Ragged but right

Bradley Copper Kettle hits the sweet spot

Bradley Copper Kettle & Friends is four longtime high school pals and an older keyboard player from the next town over they call “Uncle.” They play roots Americana with gusto; their sets feature well-crafted originals, along with selections from the hymn book of rock. The Band, Neil Young, Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” are all in there — the latter done with a funky bottom that sounds like a good ragout tastes.

There’s a guitarist named Brad who plays, sings and writes many of their songs, but this isn’t his band. Rather, it’s no one and everyone’s. On any night, a member of the quintet might step up to the microphone and claim to be the man behind the moniker.

“That’s us speaking to Bradley Copper Kettle as an ideology,” drummer Justin Harradon said in a Zoom group interview recently.

Bass player Andrew Desharnais called the name, beerily coined one night at Cappy’s Copper Kettle in Lowell, “an enigma” — but Brad Swenson, who endured being called Bradley Cooper to the point of annoyance, offered a more succinct defense.

“We’re probably just as confused as our fans are with our name,” he said. “But we love it, so we stick with it.”

BCK&F began in 2014 as a trio — Desharnais, Harradon and guitar player Corey Zwart; Swenson joined soon after. The newest member, keyboard player Leeroy Brown, came on board in December 2018. As a band, they have a knack for sliding into the sublime, pulling a perfect harmony or a gumbo-like jam seemingly from nowhere.

The first awareness that they’d found a special musical connection came on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard.

“Brad was doing some work down there several years back and we just were busking by the port,” Desharnais said. “That’s really where we realized that we sound good together and we should keep doing this.”

The band made Barn, a four-song EP, in 2018. Highlights include Swenson’s reedy tenor on the mournful “Move Along,” and the harmony showcase “Holding Water.” Several other originals turn up in their sets. “Country Mile” is the best of the lot, proving that frequent comparisons to CSN&Y are justified, right down to Zwart’s Neil Young-like harmonica soloing, and lusty layered vocals.

Influences range across the spectrum, from obvious ones like Wilco, Dawes and the Dead to the singer-songwriter canon and more eclectic. There’s even a cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” in their setlist. Swenson likes anything with a potential to meld into the band’s special mojo.

“Any song when we can get a three- or four-part harmony, or even Justin to five on there,” he said, “is heavenly at some points.”

Desharnais called what they do “music for the common man,” adding, “none of us are trained vocalists, we’re all just regular guys, but when we sing together and harmonize that’s when it’s magical.”

A show at Nashua’s Millyard Brewery on April 17 will be their first since mid-autumn. Like most performers, they were challenged by quarantine. Swenson lives in Maine, Zwart is in Nashua and the other three remain in the Chelmsford area. Harradon believes time and distance will disappear when they resume playing, however.

“It’s kind of difficult for us all to get together, so we may not even get a full band rehearsal before our show,” he said. “But we’ve all been jamming together since 2014-2015. We’re really confident that once we get back on stage, we’re just going to click and get right back to it. Like we weren’t away at all.”

Bradley Copper Kettle
: Saturday, April 17, 4 p.m.
Where: Millyard Brewery, 25 E. Otterson St., Nashua
More: millyardbrewery.com
Also at Millyard Brewery Fifth Anniversary Celebration with Charlie Chronopoulos Saturday, April 10, 4 p.m.

Featured photo: Bradley Copper Kettle & Friends. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 21/04/08

Local music news & events

Decked out: Weather postponed the return of outdoor music last week, but Jamie Cain will perform a makeup date to kick off the season, one of several planned by a restaurant-bar chain. Expect an island vibe from the Boston-based singer and guitarist, who released his first album, 1Love, last summer. Cain’s cover of Zac Brown’s “Toes” is a particular treat, as well as providing a good indication of where his head and heart are at. Thursday, April 8, 5 p.m., 110 Grill, 27 Trafalgar St., Nashua. See Facebook.

Dynamic duo: Fine dining is paired with soulful music from Family Affair, the father-daughter combo of Pete and Yamica Peterson. Together and on their own, they are staples on the regional music scene. Yamica has several side groups, while Pete performs at so many venues it’s hard to count. Together they share a passion for the art they create. “I’m just grateful I get to do what makes me happy,” Yamica once said. “Getting paid for it is just a bonus. Friday, April 9, 7 p.m., XO Bistro, 827 Elm St., Manchester, facebook.com/XOonElm.

Vintage laughs: A triple bill of comedy is led by Paul Gilligan, who riffs on family life and his pale Irish heritage. “On summer vacations,” goes one joke, “I hide under the deck in a ski mask with 68 sunblock, wrapped in a towel.” Carolyn Plummer and Mike McCarthy also appear, the latter a Celtic comic who does his act in a traditional attire, giving a new twist to the popular standup expression, “he kilt.” Saturday, April 10, 5:30 p.m., Fulchino Vineyard, 187 Pine Hill Road, Hollis, tickets $58 at fulchino-vineyard-inc.square.site.

Lakeside tunes: Beechwood plays at a restaurant near the edge of Lake Sunapee. The Henniker natives play an acoustic mix of old-school folk, country, bluegrass, rock and blues, even a little jazz, led by guitarists Dann Foster and Jerry Richardson, who also handles vocals. Set highlights include Anders Osborne’s “Me and Lola.” Saturday, April 10, 6 p.m., The Anchorage, 71 Main St., Sunapee. See facebook.com/beechwoodband.

Another Obama victory?

