The Music Roundup 22/03/24

Local music news & events

Request filler: An audience-driven event with a big screen catalog of over 200 songs, Max Weinberg’s Jukebox is the definition of a crowd-pleasing show. The E Street Band drummer and ex-Conan bandleader helms a quartet that readily knocks out requests ranging from the Beatles to the Stones to, naturally, plenty of the Boss’s favorites. Each show is different, but every one of them is a delight. Thursday, March 24, 7:30 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, tickets $49 to $115 (meet & greet) at

Still one: Formed in 1972, Orleans began inspired by an eclectic mix of styles including Meters and Neville Brothers styles roots music — hence the name — but the group found success with pop rock staples like “Dance With Me” and “Still The One.” They’ve endured some bumps along the way, including one member taking four years off to serve in Congress, and the death of key member Larry Hoppen, but they’re still playing. Thursday, March 24, 7:30 p.m., Dana Center, 100 Saint Anselm Dr., Manchester, $45 at

Bright beats: Enjoy an evening of dance music, luminescence and craft beer at the Pipe Dream Glow Party. Unleash the child within with glow sticks and face painting, as the W.A.P. DJ Trio entertains. The group consists of DJ ACHE, MC Mikey P&W and Wounded Wing. It’s the first time the veteran-owned brewery has done such a bash, with blacklights, pulsing rhythms and the energy of a big city discotheque. Friday, March. 25, 6 p.m., Pipe Dream Brewing, 49 Harvey Road, Londonderry,

Special night: Comedy fans looking to be a part of history should check out Juston McKinney in his upcoming show. Known for riffing on fatherhood and the foibles of New England, McKinney will be filming a new comedy special called On The Bright Side, his first since 2018’s Parentally Challenged, which was taped in Manchester. He’s done them for Comedy Central, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Saturday, March 26, 8 p.m., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $29.50 at

Party on: What once was a day’s celebration grew to a week and then a month — why not more? After Manchester’s end-of-March St. Patrick’s Parade, head across town for a post-event party, with Solitary Man performing traditional Irish music, joined by step dancers from Murray Studio, and more merriment from the AOH Hibernians Pipe and Drum Band. All proceeds from the bash benefit the Post’s baseball program. Sunday, March 27, noon, Henry Sweeney Post No. 2, 251 Maple St., Manchester,

Can’t Stay Away from the Granite State

Musicians who keep coming back to the scene that gave them their start

On every highway, from I-95 to Route 66, there’s a car towing a trailer full of dreams, a van packed with guitars, amps, an electric keyboard and a suitcase stuffed with notebooks. Every musician with a shred of ambition hears the call to Mecca.

Not all have the gumption to take flight. Those who do usually find a way to hold on to their hometown. More often than not, a round trip is a necessity. Landing in a new place means finding gigs, not always an easy task.

“This city ain’t your throne, like it was back home,” singer-songwriter Amanda McCarthy wrote about the challenge. She considers herself fortunate to quit a day job after less than a year in Nashville to play music full time, but her calendar still includes several months in New Hampshire, working at her old haunts.

Tom Dixon’s country music dream eventually wore him down to just a handful of hometown shows a year, but he’s proof that though the grind may get old, the pull remains.

“The reason I come back? One answer is the fans, really,” he said. “As long as I can do it, and as long as they want me to do it, I will.”

In 2002, guitarist Brad Myrick left his home in Hopkinton on a whim to try his luck in Los Angeles. There, a chat with a fellow music school student launched him on a journey to Italy, where he met Italian musician Nicola Cipriani and began a collaboration that led him around the world.

A decade later, however, he’d returned to his foundation in the Granite State, even as he continued to travel to Europe to tour. Myrick currently runs Lakes Region recording studio The Greenhouse, and leads NH Music Collective, which fosters talent and books shows throughout the region.

“It’s beautiful when I can incorporate what I’ve learned in other music scenes into the great scene we have here,” Myrick said in 2014. Eight years later, he feels validated. The need to go through a crucible like L.A. isn’t hard to understand, but there’s no reason it can’t also be done here.

“We have the technology to make New Hampshire the next Seattle,” he said. “The people with something to say are going to find a way, and most take off for that reason. I just want that opportunity to be bigger here, and that’s a big part of why I stick around.”

Amanda McCarthy: The Long Haul

woman with guitar singing into microphone
Amanda McCarthy. Courtesy photo.

