Back in front

Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers return to NH

After months of livestreams, it felt good for Erin Harpe to finally see some real people from the stage of the Midway Café, a music club located a few blocks away from her Boston apartment. True, Harpe and her bass player/husband Jim Countryman stood behind sheets of plastic glass hung at face level — he called it “chicken wire for Covid-19” — but there was an actual crowd.

The late August set also played on her Facebook page.

“Even though the audience was small, it was really fun to play for them,” Harpe said recently by phone. “Even the people watching it streaming told me they enjoyed seeing them just hearing it.”

On Friday, Sept. 11, a four-piece version of her band Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers will perform an electric set at Zinger’s, as the Milford venue returns to live music and comedy. Joining Harpe and Countryman are drummer Shawn Meehan and harmonica player Jason Novak.

Inspired by artists like Memphis Minnie and Sippie Wallace, along with modern contemporaries Bonnie Raitt and Rory Block, Harpe and her mates serve up some of the region’s most authentic blues, singing and playing guitar. 2020 marks their tenth anniversary as a band. They began playing sit-down acoustic blues before ultimately plugging in.

They won a New England Music Award in 2019 for Blues Artist of the Year and are multiple Boston Music Award nominees, taking the blues trophy in 2012, and five-time Boston Blues Challenge champs.

Harpe just completed a new album, Meet Me In The Middle, her first all-acoustic effort in a dozen years. The LP was born out of a duo tour she and Countryman did in the U.K. last year. She explained that the material on it reflects a challenging period for the couple.

“It covers everything from loneliness to love, to getting along better,” Harpe said. “The last couple of years actually have been kind of tough for me and Jim. We’ve lost some family members and some fur baby family members, gone through different band members.”

There are a couple of gospel songs, including one she sang at a family funeral, along with “fun, upbeat stuff” like the rollicking “Women Be Wise,” with Harpe accompanying herself on kazoo. The record is slated for release in October.

Harpe grew up steeped in blues music; her father is also a performer, and the two have recorded together. But it wasn’t a given that child would follow parent. Harpe only began performing in earnest after college, when she moved to Boston at a friend’s behest and found a burgeoning open mic scene.

Meeting Countryman led to the formation of Lovewhip, a world music band quite different from what she grew up with. Harpe allows it was a rebellious act, though her dad “really doesn’t want to say that word out loud.” Harpe became a fan of African music while studying in Kenya.

“Lovewhip is just a rock dance band,” she said. “We’ve done everything from reggae and dancehall and Afropop to disco and funk and EDM.”

The group gained a quick following, including two famous fans who helped spotlight world music in the United States near the end of the 1970s: Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth, of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club.

“I grew up in the ’80s, I love the music and I love those guys,” Harpe said. “We actually wanted to meet them … and we ended up, well, not stalking them, but kind of trying to manifest a meeting. We ended up opening for them in Portland, Maine, and have become great friends.”

The Delta Swingers came about almost accidentally, when Lovewhip went to Austin to play a SXSW showcase in 2008. Harpe was approached by someone who’d heard her first album of solo acoustic blues recorded on a Minidisc player in 2000, and asked her to play an event called Not South By Southwest.

“It turned out that the blues was more popular than Lovewhip in Austin, Texas,” Harpe said. “We got up with this whole scene down there … country and bluegrass and rockabilly. They really embraced us. We got all this European radio play out of the couple performances we did there. After a couple of years of that, we said, ‘Let’s do a band around this.’”

Harpe looks forward to playing New Hampshire again, their first appearance in the state since Manchester’s Strange Brew a few weeks before the pandemic hit. Last fall they did one of the final shows at Riverwalk Café in nearby Nashua.

“We love Milford,” she said. “I think we have quite a few fans in the area, so hopefully we’ll see a lot of friends we haven’t seen in a while.”

Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers
When: Friday, Sept. 11, 8 p.m.
Where: Zinger’s, 29 Mont Vernon St., Milford
Tickets: $22 at

The Music Roundup 20/10/09

Local hero: Guests are welcome at a private club show by Chad LaMarsh, whose annual booze cruise was among the sadder casualties of this Covid-wracked season. In addition to being an endearing entertainer, with a set list including everything from Matchbox 20 to Nine Inch Nails, LaMarsh is a charitable guy, with his annual Bundle of Books Christmas CD. Friday, Sept. 11, 7 p.m., American Social Club, 166 Daniel Webster Hwy., Nashua; call for reservations, 255-8272.