A look at the movies vying for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscars

I would have thought the Best Documentary Feature category in this year’s Oscars was all sewn up.

My pick in this category would be Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, another solid entry from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions (which won last year’s documentary Oscar with the excellent American Factory).

Crip Camp, which hit Netflix about a year ago, is an absolute winner that is both the story of an upstate New York summer camp in the 1960s and 1970s that served campers with disabilities and the story of the civil rights activism by those campers that led eventually to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the access it granted. Many of the counselors were former Camp Jened attendees; the camp was a place where they could be themselves, enjoy the same cultural swirl of music, politics and big ideas (and teen romance) that the rest of their generation was immersed in and be free of well-meaning but often overprotective parents. One of the attendees turned counselors turned activists, Judith Huemann, eventually becomes the movie’s focal point and feels like one of those giants of American history that I was shocked to just be learning about. The movie is still available on Netflix.

A look at the various Oscar prediction websites suggests that my favorite isn’t a runaway sure thing and each of the other nominees have a fair amount of support.

Collective, which is also nominated in the International Feature Film category, would be my second-place pick and is a worthy competitor. This documentary tells the story of the aftermath of a music venue fire in Romania. Not only does the fire expose the scandal that led to unsafe conditions at the club but the subsequent deaths of people wounded in the fire helps to expose the problems in the state’s health system that makes hospitals seem like germ incubators. The documentary focuses both on the Sports Gazette, a sports-focused newspaper that helps to uncover the scandal, and on the new minister of health battling deeply rooted problems in the bureaucracy in his attempts to make amends and provide better care for the people of the country. The movie makes the case for old-school, follow-the-facts journalism. It is available for rent (including via Red River Theatres’ virtual cinema) and on Hulu.

Amazon Prime’s Time is a more intimate movie than the previous two (though it has plenty of big issues attached) but it is a solid piece of storytelling. The movie tells the story of Sybil Fox Richardson, and her children as they deal with the decades-long incarceration of her husband and their father, Rob. Rob and Fox have six sons, who Fox had to raise on her own after Rob was sent to jail for 60 years for a bank robbery (for which she also spent a few years in jail). The movie features her own home movies of those years, through which we can see her boys grow up and Fox become a force of prison reform activism while also building a career, taking care of the boys and working to bring Rob home. Fox is a compelling personality and the moments when her rage at the system breaks through her perfect composure are more insightful than a dozen think pieces on prison reform.

The Mole Agent, available on Hulu, doesn’t have the heft of those movies but this tale of elderly residents of a Chilean nursing home has moments when it transcends its sweet comedy. Here, 90-something Sergio agrees to work for a private investigator as a spy. He checks into a nursing home to find out if the client’s mother is being mistreated and stolen from and what he discovers is a community of people — mostly women — who have been sort of forgotten. The movie has funny moments — Sergio doesn’t always have a handle on the technology he’s given to make his reports but he is a huge hit among the lady residents, with one woman planning their wedding — and the charm helps to soften the blow of the vein of sadness throughout.

My Octopus Teacher, a Netflix documentary, is probably the lightest-weight of the nominees. I heard somebody on a movie podcast describe it as basically a nature documentary and I agree that its photography of life in what the narrator calls an underwater “forest” off the coast of South Africa is its strongest element. The narrative structure comes from the “friendship” between Craig Foster, a filmmaker suffering from burnout, and an octopus he encounters. He follows her, studying her progress during her roughly year of life, with bits of Foster’s life and his relationship with his son sprinkled in. Personally, I feel like an even shorter movie that was more tightly focused on just the octopus would have been even more lively, but the visuals are lovely.

Oscar movie viewing update
If you’re not quite ready to venture back to the movie theaters, you can add Judas and the Black Messiah to the list of Oscar nominees available from your house. The movie, which had a month-long run on HBO Max when first released, is now available for rent for $19.99.

For other movies, Oscar completists can turn to Red River Theatres (redrivertheatres.org) to view some of the harder to find nominees. In addition to Minari, The Father and Collective, Red River’s virtual cinema is screening the Oscar shorts ($12 per category or $30 for all three categories, 15 nominated shorts plus some extras) and, this Friday, is scheduled to start screening International Feature Film nominee The Man Who Sold His Skin.

Featured photo: Crip Camp

At the Sofaplex 21/04/08

Shiva Baby

Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon.

If you can’t remember what it feels like to be crammed in a house with family, extended family and random people who ask the same intrusive personal questions as family, let Shiva Baby remind you. Danielle (Sennott), still in the working-it-out college-y phase of life, goes to a post-funeral service reception with her parents, Debbie (Polly Draper) and Joel (Fred Melamed), for, er, “wait, who died?” Danielle asks her mom as they head into the house. The death of whomever isn’t particularly traumatic for Danielle but all the people and their questions at this event are. Her parents try to put the positive spin on her in-flux situation while also asking everybody if they can help her get a job. What they don’t know when they try this with friend-of-friend Max (Danny Deferrai) — and what Max’s wife, Kim (Dianna Agron), doesn’t know, at least initially — is that he and Danielle have been hooking up for a while, having met on a sugar daddy app, which is really how Danielle makes the pocket money she says she makes babysitting. Having reality — Danielle’s parent-supported life, Max’s more successful than him wife and their baby — interjected into their relationship seems almost as crushing to Danielle as the disappointment she suspects her parents feel about her. In this claustrophobia-inducing mash of too many people and their opinions, Danielle also sees Maya (Gordon) — her longtime friend and sometime girlfriend. While you kind of want Maya to meet up with Audrey Plaza’s character from Happiest Season and enjoy a mature, emotionally grounded relationship with someone who has it together, it’s clear that Danielle and Maya still have feelings for each other.

