Playing out, in

Winter Warmer showcases regional talent

The spark for Winter Warmer, a virtual music festival that kicked off Jan. 16, came in the sweltering days of August. Along with fellow musician Nick Phaneuf, Mike Effenberger and his wife, videographer Amanda Kowalski, produced an outdoor, multi-camera video project and came away elated with the results.

As they watched the playback, the thought occurred to them that filming a series of professionally staged shows could provide a boost to the area scene when gigs grew scarce. They reached out to Martin England, who frequently uses his barn, dubbed North Buick Lounge, for house concerts. With plenty of space and good ventilation, it was a perfect venue for what they had in mind, Phaneuf said in a recent joint interview with Effenberger.

“The idea was to film when it was warm and safe, so that musicians could … monetize their work in the winter by having a high-quality concert to sell tickets to,” he said. “It would keep the local audience engaged with the scene by providing them with content to keep them caring.”

Area bands, spanning multiple genres, jumped on board immediately. Eleven sets were shot over two weekends, straddling the end of September and the start of October. The first performance filmed was by Boston rap group STL GLD (pronounced “Still Gold”). Effenberger wasn’t sure how the neighbors would react, even though they’d been advised of the plans.

“It’s 11 in the morning and there’s high-volume hip-hop happening that was exciting and briefly nerve-racking, but nobody complained,” he said. “Their set was incredible.”

The livestreams premiered in mid-January with New Orleans channelers Soggy Po’ Boys, and the March 27 finale stars Dan Blakeslee and the Calabash Club. Effenberger and Phaneuf are members of both groups. Upcoming shows include bluegrass from Green Heron (Jan. 23), Americana trio Young Frontier (Feb. 27) and harmony-rich quartet River Sister (March 20).

Phaneuf’s favorite was Seacoast rockers Rick Rude.

“I’ve only got to see them a couple of times over the years, and it was great being up close while we were capturing the concert,” he said. “Their music is joyful and chaotic, in all the best ways. That was a refreshing set to listen to.”

A key benefit for participating musicians is that they’ll retain full ownership of their performance video.

“Creating high-quality content that the bands could then continue to monetize or utilize after the series is done” was a key goal of the effort, Phaneuf emphasized. “We feel pretty good as an outcome of this that we can give them that.”

Both Effenberger and Phaneuf had a limited schedule during 2020, but when they did perform, they were pleased by the outpouring of support from the community.

“I was personally blown away at the dollar value that people put on the thing that we do,” Phaneuf said. “Doing this for a living, you spend at least some amount of your time as musical wallpaper. … You’re seen and not heard. People paying $50 to lock down a table at a Portsmouth pop-up to hear a show made me feel the community really valued music more than I thought they did. It was sort of an ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ situation, where there was less music, but the audience dedication to being at those shows was impressive.”

Effenberger liked how venues adapted, and how a few new ones sprouted up overnight. “It was an uphill battle,” he said, noting a farm in Kensington that “simply built a stage and bought a PA, and said, ‘Let’s do this and see if the community bites’ — and they did.”

Almost all the money from Winter Warmer will go to the artists, with five percent benefiting Continuum Arts Collective, an effort run by Martin England that puts musical instruments and equipment in the hands of kids who don’t have access. The series also received critical assistance from Seacoast nonprofit Project MusicWorks.

Shows will be available for viewing after they premiere, for the rest of 2021.

“We’re encouraging people to have a group experience,” Phaneuf said, “but if you miss it on that Saturday, you can watch it later.” Winter Warmer Online Concert Series

Winter Warmer Online Concert Series
Shows debut on Saturdays at 8 p.m. on

Premiere dates:
Green Heron, Jan. 23
Rick Rude, Jan. 30
STL GLD, Feb. 6
Jim Dozet Band Record Release Show, Feb. 13
Jazzputin and the Jug Skunks, Feb. 20
Young Frontier, Feb. 27
Earthkit, March 6
Sojoy, March 13
River Sister, March 20
Dan Blakeslee and the Calabash Club, March 27

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 21/01/21

Rocker: When playing plugged in with his band, Max Sullivan can positively wail, channeling guitar gods from Jimmy Page to Stevie Ray. Solo, Sullivan gets soulful, doing a cool version of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” and the Stevie Wonder groove fest “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” His set list mixes things up; he can pivot to punk rock as easily as to a Motown hit. Thursday, Jan. 21, 5:30 p.m., Homestead Restaurant & Tavern, 641 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack, 429-2022.

