Finding her way

Hard work and tenacity define Jordan Quinn

Settling behind an electric keyboard to play covers for the dinner crowd at Fratello’s in Manchester on a frigid Saturday night, Jordan Quinn is logging a few more of the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book Outliers. Since mid-2021 the 23-year-old singer has done more than 300 gigs, and her calendar remains packed.

Most sets are like this one, with lots of soulful ballads — Whitney Houston is a favorite. She’ll make multiple tables look up and take notice when she hits the key change on her rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” Quinn also can make a song all her own. Her take on Al Green’s playful “Let’s Stay Together” is reinvented as a plaintive plea to a distancing lover.

Occasionally, like during a recent set with her band at Hennessy’s in Boston, Quinn will dip into a growing catalog of originals that started with the easygoing “Dream World” about a year ago. Her latest, “Can We Become Friends,” shows Quinn’s growing maturity as a songwriter. It’s a response to the war in Ukraine, but addresses problems closer to home.

Inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song,” it’s boosted by an angelic choir that’s almost entirely Quinn. “I was supposed to have a few buddies in the studio to do the choir part and everyone canceled on me,” she said in a phone interview. “So it’s actually 13 tracks of just my voice, with the exception of one, which is my bass player.”

Quinn released the video for the song early, spurred by a recent shooting outside a Manchester nightclub; the victim was a casual friend of hers. “To just see that some random person was able to take his life so easily, it just really affected me,” she said. “This needs to be done, the whole violence thing … life is precious.”

The title cut of her debut album in progress is about striving to become and belong. Quinn wrote “Somebody” while in Los Angeles preparing to meet with a potential manager.

“I’ve had a lot of hard times with self-confidence, figuring out the path that I want to be on,” she explained. “This was a reminder to myself that everything will work out — you’re where you’re supposed to be, things will get better. Then I was like, why not share this message with other people? Because I know I’m definitely not the only person that feels this way.”

Quinn penned a lot of songs on that West Coast trip. She found being in a place where so many performers are looking for a foothold very inspiring.

“I definitely liked being out there and seeing all the talent and everything; it motivated me to just push,” she said. “All these people are trying to be somebody … it doesn’t need to be the entire world, where everyone knows your name. Just one little thing to make a difference.”

Born in Manchester, Quinn relocated to Connecticut with her mother while in fourth grade. “This whole time, my dad still lived in New Hampshire,” she said. “I would do the trip twice a month to see him on the weekends.” After high school, she went to South Carolina for a year, then returned to move in with him and enroll in the theater program at UNH.

Her father encouraged his daughter’s creative urges, taking steps to help her find her way.

“My dad is the sole reason that it all happened,” she said. “He knew [local musician] Chad LaMarsh and kind of took it upon himself to see what would happen if he introduced us…. I’ve been on this path ever since.”

She eschews many modern artists, calling her singing range similar to Ariana Grande’s, but adding that she’s not a fan of her music. “I used her vocals as influence for mine,” Quinn said, but “instrumentally, I’m really into rock like Queen, and then Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. I try to incorporate their styles along with everyday pop.”

She’s sung “Somebody to Love” with tribute act Queen Flash on a few occasions, and will open for them later this year.

For now Quinn stays on her Gladwell path, night after night. “My goal is to continue to find myself,” she said. “Testing my abilities … seeing how far I can go. I don’t really have any career goals [beyond] improving who I am as an artist, and really seeing what I’m capable of.”

Jordan Quinn
Next show: Saturday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m.
Where: Homestead Restaurant & Tavern, 641 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack
Full calendar:

Featured photo: Jordan Quinn. Courtesy photo.

Gallery grooving

Singer-songwriter kicks off concert series

A three-weekend original music concert series at a Hopkinton art gallery offers buoyant pop, jazz-infused Americana and bluegrass. It kicks off Feb. 11 with Ariel Strasser, a Boston by way of Minnesota singer, pianist and guitar player with influences ranging from Carole King to Rufus Wainwright. The Honey Bees — chanteuse Mary Fagan and guitarist Chris O’Neill — arrive the following Saturday, with the all-acoustic Hydro-Geo Trio closing things out Feb. 18.

With light refreshments and soothing ambience, the two-hour events are presented by Two Villages Art Gallery and NH Music Collective. Strasser is returning, having performed there last year.

