Hometown reveal

Dakota Smart holds release show for debut LP

Like many performers, Dakota Smart used the pandemic’s forced down time to woodshed new material. He wrote over 100 songs, a few of which are part of his first full-length album, Leap of Faith. He plans to perform several more at a release show for the new record on July 8 at Foster’s Tavern in Alton.

The Lakes Region hamlet is Smart’s home town, and the venue was the site of his first paying gig. His high school band Organized Chaos performed there when it was called JP China; the restaurant/bar reopened with a new name on Memorial Day and features live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

“It was my first introduction to actually doing what I love professionally,” Smart said recently by phone. Now that his first proper long-player is complete, “being able to play in my home town for people who have watched me for years is really moving … a special experience.”

Smart brought his piano and ukulele skills to make the pop/rock effort at Rocking Horse Studios in Pittsfield. Produced by Brian Coombes and Josh Kimball, members of the studio’s house band backed him — guitarist Myron Kibbee, Eric Wagley on drums and bass player Brenden Harisiades, with extra spice provided by cellist Jeremy Harman and Wesley Thurber on trumpet.

Thurber’s interplay with Smart’s ukulele elevates standout track “Lovely Lady,” first released as a single last September. “I love trumpet, and I think it works really well with ukulele songs,” Smart said.

The rousing “Believe” finds Smart on his primary instrument, piano, and showcasing his songwriting talents. The tune is a rousing “climb on a back that’s strong” number, with rising horns evoking Fleet Foxes, with impressively mature lyrics.

This sophisticated wordplay isn’t entirely surprising, given that he wrote about being a lonely college boy on “Sunrise In New York” while he was still in high school. “It was a song about me, predicting the future,” he said of the 2019 track.

Lately, he’s become more comfortable telling other people’s truths.

“I got to a point where I was writing songs about my own experience, but I felt as though I didn’t have a lot to write about,” he said. “One of the things I often say is I believe the best songwriters start off as the best listeners. There are thousands of stories out there, between friends, families and people you’re going to meet in your everyday experience. A lot of them motivate you more than your own.”

There’s still a confessional element to the new disc, which ranges across “a bunch of different moods between slow songs, fast songs, happy and sad stuff,” Smart said, adding, “I have a pretty good fluctuation between writing about myself and other people … there’s definitely a mix between the two, and I’ve definitely expanded upon that.”

Along with Leap of Faith, Smart plans to unveil some even newer material at the upcoming show.

“I’m actually going to be playing a lot of songs that have not been released yet,” he said. “I’m going to be not only showing people the brand new album, but I’m also going to be giving them a sneak peek of stuff that is going to come.”

Smart received multiple New England Music Awards nominations in 2021, and he recently made a career-building trip to the music Mecca of Nashville.

“I was invited through the Extreme tour,” he explained. “You go down and partake in the Nashville Objective.” He was one of 20 finalists who played for a panel of industry leaders, A&R types and Grammy nominees, after surviving a selection process that began with over 1,000 artists.

“It’s not a talent show, you’re not being judged,” he stressed. “It’s a group of people who are passionate about music that really want to help out upcoming artists and be a part of their upbringing. The real goal of going down there and doing what I did was to make connections and nurture these new relationships. It turned out really great; I made a lot of new friends within the industry, and it was amazing.”

Dakota Smart
When: Friday, July 8, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Foster’s Tavern, 403 Main St., Alton Bay
More: dakotasmart.com

Featured photo: Dakota Smart. Courtesy photo.

Goners back

John Hiatt returns with beloved band

For his 1987 album Bring The Family, John Hiatt had a band of heavy hitters: guitarist Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe playing bass, and drummer Jim Keltner. But he knew they wouldn’t be with him to tour in support of that career-defining disc. So when Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson suggested he seek out Sonny Landreth, Hiatt listened.

“He spoke of him in terms of, ‘He’s the other slide guitar player,’” Hiatt recalled in a recent phone interview. “He knew Ry wasn’t coming out with us, so he was recommending Sonny as the other guy who could do the job…. Indeed, it turned out to be the case.”