For Amanda McCarthy, leaving New Hampshire was always the dream. The singer-songwriter began looking at Nashville apartments when she was 20 years old, stopping only when she learned she was pregnant.

“That changed everything,” she said. “I won’t say that set me back; I mean, everything happens for a reason. I love my daughter, but it definitely made my approach very different.”

McCarthy has been a working musician since her high school days, playing throughout her home state. Her biggest local moment came when she performed at Salt Hill Shanty in Sunapee. Steven Tyler, a personal hero of hers, was there that day, so she boldly decided to cover an Aerosmith song. He reacted favorably, leading to a weeks-long media splash.

Soon after, she made the move to Music City with a singular goal in mind.

“I really wanted to explore the world of writing music for other people,” she said. “Writing songs that might not necessarily be my style, but knowing they still have a life somewhere else.” A good example of this is “The Long Haul,” a song McCarthy wrote in the early 2010s that became the title track of fellow New Hampshire singer April Cushman’s debut album.

There are only a few places left to follow such a dream, and Nashville tops the list. That said, it’s a crowded and often daunting place to stake a claim, but the young and hopeful artist managed to find her way.

“I was a little nervous that it would be hard to break in, that people might be mean, because it’s a big city, but people are genuinely nice, accepting and welcoming,” McCarthy said. “By the time Year 1 wrapped up, I’d pretty much found who I consider to be my circle, my tribe of people who I collaborate and play shows with.”

Helping her crack the code was a realization that hosting song pulls — events where writers share their work with audiences and each other — was a great way to network.

“I got the opportunity to book some shows, and rather than billing it under Amanda McCarthy … I chose to bill it under a company that I started called Nashville Writers Collective,” she said. “I think that’s attracted a lot of people because it sounded more like an entity and an experience rather than just another songwriter.”

Currently, McCarthy has been readying a new album, Don’t Stop Me, due for release soon. All the while, she’s kept one foot in New England, traveling back to play gigs. Her next hometown appearance will be at Exeter’s Sawbelly Brewing on April 29. Initially she did it to survive; now it gives her a way to check in with home that’s not an economic necessity.

“When I got here … I didn’t have a professional network, and I didn’t really have a way to make money, whereas now I kind of figured that out,” she said. “It’s less of a crutch for me and more enjoyable… I can treat it more like a working vacation.”

Tom Dixon: Gone to the Dogs

man in baseball cap holding guitar, wooden background
Tom Dixon. Courtesy photo.

For Tom Dixon, the road out of New England led to some great memories, but not enough to sustain a career in music.

Dixon hit Nashville in 2013 after establishing himself as a solid draw in his home state fronting an eponymous band, but had no illusions about taking the town by storm.

“My expectations were low, but my hopes were high,” he said. “If you go into something like this expecting to be a star, you’re a fool; you hope that you will, and get as far as you can.”

Undeterred, Dixon worked to break into the scene there, beginning with his aptly titled album, Kick Start This Party, made with producer Kent Wells.

“We got that out and hit the road with it as soon as possible,” Dixon said. “Of course, my first trip was back to New England — I knew I could play there.”

Soon, he was booking tours that led from Nashville to New England, playing bars, barbecue joints, and anywhere else he could. It was lucrative, and when he arrived in New Hampshire he’d play for a large chunk of the summer. All the while, he was checking off items from his professional bucket list.

“I played all over the country,” Dixon said. “I didn’t play in all 50 states, but I played in a lot. I was able to do some big things, play some big stages, play on national television, get on radio … I wanted to do everything.” His biggest moment came after he was inspired to write a song for a veterans organization called Coalition For The American Heroes.

Eventually, though, it got old.

“I began to feel like a truck driver who stops in different towns to play music,” Dixon said. “All I do is drive and then I stop, put on a show and drive again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven 10 hours, played a show, slept in a hotel for four hours, got up and drove 10 hours back. I ended up having some issues. My career kind of slowed down, it’s not on fire like it used to be. I’m in pain literally and I’m tired of not being home and it just wasn’t fun anymore.”

Despite that, Dixon travels home each summer to play a handful of shows for his still dedicated local fan base. He’ll be back in April at Manchester’s Bonfire and Stumble Inn in Londonderry, a New England run he’s dubbed The Good Times and Bad Decisions Tour.

Before he decided to play music full-time, Dixon had seriously considered a profession centered on his love for dogs. He’d trained his own, helped friends with theirs, and claimed it was a coin flip that led him to music. He decided to contact the Animal Behavior College to learn his options and was stunned by what the person on the other end of the phone told him.