“It’s a really warm and inviting space,” Strasser said by phone recently. “Acoustic music is well-suited to it, and they’re really great people. I’m excited to be back.”

Strasser has released two albums. 2013’s Crooked Line featured duets with fellow songwriter and mentor Chris Trapper. Motivation came out in 2018 and led to a pair of New England Music Awards nominations the following year. She’s assembling material for a third long-player. Among the new songs is “Small,” a gentle ballad about putting things in perspective.

“I’m not sure yet when that one’s going to land, but hopefully soon,” she said. “It’s about staying grounded and remembering that the little things you agonize over sometimes don’t have as much power as you believe that they do, and understanding that we’re really just a small piece of this large universe, and remembering that when we get bogged down.”

The singer-songwriter came to New England to study musical theater at the Boston Conservatory, now a part of Berklee College of Music. There she “found a love of songwriting and sort of latched onto that even more, but my theater roots definitely feed into my songwriting, in terms of lyrics and things like that.”

Her songwriting process varies. “Sometimes I’ll be inspired by something I see and the lyric will come from that and I’ll want to set it to music,” she said. “Other times I’ll be sitting with an instrument and the musical idea will come to me and I’ll find the gibberish that goes with it, then figure out what the song means later. It just depends on the inspiration.”

Along with performing, Strasser runs ArtsBridge, an organization that helps aspiring young performers find arts colleges. “I run programs for theater, voice, fashion students,” she said. “It’s a cool opportunity to work with high school kids who are really talented…. It’s definitely inspiring to see people at that stage of their life where they’re on the brink and excited about everything.”

The two-week summer camp has a job fair vibe. “They learn about the different programs and what works for them and also what different schools like to see,” she said. “They’re learning about the process through the eyes of these different college faculties…. It’s definitely a valuable experience for them.”

Performing, however, remains Strasser’s passion, and she’s excited about upcoming shows, both the solo Two Villages set and an in the round show with fellow songwriters Katie Dobbins and Audrey Drake at Hermit Woods Winery on Feb. 22, also organized by NH Music Collective.

“As an artist, I love so many different parts of being in this world, but I really love playing live,” she said. “I don’t know if that comes from theater or just me, but that’s definitely my favorite…. Solo shows that are real listening room type places are really fulfilling for me. I feel like you can see the songs land.”

Audience interaction, she continued, “is the one thing you can’t replace online. There’s so much we can do on the internet, but live shows … those you can only do one way and that’s to show up. So I hope to see some people out there, and I’ll just keep playing as much as I can.”

Ariel Strasser
When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 4 p.m.
Where: Two Villages Art Society, 846 Main St., Hopkinton
Tickets: Donations accepted at the door
More: and

Featured photo: Ariel Strasser. Courtesy photo.

Born to fun

Comic Cory Gee debuts at Headliners

When Cory Gee bounds onstage, he’s almost immediately mixing with the crowd. Learning who’s married, dating for the first time, celebrating a birthday. The rapid-fire back and forth helps the veteran comic size up the audience, but it’s not a call for conversation.

He’s setting up jokes, polished over time. Like the one about why asking a baby-faced cop how he caught him while riding a Big Wheel isn’t a good way to get out of a speeding ticket, or how single men shouldn’t plan bachelor parties, and the reason a VFW hall is a better venue for such gatherings than a strip bar.

Cory Gee really doesn’t want to hear about your day, but thanks anyway.

“In today’s TikTok era, crowd work is a necessary evil,” Gee said in a recent phone interview, noting that shutting down hecklers is a reliable way to get clicks. “I love to engage with the crowd, but what is frustrating for me as a comedian is when the crowd talks to me. Does that make sense?”

Sometimes, though, Gee’s high-wire act leads to comedy gold. “A perfect joke for me is the joke I never intended to do,” he said. Like when a random crowd remark sparks the memory of a long-unfinished bit. “You just start to work it, then it all starts to fall into place … and it’s like this moment. I was not meant to figure out that joke until just now.”

Gee will appear for the first time at Headliners in Manchester on Feb. 4. He’s talked for a while with promoter Rob Steen about playing there. “I pretty much know every headliner he uses on a regular basis, and they were all saying the same thing … ‘You’d do so well in New Hampshire, those crowds would really enjoy you.’ I’m really looking forward to it.”

He began doing comedy in 2002 at Comedy Connection in Providence, Rhode Island. The decision to become a standup was an evolution. He majored in theater in college, left early to find fame in Hollywood, but only got as far as his dad’s home in Georgia, where he got work in a professional theater company.