Body double: The finale of Palace Theatre’s Socially Distant Concert Series stars Almost Queen. The name is an acknowledgement that “nobody could ever be Queen,” says Joseph Russo, who plays Freddy Mercury, though the New Jersey band does a convincing job of duplicating their visual elements, right down to Mercury’s mustache. Saturday, Sept. 12, 7 p.m., Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, 1 Line Dr., Manchester, $23 (four-ticket minimum) at

Funny man: Indoor entertainment is back at the Capitol Center as Juston McKinney performs for safely spaced out fans, part of his Comedy at a Distance tour. McKinney kept the laughter alive during quarantine but hit the stage soon after it was lifted. “Comedy is an art form that should be done in a controlled environment — sound, lights, crowd,” he said. Saturday, Sept. 12, 8 p.m., Bank of New Hampshire Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord. Tickets $29 at

Band stand: Enjoy an open rehearsal from Tall Granite Big Band, playing vintage music from the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey and Les Brown. There’s also ice cream treats and family attractions — a petting zoo, giant Tonka Toy sandbox, corn maze and pumpkins, a taste of autumn to come. Monday, Sept. 14, 5 p.m., Beech Hill Farm and Ice Cream Barn, 107 Beech Hill Road, Hopkinton, see

Ice cream and beer

Like a root beer float but with actual beer

I know, you can basically taste the pumpkin in the air right now. It is as if someone fired off a giant cannon filled with pumpkin spice the second September rolled around and now pumpkin flavor has permeated every nook and cranny of existence in New England.

Doesn’t matter where you turn: pumpkin.

I went to take the kids out for ice cream last week at a local spot and I know it’s hard to believe, but there was pumpkin ice cream on the menu. (And it’s quite good, OK?)

Full stop, though: This isn’t a story about pumpkin beer.

This is a story about the magic that occurs when you pair ice cream with beer. I’m not talking about beer-flavored ice cream. We’ll get to that at some point, too, I’m sure, but I’m talking about an ice cream float with beer.

This is a thing you can do. In fact, this is a thing you should do.

Am I saying you should take your $22 four-pack of some highly coveted double IPA and make ice cream floats with the beers? No. I’m not saying that and I feel like it’s more your fault that I had to say that.

This is where a malty beer is going to shine. Something like a Guinness would, of course, be spectacular, but you shouldn’t feel limited to that. I do want you to think about porters and stouts if you decide to go down this path — or a roasty, toasty brown ale, such as Kelsen Brewing Company’s Paradigm Brown or the Flapjack Maple Double Brown Ale by Henniker Brewing Company.

You can get creative. Have some fun with it. I love coffee stouts and porters and so I will take The Roast by Henniker Brewing Co. or or the Narragansett Coffee Milk Stout and pair them with coffee ice cream. Hello. That just makes sense to me and my taste buds appreciate it.

Same goes for chocolate lovers. Grab a Chocolate Milk Stout by Great North Aleworks or the Black Cat Stout by Portsmouth Brewery and pair them with vanilla or chocolate ice cream, or coffee ice cream, for that matter.

Milk stouts, which are a little sweeter and smoother, are another great choice for beer floats. Take a Left Hand Milk Stout and pair it with some quality vanilla ice cream. That same approach would work with drier stouts, like the RVP by Great North Aleworks or the Granite Stout by 603 Brewery.

I haven’t tried it but I see absolutely no reason why a bourbon or rum barrel-aged stout wouldn’t work here, like the RIS Bourbon Barrel by Stoneface Brewing Co. or the Zwart Bos by Throwback Brewery.

Really, it’s up to you. Think about the flavors you like in a beer (and in ice cream) and make some of your own magic. You’ll never go wrong using vanilla ice cream as your base, but coffee and chocolate ice creams can add a different dimension, especially when paired with a similarly chocolate- or coffee-flavored brew.

For that matter, take some of that pumpkin ice cream I mentioned and pair it with a pumpkin porter and, well, now we’re talking.

Procedurally, the process is simple. Take a frosty mug and fill it with the ice cream of your choosing. I mean, not the whole way but pretty close. Then, simply pour the beer — very slowly — over the ice cream. Grab a straw or a spoon or both and enjoy.

What’s in My Fridge
Subhunter Imperial IPA by Flight Deck Brewing (Brunswick, Maine)
This is an aggressive beer at 9.1 ABV, but it doesn’t drink like that. It even says that it’s “dangerously drinkable” on the can and that is 100-percent accurate. This is a really nice imperial IPA that is a little more malty than you might expect. This is one to seek out. Cheers!