“He said, ‘Funny story, you’re in my system already, in New Hampshire… you and I talked 10 years ago,” Dixon said. “It was a real thing that long ago, when I hadn’t started playing music full-time. The weird thing is that I’m still following a dream, but now I can follow two dreams. My career’s gone to the dogs.”

MB Padfield: California Dreaming

young woman in torn jeans and tank top, holding guitar, standing in waves at beach
MB Padfield. Photo by Kristen McFarren.

When MB Padfield moved to Southern California, she didn’t receive a golden reception.

“I got broken into, and all of my songwriting notebooks were stolen,” the New Hampshire native recalled recently. “On impact, that was brutal; but since then things have been really great.”

Driven to perform from an early age — she enrolled at Berklee at 16 — Padfield traveled between coasts a lot before packing a U-Haul in early 2018. At home she gigged constantly, but playing covers wore on her.

Padfield’s songs were getting played on the radio when she was 16. Her first single, “Silly Boy,” featured Greg Hawkes of the Cars on ukulele. Her anti-bullying original “You Can’t Break Me Down” showed a maturity beyond her years. A next stop at the world’s entertainment hub was a natural choice.

“New England has really amazing players as far as musicians, and the talent there is top-notch, but there’s a mindset in Los Angeles that you want to push yourself to do more,” she said. “I don’t think moving away is for everybody, but I do think if you feel a call of an artistic vision that you don’t seem to be surrounded by currently, then it might be an option.”

For Padfield, the level of talent in L.A. is the opposite of intimidating.

“There are people that exude creativity; it’s so inspiring and motivating to be around. … That’s honestly my favorite part,” she said. “I’m not looking to be a big fish in a little pond. I want to be able to play shows and make music … representative of the person I am, [and not] a different mindset of, ‘Oh, I gotta be the best in the room.’ If you’re the best in the room, you aren’t in the right room.”

She’s currently at work on a new EP called Surface and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to cover distribution costs.

“It’s sonically very modern; I guess you would call it in the indie pop genre,” she said. “I wrote all the songs myself, and I’ve been working with an amazing team out here that’s kind of helping me bring those songs to life.”

Padfield heads back to New England in the summer and around the winter holidays to play shows but doesn’t plan on being bicoastal forever.

“Three or four months out of the year until I’m able to be full-time in Los Angeles,” she said, adding that returning to SoCal can be jarring. “There is a switch that has to be flipped, and it’s so hard sometimes.”

For Padfield’s long-term goals, her new home is an ideal fit.

“New England has such an amazing strong backbone, of cover gigs and working-class musicians,” she said, “but in Los Angeles there’s something to be said for creativity and innovation, and propelling culture. It just feels like you’re part of something bigger.”

Senie Hunt: Dividing the Time

man playing guitar in front of rippling water
Senie Hunt. Courtesy photo.

Senie Hunt first left his New Hampshire home for another Tennessee music mecca, Memphis. After a few months there he returned, following a breakup with his girlfriend. Heading south was always part of his long-term plan, and Hunt made the move to Nashville in April of last year.

“I wanted to be in a place that was more diverse both in terms of music and in terms of culture and race,” Hunt, who is Black, said in a recent phone interview. His new home offered the bonus of being “the least furthest away, so I’m still able to visit with my family and friends, and also stay down here.”

Hunt is an acoustic guitarist with a unique percussive sound produced by tapping the body of his instrument as he plays it. The urge to move was spurred by a need for both “a change of scenery” and a change from what had become a limiting gig schedule.

“I didn’t want to end up playing the same places to the same people all the time; I wanted to branch off,” he said. Nashville had “hundreds of places either doing live shows or open mics, showcases, recording, all of that … built into one city block. At almost every show I played, I’d meet an entirely new audience.”

Another factor that helped was having a musical style that diverged from the sound the city was primarily known for.

“Despite Nashville being a very heavy country scene, it’s starting to evolve because a younger generation is coming in,” he said. “Right now is the perfect time if you stand out in a different style. … People just create music here.”

Along with success that finds him able to book shows months in advance in his new home, Hunt stays connected to his old digs, regularly returning for area gigs. Camaraderie with the local scene was vital when his car caught fire on a recent tour, resulting in a total loss of Hunt’s vehicle and much of his equipment.

Area musicians quickly organized a benefit for him at Area 23 in Concord, a place Hunt played frequently when he lived there.