I deeply enjoyed this movie with its interpersonal messiness and its particular way of framing conversations so everybody feels too close, too up in each other’s business. It’s funny and occasionally sad and captures the low and high stakes of Danielle, who seems so green and young. This indie-style dramady offers smart writing, solid performances and a standout bit of work from Polly Draper. B+ Available for rent or purchase. It doesn’t appear to be rated but Amazon lists it as being 18+, which feels accurate.

Concrete Cowboy (R)

Idris Elba, Caleb McLaughlin.

The story of a teen getting to know his father is set against a look at the real-life horse-riding community in a Black neighborhood of north Philadelphia in this Netflix movie. As we see over the end credits, many of the supporting characters here are real Philadelphia cowboys and cowgirls who work to maintain the community’s horse-riding tradition even as development makes maintaining stables in the city difficult. That story is ultimately probably more interesting than the fairly standard coming of age story of teenage Cole (McLaughlin), sent by his mother in Detroit to live with his father, Harp (Elba), in Philadelphia after Cole gets in trouble at school one too many times. Cole and Harp don’t know each other that well. Cole is sort of horrified to learn he’ll be sharing his father’s home with a horse and Harp is against Cole continuing a friendship with childhood buddy Smush (Jharrel Jerome), whom Harp has pegged as trouble. The scenes of the cowboy culture, what it means for the men and women involved and the neighborhood overall, are interesting and Idris Elba is good even when working with material that feels fairly middle of the road. The movie has some nice cinematography too — working standard Western-movie shots into a modern city setting. B Available on Netflix.

Monster Hunter (PG-13)

Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa.

Sure, I miss packed Marvel movie opening night screenings and I miss award-season movies that I get totally engrossed in. But really when I think about the part of the theatrical experience that I’ve missed the most in the last year, it’s probably getting hot popcorn (if you asked nicely, the good folks at Cinemagic would get it from the batch that was just popped) and settling in for a screening of, like, a mid-series Resident Evil-type movie, right as you realize that, hey, this franchise that had always seemed sorta stupid is also kinda fun. Monster Hunter is apparently based on a different video game but it stars Jovovich, is directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Jovovich’s husband and director of some of the Resident Evil movies) and feels to me like some of the most surprisingly fun entries in that series.

Here, Artemis (Jovovich) is an Army Ranger who — you know what, let’s just skip to the good stuff. She fights monsters. Milla Jovovich fights monsters — insecty monsters, dragon-y monsters, other monsters. She fights them with guns and fire and at one point it looked like she was about to punch a monster the size of a two-story house in the face and, sure, that’s dumb, but why not? For some of the monster-fighting, she joins up with Tony Jaa, whose character is called Hunter. He’s also pretty cool. The special effects in this movie make up for whatever they lack in perfect realism with just being fun, and the setting is mostly “sci-fi desert-y type place,” a locale that provides some basic rules but doesn’t require you to ask too many questions. B Available for rent and purchase.

Upside-Down Magic (PG)

Izabela Rose, Siena Agudong.

Longtime friends Nory (Rose) and Reina (Agudong) excitedly head to the Sage Academy for magical teens but have trouble adjusting in this Disney+ movie based on a novel of the same name. Nory finds that her magic is labeled “upside down”: she can’t turn into a cat like the rest of the Fluxers; her cat form sprouts wings and sometimes a llama hump. She is sent to a class with other “UDM” students where they’re expected to wait out their time until their magic fades and they’re safe to be sent back into the non-magical world. Reina on the other hand is a perfect Flare (a magic person who can create and control fire) but she meets someone who offers her a shortcut to even more power.

This very cute tween/older pre-tween-friendly movie is all about sticking with your dreams, acknowledging and being proud of your unique abilities and learning who to trust. All the magical stuff is above-TV-average in the effects department and there is just a hint of teenager crush-ness. And, the movie had me seeking out the book, which is part of a series that is geared to middle grade (age 8 to 12) readers. B Available on Disney+

Godzilla vs. Kong (PG-13)

Godzilla fights King Kong in Godzilla vs. Kong — what, you wanted me to be all “visually stunning allegory about humanity’s bravado in its relationship with the natural world”?

I mean, sure, I guess that’s in there (the allegory, sorta; the visuals have their moments even if they’re never quite as awe-inspiring as, for example, that parachute jump in the 2014 Godzilla). You can find the deeper meaning if you try really hard to pick it out, like you’re digging out the mushrooms from a steak and cheese sandwich, but why bother? Either you’re watching this “monsters fight!” movie at a movie theater on one of your extremely rare trips to a theater in this past year or you’re watching it for a fun movie night at home (the movie is on HBO Max until the end of April). Why muddy either of those all-cheese-no-broccoli experiences with, like, “deeper meaning” or “multi-dimensional characters” or “consistently engaging story-telling”?