In the kitchen with Beau Gamache

Beau Gamache of Manchester is the owner and founder of Ray Street Pizza (, and on Facebook and Instagram @raystreetpizza), which offers a variety of fresh cooked pizzas available for private events. As Gamache explains, pizza-making started as a hobby back in 2011, when his now-wife Maddie returned home from studying abroad in Italy and raved about the traditional margherita pizza there. After several years of trial and error mastering the basics of making a good-quality pizza dough and sauce, Gamache started an Instagram account in 2017 that was then known as “ThePizzaGram” before renaming it Ray Street Pizza. He’s dabbled in all kinds of pizzas, including plain cheese but also sweet pepperoni with a honey drizzle, a white pizza with balsamic reduction and arugula, and a sausage ricotta pizza, and has dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan options. He’s also made his own spin on a dessert pizza, featuring a cannoli filling base, Bananas Foster, a Nutella drizzle and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Eventually, Gamache said, he’d like to open his own brick-and-mortar gourmet pizza restaurant.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

It would probably have to be a pizza peel. In my opinion, the best pizza is cooked directly on stone, or on the surface of whatever oven you’re using.

Would what you have for your last meal?

Either my own cheese pizza or some Indian food. I really like paneer masala.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Republic [Cafe] and Campo [Enoteca in Manchester], a hundred percent. They’re called The Republic of Campo now, because they’re in the same building. The spicy whipped feta is really good. I also recently had the butternut squash ravioli there and it was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had.

What celebrity would you like to see trying one of your pizzas?

Anthony Bourdain, if he was still alive, or [Food Network host] Alton Brown.

What is your favorite pizza topping that you’ve made?

A nice crispy thick-cut pepperoni. … I like the crust super thin, but not too crunchy.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

I feel like there has been a lot of fusion going on, which is awesome.

What is your favorite thing to make at home?

I love to make guacamole, with a little bit of lime juice, fresh minced garlic, salt and pepper

Basil and kale pesto
Courtesy of Beau Gamache of Ray Street Pizza (can be used for white pizzas, fresh bread, pasta or any antipasti dish)
2 cups chopped kale
3 cups fresh basis
½ cup raw cashews, walnuts or pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon sea salt
A few pinches of pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
Combine kale, basil, cashews, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and vinegar in a food processor or immersion blender until smooth. Season with pepper and crushed red pepper to taste.

Mystery brews

Brewers Association to host drive-thru and virtual hybrid event

Back in May, the New Hampshire Brewers Association reimagined a traditional brewfest as an online event with livestreamed chats, trivia and more with local brewers. The event was so well-received that the association has created a new event to build on its success: a drive-thru and virtual tasting hybrid event where participants can purchase a “mystery mixed pack” of New Hampshire craft beers online, featuring selections from more than a dozen breweries.

From noon and 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, Backyard Brewery & Kitchen in Manchester will host curbside pickups. You won’t know what style of beer you get or which brewery it’s from until you come pick it up, although separate mixed packs of IPAs only are also available for the same price, Brewers Association Executive Director CJ Haines said. Participating breweries come from all over the state, including Manchester, Nashua and Concord, but also along the Seacoast and up in the Lakes Region and the White Mountains.

“Since you preorder them, you still get that element of surprise because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Haines said. “None of the packs are going to be the same sets of beers.”

The drive-thru entrance will be set up in the back parking area of Backyard Brewery, where staff will direct you to the curbside pickup tents. Each mystery pack you purchase includes special tasting classes (two with each six-pack and four with each 12-pack) and access to the virtual portion of the event. Festival T-shirts and sticker packs can also be preordered.

After you order your mystery beer packs, Haines said, a Facebook group link giving you access to the virtual tasting will be emailed to you up to 48 hours in advance. From 4 to 6 p.m. later that same day, staff members of the breweries represented in the mystery packs will be logging on to a livestream, while festival goers can share their own comments and photos to the group.

“The brewers will talk about their beers and might tell some stories behind them,” Haines said, adding that the content will still be available after 6 p.m. for those unable to tune in. Tickets for $5 each are also available for people who want to skip buying the mystery beers. All proceeds benefit the New Hampshire Brewers Association.