Twanger: Start the weekend with comfort food and country comfort as Eric Grant performs solo at a Lakes Region haven. Over a dozen years fronting his eponymous band, the singer, songwriter and guitarist has won awards and a solid following, opening for stars like Blake Shelton, Lady A, Sugarland and others. “Who Would You See,” his 2017 tribute to a friend and fan who battled cancer, is a gem. Friday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m., 405 Pub & Grill, 405 Union Ave., Laconia, 524-8405

Joker: While the quest for herd immunity goes on, laughter is a great medicine; Brian Beaudoin will provide plenty. The veteran comic performs consecutive nights, drawing from absurdities in everyday life while engaging in crowd banter to hilarious effect. He’s won awards in his home state of Rhode Island, including the annual Comic Throwdown’s Grand Prize. Friday, Jan. 22, and Saturday, Jan. 23, 8 p.m., Chunky’s Cinema & Pub, 707 Huse Road, Manchester. Tickets $20 at

Etcher: Live music is back at a Queen City craft brewery as Nate Cozzolino entertains. The Providence singer-songwriter has serious guitar prowess and an ethereal vocal delivery; writer Vic Garbarini likened him to “early Van Morrison,” calling him “one of the most promising artists working today.” Along with his musical prowess, Cozzolino is a talented visual artist; his etched glass work is particularly striking. Saturday, Jan. 23, 4 p.m., To Share Brewing, 720 Union St., Manchester, 836-6947.

Promising Young Woman (R) – One Night in Miami (R) – News of the World (PG-13)

Promising Young Woman (R)

Carey Mulligan plays a woman who can’t move on from the wrong done to her friend and the resulting devastation in Promising Young Woman, a dark, occasionally darkly funny, brutal revenge thriller that is expertly well made.

Promising Young Woman is so much more emotionally torturous than comes across in the trailers, which highlight the revenge element but serve it up with dark humor. While it does have dark humor, actually seeing the story play out and knowing the characters, makes everything so much grimmer. I’ve read and heard lots of commentators point this out but it’s worth really highlighting this fact now that the movie is available for home viewing. (I believe this movie is still in area theaters as well.) Be warned: This is not a “bad-girl” funny good time.

That said, this is also an exceptionally well-made movie. It is surgical in its writing; every line has a point. It looks great; so much care has clearly been taken with every shot and with where characters are in the frame and where the movie is directing you to look. I was amazed with how it is all staged and how everybody is costumed and how that all works into what is being conveyed with each scene.

And the performances are strong. Carey Mulligan brings a lot of layers to Cassie, a 30-year-old woman who is stuck in her grief. During the day, Cassie is being her “real” self — but with a wall of dry humor and disinterest to keep people at arms length.

At night, Cassie goes out as someone else. She’s made up and dressed up and nearly-falling-down drunk. Or really “drunk,” because the unsteady walk and halting speech are just an act. Eventually, some Nice Guy (played by Adam Brody or Sam Richardson or Christopher Mintz-Plasse) comes over to “help her,” to “protect her from those jerks.” This seems to eventually involve taking her to their house, offering her more intoxicants and starting to make out with her, or really make out on her because she doesn’t engage. And then, suddenly, she soberly looks them in the eyes and asks them what they think they’re doing, to their absolute terror.

Cassie does this in the name of Nina, her best friend from childhood through their time in medical school. We learn piece by piece that something terrible happened to Nina, who is always talked of in the past tense. The terrible thing — which the movie makes clear involved sexual assault even before we know the details — has traumatized Cassie too. She lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown), who seem supportive but also scared and sad for their daughter. She works at a coffee shop and won’t even consider the promotion offered by her kind boss (Laverne Cox). And she has no contact with any other friends or anybody from school, at least until Ryan (Bo Burnham) comes into the shop and, after some chat, asks her out. She is wary with him too but slowly starts to wonder if maybe he really is a nice guy and maybe there could be more to her future.