Landreth brought a rhythm section of David Ranson and Ken Blevins to audition for Hiatt, a process that took one run through “Memphis In The Meantime” to complete. After months on the road elevating that and other Bring The Family tunes, the band, now called The Goners, went into the studio with iconic producer Glyn Johns to make Slow Turning.

The band reunited in 2018 to celebrate that album’s 30th anniversary. Now, fresh from touring with Jerry Douglas in support of their 2021 collaboration Leftover Feelings, Hiatt is back with his old group and an expanded setlist that includes songs from the two albums they made together in the early 2000s, The Tiki Bar is Open and Beneath This Gruff Exterior.

“We’re extending out to them, with the exception of the first A&M album (Family); but we toured that so extensively it feels like it’s theirs in my mind,” he said. “Mainly drawing from those four, and there are things included in those records that I haven’t played in a long time. So we’re kind of excited about that.”

Asked about the ease with which his infrequent touring unit gets back into form, Hiatt chuckled. “We’ll see,” he said. “We don’t like rehearsing too much — save it for the night. We’re kind of a weird, I don’t know, punk band — except for Sonny, who’s a virtuoso. The rest of us are good at what we do, but we just do one or two knuckleheaded things.”

Along with his own output, other artists have recorded Hiatt’s tunes extensively, from Three Dog Night to Bonnie Raitt, whose version of “Thing Called Love” helped reboot her career. Bob Dylan did Hiatt’s “The Usual” for the soundtrack to Hearts of Fire. Hiatt can’t name a favorite, though hearing the Neville Brothers do “Washable Ink” stands out. “Because I love them so much … but there’s been a lot of thrills, spills and chills getting songs covered.”

As to his own songs, Hiatt is taciturn. “They’re like kids [and] you don’t have a favorite child — it’s against the law,” he said. “I love them all; they grow up and go out, and some of them excel in different ways than others. But again, it’s like children — you love them all until the bitter end.”

With two dozen albums spread across almost 50 years, Hiatt allows that the muse is easier to summon as he approaches age 70 and awaits the birth of his first grandchild, courtesy of daughter Georgia Rae — but only a little bit.

“The biggest problem I think you have to get by is you gotta get past that guy, John Hiatt, who writes songs,” he said. “I do remember when I was younger and I got a little bit of notoriety, the sort of modest career that I’ve had, you kind of get scared by your own ghost, you know? So in that respect, I think it’s easier. But they’re maybe fewer and farther between.”

That said, he has enough new material for a record and hopes to hit the studio sometime in the next six months. “I don’t know what it will be, if I’ll do it acoustic, just me,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to make just a solo record.”

The upcoming tour has Hiatt considering another possibility. “I have thought about getting The Goners back together with Glyn Johns and making a record,” he said, rising at the notion that watching the Get Back documentary may be part of his inspiration.

“Wasn’t he amazing in that?” he said of Johns, who also helmed the follow-up to Slow Turning, 1990’s Stolen Moments. “And no different, no different — that’s what’s so great about him. I mean, we’re no Beatles, and he was a much younger man, but he was just as forthcoming and easy going with us back in ’88 as he appeared to be on the Let It Be tapes. He’s a great guy; he’s holding a lot of cards.”

John Hiatt & the Goners Featuring Sonny Landreth w/ Chris Trapper
When: Saturday, June 25, 8 p.m.
Where: Colonial Theatre, 609 Main St., Laconia
Tickets: $49 and up at etix.com

Featured photo: John Hiatt. Photo by David McClister.

Big weekend

Northlands Music & Arts Fest is a packed affair

An effort that began as crisis management in the pandemic’s early days is poised to be a highlight of this summer and many more. The Northlands Music & Arts Festival is a cultural buffet sure to please many palates. It includes five heavy hitters at the top of the bill: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Twiddle, Lotus, Lettuce and Melvin Seals’ Grateful Revue, a collaboration that promoters believe might not happen again. There’s also a stellar undercard.

After indoor venues shuttered in the dark spring of 2020, Seth McNally and Mike Chadinha of M.E. Productions launched socially distanced Drive-In Live shows at Cheshire Fairgrounds. As restrictions eased the next year, it became Northlands, with audience pods and close to two dozen more events.