New Hampshire Brewers Drive-Thru/Virtual Tasting event
When: Saturday, Sept. 12; curbside beer pickups are from noon to 4 p.m., and virtual tasting is from 4 to 6 p.m.
Where: Curbside beer pickups are at Backyard Brewery & Kitchen (1211 S. Mammoth Road, Manchester)
Cost: “Mystery Mixed” packs are $35 per six-pack or $65 per 12-pack (IPA-only packs also available); ticket includes specialty tasting glasses (two per six-pack and four per 12-pack) and access to the virtual portion of the event (participants will receive a link sent to them upon their ticket purchase). Tickets to the virtual portion only are also available for $5.

Spirits of the Seasons

Seasons on Elm opens in Manchester

Season Brouillet never thought she’d open her own downtown cocktail bar. But when her cousins took over ownership of the Element Lounge in Manchester and later expressed interest in selling it, the central Massachusetts native, who had experience waitressing and running a cafe in Rhode Island, saw an opportunity to bring new life to the space.

That was back in January, she said. After several months of renovations, Seasons on Elm arrived in the Queen City on Aug. 19, featuring craft cocktails and food options like paninis, fried appetizers and salads.

“It’s definitely more of a bar setting, with light, easy comfort food,” Brouillet said of the new business. “I wanted it to be much more comfortable and welcoming.”

To create the cocktail menu, Brouillet recruited bar manager Sara Stapleford, who had experience at Fody’s Tavern in Nashua and Derry and at the Cork N Keg Grill in Raymond, while Jason Swiston, who most recently worked at Noodz, was brought in to oversee the kitchen.

Appetizers on the food menu include wings and tenders (served with your choice of barbecue sauce, Buffalo sauce, blue cheese dressing, ranch dressing or honey mustard), plus rosemary Parmesan fries, mozzarella sticks with marinara, fried pickles, bruschetta or tater tots. Salads are made fresh in house and include southwestern, caesar, chef and kale.

Among the most popular food options, Brouillet said, have been the paninis, which you can order on sourdough or wheat bread and choose french fries, coleslaw, tater tots or a salad for a side. The barbecue chicken panini has fried chicken, barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, onions and coleslaw, while a vegetarian option features zucchini, bell peppers, vegan mozzarella, onions and pesto. Other choices include turkey, apple, bacon and cheddar, a BLT panini, a three-cheese panini with American, cheddar and provolone cheeses, and an Italian panini with ham, salami, pepperoni, mozzarella, pepperoncinis and Italian dressing.

Just about every cocktail on the drink menu has been a hit during Seasons on Elm’s first few weeks, according to Brouillet, especially the Spiked Campfire iced coffee (with Kahlua liqueur, Godiva milk and white chocolate and Stoli vanilla vodka); the Dirty & Hot martini (with house jalapeno and pepperoncini-infused vodka, Tabasco sauce and olive juice); and the Cucumber Rose (with house cucumber-infused gin, elderflower liqueur, lime juice, simple syrup and soda water). Last week, the bar introduced several fall-inspired cocktail specials, like a pumpkin pie martini made with pumpkin puree and maple syrup; a maple apple cider smash; and a cider sangria with cinnamon, caramel and Smirnoff apple vodka.

So far, Seasons on Elm has been a hotspot with the late-night crowd, Brouillet said, but she’d like to expand the food menu soon and introduce more specials for earlier in the evening. A brunch menu on Sundays of breakfast-inspired paninis and cocktails like specialty bloody marys is also in the works down the line.

“Eventually I want to have a game area in the back room, and I also want to do live music out in front of the window,” Brouillet said. “I feel like there are a lot of possibilities for this space.”

Seasons on Elm
Where: 1055 Elm St., Manchester
Current hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. (may be subject to change)
More info: Visit, find them on Facebook and Instagram @seasonsonelm or call 606-1351

The Weekly Dish 20/09/10

Recipes from the heart: Join the Bookery (844 Elm St., Manchester) for a socially distanced book signing on Saturday, Sept. 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with Dawn Hunt of Cucina Aurora in Salem. Hunt will be presenting her new cookbook, A Kitchen Witch’s Guide to Recipes for Love & Romance, which was released on Aug. 25. The book explores food’s roles in self-love and relationships with personal anecdotes, spiritual techniques and more than 50 original recipes and illustrations. Featured foods include cinnamon crumb pound cake, avocado chocolate mousse, pomegranate mimosas, pork loin roast with cherries and red wine and more. Admission is free; masks are required. Copies of the book will be available for sale. Visit

Grapes galore: The Hollis Grape Festival returns for its fourth year on Sunday, Sept. 13, from 5 to 7 p.m. on the Hollis Town Common (Monument Square, Hollis). The event features a variety of Italian desserts and grape-themed goodies, in addition to photo opportunities in a grape-stomping barrel and a live performance from Joey Canzano. Admission is free, but signups online in advance are requested, by visiting Donations will also be accepted for the Hollis-Brookline Agricultural Scholarship Fund, the Hollis Police Benevolent Association and the Hollis Fire Department’s Explorers program.