This movie is written and directed by Emerald Fennell (known, as an actress, for roles in Call the Midwife and The Crown). This is her first feature-length movie, which makes the excellence in execution seem all the more extraordinary. I heard somebody on a podcast (maybe This Had Oscar Buzz) compare her to Jordan Peele and his initial outing Get Out and I thought of that comparison while watching the movie. There is a similar thoughtfulness and preciseness in both movies. It’s rare to see someone completely ace their first outing the way Peele did and Fennell does here. I don’t know that I’ll ever bring myself to watch this movie again but I can’t wait to see what she does next. A

Rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, some sexual material and drug use, according to the MPA on Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed by Focus Features. It is in local theaters and available for rent.

One Night in Miami (R)

Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown hang out together after Ali’s fight with Sonny Liston in One Night in Miami, a movie based on a play of the same name and directed by Regina King.

You can still feel the play in elements of this movie, which is largely made up of the four men hanging out in a hotel room, talking and arguing. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir); Muhammad Ali, still going by Cassius Clay (Eli Goree); football player-turned-actor Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) gather in Malcolm’s room after the fight in 1964. The plan is to have a party but Malcolm offers only vanilla ice cream and conversation. Cassius is on the verge of announcing his conversion to Islam. Malcolm seems proud but also conflicted — he is in the process of making a break from the Nation of Islam. Jim has recently shot his first movie and seems to be considering leaving the NFL. Sam is preparing for a show at a venue where he previously bombed — and working on some new music. The friendship of these men is strong but the momentum of their own careers and their various approaches to the civil rights movement are points of friction between them.

To some extent the movie at its core is “just” conversation, but it’s engrossing conversation between people who feel multidimensional, with more layers than just “history’s Malcolm X.” We see just enough of these men’s lives to get a hint of what they’re bringing into the room, their hopes, their insecurities, what things inform their point of view.

The performances here are stellar across the board but I will admit that my eyes kept landing on Odom and his take on Cooke. He plays Cooke as someone who is canny about his profession and how to make it make money for himself and for other African American artists but he still has those desires to say something more through his songs. Maybe Hamilton just sort of taught me to look for “guy working at several levels” from Odom but I feel like he’s doing it again here and it pulls his Cooke to the center of the story even if Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali have the bigger personalities. A

Rated R for language throughout, according to the MPA on Directed by Regina King with a screenplay by Kemp Powers (who also wrote the play), One Night in Miami is an hour and 54 minutes long and is distributed by Amazon Studios and available via Amazon Prime.

News of the World (PG-13)

Tom Hanks plays the Tom Hanks character who is unexpectedly tasked with bringing an orphan to her distant relatives in post-Civil War Texas in News of the World.

This is basically Hanks’ Greyhound if you replace “get convoy of ships to the U.K.” with “get little girl to the Texas Hill Country” and “outrun Nazi submarines” with “outrun Old West-y villains.”

I mean that in the best way; I liked Greyhound. Here as there, Hanks is a man who calls on his quick thinking and basic decency to complete his hero’s journey. Is chicken parm the most inventive dish in the world? No, but few things are better than a really good chicken parm. Hanks is serving up some very classic cuisine and doing it expertly.

Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), mostly just called Captain, was once a Confederate soldier but he seems very “bind up the nation’s wounds” for some “just and lasting peace” about the whole thing. Now, 1870-ish, he travels the Texas countryside and reads newspapers to audiences who pay a dime a person for this in-person Walter Cronkite action. Captain is lively but down the middle with his news reading, not allowing meetings to turn into anti-federal-troops gripe sessions, for example.

While on the road, he comes across a wrecked wagon and an African American federal agent who has been lynched — which, the movie makes clear, Captain finds appalling. He figures out that the man was tasked with transporting Johanna (Helena Zengel), the young blonde girl hiding nearby, who had been living with the Kiowa tribe. When the Kiowa were forced off their land, Johanna’s Kiowa parents were killed and Johanna, who only knows her name as “Cicada,” found herself orphaned for a second time. She lost her biological parents as a young girl when their settlers’ village was raided. She doesn’t appear to retain any memory of that life — or of being called Johanna — and doesn’t speak English.

