Parkingtons and Spampinatos caught up in sibling revelry

July 19th, 2013

parkingtons spampsphotos by Suzie Glover: from left, Ariel Parkington, Sarah Parkington, Nora Parkington and Rose Parkington; Lou Cataldo, Aaron Spade, Joey Spampinato and Johnny Spampinato


Imagine a bar with a jukebox that plays Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Easy to picture a joint like that, right? Now imagine a jukebox that plays Leadbelly, Dolly Parton, Prince and Radiohead. It’s a bit harder to picture what that bar would look like, but if you’re musically adventurous, it’s one you’d want to check out.

The Spampinato Brothers are the personification of the first jukebox, and the Parkington Sisters recreate the second one. Both Cape-based bands performed Thursday night, and a few lucky folks were in the audience for both shows.

Born in the Bronx (but we’ll forgive them for that), Joey and Johnny Spampinato are among the Cape’s rock royalty. Bassplayer Joey was a founding member of NRBQ and has performed with Berry, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton. Guitarist Johnny is a member of the Incredible Casuals and was a longtime member of NRBQ. Aaron Spade of the Casuals joins them on guitar. At Thursday’s show at the gazebo at Nauset Beach, Lou Cataldo, who’s played with the Freeze and a zillion other Cape bands, sat in on drums.

The Spampinato brothers play good old, power-pop rock ’n’ roll – kind of like the great British group Rockpile but with some American grittiness thrown in. (And if you’re not familiar with Rockpile, whose only studio album, the classic “Seconds of Pleasure,” came out 33 years ago, well, it’s never too late to catch up.)

In Thursday’s show, they played a mix of Spampinato Brothers originals (“Let Him Think on That” with Everly-Brothers-by-way-of-the-Beatles-style harmonizing and the goofy “A Bear Is a Bear Is a Bear”), some NRBQ gems (“It’s a Wild Weekend” and “That I Get Back Home”) and classic covers (Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise,” Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and the Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That”).

The Spampinato Brothers show was part of the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod/TD Bank series of free concerts, which continue at 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays in eight towns through Aug. 1.

Two towns over and a couple of hours later, the Parkington Sisters performed a hometown throwdown at the Wellfleet Beachcomber.

Opening for the Parkingtons was the Sacred Mounds, a hipster-rock duo that’s a weird combination of mostly Ween and a little White Stripes. Their set included a song about the pro wrestling world of 1986.

Classically trained musicians, the Parkingtons perform what’s been described as “indie-folk.” That’s not quite right. On stage, they are less restrained and less delicate than they can be on CD. They rocked. This is, after all, a band that has toured with the Dropkick Murphys, a Boston-based Celtic-punk group.

The Parkingtons’ is not the traditional rock lineup. They performed violin (Ariel, Sarah and Nora), viola (Sarah and Ariel), electric guitar (Sarah and Rose), acoustic guitar (Rose), percussion (Nora, Rose and Sarah), keyboards (Rose and Ariel), strap-on Roland synthesizer (Rose and Nora), solo vocals (all of them) and harmonizing vocals (all of them).

“Cruel,” a gonzo, funky country ballad, was an early highlight. The earnest folk ballad “Me Oh My” was made extra intense by Ariel and Nora’s violin work. “Drowning in Blue” sounded like what would have happened if Sinead O’Connor in her primal rock days had tried to make a disco song (and succeeded).

The second half of the show leaned more on covers, including Parton’s “Jolene,” Dan Auerbach’s “Trouble Weighs a Ton” and Leadbelly’s “In the Pines,” which started more like the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” sirens than Kurt Cobain’s tortured version, but slowly ratcheted up in tension.

Younger sister Lydia, a former member of the group, came on stage near the end of the show to sing lead on “Sailor,” which was delivered as part country stomp, part sea chantey.

The Sacred Mounds joined in for the last few songs, including the Parkingtons’ “Deerheart,” a ballad that featured six vocalists; Prince’s “Controversy,” which was somewhat sloppy but still stellar; and Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” a show-closing audience sing-along.

By year’s end, I’ll have seen some bigger names perform, but I doubt I’ll have seen a better show.