There are, to some extent, two movies with two sets of characters happening here. In the Kong movie, Hollow Earth explorer Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) gets Kong scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) to bring Kong from his Truman Show-like Kong habitat on Skull Island to the entrance of a tunnel that will take the explorers into the land-before-time-ish world that exists inside the Hollow Earth (which is where everyone assumes the Titans, as all the giant monsters are called, came from at some point). Apex, a bad-guy corporate entity, has hired Nathan to find the power source that serves as this inner world’s sun so they can power a Godzilla-fighting weapon, which I don’t think was spoiled in the trailers, so I won’t spoil it here except to say it turns out to be pretty fun. Nathan uses Kong as a guide to the Hollow Earth power source because homing pigeons something something and Ilene and Jia come too in part because Jia and Kong are friends and can communicate via sign language — and I feel like the “King Kong speaks sign language” element of this story isn’t developed nearly enough. I feel like being able to talk directly to a Titan and find out what it wants would be a bigger deal.

Meanwhile, teen Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who was in the last Godzilla movie, and her buddy Josh (Julian Dennison) track down Titan-conspiracy podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry). He has been covertly reporting on Apex, and Madison agrees with him that they must be doing something shady if Godzilla attacked an Apex facility after years of peaceful coexistence with humanity. This is the quippier of the two halves of this movie.

Godzilla and Kong get two big battles against each other, Kong gets to romp through Hollow Earth and both creatures get to fight other stuff. The monsters are fun, the humans are silly and the movie seems aware of this — never requiring us to take the humans too seriously or forgetting that the only characters we really care about are the giant gorilla and the giant lizard.

I think there are two ways to approach this movie. One is to spend time wondering which characters you’re supposed to remember from previous Kong and Godzilla movies and how this fits in to the overall cinematic universe (Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse, apparently, according to a Wikipedia article and I think reading the Wikipedia entry about the MonsterVerse when one of these films is released is the only time I ever read or hear any MonsterVerse discussion). I was maybe trying to do this for the first 20 or so minutes but quickly gave up. The other, more fulfilling way to view this movie is to passively enjoy the scenes that aren’t Godzilla fighting Kong and then turn up the TV and pay close attention for the scenes that are about Godzilla fighting King Kong. Or Godzilla or Kong whomping other things. Big monsters fighting, that’s what I’m here for, and on that this movie basically delivers. Think of the rest of the movie as an opportunity to get more snacks, chat with your movie-watching companions or look up stuff about the MonsterVerse. This movie is a solid B during monster fights, an indifferent C otherwise, so — let’s call it a relaxed, good-time B-.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Adam Wingard with a screenplay by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, Godzilla vs. Kong is an hour and 53 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros. It is in theaters and streaming until April 30 on HBO Max.

Featured photo: Godzilla vs. Kong

Fears of a Setting Sun, by Dennis C. Rasmussen

Fears of a Setting Sun, by Dennis C. Rasmussen (Princeton University Press, 232 pages)

Until recently, many Americans looked at the founding fathers with the misty eyes of lovers, believing that they were good and upright men who linked arms and created a Constitutional Eden. It was John Adams, after all, who wrote that the Fourth of July should be a “great anniversary festival … solemnized with pomp and parade, shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

Which raises two questions. First: shews? (It was how they spelled “shows” back then.) And second: What happened to that enthusiasm in the ensuing decades?

The eventual disillusionment of the founders has been hinted at but not fully examined before now, according to Dennis C. Rasmussen, a political scientist at Syracuse University (formerly of Tufts, Brown and Bowdoin) who takes on the task in Fears of a Setting Sun.

Drawing on the work of other scholars, as well as the writings of the founders themselves, Rasmussen discovered that George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and even the pomp- and parade-loving Adams were deeply pessimistic about the republic surviving more than a generation or two. In fact, Rasmussen writes, some deemed the political system they engineered an “utter failure.”

This is disturbing enough on its face, but their loss of faith was made worse by the fact that these men and their peers saw the American experiment as something of import for the world, not just 13 ragtag colonies. In his first inaugural address, Washington said that “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the Republican model of government” depended on what the American people did with their representative democracy.

Of all the founders, Washington perhaps can most easily be forgiven a sour attitude. He wasn’t a particularly enthusiastic participant at the Constitutional Convention, where he sat for six hours a day for four months in a mahogany chair engraved with half a sunburst. He didn’t particularly want to be president either, not for one term, and definitely not for two. (The shortness of his second inaugural address — 135 words — was evidence that, at that point, he just wanted to finish the job and go home to his farm.)

It is surprising, however, to learn why he was so convinced America would fail. The republic was doomed, Washington believed, because of partisanship. That’s not an unusual position to take today; more so for 1792. Blame Jefferson and Hamilton, who Rasmussen says had never met before they accepted positions in Washington’s administration, but who quickly became the Pelosi-Trump of their day, with animosity that was “deep-seated and distinctly personal.”

“Hamilton was (and is) often regarded as champion of the economic elite while Jefferson self-consciously cast himself as the apostle of humble farmers, yet Jefferson was a rich, well-connected slaveholder who looked down on Hamilton — a self-made immigrant — as a presumptuous upstart seeing to exalt himself above his proper station,” Rasmussen writes.

Jefferson, alas, has not had a Broadway musical made of his life to curry popular favor, and he’s in the process of being canceled. A Virginia school has changed its name; for now, his memorial in Washington still stands, amid some calls for its removal because he owned slaves and opposed immediate emancipation, although he considered slavery a moral evil, Rasmussen says.

Washington, Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson all had different reasons for this gloomy outlook on America’s future. Hamilton, who championed a central bank and a strong federal government, thought the Constitution did not give enough power to federal institutions. Adams came to believe that the American people were not virtuous enough to live up to the responsibilities of self-governance. And the initial enthusiasm of Jefferson was dimmed by growing conflict between the Northern and Southern states.