Captain tries to turn her over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the next town but he’s told that the agent won’t be back for months. Eventually he agrees to take her on the several weeks’ drive south to find a biological aunt and uncle. Along the way they encounter various people who want to kill (or in Johanna’s case, kidnap) them, but Captain’s Hanks-y cleverness helps them deal with dicey situations. To pay for their journey, he continues his news-reading work, with Johanna collecting dimes from the crowd and learning to enjoy his stories.

There is nothing surprising here but everything here is done really well. Zengel is a solid child actor, communicating a lot with her face. Hanks, of course, is top notch, turning in the high-quality performance that seems like rote for him but is really the demonstration of extraordinary skill. Director Paul Greengrass is able to show us a country still mired in all kinds of conflict and aware of what our modern opinions will probably be without turning Captain into some kind of anachronistic saint. Even when the movie veers into “OK, this is a bit much” it is able to pull off the sandstorms and the town full of weird and violent separatists thanks to the skill of everybody involved. B

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, thematic material and some language, according to the MPA on Directed by Paul Greengrass with a screenplay by Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies (from a novel by Paulette Jiles), News of the World is an hour and 58 minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios. It is playing in local theaters and available for rent.

Featured photo: Promising Young Woman (R)

Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs by Andrew Cotter

Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs by Andrew Cotter (The Countryman Press, 205 pages)

During the Covid lockdown, a few creative and bored people entertained themselves by making videos and posting them online. Some people lip-synced Trump’s speeches. Some put events to music. Professional sportscaster Andrew Cotter narrated his two Labrador retrievers eating breakfast.

The video of Olive and Mabel was cute, and most internet people agreed that it was clever to hear the routine canine event treated as if it were high sport. It served as a much-needed break from the tediousness and frustration of not being able to go to live sports events. Soon Cotter created more videos featuring his dogs.

The videos all went viral on Twitter. And, from this experience, Cotter wrote the book Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs.

When I’ve taught writing classes and we discuss memoirs, I tell my students that with this genre in particular you have to be careful.

A person winning a $20 million lottery is not a compelling story.

A person winning a $20 million lottery and then using that money to build wells in Africa or to create educational systems that change people’s lives is a compelling story.

In this case, Cotter simply won the internet lottery. Which makes this a very non-compelling story. It’s a tale retrofit to justify the emergence of a good idea for videos.

All true dog lovers treat their dogs like children and shower them with love, but other than simply being pets these two dogs are not extraordinary in any way. They didn’t save Timmy from the well like Lassie did. They didn’t alert anyone to an impending epileptic seizure. These two dogs simply grew up together in a household. There is no real plot or journey line in this book. It’s simply a story about two good dogs who belong to an unemployed sportscaster.

Beside there being no journey or plot in this book, there is also a significant issue with the author’s voice. He is clever, he is witty. But it’s to the point where every paragraph has some kind of snarky comment or joke in it. This causes a problem for the reader because it quickly becomes apparent that you can’t trust what the author is saying. While reading a sentence, I found myself constantly wondering if this was factual or if it was a setup for a joke. Losing faith in a reader’s message is the kiss of death for any book.

It’s clear that Cotter is not a writer. Oh, to be sure, he wrote a book (won the lottery again!) but to those of use who are writers, it feels like cheating. He is not disciplined. There is no solid construction to the story. It simply exists as a retelling of fond dog memories with a lot of jokes tucked in.

“All I would say is that despite the fact that our house is not what it was and the sofas are now a hue that a paint catalog might call ‘Displeasingly Off-Beige’ in their color chart, despite the fact that all clothes are now made of a dog-hair blend and getting more than six hours sleep is a thing of the past, despite the fact that their wants and needs can seem to rule our day, I couldn’t imagine ever living that clean, tidy, sane, dog-free life again.”

And yes, that paragraph was one sentence.

On the plus side, anyone who has raised dogs will be able to relate (somewhat) to the stories of puppy love and damage, new dogs in the house, and going on walks with your best buds. I’m just not sure that that connection is enough to hold anyone’s attention for the entire book.