R.I.P., Richie Havens

April 22nd, 2013

Richie Havens died on April 22, 2013. I interviewed him for a story that ran in the Cape Cod Times on Nov. 19, 2001. 

Still singing for freedom

Illustration by Jim Warren/Cape Cod Times

Illustration by Jim Warren/Cape Cod Times

It’s been more than 30 years, so you might think Richie Havens would be tired of talking about Woodstock.

“Oh, no, not at all,” says the folk singer, who performs Saturday in Provincetown

“I’ve come to learn that it didn’t belong to me in the first place. It belongs to everyone,” he says of the song he first performed as an extemporaneous variation on the traditional spiritual “Motherless Child.” He delivered it as part of his festival-opening performance on July 16, 1969. “It came out of me and came through me, without my knowledge that I was going to sing that.”

Havens was supposed to be the fifth performer to take the stage for that celebration of peace and love. But the scheduled start time was four hours in the past and the concert promoters were begging Havens to perform.

Why him? The crowd was so much larger than anticipated that musicians had to be flown to the stage by helicopter from a nearby farm. Since Havens and his band had the smallest pile of instruments, they were pushed to the head of the line.

When he got to the stage in Bethel, N.Y., Havens looked out at the faces – hundreds of thousands of faces.

One thought passed through his mind: “Gosh, they’re going to throw stuff at me.”

Scheduled to play for 20 minutes, Havens gave the promoters some breathing room to get their act together (more or less) by performing for three hours. When he ran out of material, he just made up a song. That song, “Freedom,” became one of the highlights of the Woodstock film.

“I had nothing else to sing, and it just came together,” he says during a phone call from West Palm Beach, Fla., where he was scheduled to perform with Judy Collins, Roger McGuinn and Janis Ian – the same lineup that performed at the Melody Tent in Hyannis in August.

“There hasn’t been a country I’ve been to where that song wasn’t what the people wanted to hear.”
Havens, 60, says that the Woodstock crowd was even larger than “official” estimates.

“The numbers, believe it or not, were 520,000 people the first day. The newspaper said 250,000. They do that to everything they fear. They halve it so people think it’s less than it is.

“In the film, when the camera is behind me and you see people starting to stand and clap, most people don’t realize that there is another field over the top of that hill almost as big as the field you’re looking at. That field was filled as well. They never even saw the stage.

“When I flew over them, the first thing that came to mind was what became the title of my book: ‘They can’t hide us anymore.'” (The memoir was released in 1999.)

Havens says the lessons from Woodstock still matter.

“It was the most peaceful thing, the most conscious thing, that had happened with that many people in this country. As young people, we had been put upon by our own government in a way that made us very afraid.

“All we wanted to be was real Americans. We wanted to work with other people and negotiate, rather than fight with them. We knew it wasn’t the people’s fault that there was war. It’s never the people’s fault. It’s always the government.

“It’s up to us to say what really happens.

“A lot of the young people I talk to want to know what the ’60s were about. It wasn’t about music. It was about consciousness being put through the music of a generation. That consciousness became world consciousness. World peace was what my whole generation was about.”

Of course, Havens’ career didn’t begin or end with Woodstock. His latest CD, “Wishing Well,” will be released tomorrow. Along with some Havens originals, it includes a cover of Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away.”

Born in Brooklyn, Havens organized several street-corner doo-wop groups when he was a teenager, but his first performances were in a less visible place.

“We had wonderful parks in Brooklyn,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in the tops of trees with my friends, just getting away from the cement. We weren’t basketball players, which is why we turned into singers in the trees. The doo-wop thing was our way of expressing community.”

When he was 20, Havens plunged into the Greenwich Village folk scene. The first two albums he recorded weren’t released at the time. “Mixed Bag,” a 1967 album that featured covers of songs by Bob Dylan and the Beatles, pushed him to the folk foreground.

After Woodstock, Havens had the audience to stay on the road nearly full time and the clout to push social causes.

In the ’70s, he co-founded a children’s oceanographic museum in the Bronx. In 1990, he founded the Natural Guard, a children’s environmental-action organization with chapters around the world. “It’s run by the kids themselves,” Havens says. “Kids have the answers to the big questions on this planet.”