A trip to Greece: Online ordering is available now for the next Greek food pop-up drive-through event at St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church (500 W. Hollis St., Nashua), happening on Friday, Oct. 2, and Saturday, Oct. 3, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. A follow-up to a similar event the church held in June, this next pop-up will include slow-fired spit-roasted lamb, pastichio (Greek lasagna), Greek meatballs, stuffed grape leaves with egg-lemon sauce, spanakopita and baklava, plus additional treats like galaktoboureko, a Greek custard baked in phyllo dough, and koulourakia (Greek butter cookies). Call-in orders are also accepted on either day of the event. Visit or call 889-4000.

New orchard directory: In line with the start of the apple picking season in the Granite State, the New Hampshire Fruit Growers Association has reimagined its member farm and orchard website directory for visitors to find where to pick their own apples, according to a press release. You can visit and click on the “find an orchard” tab, where you’ll be directed to a map of the state with icons for farm stands or stores, pick-your-own orchards and more. More than 50 varieties of apples are grown in New Hampshire, according to the release, including McIntosh, Cortland, Empire, Macoun, Gala, Mutsu and Honeycrisp.

Tenet (PG-13)

Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

John David Washington is exactly the A-list blend of dramatic gravitas and action chops that he appeared to be in BlacKkKlansman and watching him is the best part of Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s two-and-a-half-hour movie that has been saddled with the job of Saving Movie Theaters.

Will it save movies? According to Variety on Sept. 6, Tenet made a little over $20 million during Labor Day weekend in the U.S. and was at a worldwide total of around $146 million (it opened internationally before it hit screens in the U.S.). When I saw the movie on Sept. 1, I was one of six people in the screening room (which is actually not terrible for a mid-week 6 p.m. movie, based on my experience). So … we’ll see?

About the movie itself: I’ll try not to spoil anything major, but I don’t promise anything, partly because I’m not entirely sure what would be a spoiler. The most basic description for this movie I’ve seen is something like “spy action with sci-fi elements.” To me, it falls in the “Christopher Nolan genre”: There’s a lot of deep bass “wahm wahm”-ing on the score, there’s a pervading sense of doom, there’s a fun Michael Caine scene.

Washington, whose character doesn’t have a name (I didn’t notice that while I was watching it but searching around afterward everything just calls him The Protagonist, which is how he refers to himself a few times), is a CIA-or-something agent whom we first meet while he’s on a mission in the Ukraine. The mission goes sideways but, after some torture and stuff, he is rescued and told he is now part of an even more secret mission, one he is given very little information about other than the word “tenet” and a little fingers-clasp-y gesture.

He partners with Neil (Robert Pattinson), a British intelligence operative, who helps him unravel the origins of some strange weapons he first saw in Ukraine. The movie becomes a series of heists: get into this impregnable place to meet this person, weasel into the orbit of this other person, steal this thing from this other impregnable place, etc, all leading up to a big battle.

The deeper we get into this movie the more I started to see its similarities to the Bill & Ted movies; there’s a fair amount of “because phone-booth time machine, just go with it” (though, strictly speaking, Tenet isn’t about time travel in the phone-booth sense). And I’m OK with that. I don’t need to see the math — one of the flaws of this movie is that it does a little too much trying to explain the math to us. Basically, the core idea of Tenet is based on a cool visual effect. It’s pretty cool the first time you see it and pretty cool throughout. If sliced down to its central elements, a pretty cool visual effect, a very compelling performance by its lead (Washington) and interesting chemistry in the core partnership (Washington and Pattinson, who does solid work here), Tenet has good bones.


But the movie is at least 45 minutes longer than it needs to be. I get it — cool effect, look at all the ways we can use it. It gets exhausting after a while, especially in the final fight sequence, where I understood, in the macro sense, what was happening, but in the second-to-second sense it was frequently all a jumble of Stuff. I feel like we’re watching the same trick too many times and the more mechanics and repetition are piled on, the more the central performances and the urgency get lost.