And in the way that I was one of the few people who actually enjoyed the chapter on the history of whaling in Moby Dick, I did find the chapter on how the Labrador breed came to be interesting. I actually learned a few things that I hadn’t known, so for that I am grateful to this book.

Look, I take no pleasure in giving a book a bad review. I hope to be published myself someday and I know it would break my heart if someone didn’t like or appreciate my work. But I’m here to tell you my book review opinions based on my reading and writing experiences.

If you are thinking about what book to read next, you’d be doing yourself a big favor by taking a pass on this one. C-

Wendy E. N. Thomas

Book Clubs

Author events

REBECCA CARROLL Author presents Surviving the White Gaze. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., Feb. 2, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit

SUSAN CONLEY Author presents Landslide. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Online, via Zoom. Thurs., Feb. 11, 7 p.m. Registration required. Visit or call 224-0562.

DIANE REHM Author presents When My Time Comes. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., Feb. 23, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit

THERESA CAPUTO the star of TLC’s Long Island Medium will present “Theresa Caputo: The Experience Live” at the Capitol Center for the Arts (44 S. Main St. Concord, on Wed., April 7, 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $39.75 (with option for a VIP Photo Op for an additional $49.95).

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit or call 836-6947.


FRENCH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE CLASSES Offered remotely by the Franco-American Centre. Six-week winter session runs Jan. 21 through Feb. 25, with classes held Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Spring session dates TBA. $225. Visit or call 623-1093.

Special events

EXETER LITFEST Literary festival will feature local authors, keynote speaker Victoria Arlen, book launches, a Saturday morning story hour for kids, and programs on various topics including publishing tips, mystery writing and homeschooling. Hosted virtually via Zoom by Exeter TV. Thurs., April 1, through Sat., April 3. Free and open to the public. Visit

Featured photo: Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs

Album Reviews 21/01/21

M Ward, Think of Spring (Anti Records)

Sorry I missed the PR email when this CD came out officially on Dec. 11, but better late than never, I always say. I assume you’re aware of Ward’s collaborations with Monsters of Folk, Norah Jones, Bright Eyes and all that, but maybe you’ve passed on his solo stuff, which does have a tendency to be a bit sparse. Good news is that sparse is the perfect way to be if one wants to cover Billie Holiday’s entire Lady In Satin album and be somewhat edgy at the same time. That record was her final one, released in 1958, and it, like other examples of her output, was a big inspiration to Ward, who pays a sort of alternate-universe tribute to it. Ward’s mumbly voice is nothing compared to Holiday’s, of course, and the production is not much beyond boombox level, but poignance and sincere reverence do drip from his stabs at “It’s Easy To Remember” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” among all the others. There’s an odd sort of verisimilitude at work either way; Holiday’s version came out when her voice was largely trashed, whereas Ward’s voice has always been, you know, a non-starter or whatever. B+

The Avalanches, We Will Always Love You (Astralwerks Records)

Another bit of catch-up here, the most recent LP from the criminally underreported (at least in the U.S.) Australian electronic duo, who’ve counted none other than Baltimore-based rapper Spank Rock as one of their touring members. These guys originally came up in the late ’90s, hoping to make it big (if you count bands like Drive Like Jehu as “big”) in the OG-emo scene, and those roots are part of why they’re so rich and delicious: They’re mildly noisy, in fact no-fi at times, but still a good choice for afterparty vibe. This time, guests include Orono, MGMT, Neneh Cherry and wait, what former Clash band member Mick Jones. As you can tell, it’s one of those Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World-style cameo-fests, and the vibes are, by and large, up to the task. The title track is old-school Moby-ish pseudo-soul stuff; “We Go On” is throwback disco as put through a deep house filter; “Until Daylight Comes” gives us a broke-down trip-hop effort from a perfectly placed Tricky. A+