This time around, they’re packing an entire season into one weekend. They hope to do two festivals in 2023.

Starting with Russo as a linchpin, the duo built a blend of big-name anchors and curated support acts, like buzzy Jersey jam band Dogs In A Pile, who kick off the show on Friday, June 24, and Blue Star Radiation, a supergroup that includes moe. members Rob Derhak and Vinnie Amico alongside Tim Palmieri of Lotus, and Percy Hill’s Nate Wilson.

Also eagerly anticipated are sets from progressive bluegrass stalwarts Yonder Mountain String Band, and Haley Jane & The Primates playing together for the first time following a long hiatus. Local favorites Dopapod, Lespecial, Pink Talking Fish and Joe Samba — the latter debuting a new album — are other highlights.

Chadinha brought experience organizing the charity-based Uplift Festival in his hometown of Peterborough for several years, and playing drums with circuit veterans Roots of Creation. McNally’s resume includes booking the Flying Monkey in Plymouth and a few other facilities. Professional chemistry is a big part of their success, the two stated in a recent videoconference interview.

“Our dynamic works because we bounce a lot of things off one another,” Chadinha said. “I have the artist angle, he has the back of the house booking angle, and somewhere in the middle of those two, we make things work perfectly for artists and the venue.”

The hope that doing only one event would mean a quicker process turned out to be over-optimistic. “I thought it was going to be maybe a little less work, but it’s the same amount as an entire season,” McNally said. “A hundred times harder than I thought, and 1,000 times more than anybody in the audience knows.”

In an inverse of horn-honking concerts necessitated by the Covid-19 outbreak, scaling back became the only option when the Swanzey facility returned to its normal schedule of fairs and agricultural events. But both McNally and Chadinha are glad things are returning to normal, as they’ve thought about doing an event like this for a while.

“It was the perfect time to take the leap, because a season wasn’t an option,” McNally said. “We decided to pull the trigger almost right after the end of last season and it’s good…. We needed every moment to prepare. Booking alone took four months at least before we got it fully wrapped up. It’s a long process.”

Along with music, there will be a caravan of food trucks, far more than at last year’s Northlands concerts, and more than a dozen craft artisan vendors. There’s also tent and RV camping available. “A lot of unique things are going to be happening for campers; some of them are going to be surprises,” McNally said. “We’re going to keep them occupied and happy the whole time. It’s going to be 24/7 for us as a crew.”

Music will be nonstop, as setup teams quickly transition between two main stages, different from big festivals that force fans to inevitably skip an act or two. “We like being boutique,” Chadinha said. “The stages aren’t far from each other, so you can do a quick shift. With no overlapping sets, there’s no chance you’ll miss anyone.”

The fans in both of them are eager for everything to begin.

“I can’t wait for the music to actually play,” Chadinha said, adding, “I know Dogs In A Pile are going to come out of the gate smoking, because I know the feeling of being the first band on a big festival and thinking, ‘We’re going to get out there and with the first note we’re going to hit it, we’re going to get this started.’ So get there early, and make sure you see them.”

Northlands Music & Arts Festival
When: Friday, June 24, 1 p.m. and Saturday, June 25, 11 a.m.
Where: Northlands (Cheshire Fairgrounds), 247 Monadnock Hwy., Swanzey
June 24 – Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Lotus, Lettuce, Dopapod, Dogs In A Pile, Blue Star Radiation
June 25 – Twiddle, Melvin Seals Grateful Revue, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Movement, Lespecial, Pink Talking Fish, Haley Jane & The Primates, The Trichomes, Joe Samba Band
Two-day: general admission $166.35, VIP $254.95, children $43.76
One-day: general admission $95.62, VIP $201.71, children $25.77
Add-ons: Two-day on-site camping $220.75 (RV or tow $237.07), parking $20 and up

Featured photo: Northlands Music & Arts Fest 2021. Courtesy photo.

Tempest redux

Guitarist Jesse Cook marks debut album’s 25th

It’s easier to follow the puck on a televised hockey match than to discern what Jesse Cook’s fingers are doing on a fretboard. The Toronto-based guitarist defies the laws of physics every time he plays flamenco music on his nylon six-string. Since releasing his debut album, Tempest, in 1995, Cook has captivated audiences across the world.