It didn’t last past a series of grueling rehearsals for Lips Together, Teeth Apart.

“I was just tired of saying other people’s words,” Gee explained. “In comedy, everything sits on you, all of the writing is you, all of the performing is you, every movement you make on stage is solely you, [and] knowing I was in complete control was probably the moment that I realized … this is what I want to be doing.”

It ended in 2013. His employer, a well-known nonprofit, gave him an ultimatum: jokes or a job. With two sons, Gee had little choice, so he quit, cold turkey. He didn’t write a bit, go to a show, or even think about comedy for five years. Then he got an offer at a new company. It was a lateral move; commuting costs actually reduced his take-home.

His wife had only one question. “She said, ‘Can you do comedy?’ I said, ‘Yeah, they told me they don’t care what I do.’ She was like, ‘We will figure out whatever financial impact this will have; you have to get back to comedy,’” he recalled.

He’s ever grateful for the boost. After shows, she helps him deconstruct and decompress. “I took it for granted the first time,” he said. “It has definitely added a wrinkle to our relationship from a support standpoint. Not that it wasn’t there before; I just I didn’t realize how important it was.”

Gee returns the favor by co-hosting a podcast with her. Ready, Set, Disney offers tips for visiting the theme parks. It helps that the manic stage prowler is already a big fan of Disney World. “If you’ve seen my act, you know I can’t stand still,” he said. “So the idea of a vacation in which I sit on a beach and just kinda throw my feet up would not work for me. When we go to Disney, I’m constantly moving.”

Cory Gee
When: Saturday, Feb. 4, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Headliners Comedy Club, 700 Elm St., Manchester
Tickets: $20 at

Featured photo: Cory Gee. Courtesy photo.


Blues Fest debuts at Rex

The first New England Blues Festival was a modest one-off featuring regional bands, including Mr. Nick & the Dirty Tricks, led by organizer Nick David. Buoyed by its success, David brought it back the following year and soon was attracting national talent like Chicago heavy-hitter Nick Moss, and the event scaled to multiple venues.

The annual show has attracted a bevy of talent over the years, including Muddy Waters’ son Big Bill Morganfield. David’s former group Mr. Nick & the Dirty Tricks backed him up in 2018. “I get goosebumps talking about it,” David recalled in 2019, “because that’s as close as I’ll ever get to playing with Muddy.”

David always hoped the show would stop in his hometown of Manchester; that will finally happen on Sunday, Jan. 29, on the stage of the Rex Theatre. “I’ve been talking to the Rex off and on for the last few years,” David said by phone recently. “I really like the venue a lot.”

The 13th festival features four guitar heroes. There’s headliner Mike Zito, Moss, playing for his fourth time, Roberto Morbioli, and Paul Size, the latter a member of David’s latest group, and concert house band, The Wicked Lo-Down.

Size is a legend in the blues rock world dating back to his stint in L.A.-by-way-of-Texas band The Red Devils, whose early ’90s residency at the gritty King King club attracted movie stars and music legends. They made an album with Mick Jagger that was never released (one cut was on Jagger’s Very Best compilation), and backed Bruce Willis on his Return of Bruno LP. Rick Rubin produced their lone live album, in 1995.

The Wicked Lo-Down grew out of a fruitful collaboration in late 2019 between David, Size and another guitarist, later replaced by Jeff Berg and augmented by a rhythm section of Nick Toscano and Mike Law. Hobbled by lockdown, they made an album, We Hot, in mid-2020 that stayed shelved for almost two years before its release last November. It’s a barn-burner, with a churning title cut and the Blasters-adjacent “Lena” among the standouts.

They’re now gigging and shopping the record to labels, including Zito’s moniker Gulf Coast. David met the guitarist in 2021 at the White Mountain Boogie & Blues Festival. Zito passed on releasing it, even though he reportedly “loved” the album, according to David. “Nobody was willing to sign us because we weren’t out there gigging … how are they going to make money off us if we’re not playing? Who knows who we are?”

Zito has had a string of blues chart-topping albums in the recent past, beginning with 2018’s First Class Life and a Chuck Berry tribute collection that had assistance from Joe Bonamassa, Walter Trout, Robben Ford, Luther Dickinson and Sonny Landreth. Zito’s most recent disc, Resurrection, received a Blue Music Award last year for Best Blues Rock Album.