Another “but”: I found myself annoyed by the handling of a character played by Elizabeth Debicki. I like Debicki (see also Widows) but there are a lot of irritating choices made with her. I don’t know that any of the Tenet characters act like recognizable humans but there are really only two female characters of any consequence and this one feels like she was written by an alien who has never met a woman.

The experience of watching Tenet was strange; I felt myself constantly alternating between thinking “ugh, enough, movie” and thinking “huh, cool.” The movie feels very self-aware, which I think is on purpose, but it is a little too impressed with its own cleverness. B-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language, according to the MPA on Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Tenet is two whole hours and then another 30 minutes on top of that and is distributed by Warner Bros. In theaters


Fathoms, The World in the Whale, by Rebecca Giggs (Simon & Schuster, 284 pages)

In July rescuers worked three days to free a humpback whale that had become entangled in 4,000 pounds of junk near the entrance to New York Harbor. This story had a happy ending; many do not, like the sperm whale found on the coast of Maine with a greenhouse in its stomach.

Yes, a greenhouse, full of tarps, ropes, flower pots and other necessities for growing tomatoes. Also found in the belly of the beast: a coat hanger, an ice cream tub and parts of a mattress. Suddenly the Book of Jonah doesn’t seem quite so fanciful.

“Like a chamber furnished for a prophet or castaway, these stomach contents recalled stories of people surviving inside whales,” writes Rebecca Giggs in her journey to “the world in the whale,” Fathoms.

This is the first book by Giggs, a nature writer in Perth, Australia, who has been compared to Rebecca Solnit (Drowned River) and Annie Dillard (The Abundance) but most reminds me of Diane Ackerman, the American poet and naturalist whose books include The Moon by Whale Light.

Like Ackerman, Giggs writes with a pen dipped in awe and approaches the natural world with reverence and curiosity. They also share an ability to say ordinary things in extraordinary ways, as when Giggs described a tired man with “fatigue pleated around his eyes” or says of a wet boat, “seawater griddles the windows.” In other words, they are not so much authors as poets.

Giggs begins with a riveting experience of attending the death of a whale on Australia’s coast, in her hometown. In nature, the death of a whale is called “whalefall,” a beautiful euphemism that describes how the whale’s body descends to the ocean floor, where it is food for a hidden ecosystem. “A whale in the wild goes on enriching our planet, ticktocking with animate energy, long after its demise,” she writes. “So the death of a whale proves meaningful to a vibrant host of dependent creatures, even as it may look senseless from the shore.”

The whale dying on the beach was not so beautiful, although Giggs manages to make it so, with her descriptions of a community that gathers around the whale in empathy.

As the whale wheezes and gasps over several days, surfers kneel, families take pictures, a woman tries to crown the whale with a wreath made of seagrass and flowers. (“It took three wildlife officers to pull her off the side of the whale, kicking.”) Giggs herself passes the time interviewing wildlife officers about why they can’t humanely euthanize the whale and why, when it dies, its body will be carted to a landfill. “The whale as landfill,” she writes. “It was a metaphor, and then it wasn’t.” She touches the whale and discerns its heartbeat, and then when it passes, launches an exploration of why whales, whose genetic ancestors go back 50 million years, elicit such emotion in humans and what is happening to them in a time of ecological change.

As made evident from her opening story about the greenhouse, Giggs is disturbed about how the detritus of capitalism is filling the ocean and its inhabitants. At least this cruelty to whales is unintentional, unlike in generations in past when we hunted the animals to near extinction. (As late as 1960 whales were the planet’s most economically valuable animal, commanding $30,000 per carcass, which amounts to about $260,000 today, Giggs says.)

She writes in unemotional detail of the boatside flaying of whales and how the whale, especially in the 19th century, was shockingly present in almost every aspect of life — from candles to oil to hair brushes to eyeglass frames to piano keys to the stuffing in sofas. Whales are not fish — they are mammals — but for a time, the Roman Catholic Church sanctioned their meat on Fridays during Lent. And during World War II, Americans were encouraged to eat whale meat in order to save beef for troops.

Fathoms is filled with interesting detail like this, and although she is not a journalist Giggs does a good job of separating myth from fact, while leaving open the prospect of mystery, as when a whale-watch captain explains the leaping of whales as nothing more than a grooming ritual, trying to get barnacles and lice off their skin. (Whales, it turns out, are lice-ridden, which you might want to remember if you ever come across one stranded on a beach.) Actually, some scientists believe that the leaping that so thrills whale watchers may enable communication with distant whales, and Giggs is not willing to discount the idea of play.