Havens has worked on other peace and justice causes over the years. Saturday’s concert is a benefit for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee ( Peltier is serving consecutive life sentences for the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. Peltier maintains he was not the killer, and many activists feel he was not granted a fair trial.

Havens sees much still to be done, but is quick to point out that the world has seen some changes for the better since the Woodstock era.

“Over the last 30 years, we have changed so much and we haven’t even acknowledged it,” he says. “We haven’t patted ourselves on the back for surviving the craziness that the world throws on us.”



Edward E. O’Neill – eulogy

April 3rd, 2013

Thank you to those who are here because you knew my father. And thank you to those who are here not because you knew him but because you know Alice or someone else in the family. Those of you who knew him will miss him. Those of you who didn’t know him missed out.

Last summer, a few days before he had surgery, my dad was reading the newspaper and he told me that he didn’t want one of “those flowery obituaries.” I asked, “Do you mean the kind where it says, ‘After showing the courage of Superman, the moral strength of Atticus Finch and the physical strength of Hercules, Edward was carried aloft into the immaculate unknown by a flock of angels on a gilded chariot’”? “Yeah, nothing like that,” he said. And I promised we wouldn’t do that.

So when we wrote his obituary, which appeared in Sunday’s Cape Cod Times, we kept that promise and stuck to just the facts.

But he didn’t make me promise anything about his eulogy. So forgive me, Pops, if I talk about something other than the biographical highlights, such as the pride you had in being an Eagle Scout or your service in Korea with the Air Force during the Korean War.

Some people think that accounting is a dry profession. While my dad enjoyed working with numbers, what he really liked about being an accountant was the time he spent with clients, when he would catch up on their lives and maybe swap a few jokes. My dad had a vault-like mind for remembering jokes and that special gift of pacing that the best storytellers have.

I know many people who have told me that a meeting with him helped save their business – or in a few cases, prevented them from starting a business that was almost certain to fail. One friend who saved a bundle after he started preparing her tax return sent him a note on a little yellow post-it sticker. It said, “You’re a tax rock star.” He displayed that note on a kitchen cabinet for years.

My dad loved cars. When he was 19, he bought a 15-year-old Dodge for 100 bucks. Over the years, he owned more than 70 cars, including his favorites: a Porsche 911 and a 1974 XJ12L Jaguar. As much as he loved being an accountant, it was hard to beat his previous job with Transatlantic Motors, where he could buy a car, have fun with it for a few months, and then replace it with another lightly used trade-in that caught his eye.

A few years back when the Scion LeBox had just hit the streets, he took a Mercedes Benz logo and attached it to the front of his Scion, just to confuse people. He later used Velcro to attach Mercedes logos to the hub cabs of his Toyota RAV4, which would be his last car.

When we picked out a casket, I had figured it would be a traditional wood-grain style. But my brother Barry noticed a silver one that reminded him of a sports car – and we all knew that was the way to go. If you look closely, you’ll see that we glued one of those Mercedes hubcap logos to his casket. He would be happy to know that he’s going out in style.

When my dad was a young man, he was of the mindset that the father was the breadwinner and the mother took care of the kids. But over the years, he learned something – and Alice had a lot to do with this – that he didn’t learn from his own parents: how to openly display his love for his family. It didn’t matter whether you were a relation by blood, marriage or adoption. All of his children and their spouses and their children were treated the same.

A few weeks before last Christmas, Alice asked their children and grandchildren to write him a letter instead of sending a gift.

The cards and letters mentioned many things: births and birthdays, card games and Pinewood Derby cars, romping in the living room and Halloween costumes and dance recitals, phone calls that helped close the miles and included just the right words on a bad day, Red Sox games and Patriots games (it was a long wait but they both finally won the big game during his lifetime), burgers on the deck and Ed’s spaghetti, first communions and graduations and weddings, funerals and the healing moments that come after. They mentioned the thousands of photos he took, and how those photos will always remind us of accomplishments to look back on and loved ones to cherish.

I wrote about a summer afternoon six or eight years ago when I stopped by his house. He was cleaning the garage and had found a football. We stood in the driveway for half an hour, tossing the ball back and forth while we had a rambling conversation. I don’t remember what we said, but I’ll always remember how good it felt that day to be connected to him.