The chat with Zito did get David a headliner for his festival, which has two Massachusetts dates, Salisbury and Norwood, along with Hartford, Connecticut, before its New Hampshire finale. “Mike and I have some stuff in common,” David said. “He was into doing it, so we were able to get it together this year.”

Morbioli is an Italian guitarist who comes Stateside once a year. David met him over a decade ago when he appeared on John Guregian’s Blues Deluxe radio show. “It was on the UMass Lowell radio station,” David explained. “I was living there with my wife at the time, and she spoke fluent Italian. We went down there, hung out and played a few songs. We’ve been friends ever since.”

Finally, along with his status as a fest perennial, Moss created an interesting conundrum for David from the time they met.

“I got confused for him often; we’re both similar-looking,” he reported of the guitarist, who rose to fame with Nick Moss & the Pop Tops. “We both had big greasy pompadours, and we’re big guys named Nick. I saw a picture of him once and thought he was me. I was like, why do I have a guitar in my hand? Oh, it’s because that’s not me.

13th Annual New England Winter Blues Festival
When: Sunday, Jan. 29, 8 p.m.
Where: The Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $23 at

Featured photo: Mike Zito. Photo by Scott Lukes.

Femme force

Wyn Doran readies next project

Watching a private screening of Beautiful Was The Fight provided a full-circle moment for Wyn Doran. The Nashua based singer-songwriter appears early in David Habeeb’s documentary film about the challenges faced by New England’s female and non-binary musicians. A nervous Doran is seen in 2017 auditioning for an eventual role in Liz Bills’ band. Years later she’s fronting her own all-female combo.

“We were babies,” Doran said by phone recently about the clip of her and Bills. “The first day we met was basically captured in that film, and now she is one of my absolute best friends.”

The journey from jittery aspirant to confident artist wasn’t easy, but watching Wyn Doran these days, it feels complete.

While singing backup for Bills, Doran made her stirring 2019 EP Thick of It, an effort marked by medical emergencies, bouts of stage fright, even a house fire. During the pandemic she released a few singles, including a reverent cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black.” In February she’ll enter the studio to record her first full-length album.

Fans can get an early preview of the as-yet-unnamed project, to be produced by Colin Lester Fleming at Great North Sound Society in Maine, when Doran appears at Stone Church Music Club on Jan. 25, backed by upright bassist and multi-instrumentalist Lucia Jean.

Catalyzed by Covid-19, playing live has become much easier for Doran.

“After not being able to get in front of people for such a long time, the second I could, the stage fright was gone,” she said. “It was this huge shift in mindset … this is something that I really enjoy and feel like I’m born to do; why am I sabotaging it with myself?”

With only the livestreams to do, Doran spent the pandemic creating, continuing after the world began to open up. When she wrapped up last fall, she had a unified set of songs worthy of her first long-player. “It was this big piece of work,” she said. “I really do see the album as a journey. I got the band, a producer, and we started workshopping things in December; it’s the real thing in February.”

Lyrically, the new record “is a mix of both my personal anguish and journey, and what I see as a greater view of humanity — the cycles we’ve woven ourselves into nationally and on a global level. It kind of ebbs and flows between getting really, deeply personal, those themes, and zooming way out to the beginning of time, and kind of how we all got here.”

Her longtime band — Jean and drummer Heidi Tierney — will work with Doran in the studio. “We’re going to really try and keep it true to our trio live show, but also play with the skills that we bring to the table,” she said, noting that Tierney also plays a variety of instruments. “I’m kind of blown away to have them, and so excited about these 10 songs.”

A songwriting retreat with Ben Folds a few years back helped Doran find her voice as a songwriter, and she’s come a long way since. During the pandemic she assisted Folds with a Zoom version. “That was a neat throwback,” she said. “First, it was the scared Wyn showing up for the start of my songwriting, then jumping into this role where I wasn’t just pouring out sweat, I was interfacing with it. He’s releasing an album this year, I’ll be releasing an album this year — who knows?”

Seeing Habeeb’s documentary gave her a sense of camaraderie, albeit bittersweet.

“I don’t want to put a negative slant on this, but there are people who think we’re the bassist’s girlfriend, just carrying the amp, and we really have to step up and advocate for who we are as a musician,” she said. “One of the special parts of the film was Dave showing that experience back to back to back … these things I used to feel so alone in experiencing; all of a sudden, you realize we’re all together, going through this collective struggle.”