“A lot of my friends decided they wanted to pitch in and help me kind of get back on my feet and get back on tour regularly,” he said. At the show, Hunt played a Zoom set for the crowd there. “It was nice, even just briefly, to share a few songs with the folks up north.”

Resupplied with assistance from his pals, Hunt is headed back at the end of the month to play some shows; he’ll be around until the end of May. Fans can see a new side of him on April 23 in Concord, with the debut of the plugged-in Senie Hunt Project at Bank of NH Stage.

“I have always loved blues and electric, and since it is very different from my normal stuff I decided to make a new band to not throw too many people off,” he said, noting he’d begun on electric guitar in grade school. “I really only switched back to acoustic when I transferred colleges and needed to find a solo alternative, which then brought me back to my percussive guitar playing, which filled the void of not having a band around.”

Gracie Curran: Point of Departure

young woman in sparkling shirt posing against wall
Gracie Curran. Courtesy photo.

In 2014, Gracie Curran moved to Memphis after experiencing the city during the International Blues Competition. She found it welcoming, both for the music and for its central location, which made touring a big chunk of the country easier.

“After the awards, we were starting to get calls to play in Omaha, in Chicago,” Curran said in February. “Mapping from Boston was a scary thought, but I realized we could reach 70 percent of our markets within an eight-hour drive from Memphis. … It was a good jumping-off point for us to put our feet in the waters and start touring.”

Soon after, Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band scored a residency at a Beale Street nightclub called Rum Boogie. The singer shared cramped quarters in a city apartment, but it didn’t bother her.

“It was worth living with four other band leaders,” she said. “I was with such talented musicians that put so much work and effort into their craft.”

Another reason Curran settled in Memphis was that the band she’d formed in 2010 with bass player Geoff Murfitt was at a crossroads. Murfitt had a family, which didn’t fit well with spending time on the road, while guitarist Tommy Carroll had grown tired of touring.

“So I came down to Memphis initially to kind of start and grow the band,” Curran said, something she found easier said than done. “There are a lot of amazing musicians here in Memphis, but all the great ones are usually on the road.”

She recruited veteran Boston guitar player Chris Hersch and coaxed Murfitt back into the band with an offer to fly them from New England to wherever their dates are, while ending the Rum Boogie residency. The band is rounded out by keyboard player Scott Coulter, who’s also in Hersch’s band Say Darling, and drummer Terrell Reed.

“That’s what we’ve been doing ever since,” Curran said. “It’s been great to be able to play with them. Memphis was really everything I expected it to be; it’s truly a great musical family here, a really supportive, welcoming community … and not only that, musician supporters.”

Curran’s connection to her old home is unwavering; she returns whenever she can, and always on her birthday. She’ll be at The Bull Run in Shirley, Mass., on May 16 for an ensemble show that includes Toni Lynn Washington, Diane Blue, Gina Coleman and Erin Harpe.

“I really feel like I have the best of both worlds right now,” she said. “I have a great community here… but also in Boston. I was very spoiled in that when I first started testing the waters, we had Ronnie Earl, Mike Welch and Roomful of Blues, Toni Lynn Washington and all these amazing musicians. To have both those perspectives from musicians that played with all the greats, to be able to pass on stories and tips … these are valuable things that I am so grateful for.”

Brooks Hubbard: Back Home Again

From the moment he left New England, Brooks Hubbard knew he’d be back. In fact, that was his goal.

In early 2015 Hubbard set out for Los Angeles to grow his music career, but a stop to visit a friend in Nashville changed his mind.

“It offers the same opportunities and cuts out all the Hollywood stuff that I don’t need,” Hubbard said in early March. “Nashville welcomes you with open arms, whereas L.A. or New York seem to be closed off. … You have to work the networks to get on stage.”

Hubbard managed to leverage the West Coast connections he did have. A drummer he knew who had played with Robert Cray had introduced him to Jackson Browne’s guitarist Val McCallum during a visit there the previous year. In summer 2015, the two played together in White River Junction, Vermont, at a release party for Hubbard’s album Start of Me.

McCallum agreed to do the show via text, based on a misunderstanding that turned out well.

“He thought it was a bar gig, but it was actually a ticketed show, and I was playing all original music,” Hubbard said. “He didn’t know any of my songs, but he’s one of those players that can play anything — he has a great ear.”

After the show, McCallum was insistent that they should “do something together,” Hubbard said. “That was where the seed was planted to make a record, which we eventually got to do in 2017.”