One of his sons mentioned my dad’s favorite bits of advice: “All the other drivers are crazy.” “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” “Don’t spend money to save on taxes.” All the kids knew the guiding principle of life under Dad’s roof: “My house, my rules.” And then there were the many nights when he was ready to go home from a family gathering. He would walk toward the door and  say in a loud, gruff voice … “goodnight, Alice.”

One granddaughter wrote, “Whenever I hear your name, a smile comes on my face.” Another granddaughter wrote, “You have showered us with love, compliments, encouragement and the faith that we have needed to succeed.” One grandson called him a perfect role model and said, “I hope to one day become as strong and caring a man as you.”

I’ll close with what Alice wrote on her card. “One of my most cherished memories of our life together is when you took my hand in yours, on our first date, and captured my heart forever. I love you, now and for eternity.”

Edward E. O’Neill – obituary

April 3rd, 2013

Edward E. O’Neill passed away peacefully at home on March 28, surrounded by his family.

He was the son of the late Rose O’Dette O’Neill and the brother of the late Patricia O’Neill Armstrong.

He is survived by Alice E. Murphy O’Neill, his wife since 1982, and his children and grandchildren: Lorraine O’Neill (Michael O’Neill), Kim and John McDowell (Caroline, Katherine and Christopher), Ali and Jeff Tucker (Sam, Carly and Aubrey), William E. O’Neill (Eric and James Vierra), James O’Neill and Kim Kahan (Tyler), Barry and Nicole Sturgis (Matthew and Emily), Steven and Petra O’Neill (Owen and Samantha) and Robert O’Neill. He is also survived by many nieces and nephews, other members of his extended family and many dear friends. He was predeceased by his first wife, Lorraine O’Neill.

Ed was born in Providence in 1931. One of his proudest achievements was earning the rank of Eagle Scout and he spent two happy summers on the staff of Camp Yawgoog in Rhode Island. He graduated from La Salle Academy in Providence in 1949.

He served for four years in the U.S. Air Force, including service at the radar station in Cho-do, Korea.

After his military service, he worked fulltime while he was attending Bryant College (class of 1957). He married Lorraine Connelly in 1956 and they moved to Cape Cod in 1958.

After working at Hyannis Marina and Transatlantic Motors, he joined a local accounting firm in 1969 and launched his own accounting practice in 1971. He joined the practice of Crabtree CPA & Associates in 2010 and continued working until last summer. Over the years, he helped hundreds of people prepare their tax forms and served as an advisor to many local business owners. Debbie Flora worked with him for over 35 years, and Ed’s family is grateful for her loyalty.

Ed was treasurer and president of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2578 in Hyannis. He also served for many years as a volunteer with the Cape Cod chapter of the Association of Retarded Citizens.

In the 1960s, he was active in the Cape Cod Sports Car Club, winning enough auto rallies to accumulate a boxful of trophies. A passionate car buff, he owned more than 70 cars (one at a time).

He developed his photography skills by taking pictures at his children’s sports events and school activities. As a professional photographer, he shot hundreds of weddings, engagement photos and high-school senior portraits. He loved to give people a flattering photo, whether it was taken in Alice’s classroom, at the Figawi Ball or at a casual gathering.

His family is grateful to Heidi Fratantonio and his other caregivers and the staff of Hope Health, Spaulding Rehab and Cape Cod Healthcare.

Visiting hours will be 4-7 p.m. Monday at Our Lady of Victory, 230 South Main St., Centerville. A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Our Lady of Victory. Burial will be private.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent for the Edward and Lorraine O’Neill Memorial Scholarship Fund, payable to the ARC of Cape Cod, 171 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601 or to the American Cancer Society, New England Division, 30 Speen St., Framingham, MA 01701.




The best CDs of 2012

December 31st, 2012

1. “Landing on a Hundred” by Cody Chesnutt – If Marvin Gaye was still around, his latest CD might sound a lot like this. Chesnutt shows why early ’70s R&B is timeless.

2. “Channel Orange” by Frank Ocean – A sprawling and sensational R&B debut from a member of the Odd Future hip-hop crew.

3. “Sun Midnight Sun” by Sara Watkins – Former Nickel Creek fiddler Watkins made the Americana disc of the year.

4. “Sorry to Bother You” by the Coup – An entertaining mix of hip-hop, funk and politics.