And they weren’t the only ones, Rasmussen writes, calling the list of disillusioned founders “startling” in size, to include Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry, John Jay, John Marshall, George Mason, James Monroe , Benjamin Rush and Thomas Paine.

But Rasmussen concludes on a happy note: James Madison. The fourth president, who was the first high-profile party switcher (going from an arch-Federalist in the 1780s to an arch-Republican a decade later), was bullish on the fledgling nation’s prospects. This was, in part, because he was by nature a sunny optimist, not prone to fits of despair when confronted by challenges. Moreover, Rasmussen writes in an unintentionally funny line, Madison had “lower expectations than most of the other founders regarding what was politically possible, and he pointedly refused to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

In other words, when trouble looms, lower your standards. Sounds like a prescription for some of our politicians today.

Ben Franklin took note of the half-sun emblazoned on the mahogany chair in which George Washington sat at the Constitutional Convention, and mused that for much of the deliberation, he couldn’t tell whether it was rising or setting. Eventually, he said, “I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Rasmussen chose a fitting image to build his story around, and in light of America today, still grappling with many of the issues that troubled the founders, the question of whether the sun is rising or setting on America is still up for debate. His book, while a bit too erudite for the average American reader, is a compelling addition to scholarship on the nation’s founding, as well as prescient comment on the political climate of today. B

It’s April. Do you know where your new year’s resolutions are?

Behavioral scientists say most of us abandoned them in February, which may be why spring brings forth a fresh crop of advice books so we can begin anew the Sisyphean task of self-improvement.

Notable this month in the genre are new titles from people who have previously given advice: Jordan Peterson and Dana Perino.

Peterson, the Canadian psychologist who gave us 12 Rules for Life(Penguin Random House, 370 pages) in 2018, is back with Beyond Order, 12 More Rules for Life (Portfolio, 432 pages). Although his first book was successful to the point of parody, Peterson has become so controversial that it was reported that Penguin Random House employees in Canada were literally weeping when they learned their employer would publish his next book. Reviews on this one seem to be split along party lines. The Guardian calls it a “ragbag of self-help dictums.” The Daily Signal says the new book “could not be more relevant today.”

Another somewhat partisan offering is Perino’s Everything Will Be Okay: Life Lessons for Young Women (From a Former Young Woman) (Twelve, 240 pages). Although nowhere near as controversial as Peterson, Perino is a Fox News personality who came to fame as former President George W. Bush’s press secretary. This is her third book and expands on life advice she offered in her first book, 2015’s And the Good News Is … (Twelve, 256 pages). While it’s currently No. 1 in women’s studies on Amazon, there is no dog on the cover this time, so it may not get the attention that her second book got. That one was Let Me Tell You About Jasper, and it was a book entirely about her dogs and dog-related advice. In another generation, that might be comical, but who among us could not write 200 pages onLet Me Tell You About (Fill in the name of your pet)?

Also of note in books of advice:
Self-help guru Nicole LePera, known to her Instagram followers as the holistic psychologist, is selling a lot of How to Do the Work (Harper Wave, 320 pages), despite eye-rolling reviews from detractors who consider her a quack.

And I’m personally excited for Greg McKeown’s Effortless, due out the last week of the month (Currency, 272 pages). McKeown was widely praised for Essentialism, which came out in 2014 (and was re-released in paperback in December). In the first book (which we gave an A), McKeown helped us define the essential work of our life; in the new one, he promises to make its execution a breeze.


Author events

SCOTT WEIDENSAUL Author presents A World on the Wing. Tues., April 20, 7 p.m. The Music Hall, Historic Theater, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth. Tickets cost $46. Visit themusichall.org or call 436-2400.

ERIN BOWMAN Author presents Dustborn. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Virtual, via Zoom. Tues., April 20, 7 p.m. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

SARA DYKMAN Author presents Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Virtual, via Zoom. Wed., April 21, 7 p.m. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

BILL BUFORD Author presents Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. Hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Virtual. Wed., April 28, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Visit themusichall.org or call 436-2400.

SUZANNE KOVEN Author presents Letter to a Young Female Physician, in conversation with author Andrew Solomon. Hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., May 18, 7 p.m. Virtual. Tickets cost $5. Visit themusichall.org or call 436-2400.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

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

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email bookclub@belknapmill.org.

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.


READINGS AND CONVERSATIONS WITH GRANITE STATE POETS Part of National Poetry Month in New Hampshire. Virtual. Weekly, Monday, 7 p.m., through April. Featuring Martha Carlson-Bradley and Liz Ahl, April 12; Rodger Martin and Henry Walters, April 19; and New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alexandria Peary and Margot Douaihy, April 26. Registration required. Visit newhampshirepoetlaureate.blogspot.com and hobblebush.com/national-poetry-month.