As Hubbard had made the move right after earning his bachelor’s, he approached his new home as a learning experience.

“The first couple of years I was there was just an extension of school,” he said. “This is what I really want to do, and this is where I need to learn what people do in this industry do to make a living.”

He found that opportunity did not equate to success.

“I always say it’s the home of the greatest and the worst musicians in the world,” he said. “If you want to be one of those great artists or performers, you gotta put in the work. It’s really tough to make a buck in town there, because there’s just so many people that are doing the same thing.”

Hubbard uses the past tense because he recently re-settled in Etna, the New Hampshire town where he grew up and began playing music, inspired by his father, also a musician. He’s now married to the girlfriend he decamped with to Music City seven years ago; they’ll welcome their first child in April.

The move back came a bit sooner than expected, but the timing turned out for the best.

“It was something that my wife and I had always talked about eventually doing, but the pandemic for sure sped up that plan,” Hubbard said. “Doing livestreaming and even co-writing through Zoom made me realize that you don’t have to physically be in some of those places. If you go there and make the corrections and then keep those connections, it doesn’t really matter where you base yourself.”

See the musicians

Amanda McCarthy just released “Don’t Stop Me” co-written with fellow expat Ty Openshaw; the track will appeal to fans of Marren Morris and Kacey Musgraves. She’ll be home in late April for a round of New England shows, though her only Granite State gig is Friday, April 29, at Sawbelly Brewing (156 Epping Road, Exeter). Visit

Tom Dixon made his final single, “The Weekend,” in 2020, a raucous call to party that will please fans of Luke Bryan and Rascal Flatts. Though he officially retired from the music business, Dixon heads home occasionally to play for his hardcore fans. He’ll do a full band show at Bonfire (950 Elm St, Manchester) on Friday, April 23, at 8 p.m.

MB Padfield has a four-song EP called Surfaces due later in the year. Fans of Holly Humberstone will enjoy 2020’s brooding love song “Trxst” — it’s on her YouTube page. Padfield is currently booking New England dates for summer. She’ll be at Bernie’s Beach Bar (73 Ocean Blvd., Hampton) every Saturday afternoon from mid-June until Labor Day.

Senie Hunt continues to play acoustic music in his singular percussive guitar style, but will showcase an electric side during his Saturday, April 23, appearance at Bank of NH Stage ($18 at For a taste of that sound check out “Lovers on the Run,” available on Tidal and other platforms. It’s a growling blues rocker reminiscent of Gary Clark Jr.

Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band is a rip-roaring combo fronted by a namesake singer who channels Janis Joplin and Brittany Howard. Their next area date is a blues showcase Saturday, April 16, at Bull Run (215 Great Road, Shirley, Mass., $30 at with Curran, Toni Lynn Washington, Diane Blue, Gina Coleman and Erin Harpe.

Brooks Hubbard is a singer-songwriter in the vein of Jackson Browne, Jack Johnson and Jason Isbell. He’s putting the finishing touches on Father & Son, a collection of songs celebrating parenthood — his first child is due in April. See him Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. at The Goat (50 Old Granite St., Manchester).

Featured photo: Brooks Hubbard. Photo by Brett Berwager Photography.

Oscar night excitement — really!

Close the book on 2021 at the movies with Sunday’s awards show

Get excited about the Oscars!

Yes, I’m talking to you, person interested in movies enough to be lingering in the film section. But I’m also talking to me, an official Oscars Fan who proclaimed her love for the Oscars last year and yet can’t quite seem to get as jazzed about this year’s ceremony the way I did about 2018 (Ladybird! Get Out!) or 2019 (Black Panther! The Favourite! A Star Is Born and everything to do with Lady Gaga!) or even last year’s weird train station Oscars (Minari! Regina King! The song “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest!).

But even if, like me, you haven’t seen all of the Best Picture nominees (I’ll get to the three-hour Drive My Car, I promise) there is still a lot to get even casual movie fans enthused about this year — in terms of the movies, the ceremony and Oscar season. Pop your popcorn, open the prosecco you’re going to pretend is Champagne and don that vintage Old Navy and let’s get excited about Oscar Sunday (March 27 at 8 p.m., on ABC) together. Time to get excited about…