5. “Stranger” by Balmorhea – This collection of minimalist but spacey instrumentals puts Balmorhea up with Spoon, Explosions in the Sky and Okkervil River as one of Austin’s finest bands.

6. “Kaleidoscope Dream” by Miguel – In a strong year for R&B, Miguel offered a “Sexual Healing” alternative to Cody Chesnutt’s grittier Marvin Gaye vibe.

7. “Voyageur” by Kathleen Edwards – Not her best work, but Edwards has a knack for combining hooks and storytelling.

8. “The Idler Wheel …” by Fiona Apple – Not her best work, but Apple’s stripped-down approach works at conveying her romantic angst.

9. “Psychedelic Pill” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Not their best work, but Young & Crazy Horse roll out some trippy, extended jams that make great highway music.

10. “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan” by various artists – Plenty of filler on this four-CD set, but plenty of great tracks, too, by Flogging Molly, Mariachi el BronxMiley Cyrus and others.

Honorable mention: “The Seer” by Swans; “Country. God or the Girl” by K’Naan; “Lawless” soundtrack by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis and various artists; “Next Time Around” by Darryl Purpose; “King Tuff” by King Tuff; “Searching for Sugar Man” by Rodriguez; “Little Spark” by Jesse Baylin; “The Truth About Love” by P!nk; “Signs & Signifiers” by J.D. McPherson; and “These United States” by These United States


The best songs of 2012

December 28th, 2012

1. “Emmylou” by First Aid Kit – A country-folk gem by a pair of Swedish sisters.

2. “Wasted Days” by Cloud Nothings – A heavy rock epic.

3. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen – Irresistible pop. Hard to pick a favorite video among the orginal, the Harvard baseball team tribute and the U.S. swim team tribute.

4. “After It’s Gone” by Patterson Hood & the Downtown 13 – One of the Drive-By Truckers makes a plea to save small-town downtowns.

5. “Revolution” by Saidah Baba Talibah – A sexy cry for change.

6. “100” by Brandi Carlile – One of the highlights of the Melody Tent season was Carlile’s August show.

7. “The Magic Clap” by the Coup – The catchiest rap song since “Hey Ya.”

8. “Putin Lights Up the Fires” by Pussy Riot – The Russian band’s fight for free speech didn’t stop at the jailhouse doors. This version has an English translation of the lyrics.

9. “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean – An R&B epic.

10. “Sugar Man” by Rodriguez – The lead song from his 1970 debut finally got some attention, thanks to a documentary about the great, long-lost folksinger.

A great athlete and a better friend

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?”

Brandi Carlile raises hell

August 4th, 2012

photo by Frank Ockenfels

Some musicians basically have two songs – a fast one and a slow one – and everything they do is a variation on them.

Brandi Carlile is not like that.

She opened her Friday night show at the Cape Cod Melody Tent with “Raise Hell,” a new song with a KT Tunstall feel. “Pride and Joy,” a song from a few years back, sounds like it was inspired in part by “High and Dry” and a couple other Radiohead songs. Her best-known song, “The Story,” is a country-rocker with the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic perfected by the Pixies and Nirvana. Her vocals can make you think of Patsy Cline, Amy Ray or Adele.

In lesser hands, that might be too many musical personalities, but Carlile is a rising star with the ability to hop genres. Named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of 10 “artists to watch” when her self-titled debut CD came out in 2005, Carlile continues to merit that attention.

The set fell into four segments: a bunch of country-rockers, a batch of rootsy songs (including one of the night’s highlights “Caroline”), two covers (a snippet of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and a fun no-holds-barred version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and then a half-dozen songs that displayed her full range of talents, from the pretty ballad “Turpentine” to the rocking “Dying Day.”

Her richly talented five-man band joined her for the first encore song, “Pride and Joy.” Carlile switched to piano for “That Wasn’t Me,” joined by twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth on vocals, and finished the show alone on acoustic guitar with the forceful ballad “That Year.”

Carlile can be a bit restrained on her CDs, but there was no such problem at the Melody Tent. She can easily switch moods and styles, doing it with plenty of charm and stage presence.

