March 2015 Newsletter
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
WHY TRY TO CHANGE HIM NOW
Bob Dylan has built a long and storied career out of confounding expectations. He wrote songs that nailed the volatile yearning of the 60's but resisted the "poet of his generation" tag, went electric, and sang an entire album in a vaguely Kermit the Frog-like voice. He recorded a collection of largely nonsensical songs in a basement that's proved as enduring as it is endearing. "Love Sick" in a Victoria Secret ad, the man himself voicing a Chrysler commercial, an album of Christmas songs...the only surprising thing about the man and his art is that, somehow, people are still surprised.
Dylan's newest release, Shadows In The Night, interprets a selection of songs done by many, but popularized (or immortalized) by Frank Sinatra. Predictably, there has been much head-scratching, wondering what could possibly be motivating Dylan's latest move. "Is this another 'Aging Boomer Sings the Great American Songbook' project?" "Why is Dylan doing songs that represent the square and outdated generation that his thin, wild mercury sound helped push aside?" "Does Dylan have writer's block?" Perhaps some of these questions have merit...but only until you listen to the record. Because it's undeniably fantastic.
The only thing that caught me off guard is how great his voice sounds. Great American Songbook selections and Tin Pan Alley standards have sophisticated melodies that demand a vocalist's A-game. These are songs that can't be intoned or half-spoken, they need to be sung, and man does Dylan sing them. Given how gutteral and ravaged his voice has sounded in recent years (but how else, really, should one sing "Trying To Get To Heaven"?), the most startling aspect of this record is how clear and nimble Dylan sounds, indulging a growl or rasp only where it supports the emotional impact of the lyric. Sure, these songs might have seemed square to a 20-something in the Summer of Love. But who cares? Only an older singer could showcase the wisdom, sadness, stateliness and clear-eyed resignation of this material.
I don't see any real mystery here, beyond the insoluble dilemma of why anyone ever bothers to make art at all. In a recent speech before the Grammys, Dylan hinted at his early creative process and the fact that it was simply a function of what he consumed, the fuel found in the deep well of American folk music. I feel similarly, and have always noticed that whatever I'm digging musically seems to come back around, however mutated or translated, in my own songs. Ultimately, maybe not even Bob Dylan knows what exactly motivates Bob Dylan, but I would hope that he isn't thinking about anything at this point except about doing whatever the hell it is he really feels compelled to do. That's what I wanna do when I'm 73.
Maybe nobody was clamoring for Bob Dylan to make a record like this, but I'm so glad he did. Surprising and unexpected? Who cares. On a dark, cold winter's night, a glass of wine in hand, and that timeless voice intoning "Why try to change me now?"--I wouldn't change a thing.
SIT DOWN! GET UP! GET OUT!: The Barnstar! album release tour was a resounding success...and a total blast. The record has been getting great reviews, and after a bit of a delay, you can now purchase cds (which come with a free digital download of the record) from my website HERE. Order away!
MP3 of the MONTH: This month's track is a real special one. In 2010, I was asked to team up with Bill Morrissey for a show at One Longfellow Square in Portland ME, his first after a lengthy hiatus from performing. It was great to see him, and we had a grand old time, me playing the respectful student and him giving me shit the whole night long. We teamed up for a joint encore, a traditional song and a cover of Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey." In the end, it was a real bittersweet affair for me. As we loaded our gear out to the curb, Bill said "Grasshopper, this was fun, we need to do more of these." I told him I was in, wherever, whenever, but inside I was wondering how we'd ever make it happen--Bill just seemed so frail, like a strong gust of wind might blow him away. I said goodbye, drove away, and that was the last time I ever saw him...he passed a year later. I thought the show was recorded, but couldn't find a copy anywhere. You can imagine my joy, poring through my archives, when I found a cd labeled "OLS Mark Erelli Bill Morrissey encore." I included the whole intro because it's priceless. I am so grateful to be able to share this with you, for free, for the month of March. You can get it HERE on my Bandcamp page. Enjoy!
Mon Mar 9 - Club Passim, Cambridge MA - 8 pm
My friend & Barnstar! compatriot Zachariah Hickman never needs an excuse to instigate musical mayhem, but you gotta love that he always curates a vibe or a theme to give the mayhem some structure. This is his "Two To Tango" duets show, featuring duet performances with myself, Dennis Brennan, Dinty Child, Laura Cortese and other special guests. Definitely the most fun you can have on this particular Tuesday night.
Sat Mar 14 - Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church, Melrose MA - 7:30 pm
As far as gigs go, they don't get much closer to home than this. I live in Melrose, and this is a benefit concert at the church I attend on the dozen or so Sundays that I am home each year. I'm very excited to play a gig with fellow Melrosian fathers and singer/songwriters Alastair Moock and Bill McQuaid, and for a great cause. Half the proceeds for this show will go to the church, and half will go to Tri-City Community Action Program (Tri-CAP), a wonderful group that helps community members meet essential needs via advocacy, education and community organizing. We'll do short sets, followed by a song swap with plenty of picking and singing together. A nice night in the hometown.
Thu Mar 26 - O'Shea's, West Dennis MA - 8 pm
Finally, I get to bring Milltowns to Cape Cod! I was beginning to wonder if it was going to happen. Very much looking forward to this one, an off night in the off season...calling all diehards who live on the Cape!
Fri Mar 27 - Infinity Hall Norfolk, Norfolk CT - 8 pm
This is a wonderful 300 seat theater in beautiful rural Connecticut. The only thing that makes it more wonderful is that I get to play here opening for Marc Cohn, who I've been a fan of since I was in high school. Can't wait.
Mar 7 - Club Passim, Cambridge MA (with Paula Cole)
Mar 21 - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton MA (with Lori McKenna)
ON THE HORIZON:
Apr 18 - Book & Bar, Portsmouth NH
Apr 19 - St. Giles Presbyterian Church, Greenville SC
May 2 - River Hall Music Club, Scituate MA (opening for Lori McKenna)
May 3 - Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry NH (opening for Lori McKenna)
May 15 - Parlor Room, Northampton MA (new song show before going back into the studio!)
May 16 - Club Passim, Cambridge MA (new song show!)