The Best Picture nominees: Kenneth Branagh’s Northern Ireland-set Belfast has six nominations (available for rent or purchase). CODA, about the hearing teen daughter of deaf parents, has three nominations (Apple TV+). Adam McKay’s apocalypse, I don’t know, comedy I guess, Don’t Look Up (Netflix) has four nominations. The Japanese drama Drive My Car (HBO Max and rent or purchase) has four nominations including best international feature film. Beautiful, slow-moving Dune(HBO Max or for purchase) has 10 nominations and while I didn’t love the movie I feel like it’s a strong and worthy competitor for the sound and visual categories. The Will Smith-starring biopic of Serena and Venus Williams’ dad, King Richard, has six nominees (in theaters and returning to HBO Max on March 24, and available for rent or purchase). Paul Thomas Anderson’s nostalgia trip to 1970s L.A., Licorice Pizza (available for rent or purchase), has three nominations. The Guillermo del Toro-directed beautiful-looking but meh Nightmare Alley (HBO Max and for purchase) has four nominations. Jane Campion’s menace-filled Western The Power of the Dog (Netflix) has 11 nominations including Campion for director. Steven Spielberg’s surprisingly joyful (I mean, bleak if you think about it but joyful to watch) West Side Story (HBO Max, Disney+ and for rent or purchase) has seven nominations including what I would consider maybe the surest-thing nomination of Ariana DeBose for Anita.

The ceremony: This year’s Oscar ceremony has the potential to be an entertaining grab bag of winners with Thoughts About This Moment We’re In globally, Academy members angry about the move of some categories off the broadcast proper and a whole bunch of people low-level freaked out about the state of their industry. For the first time in a while, domestic U.S. politics is probably, like, fourth or fifth on the list of issues that will be part of the mood of the night. I feel like last year’s Oscars missed an opportunity to get people revved up for either the nominated films specifically or the theatrical experience in general (Google “Marvel Studios Celebrates the Movies” for a look at how to do that). With movie-going still not fully Back, it would be great if the ceremony helped sell us on the concept again and helped to actually introduce people to some of the lesser-known films on the nominees list.

And crazy stuff will likely happen because crazy stuff always happens and I hope that includes, as was speculated by the folks at Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men podcast, some actor winner pulling up the Makeup and Hairstyling winner or a Directing winner shouting out Production Design or Editing winner. Those are some of the eight categories that, as has been widely reported, have been pushed to a pre-broadcast first hour largely at the behest of ABC to make the broadcast ceremony shorter, which will somehow translate into more viewers. What will be part of the broadcast, though, is some kind of recognition of the “fan favorite film” of the year that was voted on largely via Twitter, so you know that will be weird. Anyway, tune in at 8 p.m. for the ceremony; a preshow starts at 6:30 p.m., according to Indiewire.

The other award-granting organizations: Between this year’s Oscar season being a month longer than the pre-pandemic awards season schedule and the collapse of the Golden Globes (which were announced via Twitter a million years ago back in early January), I feel like some of the precursor awards got less attention, particularly if you’re not someone who goes seeking that info. So let’s go seeking, shall we? As with the Oscars, other awards nominee lists offer a great place to turn when you’re trying to figure out what to watch tonight.

Even though We Don’t Talk About the Golden Globes (no no no…), it is a place where the list of nominees includes Mahershala Ali in Swan Song(Apple TV+), Marion Cotillard in the musical Annette (Amazon Prime), Ruth Negga in the lovely-looking melodrama Passing (Netflix) and the score for Wes Andreson’s latest, The French Dispatch (currently on HBO Max).

The Indie Spirit Awards, which usually happen the Saturday evening before the Oscars, took place in early March this year. On that list, non-Oscar nominees include the sweet family dramedy C’mon C’mon (available for rent or purchase), the excellent Nicholas Cage drama Pig (Hulu) and the claustrophobically funny Shiva Baby (HBO Max).

The Critics Choice Awards, handed out a few weeks ago, included nominations for the delightful Western, starring Regina King and Idris Elba, The Harder They Fall (Netflix) as well as, thanks to its comedy category my favorite movie of last year, Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Hulu, rent or purchase).

The night of capital F Fashion: After two years of stretchy pants, I’m not necessarily in a hurry to dress fancy myself but I do enjoy watching others do it.

The nominees I’m rooting for: Of the nine Best Picture nominees I’ve seen, my favorite is CODA, probably followed by West Side Story and a tie between Belfast and Licorice Pizza. In other categories, I’d pick Denzel Washington to win for his titular role in The Tragedy of Macbeth (Apple TV+).