Retro Playlist

Exactly 10 years ago to the week, I covered a couple of albums that were actually in my sweet spots, even if they were a bit disparate in their target audiences. Of the Jan. 18, 2011, release from Decemberists, The King Is Dead, I blathered, “With the one-off ‘concept album’ experiment from Decemberists that was 2009’s Hazards of Love now in the books, the band turns again to the hayloft-indie space while claiming that three-minute pop songs are more difficult to put together than conceptual magnum opuses.” What I was implying with that little mouthful was that they were trying to edge toward more commercial things, but — wait, calm down, I didn’t hate the band for selling out a little. I was pretty nice to this album, actually. Aside from not outright complaining about Peter Buck’s completely unnecessary guest shot, I also gave them props for the album’s curve balls: “a grog-and-whaling accordion/fiddle break in the wry mining storyteller ‘Rox in the Box’; a nod to Jimmy Buffett in the sedate, Christmasy ‘January Hymn’; and some not-unlikeable NASCAR bluegrass (‘All Arise’). It’s an OK album, see, even if half your friends will assume it’s an Arcade Fire joint and judge it accordingly.

The other bit that week was Tao of the Dead, from And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. Now there’s a band I can only like so much, which isn’t to say I dislike them, just that nowadays I find them about as compelling as a PBS workout video. Sure there were moments of heaviness, which, come on, is their real selling point (“The sounds spring from ideas Blue Oyster Cult, Offspring, Foo Fighters and Minus the Bear could have had, meaning you stubborn old-schoolers will have to allow for Hello Kitty-fied half-punk whimsy between the walls of noise, which are, I assure you, psycho-heavy at times [‘Weight of the Sun’].” But in the end, the band itself is their biggest problem; their indie-ness is an obvious handicap, as I alluded to later: “…imagine Foo Fighters trying to write a sequel to Tommy while being very mindful of their limits in both technical aptitude and imagination, but a little more interesting than that.”

Both albums, then, belonged in the “better luck next time” bin.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• The Jan. 22 general-CD-release-date is just about here, which can only mean one thing: some indie band from Canada is about to break it big, if by “big” we mean city bus fare totally covered and enough money to take the whole fam to Burger King. No, I’m kidding, this band called Kiwi Jr., which is from Toronto, was probably in Nylon magazine, and if so, the reviewer put down their vape pen just long enough to go straight into glitch-mode and make up some nonsense words to describe the band’s first album, whatever it was called. But now this weirdo band is on Sub Pop Records, so all of us actual critics have to put down our vape pens in an elegant, refined manner and pretend we’re paying attention to the band’s upcoming new album, Cooler Returns, because otherwise we’ll be considered hacks who don’t know what we’re talking about, as if we ever do. They have a weird stream-of-consciousness trip going on, although to be honest the weirdness mostly appears to stem from stupid nonsensical lyrics (“Throwing dead birds into the air, singing howdy neighbours how’d you like my new ride?”). I mean, the title track is nice and jangly and stupid, like, if you like hopeless college-rock nonsense like Parquet Courts or Franz Ferdinand you might dig it, and at least there’s a dated-sounding stun-guitar solo at the end that might impress you, if you’re impressed that the guitarist for a hipster band would even learn how to play a guitar solo.

• Speaking of sophomore albums I’m not particularly excited to have to deal with, Austin, Texas, soundsystem Thee Conductor is releasing Spirit Of A Ghost this week. I call this twosome a soundsystem because it’s basically two guys, a producer and an engineer, and that’s it, but this time they have help on the vocal end from Bonnie “Prince” Billy (a.k.a. Will Oldham), on the single “Tsk Tsk,” a track steeped in slow finger-picked acoustic guitar and made more than palatable by Oldham’s voice. The fadeout is decent, as the guitar is suddenly drowned in UFO noise, but not before the thing has sort of taken hold of your brain as a chill earworm. I don’t hate it in any way, which automatically makes this column a rare collectible that you should pass on to your grandchildren.

• Delving further into the paltry amount of new albums to talk about his week, the mostly obscure electronic dance guy known as TRZTN is New Yorker Tristan Bechet, whose new album, Royal Dagger Ballet, is on the Walmart trucks for delivery as we speak. The album cover is deconstructionist and kind of gross, but that only means that it’s Important, but remember, if you ever hope to be cool, learn to love art that grosses you out. Jonathan Bree guests on the single “Mirage,” a sexytime deep-techno joint made out of faraway-sounding vocals and pseudo-’80s Stranger Things vibe.