Opening the show was Andy Hull, taking a break from his duties as lead singer of the Manchester Orchestra, an Atlanta-based rock quintet. Playing alone with an acoustic guitar, he came across as a less-engaging version of Damien Rice. His set included songs from a CD trilogy that a press release says is about “a sailor who, upon discovering his wife cheating on him with his brother, runs away to sea and gradually descends into a vengeful rage,” which sounds like it would be better served by the full-band treatment.

Carlile’s set list

1. “Raise Hell”  (from the “Bear Creek” CD)

2. “Dreams”  (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

3. “What Can I Say”  (“Brandi Carlile”)

4. “Hard Way Home”  (“Bear Creek”)

5. “Before It Breaks”  (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

6. “100” (“Bear Creek”)

7. “Caroline”  (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

8. “Keep Your Heart Young”  (“Bear Creek”)

9. “Save Part of Yourself”  (“Bear Creek”)

10. “Josephine”  (“The Story”)

11. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Bonnie Tyler cover)

12. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen cover)

13. “Turpentine” (“The Story”)

14. “Dying Day” (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

15. “The Story”  (“The Story”)


16. “Pride and Joy” (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

17. “That Wasn’t Me”  (“Bear Creek”)

18. “That Year” (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

Rickie Lee Jones: quirky characters and sweet love songs

July 30th, 2012

The King of Pop. The Queen of Soul. The Duchess of Coolsville.

OK, Rickie Lee Jones doesn’t have quite the international acclaim of Michael Jackson or Aretha Franklin, but Jones, who won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1980 (beating out the Blues Brothers, Dire Straits, the Knack and Robin Williams), has her own devoted following, including the folks who filled the tent for her July 29 show at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro.

Jones performs without a predetermined set list. Good thing, as she had to adapt right from the start. A bit of feedback came from her acoustic guitar when she took the stage, so she switched to the piano for her opening song, a cover of the Band’s “The Weight.”

Mavis Staples also covered that song when she opened for Bonnie Raitt at the Cape Cod Melody Tent last month. Staples performed with a full band; Jones did a more stripped-down version with Ed Willett on cello. But more striking was the different vocal styles of Staples and Jones. Staples comes from a gospel background, while Jones’s pop music is rooted in jazz. Staples sings with force and clarity, letting you hear the words and react to their meaning. Jones stretches out notes and slurs words, playing with the sounds and interpreting the emotions for you. Different techniques, equally powerful.

Jones’s technique also made for an interesting comparison on “Reason to Believe,” a song composed by Tim Hardin that’s best known for a cover on Rod Stewart’s smash 1971 album “Every Picture Tells a Story.” Stewart’s version is bitter and punchy, while Jones slowed it down to make it somber and teary. Again, two different approaches, both of which work.

“The Weight” and “Reason to Believe” were among six songs Jones played from a CD of cover songs, “The Devil You Know,” coming out Sept. 18. Sunday’s show was about looking ahead, to that album, and looking way back, with eight songs from Jones’s first two albums, which are filled with quirky characters, sort of a West Coast answer to Bruce Springsteen’s Asbury Park oddballs. Just four songs came from the studio albums between those early years and the new one.

Most of the songs on the new CD, including the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” were very familiar to the AARP-eligible hipsters in the audience Sunday night, but one of the highlights of the show was a lesser-known song. “Masterpiece” by Ben Harper, who produced Jones’s new CD and supplied guest vocals on her last one, is a gorgeous love ballad. Jones’s rendition was slow and bluesy and perfect for cuddling.

Other highlights included early Jones songs “We Belong Together” and the show-closing “Last Chance Texaco,” on which Jeff Pevar played slide guitar. Pevar, who has performed with Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and Crosby, Stills & Nash, was an essential part of the trio, playing guitar, mandolin and organ. Willett on the cello, meanwhile, provided dramatic flourishes on “Living It Up,” struck some discordant notes on “Sympathy for the Devil” to convey Satan’s dirty work and plucked strings for a heartbeat rhythm on “It Must Be Love.”

Jones introduced her next-to-last song by saying, “I do this song, it’s a nice song, but I still haven’t reconciled the journey it’s taken me on.” That would be “Chuck E’s in Love,” the 1979 Top 10 hit that introduced her to the world and is still by far her biggest hit. It must be odd to have an early song overshadow the rest of a rich and sometimes daring career, but Jones seemed to have fun performing it.

