPXC (Pixy), a longtime favorite of classic-rock fans. Suzanne’s “Homegrown” show was a great chance for local bands to get exposure on a major commercial radio station. Suzanne also boosted the local music scene by coordinating “The Cape’s Most Dangerous Band” contest, an annual battle of the bands that’s been won by 57 Heavy, Flydown and 6 Foot Sunday, among others.  The local music scene has had its ebbs and flows. Suzanne was always one of its biggest boosters. Things won’t be the same without her on the air.

It’s not all bad news. The Cape Cod Musican’s Social, a staple of the local scene in the early 2000s, is making a comeback. Cat Wilson, host of “The Cheap Seats,” a local-music show on WCIB, pulled together a show at 8:30 p.m. April 1 at Tommy Doyle’s Irish Pub, 334 Main Street, Hyannis. Performers will include Andy Milk, Meghan Trainor, Danny Lyons, Rob Carr (who coordinated the earlier shows), McCarthy & Legge, and Huxster, plus members of Incline & the Favela Family and Gold Star Boulevard. There’ll be a jam session at the end of the night.

And here’s a show that ought to be a killer: the debut of the Catbirds, the Cape’s newest supergroup. Combine Chandler Travis (of the Incredible Casuals and the Chandler Travis Philharmonic), Steve Wood (the Greenheads and Lester), Rikki Bates (the Casuals and CTP) and Dinty Child (Session Americana and CTP), and you have as fine a quartet as you could hope to pull together in these parts, or just about any parts you’d care to name. Showtime is 9:30 April 2 at Tommy Doyle’s in Hyannis.

Things are happening on Cape Cod. In addition to some fine established bands, newer groups such as Funktapuss, What Would Johnny Do? and Groovy Afternoon are tearing it up. Get out there and give them some support. And while you’re at it, raise a glass for Suzanne. Thanks, Rock Babe, for fighting the good fight! Hope to hear your voice real soon.

Bill O’s blog is back!

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Due to some technical difficulties, my blog was vaporized in February. I’ve retrieved a few posts, which you can read below. And I’ll be adding new ones. Feel free to visit my Facebook fan page at, where I post quick thoughts and mini reviews.

Woodstock revisited

Friday, August 14th, 2009

For an article in Saturday’s Cape Cod Times, I watched the director’s cut of “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music” and gave a letter grade to each musical performance.

My write-up on the music was long enough that I couldn’t fit in some other thoughts I had while watching the movie. So here’s some of what was left on the cutting-room floor.

A nice quote from Jerry Garcia: “It looks like some kind of Biblical, epical, unbelievable scene.”

As for interviews with the attendees, who spoke about their lives, their loves, their drugs, whether or not you think they’re articulate probably depends on how closely you can relate to their world view.

When asked about Nixon, one man replied, “I don’t need all that power. … I don’t have to become president of the United States and I don’t have to go all that way up. I don’t have to make the climb. ’Cause there’s nothing to climb for. It’s all sitting right here. … It’s like people that are nowhere are coming here because there are people here they think are somewhere, so everybody is looking for some kind of answer – where there isn’t one.”

I love Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” but every time I hear it, I think of the hilarious “transcription” someone posted on YouTube.

During a rainstorm on day three, cofounder Michael Lang was asked about the financial disaster the festival had become. “Look what you got there, man,” he said, looking at the crowd. “You couldn’t buy that for anything.”

The changing tempos in Jefferson Airplane’s songs reminded me of Jane’s Addiction. I’d never made that connection before.

A montage of dancers is shown during Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.” Wait, was that guy holding a sheep? (Rewind.) Uh, yes, he was.

It’s hard to believe that two years before Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix was the opening act on the Monkees’ first U.S. tour. It’s even harder to picture Roy Rogers following him on stage to close the concert with “Happy Trails,” as Lang envisioned.

A little historical context: In his new memoir, “The Road to Woodstock,” Lang recalls that about two weeks before the festival, he met with a caterer who opened a suitcase and showed him something out of science fiction: the first portable phone Lang had ever seen.

Part of what got Lang through the frenzy of the festival was some advice his father had given him years before. When trying to get through a tough situation, take charge and keep moving; step back just enough to think clearly; and trust your instincts.

Sly Stone at Woodstock