In all, Fathoms is a book of wonder, and although the American reader may occasionally tire of its focus on Australian events, Griggs is an accomplished tour guide to their complex world. B+

If you haven’t already taken a side, it’s time to choose: Team Dan or Team Blythe?
Dan, of course, is Dan Brown, one of New Hampshire’s most famous writers, and his former wife was said to have been a great part of his success. The pair that The Guardian once called a “formidable literary team” divorced last year, however, and recent headlines show that a “finalized” divorce is not necessarily final.
Blythe Brown, according to The Boston Globe and other news sources, is suing the The Da Vinci Code author saying that he withheld information about new projects, among other unethical behavior she alleges.
Those new projects, it’s been reported, include a TV series based on Brown’s popular character Robert Langdon, and a children’s book released recently.
It’s a pity that the scandal has eclipsed the publication of the children’s book, which looks simply delightful. Wild Symphony (Rodale, 44 pages), illustrated by freelance artist Susan Batori of Hungary, is the story of an all-animal symphony conducted by Maestro Mouse. It’s not just a book but an interactive experience, with a website (, app and accompanying songs composed by Brown, who was an aspiring musician before he became an author.
Brown is not the first author of adult books to later publish a children’s book. Others include Carson McCullers (Sweet as a Pickle and Clean as a Pig), William Faulkner (The Wishing Tree), Aldous Huxley (The Crows of Pearblossom), Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond books, who also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and of course C.S. Lewis, equally famous for his Christian apologetics like Mere Christianity and his children’s books set in Narnia (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, among them).
There’s also E.B. White, who was a staff writer for The New Yorker and co-authored a classic book on writing, The Elements of Style, before going on to write children’s classics like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.
Another already famous writer has a children’s picture book in the works: J.K. Rowling’s The Ickabog, set for publication in November. Rowling and Brown will have to sell a lot of books, however, to compete with the best-selling children’s book of this week, also by an unexpected author: I Promise by LeBron James, the NBA superstar, is an aspirational book for preschoolers up to grade 3, illustrated by Nina Mata.

Album Reviews 20/09/10

Brothertiger, Paradise Lost (Satanic Panic Records)

Honestly, I haven’t come this close to burning a promo CD for personal use in I don’t know how long (shut up, that’s how us old-time music critics roll, because we refuse to pay one red cent for streaming services, given that we literally own enough beloved CDs to cover a football field). This Brooklyn-by-way-of-Ohio chillwave guy (John Jagos) really opens his soul with this one, and it’s a very warm welcome. Right off, the record is like waking up in a Maldives hut and diving right into the crystal-clear water to hang with the crew of sea turtles who’ve gathered to mooch your breakfast scraps. I love everything about it (I suppose I should disclaim right here that I feel right at home with albums like Moby’s Play, and some of that vibe — the mellowest side of it — is inherent in the sort of electronic pop this fellow favors), a set of sinfully sweet tunes over which Jagos’ pliable voice simply glides. If you’d like to hear Above & Beyond release a singles-oriented album, it’d be a lot like this. Awesome stuff. A+

Shira, Birds of a Feather [EP] (self-released)

My blackened soul can only tolerate so much American Idol-sounding stuff, even when the singer isn’t someone I take a visceral disliking to right off the bat, but I was impressed enough that this New Yorker had gotten some press love from the New York Times that I immediately decided she was Going To Be Important In Some Way. No, that’s a lie; I got roped into this when I noted that she called herself a “fairy-folk” artist, you know, like Tinkerbell, and sure, she is something like that, I suppose. Her voice is undeniably huge in this EP’s title tune, switching deftly between a Sarah McLachlan-esque sound to big-top Celtic Woman mode, where she demonstrates that she could definitely blow away an arena-load of over-perfumed grandmothers. She’s a work in progress, certainly; in “Usually” she switches over to ’90s radio-folk and tables what comes off like (top-notch) Jewel karaoke. But sure, fairy folk. I don’t hate the idea. B

Retro Playlist

Eric W. Saeger recommends a couple of albums worth a second look.