Featured photo: Fears of a Setting Sun

Album Reviews 21/04/01

Kill The Giants, “The Prophet” (Nub Records)

Test-drive title track from the upcoming fifth album from the Saint Albans, U.K.-based genre-mashing band, which is — and I’m told this actually means something — fronted by Mark Christopher Lee of The Pocket Gods. This was buzzed to me as a concoction of “beatbox, classical, world music, rock and EDM,” whereas Irish zine Hotpress said it mixed thrash metal, hip-hop, classical and world music. All told, it looked good on paper, so here we are, me with a little egg on my face. There are some interesting samples (a 1950s big-movie chorus, it sounds like; some sitar, etc.), but where I was expecting something really trippy and hard-ass along the lines of God Lives Underwater or even Pendulum, the choppy, rather amateurish guitar line sounded like something out of a Woodstock retrospective on C-tier warmup bands. So yeah, there are a few influences buzzing around, but they don’t come together to blow minds. I mean, it’s OK, but, you know, whatever. B-

Arthur King, Changing Landscapes [Isle of Eigg] (AKP Recordings)

A little inside baseball: I didn’t get along well with the last public relations person to pitch me albums on the Dangerbird Records label. This person got mad at me when I dismissed one of their stupid albums as “hipster oatmeal” or whatever I said, probably something rotten. That takes us to here, with a new PR guy (whom I really like) and an album from a Dangerbird imprint, AKP Recordings. The deal with the bracketed title is that Arthur King is a mixed-media aggregator who recruits artists, musicians and whatnot to put on immersive shows. The third such production in his Changing Landscapes series is this one, where “participants will enter a spatial interpretation of the Scottish Isle of Eigg,” viewing projected images and such while this soundtrack plays (loudly). Weirdness abounds, friends, yes, weirdness abounds, as first-up track “An Sgurr” combines jagged ear-test sound-age, random conversations and a crowing rooster. That would be fine, but the subwoofer-begging electronic percussion does become literally barf-inducing; it simply digs right into the eardrum and will surely make a few visitors bail on the exhibit. Elsewhere it’s more user-friendly: half-plugged guitars and soothing synth lines leading into Flaming Lips-ish reverb-electro on “Laig Beach,” near-danceable glitch on “Eigg Beach.” B


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• I actually have good news with regard to the collection of CDs that will be released on April 9, and it even revolves around one of those super-old bands that should have retired to do AARP commercials years ago. Yes, friends, I speak of 1970s half-joke-band Cheap Trick, whose new album, In Another World, is on the way! You may not know it, but those weirdos have been hanging around with none other than Ministry, helping Papa Al Satan make rebellious albums about smashing the state and whatnot, and guess what, Jello Biafra from Dead Kennedys was on one of those albums as well, all of which means that it’s so cool that your hand would instantly freeze if you touched the jewel case! This is a happy coincidence as well, because my favorite song over the last few weeks has been “Reach Out,” a totally demented tune Cheap Trick contributed to the Heavy Metal soundtrack album. You should go crank it right now, but in the meantime, I’ll go look for a single from this new album in the YouTube swamp, look, there’s one, I sure hope there aren’t 500 stupid commercials before I can dig on “Light Up The Fire!” OK, someone call an ambulance, this is awesome and I am dead, these guys are better than ever. There’s a twangy, bouncy, hard-rock guitar thing, and singer Robin Zander proves he still rules, and then there’s a sweet break in which they sound like Raspberries. How dare these guys be so old and yet so completely awesome.
• Fine, let’s get to the bit where I give up on music again today, as I look at the new Taylor Swift album, Fearless (Taylor’s Version). Guess what, all it is is a re-recorded version of the original Fearless album from 2008, but also with six tunes that had been cut from the original album. I would literally rather watch potatoes bake than deal with this, but here we are, you with an insatiable craving for pop culture and me with space to fill in this multiple award-winning column. So (burp) she redid “Love Story,” with ukuleles and whatever, and it’s instructive if nothing else; now I see that Tay-Tay is nothing more than a glorified version of Natalie Imbruglia. Aren’t you glad we did this, guys?
• Up next we have Montreal-based producer CFCF, with his new album Memoryland, in which he collaborates with Kero Kero Bonito frontwoman Sarah Bonito! The leadoff single “Life Is Perfecto” is actually pretty cool, an incomprehensible-but-danceable cross between Burial’s wingnut glitch-tech and neo-rave following in the footsteps of Aphex Twin or whatever. The 7-minute tune collects an interesting array of smart beats, and now that I have cursed it by recommending it, this CFCF guy will soon be working at Starbucks for the rest of his life.
• Last but not least, it’s another sure-to-be-underrated tech-oriented album, Cheap Dreams, from Small Black! This is a four-man band from Brooklyn, N.Y., but wait, they are not irritating, unless you really hate Wham! and/or Hall & Oates, because those are artists that the album’s intro single, “Duplex,” incorporates to some extent. I like it just fine; there’s a definite ’80s flavor to it, and their singing isn’t just another cheap imitation of Beach Boys, which means these guys know enough not to suck.

Retro Playlist

There’s not a more surefire way to get absolutely no Likes or Shares on your social media post than to post a YouTube video of an old song you like. It’s an instant fail, doomed to crickets chirping in response, the depleted uranium of social media. No one cares that you totawwy wuv some 50-year-old Pink Floyd song, much less that you spent five minutes humming into some stupid app to find out who sang a particular hair-metal ballad, like I did with that old 1983 stunner, “When I’m With You” (I’d had no luck finding it through conventional Googling because I didn’t know any of the lyrics aside from the “Bay-baaayyy” part. I thought it was either from the Raspberries or The Babys, but it was actually done by some obscure Canadian band called Sheriff, whose singer is definitely the Guinness World Record holder for eyebrow size).