He’s made multiple PBS specials, received several Juno nominations and earned 10 platinum and gold albums. He was seemingly born to play; Cook can’t remember when he first picked up a guitar but hears stories about jamming with a friend when he was 3 years old.

Cook took his first lesson at 6 and would go on to study at the Royal Conservatory, NYU and Berklee, determined to be a concert guitarist.

“But as I got close to graduating, I started to chicken out,” he recalled by phone recently, reasoning that “everybody would love to be a concert guitarist, but you can’t make a living doing that.”

So he turned to being a composer and working behind the scenes of film and television. But he kept getting noticed when he’d create a guitar piece. “People would say, ‘Oh, that’s so beautiful, you should record an album of your own music,” he said. “I was like, ‘Nah … nobody’s going to want to hear that.’”

Finally Cook relented and recorded his first album at home. He reluctantly pressed 1,000 CDs, and worried most of them would end up as coffee coasters. But with help from a couple of key television and radio appearances, the opposite happened. Cook sold them all out within a week.

This success created an unexpected problem; Cook didn’t have any money to make more discs. However, a distributor stepped in and pressed another 2,000 copies to satisfy burgeoning demand at record stores across the country. “Canadians are really supportive of our own, “ Cook said.

All the activity got the attention of labels below the border. and after a flurry of courtships Cook signed with Narada Records. “They swept me off my feet,” Cook said to explain why he chose the Wisconsin independent company over Windham Hill and a few other bigger-name operations.

It was a good decision; Cook’s new label quickly got him added to the prestigious Catalina Jazz Festival, held on an island on the coast of Southern California. Though booked in a small bar that weekend, he played to capacity crowds that spilled out onto the sidewalk. When Cook moved around the tiny island in one of their trademark golf carts, fans chased him like he was musical royalty.

Soon after, Cook’s album was in the Billboard Top 20, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“As soon as I stopped getting in my own way [and] chased my dreams … my life got way easier,” he said. “I had a full calendar, I was doing the things I’d always wanted to do and loving doing them, and there were way less annoying gigs. When you’re kind of a music mercenary you take whatever comes in the door, [but] once it’s your own project you only have to work with the people you like and admire.”

Cook is finally embarking on his pandemic-delayed Tempest II tour, supporting a re-recorded version of the record that started it all. When he appears at Concord’s Capitol Center on June 11, he’ll be joined by Matt Sellick. Cook calls the young native of Thunder Bay “the best flamenco guitarist in Canada,” adding, “he knows my music better than I do.”

Sellick encouraged Cook to revive “Switchback,” a song from his late 1990s catalog, and rework it as a guitar duet piece. Watching the two exchange frenetic runs on the track, now a regular part of shows, is a wondrous sight.

Also in Cook’s band, which formed a little over four years ago, supplanting his decades-old former group, are Portuguese drummer Marito Marques, bass player Van Mitchum and Fethi Nadjem on violin and other instruments. Cook spotted Algerian-born Nadjem while watching videos of friends on YouTube, and got an introduction through mutual friends.

“Once we finally got together, it was just this great collaboration,” Cook said of Nadjem, who provided integral support on Cook’s latest album, Libre. “I just love the way he plays, the way he hears music. He’s super talented.”

Jesse Cook
When: Saturday, June 11, 8 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $35 and up at ccanh.com

Featured photo: Jessie Cook. Courtesy photo.

Old school

After country detour, Lit returns rocking

“My Own Worst Enemy” could be the post-grunge era’s “Free Bird.” Released by Lit in 1999, the raucously rocking tale of misadventure is a fitting touchstone for that cultural moment. With its staccato opening guitar riff and a wailing chorus of “please tell me why” that’s both desperate and arrogant, it provided just the right coda for a musically chaotic decade.

The song also changed the lives of the band that made it. Lit began in a Southern California living room with a bunch of teenage pals chasing rock ’n’ roll dreams. The core group — brothers Jeremy and A. Jay Popoff, Kevin Baldes and Allen Shellenberger — formed in 1989 with a now long-gone member as Razzle, toiled in L.A. clubs and looked for a record deal.