Counting Crows and friends at the Tent

July 23rd, 2012

Counting Crows calls their latest tour the Outlaw Roadshow.

Now bear in mind that The All Music Guide described Counting Crows’ debut CD as “modern music for people who don’t like modern music” – and that was almost 20 years ago. So “outlaw” is maybe overstating things a bit. The Crows mostly play it safe, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

The July 19 show at the Cape Cod Melody Tent featured three opening acts, which is definitely a bit out of the norm.

Brooklyn-based We Are Augustines, the trio that opened the show, sounds like an Americana-version of “Joshua Tree”-era U2 with a huskier-voiced singer. On a ballad, lead singer Billy McCarthy’s vocals were in the general neighborhood of early Tom Waits. The band’s CD, “Rise Ye Sunken Ships” is worth a listen.

Next up: Kasey Anderson and the Honkies, who come across as a grungy version of the Wallflowers, with a bit of a cowpunk/garage vibe on one song. When they slowed it down on “Your Side of Town,” the song could have passed for a Drive-By Truckers ballad. The band’s “Like Teenage Gravity” is one of the tunes that Counting Crows recorded for a recent CD of cover songs, but the Honkies drew the biggest response with set-closer “Two More Bottles” (chorus: “It’s alright / It’s midnight / And I have two more bottles of wine”).

Out of the three strong opening acts, it is Field Report that has the most potential. In concert, they sound like Jackson Browne fronting an ultra-mellow Wilco (on recordings, singer Chris Porterfield’s vocals are more like David Gray’s, but again, a lot more mellow). The six members create a captivating groove. Porterfied used to be the pedal steel player in a band that also included Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), but I won’t hold that against him. Field Report got major buzz at this year’s South By Southwest, and I’m eager to hear the band’s debut CD, coming out Sept. 11.

The Counting Crows’ 85-minute set covered most of the group’s career, with the odd exception of the band’s most recent CD of original material (“Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings,” which came out in 2008).

Four songs came from the band’s latest disc, “Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation), a collection of cover songs. One of them was a lively version of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” Head Crow Adam Duritz had brought out the guys in all three opening acts for “hanginaround,” the closing song of the main set and they all came back out for Dylan song, the first of two encore songs, which had about a dozen people crowded around the microphones.

The other three covers were “Start Again” by Teenage Fanclub, “Hospital” by Coby Brown and “Untitled (Love Song)” by the Romany Rye – and you’re really keeping up with things if you’re familiar with all three of those performers. All in all, Counting Crows did a good job on “Underwater Sunshine” (and in concert) of putting their own sound on a wide-range of covers, but for the most part, the covers were less satisfying than the band’s originals.

And what is the Crows’ sound? The band’s debut came out when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were in their prime. For people who preferred the Band and Buffalo Springfield, the Crows’ debut was “modern music for people who don’t like modern music.” That quote sounds like it could be an insult, but it’s really just a clever description. Counting Crows’ debut was a bit of a throwback, but it was a throwback to some classic stuff.

Lyrically, the Crows can be a little too focused on waiting and traveling, and sunlight and rain. But their vibe on the upbeat songs is spirit-lifting; their vibe on the downbeat songs is perfect for repeat plays on dismal days (whether it’s the weather or your mood that’s bleak).

Musically, the Crows draw back on some classic folk-rock sounds, but they were also a little ahead of the their time, or maybe right on time, with an alt-country sound that’s not too far from Uncle Tupelo or the Jayhawks, bands that had more of a hip factor. They might not have the most original sound, but two decades later Counting Crows are still putting together a mighty good roadshow.

Counting Crows set list:

Intro (“Lean on Me” by Bill Withers)

“Round Here”

“Untitled (Love Song)” (The Romany Rye cover)

“High Life”

“St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream”

“Hospital” (Coby Brown cover)

“Black and Blue”


“Start Again” (Teenage Fanclub cover)


“If I Could Give All My Love -or- Richard Manuel Is Dead”

“Children in Bloom”

“Goodnight L.A.”

“A Long December”



“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Bob Dylan cover)

“Holiday in Spain”