• Finally, we have James Yorkston And The Second Hand Orchestra’s new LP, The Wide Wide River, a pretty cool record if you like emo for grown-ups, a la Elbow and such. Album opener “Ella Mary Leather” has a bonky but tasteful piano line, a bit like Ben Folds, of course, but more refined.


One fairly common New Year’s resolution is to read more classics of literature. I didn’t actually make that resolution this year, because I really don’t need any more sources of failure and self-recrimination. But that said, I’m probably ahead of the game and have read more classic literature during the first few weeks of this year than many people who did make that resolution.

To wit, 1951’s The Holiday Drink Book.

I did rather well for myself over the holidays and was given several antique cocktail books, this being easily the most festive.

Is it dated? Yes. Does it include dated references to ingredients — claret or sauterne, for example — that we don’t use anymore? Undoubtedly. Does it include unfortunate illustrations of leprechauns, cannibals and serving wenches? Um, yes. That, too.

That said, given the first few weeks of this new year, I think we could all use a stiff drink. And if you are looking for a stiff drink, I say, go to the source — the 1950s, the era of the Three-Martini Lunch. And, if you are looking for a stiff drink from the 1950s, you could do worse than go with the grandfather of all stiff drinks, a Zombie. The Holiday Drink Book puts it rather well: “In appearance and effectiveness the Zombie is the king of all table drinks.”

I’m a big believer in sticking strictly to a recipe the first time I make something. It drives me crazy when someone omits all the butter from a recipe and replaces half the flour with oat bran, then complains that their muffins taste cardboardy. It’s a good idea to cook what the recipe’s author had in mind before messing with it too much.

But you do need to draw the line somewhere.

Did I use four types of rum in my test Zombie, as specified? I did. Did I garnish it with fresh mint leaves and a dusting of powdered sugar? Yes.

But here’s where The Holiday Drink Book and I parted ways: Their recipe calls for papaya juice.

Now, I don’t want to hurt your feelings if you happen to be a papaya, but certain harsh truths need to be recognized. Papaya is a trash fruit. If fruit cocktail and oatmeal had a torrid half-hour in the alley behind a bar, the result would be something very much like papaya. So I had to play with the recipe a bit. Ultimately, this is what I came up with:

The Purple Zombie

The juice of one lime – approx. 2 oz.
1 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. frozen grape juice concentrate – the deeply purple kind
1 oz. golden rum
2 oz. dark rum – I used Meyers’s
1 oz. white rum – I went with Mr. Boston
½ oz. apricot brandy

Enough over-proof rum to float on the surface of the cocktail – in my case, Gosling’s Black Seal 151-proof dark rum

4 up-market cocktail cherries – right now, I really like Luxardo.

Fresh mint leaves to garnish

1) Combine the first seven ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. I like to include one of the spent lime halves, as well. I don’t know for a fact that it improves the flavor, but I like to give limes the vote of confidence. They are the hardest-working members of the citrus family, and I like to make them feel needed.

2) Remove the lime half, then pour the contents of the shaker — ice and all — into the most garish tiki glass you own.

3) Float ½ an ounce or so of the 151 over the top of the drink. Pour it over the back of a spoon, much like you would the whiskey in an Irish Coffee, so it stays on the surface.

4) Garnish with snobby cocktail cherries and fresh mint. If your mint leaves are large, chiffonade them (cut them into ribbons).

Three important points about The Purple Zombie:

a) The mint leaves totally make this drink. Somehow the herbiness of the mint plays very well off the dominant taste of the cocktail, which is the rum. Don’t skip the mint.

b) Do skip the powdered sugar. I’m not entirely sure what they were thinking with that one.

c) “Wait a second. You got all snobby about papaya, then replaced it with frozen grape juice concentrate? What kind of beatnik hypocrite are you?” What can I say? It works. The drink needs some sweetness to balance the alcohol and the grape juice concentrate does that very well while adding to the fruitiness. Why not just grape juice? It isn’t quite sweet enough. You need to go with the hard stuff.

Plus, it turns your Zombie purple.

Am I saying that drinking a Zombie will remove any of the heavy weight that the past year has put on your shoulders? No. But I am saying that if you approach it right, a good Zombie might give you the emotional shoulder pads to allow you to claw your way through to February.

Featured photo: Photo by John Fladd.

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