Ten years later, the hordes at Woodstock 99 were singing along to their song.

They’ve haven’t lost sight of how special that is. “The song has legs of its own, it’s its own animal,” Kevin Baldes said by phone recently. “But we’re still rock fans, we still buy albums. We still love listening to new music and old music, and we can’t believe that we’re a part of the … Americana fabric. ‘My Own Worst. Enemy’ is in there. It feels good; we don’t take it for granted at all.”

It’s an iconic track, but far from their only one. The band’s punkier-than-thou tour manager said it wasn’t even their best. Lit’s major label debut, A Place In the Sun, recently reissued on white vinyl, had great songs like “Miserable,” “No Big Thing” and “Zip Lock.” Their upcoming album Tastes Like Gold furthers the case that Lit might be selling out stadiums today if Napster and file sharing hadn’t crippled the music business right after the world first noticed them.

Due for release June 17, the first three singles from the new disc show the band in full stride. “Mouth Shut,” the latest, takes their most famous song and reworks it for the internet age. “I don’t regret what I said, I just regret hitting send,” sings A. Jay. “I shoulda stayed in my head.”

Baldes is eager for fans to hear more. “If you like A Place in the Sun, Tastes Like Gold is like right there for you, man,” he said. “It’s awesome. There’s some great stuff. I can’t wait for it to come out and people to hear all the songs … friends that have heard the new album have come to me with their favorites, and it’s all over the place.”

It’s their first studio effort since These Are the Days. That album was a detour into modern country that confused many, The Popoff brothers currently reside in Nashville, and the 2017 record reflected that.

For Baldes, it feels good to be back to old-school Lit. “I got ‘Johnny Cash’ tattooed on my arm [so] I got a couple of drops of country blood in me,” he said, adding “Someday Maybe” was a particular favorite. “Jeremy and A. Jay … accumulated quite a few songs and [said] let’s try this out as Lit, these are kind of fun. Something different … that’s how it all evolved.”

He concedes they may have enjoyed it more than some fans. “That particular album kind of went sideways a little bit — I think in a good way. A lot of people loved it, but some were scratching their heads,” he said. “We felt it, and we were like, alright, this next record has to be in the hard rock arena.”

It’s perfectly consistent for a band that went from sounding like Motley Crue in their days as Razzle to punk metal on their indie debut Tripping the Light Fantastic while on their way to the version that struck “My Own Worst Enemy” gold.

“People know Lit as being what it’s always been, a rock band,” Baldes said. “But if you’re a huge fan, you know that we duck and weave quite a bit — there is no road map for us. We just kind of blindly get in the driver’s seat and go wherever it takes us.”

Lit w/ Chad Perrone
When: Friday, June 3, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $38 and up at tupelohall.com

Featured photo: Lit. Courtesy photo.

One-man band

Talking Wallflowers with Jakob Dylan

Beginning in 1996 with Bringing Down the Horse, The Wallflowers became a band in name only, with a singular vision. “There’s really no one lineup that ever made two records,” Jakob Dylan said by phone from Los Angeles in mid-May. “One person is actually putting the ideas together, and that’s always been me.”

That tradition continued with last year’s Exit Wounds and a lineup including producer Butch Walker, session ace Val McCallum (who played on 2002’s Red Letter Days) and singer Shelby Lynne. Led by standout tracks like the raucous “Dive Bar In My Heart,” the tender ballad “Darlin’ Hold On” and “Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden?” — an homage to Dylan’s guiding light Tom Petty — the new record is a solid addition to a stalwart catalog.

Here’s an edited transcript of Dylan’s interview with The Hippo.

How did the songs on Exit Wounds come together?

Refining songs is the dirty work, but you can’t start with nothing. You have to have a bunch of ideas sketched out, and then when you’re going to be recording, you gather all those ideas up. So, I would not say I wrote this record all in one sitting. I had collected song ideas a couple of years before that. It takes the motivation, the excitement of getting in a studio to really go to work on them and make them what you hope they’ll be.

Butch Walker produced what was that like?

