As expected, the next few weeks are going to be pretty quiet in terms of live music as many venues have closed in hopes that the current spike in COVID-19 will subside in a few weeks. Most of us spend a lot of time at home in January anyway and it gives us the perfect opportunity to immerse ourselves in some great local music. There are singles to listen to, albums you haven’t had a chance to check out, and all kinds of live streams and videos to watch. In last week’s column, I mentioned some of my favorite albums from the past year and all of them deserve your attention. And if you still need ideas for your listening pleasure, read on for some suggestions.
Cloudbelly is the duo of singer-songwriter Corey Laitman and producer and multi-instrumentalist Anand Nayak (Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem) that emerged onto the music scene in 2021. Last November, the duo released these two singles they recorded during the pandemic. “Up in Smoke” is a beautiful indie-folk song with raw, honest lyrics that explores a difficult time in hopes of finding some light at the end. “Soft as the Mouths” is also in the folk genre but with a slightly jazzy touch and splashes of synths giving it a slight pop tinge. Cloudbelly, named after a dearly deceased parakeet, will release a full album in 2022 on the Signature Sounds label.
As we know, Rubblebucket was supposed to play Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on New Years Eve, but the show was postponed to late February. Instead, that day they released a cover of Britney Spears’ hit song, “Oops!” …I did it again.” Rubblebucket’s version of the song features swirling synths and Alex Toth’s trumpet, and is overall fun and funky. You can hear the song on Bandcamp, but you gotta see the video – which can be viewed on the band’s Facebook page – to really appreciate this song. The video shows singer Kalmia Traver dancing in the snow, alternating between shots of Alex Toth dancing downstairs in his apartment. I must say that Toth’s movements, which are especially lively during the trumpet parts, really make this video.The band hinted on social media that they might perform the song at Hawks & Reed in February.
Singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier is not from the region, but she recorded for the Signature Sounds label, which gave her a connection to the region. The Nashville-based artist released “Saved by a Song” this year, a perfect book for curling up on a cold winter night. It’s a memoir that covers his often turbulent past, but also delves into his writing process and how his songs saved his life. It’s a fascinating read that Rolling Stone magazine has chosen as one of the best music books of 2021.
On New Year’s Day, the group Eavesdrop released a new single titled “Here”. It’s a beautiful dreamy song that’s the perfect way to start the new year as it’s all about being present in one’s life. Accompanied only by acoustic guitar, the focus here is on the lyrics and vocals of the three singers – Kara Wolf, Kerrie Bowden and Laura Buchanan – which, as always, sound wonderful. Eavesdrop released a self-titled album earlier this year and if you haven’t heard it yet, all I can say is what are you waiting for? “Here” and “Eavesdrop” are available on all streaming services.
During the lockdown, The Nields launched a weekly series of live shows that band members streamed from their home studio every Monday night at 7 p.m. Sisters Katryna and Nerrissa Nields and guitarist Dave Chalfant establish a theme for each show that ranges from reading old albums in their entirety to building a show around community songs. They played old material, new material, and covers, and chatted with viewers who write in the comments section. The show which focused on their album “Gotta Get Over Greta” in which they talked about the material and played the album in its entirety was a standout episode. The shows can be viewed on Facebook or YouTube.
During the pandemic, online music store Bandcamp launched a monthly event called Bandcamp Friday in which all proceeds went directly to the artist. Miracle Legion, the cult alternative rock band fronted by local musician Mark Mulcahy, released various live recordings during these Bandcamp Fridays. “The End As Predicted” is a recording of the band’s final performance at the San Francisco Chapel in 2017. It’s a great show that features a guest appearance from Wilco’s Pat Sansone. The other shows they’ve released on Bandcamp, including a Mulcahy solo show, are also good, but this one is my favorite.
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Jim Henry and singer/songwriter Tracy Grammer also jumped on the live concert bandwagon once the pandemic began. Their series is called Six Feet Apart, and it airs on Facebook and YouTube the last Tuesday of every month at 3 p.m. They’ve done 22 shows so far, and like The Nields, the shows are built around a theme. As an example, past shows have featured Simon and Garfunkel’s music, colors, and songs written by other troubadours. Henry and Grammer have great musical chemistry and their gigs always sound good. You will enjoy delving into the archives to watch past concerts.
Last fall, singer-songwriter Heather Maloney of Northampton released a folk/pop single called “Perch-Less Bird”, a song about a breakup and the role blame plays. “I see the blame / It’s a bird without a perch / It’s an old refrain / It’s a weary vulture,” sings Maloney. The song has such a lively beat that it sounds like a feel-good breakup song. Besides being a talented singer-songwriter, Maloney is also a visual artist specializing in linocut printmaking. She designed the beautiful illustrations for the song’s video. It’s a must and can be viewed at heatthermaloney.com.
Last June, the New Music Alliance released an anthology of 151 of the best original songs ever written and recorded by artists who have lived in western New England and whose careers have a significant connection to the region. Stream this vast “best of collection” on streaming services like Spotify and YouTube. The songbook is packed with artists based in Western Massachusetts — everyone from long-established artists like Ray Mason and Fat to newcomers like Old Flame and Weege and the Wondertwins. The songbook offers a great way to delve into our rich local music scene and get a good sense of history. It’s a virtual who’s who of the western New England music scene, which also includes southern Vermont and parts of Connecticut.
Spanish For Hitchhiking, based in Northampton and run by Dennis Crommett, has been a staple of the local music scene for around two decades. The band also includes Max Germer on bass, Dave Hower on drums and for this album Dave Chalfant, who was an original member of the band, returns to play guitar and be a producer. “Wild Love” is the band’s first release since 2015 and it’s a solid rocker. Sure, there are quieter moments, but tracks like “In Stereo” and “Sikh Man Running” with their powerful drums and excellent guitar and bass lines are what make for a winning release. If you’re in the mood for some good ole rock, ‘Wild Love’ might just be the album for you.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer originally from Greenfield and currently residing in Easthampton. She can be contacted at [email protected]