There’s always a “but,” of course. Any boomer who posts a Beatles song will get a few Likes, guaranteed. Just my luck, the only Beatles song I can tolerate is “Paperback Writer,” and so I am a Facebook pariah when it comes to music (I’d never dream of revealing my power level on Twitter by linking a Ministry or Acumen Nation video, because it would just be pearls before politics-obsessed swine anyway). Anyhow, I got sick of my childhood buddy Dave posting The Who YouTubes, so I figured I’d try to lure him into the current millennium by turning him on to Minus The Bear, a Seattle band (sadly defunct as of 2018) that sounds like Asia with a slight Limp Bizkit edge. I reviewed their 2010 LP, Omni, when it first came out, and I still like it.

Of course, just because albums are from the Aughts or Aught-teens doesn’t automatically mean they’re good. One of the running jokes at this column’s previous home was that The Darkness’ 2003 album Permission to Land would never be unseated as the worst Led Zeppelin-wannabe album ever. The singer sounds like the guy from Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Must I expound further?

Dave, if you’re out there, go listen to the Minus The Bear tune “Secret Country” all the way through. I am here to help you.

Back of the fridge

What’s lurking behind the milk?

Do you ever just do a deep dive into your fridge? It’s full of surprises.

That tub of “homemade” tartar sauce from that time you made fish and chips back in ’18. A mystery plastic container full of a thick, black liquid that smells like soy sauce and other less definable stuff. Or a bottle of Worcestershire sauce that’s been in there for who knows how long.

The same thing happens with beer; sometimes, brews just get lost in there.

I opened my beer fridge in the basement, which is a perfect replica of the tiny fridge I had in my college dorm room, and discovered I was getting down to the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.

There were a number of seasonal brews that weren’t in season — at least not this year. There was a canned, ready-to-drink “Bellini” cocktail, several of my wife’s hard seltzers and just a bunch of other really, really random offerings. And also a Founder’s KBS? None of it made sense.

It made me think of the Saturday Night Live digital short with Bill Burr where he’s “sampling” Sam Adams Jack-O Pumpkin Ale and says, “This is the kind of beer somebody brings to a party at your house, and then it just sits in the fridge for, like, eight months….”

We all have those beers in our fridge, and sometimes those beers we’ve been passing over for months can pleasantly surprise you.

Here are three back-of-the-fridge beers that I ended up enjoying.

Merry Monks Belgian Style Tripel Ale by Weyerbacher Brewing Co. (Easton, Pa.)

I don’t know why I held off on drinking this one for so long and I don’t even want to think about how long this one has been in my fridge. I like Belgian tripels a lot so there was no real excuse for it but there’s just something about the labeling on this brew that made it really hard for me to take it seriously: There’s a couple of, you guessed it, monks carrying a barrel, and, I don’t know, you’ll have to make your own call. But I finally dove in and regretted waiting so long to get after this one. It’s incredibly flavorful — fruity, spicy, sweet and well-balanced, and full of warming alcohol. This style is just kind of exciting. This was perfect on a very chilly early spring day.

Blood Orange Wheat by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, Mass.)

Crisp, refreshing and not overly “wheaty,” this is an excellent choice for a warmer day. I think I was scared of the blood orange but I needn’t have been; while you can definitely pick up the citrusy sweetness from the orange, it’s not overwhelming. I am still, admittedly, fearful of this style because I might have had too many Blue Moons back in college, if I’m being honest. This is clean, bright and easy.

Flannel Friday by Harpoon (Boston)

This is another one that has had a remarkable hold on the back of my fridge. This beer is entirely inoffensive. It’s a little hoppy but it’s got a little malt character too that catches you by surprise. This is like the coming together of a pale ale and maybe a red ale? You get some citrusy zip from the hops and then maybe a little caramel from the malts — not bad at all.

What’s in My Fridge
Weekend Plans by Mast Landing Brewing Co. (Portland, Maine)

“Oh yeah” was the first thing I said after taking a sip of this one. IPAs abound these days, as we all know, so when you grab one that jumps out at you as fantastic, you remember it. Mast Landing continues to grow on me with its array of quality offerings from stouts to IPAs. This is hazy and juicy and so easy to drink it’s full-on scary. It seems crazy-talk to refer to a single brew as the perfect IPA, but that declaration rang awfully true as I enjoyed this one on a relaxing late March Saturday afternoon with friends. Cheers!

Featured photo: Blood Orange Wheat by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers. Photo courtesy of Jeff Mucciarone.

Rebecca Wheeler

Rebecca Wheeler is the owner of The Traveling Taco (rebeccascrazytacos@gmail.com, and on Facebook and Instagram @thetravelingtaconh), a food trailer specializing in multiple types of tacos, taco salads, nachos and soups that she runs with the help of her friend Olivia Turcotte. Since launching the trailer in December, Wheeler has dabbled in a variety of her own creative takes on tacos, from Jamaican jerk chicken to chipotle orange pulled pork and roasted sweet potato and black bean, in addition to those with more traditional fillings like seasoned ground beef. The Traveling Taco was a weekly mainstay at Pats Peak Ski Area in Henniker throughout the winter season. In addition to being available for catering and private events, Wheeler is planning to participate in several events later this spring and summer, including Taco Tuesday nights at Lake Shore Village Resort in Weare, as well as at select shows at Northlands (formerly Drive-In Live) in Swanzey.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

Hands down, it would have to be my knife.

What would you have for your last meal?

King crab legs and a delicious salad, probably an arugula salad with some kind of goat cheese and a balsamic drizzle.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Harlow’s Pub in Peterborough. I like the Blairwich sandwich. It’s a roast beef sandwich and it has pepper jack cheese, horseradish mayo and jalapeno peppers.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from your food trailer?