It’s true that the Covid-19 pandemic has spelled doom for a lot of businesses. It’s destroyed a lot of individuals and families as well, of course, people who’ve looked on as their savings melt away to nothing. For now, though — and you may have noticed signs of this on social media — others are pretty chill about it. Financially secure retirees with savings, pensions and Social Security income are doing OK. I know some of them. They’re taking it in stride, living relatively happy lives, minding their due diligence with regard to social distancing, wearing a mask and all that (I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my circle who’s still militant about wearing disposable gloves, and have no plans to stop, especially after plague expert Laurie Garrett said she uses them religiously). One such guy is a local author whose Facebook output often consists of first-world-problem-type griping, but as well a lot of “life is good” observations. Not much choice, really; he’s got good scotch, which always helps.

Anyhow, a crew of us old writer grumps had a little Facebook discussion the other day about “yacht rock,” a genre that’s actually very relaxing, even if it’s mocked and detested by a ton of people. “Yacht rock” is stuff you’d hear, well, on yachts: Toto, Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins, and, the guy I nominated as the absolute worst yacht-rocker of all, Michael McDonald. McDonald’s dreadful doggy-voice ruined the Doobie Brothers when he took over as lead singer, and he didn’t do Mr. Cross any favors either with his unintentionally hilarious turn on “Ride Like The Wind.”

I don’t mind yacht-rock; in fact, I caught a little flack during that online exchange for saying that I actually like Cross’s “Sailing” (from his self-titled 1979 debut LP). I’m a sucker for Toto’s “Africa,” too (from 1981’s Toto IV).

Michael McDonald’s voice is another thing altogether, though. Trust me, one note from that horrible voice of his when I’m on hold or trapped at a Hannaford supermarket, and I just want to run into the street, screaming like a loon. Hatred.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Email for fastest response.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Stop this crazy calendar thing, summer’s totally over, I give up. The next general CD-release Friday date is Sept. 11, and there will be CDs released that day, so as not to make me look stupid. English art-rock band Everything Everything will personally assist me in this endeavor by releasing their first LP in three years, Re-Animator, just in time! Like everyone else in America, you probably haven’t heard of this awesome band, because they haven’t done a booty-shake collaboration with Nicki Minaj or whoever, which is all it really takes in order to make it big in America! But that’s OK, because I will tell you about them, by covering their new single, “In Birdsong,” a tune that starts out basically like a Nintendo-cheese nonsense song from Postal Service but then becomes an epic experiment in soundscaping, incorporating the soaring vocal dramatics of Elbow and swooshing, rootsy ’80s synth-prog. It is cool, so I will use reverse psychology on your brain: do not listen to this song. There, maybe that’ll work for once.

• Wayne Coyne, the leader of the Flaming Lips, is from Pittsburgh, which pretty much explains everything. The band is now based in Oklahoma, which also explains everything. No, I kid; the Flaming Lips, they are a great band, if you’re in your 60s and grew up wishing that someday you’d have a band to listen to that sounded like a cross between Captain Beefheart and a synthesizer being assaulted by a drunken groundhog. As usual, I don’t expect to be into whatever nonsense I’m about to hear from the band’s new album, American Head, but some of you love the Flaming Lips (right?) and so I shall endeavor to listen to the new song “Will You Return/When You Come Down” with an open mind, prepared to hold down my rather large lunch. Right, they’re singing in annoying falsetto, as always, and the melody is basically, as always, a variation on a Beatles song, “Don’t Let Me Down” in this case. You really like this stuff? Well, then, by all means, enjoy.

• Oh, why not, more falsetto, this time on “Prisoners,” the new single from The Universal Want, the latest from U.K. post-Britrock dudes Doves. Oh wait, the falsetto stopped, and now it sounds like Coldplay. The song seems to be about the existential angst of everyday working people who choose the wrong girlfriends, but whatever they’re babbling about, it’s a bummer. That’s just what we need in these times, sadboy-indie songs that sound like Coldplay.

• To end this week’s roundup on a hilarious note, Marilyn Manson is here, with a new album, called We Are Chaos! Nowadays, Marilyn is the only one left whose name comes from that super-adorable combination of famous-model/actress-and-last-name-of-serial-killer, because Twiggy Ramirez is long gone, and so is Ginger Fish (get it?). Oh whatever, “We Are Chaos” indeed, let’s see what the title track sounds like. Huh, this song is pretty dumb, just like everything else they’ve done since “Beautiful People.” Why is Marilyn wearing the same grillz on his teeth as Jared Leto when he (unfortunately for all humanity) played the Joker? Why would anyone do that? — Eric W. Saeger

Local bands seeking album or EP reviews can message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

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