Butch is one of the rare people who can do a little bit of everything, and he does those things better than most people in the room [and] he’s a songwriter…. One of the more important assets that I need in the studio is somebody who understands and has the range to make these songs as strong as they could be. Because … a songwriter always thinks their new songs are their best songs, which is rarely true. I always work better with somebody around who does the same work that I do to bounce ideas off of.

Shelby Lynne was another fantastic element; you mesh so well together. Do you go back?

No, we don’t … we run in similar circles [and] she was always on my wish list. Val McCallum, who plays guitar on this record, worked with her a lot. He mentioned her one day. Butch and I lit up thinking we should call, and we should ask. It’s very organic to do it that way, rather than calling through agents or something.

You worked during a fairly tumultuous time in the country. What were you thinking about when you put it together?

You can find a way to translate those things into an individual perspective without having to use a lot of words that I don’t think really sound good in a song … there are other ways to write about how they affect you as a person, how you see things, rather than hit the nail on the head.

Yes “Move the River” is a good metaphor, and it’ll endure.

Well, yeah, I appreciate that, thank you. Because that is how I prefer to do those things, rather than put buzz words in songs — thoughts and prayers, and all that. Like, it’s too timely. Songs should be timeless. So, that is a song where, yes, I did try to find a way to write about current times, [but] if you haven’t been paying attention, and you live under a rock, I hope you can still like the song without really caring what it’s about.

What are your memories of Tom Petty?

He was a huge impact on my life, my career. When I was a teenager, I got to watch him from side stage. I visualized forming my band in that same mold [as] the Heartbreakers. I thought that band could do anything, they’re one of the best American rock bands that we’ve had, so I thought that was a good starting place…. I found that with younger artists, he was only complimentary and encouraging, which is not always the case [with] some people from the generation before me. Maybe perhaps they feel threatened by the next generation. Which is ridiculous; if you’ve made your mark, you shouldn’t be worried about those things. I always found that Tom wanted the younger crowd to come in and be great, he wasn’t threatened … and he was encouraging, he understood that, in kind of a patriarchal parental tone, with a lot of artists. He wasn’t there to be competitive with you. He was encouraged, and he wanted to transfer that music, and he was so moved by younger people, he wanted them to be great. There’s a different spirit with everybody, and his was just very powerful and very strong. It was very positive.

Over 30 years of performing, what’s changed for you, and what’s stayed the same?

Well, that’s a broad question. A lot has changed. I don’t know that I’ve changed too much. The record business has really changed; I don’t know if there is one anymore. But that’s OK, things change. They have to, and you find other ways to do your thing, and hopefully make a living. People think that’s a dirty word, but everybody has to work. That’s what I chose to do a long time ago, and it’s treated me very well. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t remember, you know? It’s been a long time. I see pictures, it doesn’t look familiar, but I was there. It’s a long time for anybody to be doing any one thing, and sometimes I don’t believe that my first record was 30 years ago. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. But, you know, the calendar doesn’t lie.

Given your background, it seems inevitable that you’d become a musician…. However, early on you quit to study art in New York. You lasted a semester, then came back. What prompted you to go, and what made you come back?

Well, I generally was interested in the arts, all of it, [and] at that age — 18 or so — it was a good time. You don’t have to be sure. You don’t really have to make any real big decisions. I’d already been in bands, and I wanted to try art school. Part of me does regret that I didn’t stick it out longer, because there is room [and] time for everything. I may have stayed longer and still been in a band, I don’t know. But there’s also part of me that probably was hoping that I would go and find a real calling that might release me from the reality of myself being in a band and what that might involve, and that’s stupid. But ultimately the desire to play music won out.

Will you do another solo record?

I don’t know; that usually depends on the songs … my mood, where I’m living, how I feel. … My solo records have a very different context than The Wallflowers [but] there are just no rules. The only rule is you should do whatever you want.

The Wallflowers w/ Ari Hest
When: Friday, May 27, 8 p.m.
Where: Colonial Theatre, 609 Main St., Laconia
Tickets: $39 to $89 at coloniallaconia.org

Featured photo: Jakob Dylan. Photo by Yasmin Than.

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