I’d be happy with any of the nominees for best actress taking the win: Jessica Chastain, who went the extra mile in The Eyes of Tammy Faye (HBO Max, rent or purchase); Penélope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers (available for rent), also nominated for score; Olivia Coleman, always great, in the Maggie Gyllenhaal-directed The Lost Daughter (Netflix), also nominated in supporting actress for Jessie Buckley and for adapted screenplay; Kristen Stewart, who is maybe the frontrunner for playing Princess Diana in Spencer, and depending on the day I might even agree to Nicole Kidman, a decent Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos (Amazon Prime).

The other “I’d be happy with any win” category is animated feature film: Find Encanto (the favorite to win, I think?), Luca and Raya and the Last Dragon, all beautiful and solid films, on Disney+; Flee, which is also nominated in the documentary and international categories and is a compelling tale of one man’s flight from Afghanistan, is available on Hulu and for rent or purchase, and The Mitchells vs. the Machines, a fun tale of family and technology, is on Netflix. While I agree that there are like two or even three better songs in Encanto, I am also rooting for it to win the original song category for “Dos Oruguitas.”

In what could be called the “movies people actually saw” category (visual effects), Spider-Man: No Way Home (available for purchase), the No. 1 2021 movie at the box office, faces off against the No. 2 movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney+, rent or purchase); the last Daniel Craig James Bond and the year’s No. 7 movie, No Time to Die (rent or purchase), and the 10th biggest box office of 2021, the Ryan Reynolds-starring Free Guy (HBO Max, Disney+, rent or purchase), as well as Dune. It’s a solid list — and my vote might actually go to Dune.

Saying a final goodbye to 2021: And as at any good New Year’s Eve party, enjoy a glass of bubbly and some time to reflect (House of Gucci — that was really something, wasn’t it?) and make your resolutions: more in-theater movies, more searching for the cool weird stuff on streaming, more embracing what we get instead of wishing everything was John Wick. And, of course, a whole new year of award contenders.

Hey, look at that, I’m excited!

Featured photo: West Side Story.

Deep Water (R)

Deep Water (R)

Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas chew all the scenery and bring all the ham as a sexy couple in the uproarious comedy Deep Water.


Beautiful people Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas play a couple whose relationship is as much ruled by tormenting each other as it is by desire in Deep Water, an intense and sexy thriller with a twisted sense of humor.

I feel like I’m supposed to feel the latter but for me it’s all the former. This movie was frequently “what? HA!” when I think it was supposed to be “ooo, twist!”

Married couple Vic (Affleck) and Melinda (de Armas) have some kind of kink that seems to involve her openly dating handsome young dudes and him menacing and maybe killing them. Which feels like an unsustainable situation, both as couple foreplay and as a serial killer pattern. Especially since they seem well-known in their town and always going to parties where members of their friend-group ask Vic why he’s letting Melinda flirt with these dudes right there, at the parties, in front of everyone. “It’s our sexy arrangement” would actually be a great answer and would make sure that they always get invited to parties because people love to be bystanders to drama. But instead, he sidesteps these discussions and only intervenes when Melinda’s drinking puts her or a host’s furniture in peril.

His odd calm, tendency to brood at his wife from afar and his hobby of raising snails would, in any normal circumstance, make him an obvious suspect when one of her boyfriends goes missing. But when Vic tells Joel (Brendan Miller), Melinda’s latest fling, that he murdered the previous guy and Joel apparently goes and tells, like, Everybody, all of Vic’s friends laugh it off. Buddies Jonas (Dash Mihok) and Grant (Lil Rel Howery) seem to think if anything Vic needs to show more of a reaction to rein in Melinda’s behavior.

But Vic doesn’t need or want to control Melinda, he claims. And Melinda seems to need the drama of these romances to make her life exciting. Perhaps this is what happens when, like Vic, you basically don’t need to work because you’ve retired very early and very wealthy from making computer chips. Specifically, the computer chips that help guide military drones, which means that even if Vic hasn’t actually offed any of his wife’s special friends, some people think of him as someone who has killed people. “Some people” include Don (Tracy Letts), the writer who smells both guilt and a story in Vic’s whole situation and who has newly become friends with Vic’s crew.

So I guess you could spend time wondering how much of this movie’s comedy is intentional, how much of the melodramatic acting of Affleck and de Armas is part of what the movie is doing to build atmosphere, how much of the score is supposed to send us to a Lifetime-esque Deadly Sexy: The Melinda Story-type place. Or, you could just go with it and “blah-ha!” at Melinda’s inappropriate behavior while Vic is trying to pay the babysitter (the couple has a 6-year-old daughter). Or at Vic’s whole deal with his snails — he has a Whole Lot of snails, it would definitely be one of the first things you would mention if you were describing him to someone: “he’s super rich, he has this bonkers wife and he has a thing about snails.”