The first person that came to mind was Snoop Dogg, so I’m going to go with him. … I feel like he’d be smiling and ready to eat some tacos.

What is your personal favorite menu item that you have offered?

My favorite … has been the black bean and sweet potato tacos, [which also] had guacamole and a drizzle of salsa verde.

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

Food trucks, especially now, because I feel like you can dine out from a food truck and it feels more normal … than when you go eat inside of a restaurant.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

One of our favorite meals in my family is surf and turf. A really nice grilled steak and then maybe crab or seared scallops to go with that.

Jalapeno tomato cheddar bisque
From the kitchen of Rebecca Wheeler of The Traveling Taco food truck

5 jalapenos (depending on size and spice level desired)
5 shallots
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup cheddar cheese
Splash of sherry
Sea salt and black pepper
Slice shallots and jalapenos and saute in a soup pot with a little olive oil. When they start to caramelize, add a splash of sherry and diced tomatoes, then simmer. When the flavors all come together, blend until smooth. Finish by adding heavy cream and cheddar cheese. Season with sea salt and black pepper.

Food & Drink
Farmers markets
Cole Gardens Winter Farmers Market is Saturdays, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Cole Gardens (430 Loudon Road, Concord), now through April 17. Visit colegardens.com.
Downtown Concord Winter Farmers Market is Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to noon, at 20 S. Main Street in Concord, now through late April. Find them on Facebook @downtownconcordwinterfarmersmarket.
Salem Farmers Market is Sundays, from 10 a.m. to noon, inside the former Rockler Woodworking building (369 S. Broadway, Salem). Visit salemnhfarmersmarket.org.

Featured photo: Rebecca Wheeler

Tastes of Puerto Rico

Empanellie’s opens in Nashua

Steps away from Main Street, a new eatery now open in downtown Nashua is serving up authentic Puerto Rican cuisine, including made-to-order hot pressed sandwiches, loaded french fries and an eclectic assortment of sweet and savory empanadas.

Empanellie’s, which arrived last month near the corner of Main and West Pearl streets, also features a daily Latin food buffet and a selection of locally sourced cold desserts. Owner Nelson Mercado, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and came to Nashua at the age of 6, said the restaurant gets its name by combining the word “empanada” with the name of his mother, Nellie, who is one of several celebrated cooks in his family.

Mercado, who also owns Made Men Barbershop & Lounge a few blocks down the same street, said talks to open an empanada restaurant originated last year with his clients as a great addition to the growing diversity in Nashua. He began renovating the empty storefront that would become Empanellie’s just before the onset of the pandemic, briefly pausing on the project for a few months before jumping back in.

The first things you may notice when you walk into Empanellie’s are its bright warm colors and vibrant aesthetics — Mercado said they represent the uplifting of cities and neighborhoods in Puerto Rico that were affected by recent natural disasters like Hurricane Maria. Much of the restaurant’s featured decor is also representative of different traditions on the island.

Empanellie’s general manager, Francisco “Franky” Arocho, who is also from Puerto Rico and has been in New Hampshire for nearly a decade, said the empanadas are among the top sellers. Each empanada shell is six inches wide when folded and a couple of inches thick, stuffed with anything from beef or chicken with cheese to all kinds of experimental fillings. One such option that has been popular lately, he said, has been the pastelón empanada.

“Pastelón is basically a lasagna, but made out of sweet plantains. If you’re Puerto Rican then you always ate that when you were a kid at home,” Arocho said. “We decided to incorporate that inside of an empanada, so it’s a mixture of beef, cheese and sweet plantains.”

A buffet offering various meats, rices, fruits, vegetables and more is also available with an always changing menu of items sold by the pound.

“I think if you grab a little bit of everything, the most you’ll pay is probably $14,” Arocho said. “It’s not a set menu either. It can change every day, but we try to have what sells the most.”

Other items are made to order, like the sandwiches — those options include a traditional Cubano with ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard; a tripleta, or a three-meat blend of chicken, pork and steak that’s topped with potato sticks, cheese and a house sauce; and a jibarito, or a sandwich made with flattened plantains in place of the bread.

“The jibarito is a very famous sandwich from Puerto Rico,” Arocho said. “We smash the plantains, fry them up and then add lettuce, tomato, cheese and whatever meat you like.”

Empanellie’s also serves alcapurrias, a popular Puerto Rican fritter dish featuring mashed green bananas stuffed with meat and served with a house dipping sauce; and papas locas, or loaded french fries with chicken, pork, steak, barbecue sauce, cheese and hickory-smoked bacon. Similar dishes can be prepared with sweet plantains in place of the fries.

For dessert, you’ll find some flavors of sweet empanadas like strawberry and Nutella, apple pie, and guava and cream cheese, plus a collection of items sourced from Dulces Bakery of Manchester. The tres leches, for instance, are cakes soaked in three different types of milk, topped with homemade whipped cream and served in refrigerated single-portion cups. They come in a variety of flavors, from vanilla and salted caramel to Nutella, guava, pineapple, and dulce de leche.

Eventually, Arocho said, they hope to expand their menu offerings to include breakfast empanadas and sandwiches, and they’d like to feature live music.

Where: 83 W. Pearl St., Nashua
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. (hours may be subject to change)
More info: Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @empanellies or call 417-7875. A website is expected to be launched soon.

Feautred photo: Photo courtesy of The Flight Center Taphouse & Eatery

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