Wyn Doran w/ George Barber & Paulie Stone
When: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m.
Where: Stone Church Music Club, 5 Granite St., Newmarket
Tickets: $10 at

Featured photo: Wyn Doran. Photo by Devin Perry.

Moving forward

A new hip-hop vibe from Fee The Evolutionist

Winning the Rising Star New Hampshire plaque at this year’s New England Music Awards was quite gratifying for rapper Fee The Evolutionist, but also bemusing. “I was laughing about that,” he said by phone recently. “I’m a rising star — it only took me 20 years.”

It’s actually a bit longer than that.

Bill Fee was dropping rhymes in the mid-1990s, with DJ Lyrical in the group X-Caliber. The period birthed an incredible story, when they impressed producer Ski Beatz during his visit to the radio station at UMass-Lowell. This led to an invite to Ski’s New York City studio, but their opportunity got bumped so another rapper could finish his first album — Jay-Z.

The rest is hip-hop history.

“Looking back, you know, it was probably the right decision,” Fee said with just a little irony. “We weren’t ready.” Ski Beatz stayed a mentor and produced X-Cal’s “Back in the Dayz” last year. The old-school track recounts that heady time and includes Fee’s life partner Ruby Shabazz on vocals.

Fee’s solo career is a newer development.

“I’ve always been in bands,” he said. “Playing drums, percussion, songwriting, rapping, singing … last November was my first solo release.” That would be the blistering “Go,” a two-minute sprint that evokes punk and metal with the same fervor as hip-hop.

Such cross-pollination is typical for Fee, and it’s one reason he and Shabazz have been called “King and Queen of New Hampshire Hip-Hop” more than a few times. Another is the couple’s consistent civic engagement. “We love it,” he said. “We embrace the community, and the community embraces us.”

The latest example of his genre-hopping ways will be on display Sunday, Jan. 15, in his home town of Nashua, when Fee performs with guitarist Adam Payne at Millyard Brewery. The centerpiece of the show, which will also include brief sets from Shabazz and fellow Nashua rapper Cody Pope, is an acoustic set featuring Fee rhyming and Payne’s looped playing.

It’s hip-hop, time-traveling to a ’60s jazz club. “A folk vibe,” Fee said. “I’m gonna bring my cajon and bongos, and some percussion … it’s going to be a lot of improv. Set songs, some familiar covers, but we’re also going to flip stuff, make it fresh.”

This is Fee’s first gig with Payne, who he initially saw perform at a festival in downtown Nashua a few months back. “I loved it, and I said, ‘Hey, I’ve gotta link up.’ This was the opportunity,” he said. Millyard’s a logical venue choice, he added. “I just feel like a brewery is a good place to have guitar and percussion, and kind of introduce what we do.”

The microbrewery has been a big supporter of the local arts scene, offering regular weekend events. In a Jan. 4 email, Millyard’s Dean Baxter called 2022 “a storming year,” saying “we are fast becoming a leading live music venue [and] continue to support some of the best-known musicians in New England. Fee is one of those.” 

Fee adopted his Evolutionist moniker to underscore his solo career as a step away from band days, along with the way he draws from many eras as an artist. “I’ve seen the evolution of hip-hop; I’m taking you through that,” he said. “I have soul samples from the ’70s, a little R&B, and I’ll get a little bit more aggressive … that’s one aspect; the other is the evolution of myself, and my growth as a person. I’m always evolving, and trying to learn new stuff.”

He views his NEMA win as validation for the genre in the region. “It’s flourishing; we’re in a renaissance period for hip-hop up here,” he said, pointing to the success of Pope and DJ Myth, who he also collaborates with, and other local artists, along with the excitement that surrounded the recent Hellhound for the Holidays showcase at Nashua Garden as examples.

His own brand of hip-hop is distinct from many others, Fee continued. “I consider it more of the jazz style; it’s organic,” he said, noting it attracts an eclectic group of musicians eager to work with him. “You’d be surprised how many people are open to that … they’re like, ‘Oh, I have never done this before.’ It’s new; we’re kind of making our own genre right now.”

Fee The Evolutionist w/ Adam Payne
When: Sunday, Jan. 15, 5 p.m.
Where: Millyard Brewery, 25 E. Otterson St., Nashua

Featured photo: Fee The Evolutionist. Courtesy photo.

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