Is this movie sexy? I’m not sure, the intentional sexiness is also kind of funny at times. And other than that this state of constant angst is just sort of their thing, the movie never gives a reason that this couple would stay together. I feel like there’s a Gone-Girl-ish destructive-people-who-are-addicted-to-each-other thing this movie is trying to build but it’s so much trashier and more ridiculous that it doesn’t elevate them from “movie characters” to “human-like.” But again, I think you just need to set logic, even the internal logic of this relationship aside, and enjoy the goofy ride. I do think a movie this soapy probably should have been as liberal with dude nudity as it is with de Armas’ toplessness. Also the elements about Vic’s concerns with Melinda’s drinking feel sort of like an unnecessary misdirection. This movie is at its best when its characters are being over-the-top bonkers.

Does this all mean you should skip Deep Water? No, but I think you need to choose the appropriate movie viewing situation. This is not the movie for when you want an actual thriller or a mystery of any kind or a romance. This is a movie for when you have a big bowl of popcorn and want to laugh about the nonsense you’re watching with someone who has an equal appreciation for what I think could arguably be described as camp. I think that makes it a C+?

Rate R for sexual content, nudity, language and some violence, according to the MPA on Directed by Adrian Lyne with a screenplay by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson (based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith), Deep Water, which also has the layer of everything you know about the former Ana de Armas/Ben Affleck relationship over it, is an hour and 55 minutes and is distributed by New Regency Productions and is available on Hulu.

Cheaper by the Dozen (PG)

A blended family does hijinx and occasionally addresses racism in Cheaper by the Dozen, a gentle family movie.

I assume this is the kind of movie the whole family (of like tweens and up) watches together as part of a chill-out movie night, i.e. a movie night where nothing is so exciting or scary that anybody will have a hard time going to sleep and some people will likely nod off during the movie. By that standard, this movie is fine — as mildly funny as it needs to be, thanks largely to the always awesome Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff, and sweet in a way that mostly isn’t too treacle-y. And I appreciate the way the movie addresses the different ways Black, white and brown family members feel in situations.

Chef/diner owner Paul (Zach Braff) and his three children (Harley played by Caylee Blosenski, Ella played by Kylie Rogers and Haresh played by Aryan Simhadri) — and his omnipresent ex-wife Kate (Erika Christensen) — joined marketing exec Zoey (Gabrielle Union) and her two kids (by NBA star Dom, played by Timon Kyle Durrett), Deja (Journee Brown) and DJ (Andre Robinson), in creating a happy blended family that then added four more members via two sets of twins (Luca and Luna played by Leo Abelo Perry and Mykal-Michelle Harris, and Bailey and Bronx played by Christian Cote and Sebastian Cote). The 11 Bakers become 12 when Paul’s sullen nephew Seth (Luke Prael) comes to stay.

Paul and Zoey and the kids old enough not to break labor laws all work in the family diner that serves breakfast all day and features Paul’s amazing sweet/savory breakfast sauce, which is so well-received he wants to bottle it and sell it nationwide. When he gets investors to help him develop the sauce brand, he pushes Zoey to use some of the money to buy a big new house, something that has individual rooms for more of the kids and enough bathrooms that mornings don’t have to be as hectic. Zoey is less delighted about the gated-community aspect of the new house, where she is immediately greeted by a security guard who tells her about the late-night noise policy. Many of the kids feel equally displeased with the move away from friends and, in Deja’s case, the basketball team where she was trying to catch the eye of a USC scout.

Paul is excited about this new money-having phase of his family’s life and excited to follow his investors’ lead in not only bottling the sauce but franchising his restaurant. But the bigger his business becomes the more it takes him away from the family, which worries Zoey, who feels like she’s reliving the success-related falling apart of a partnership that she experienced in her first marriage.

Among the kids there are also kid dramas — crushes, bullies, fears about the new house. It’s Deja, DJ and Haresh who get the most thoroughly developed storyline, though everybody and their personalities get a moment. Exes Kate and Dom also float around with their own bits of action but always landing on the spot of “we’re all family.”

I can’t tell if I’m being too hard on this movie wishing it was just a little bit more — more something, more about the physical comedy so that it could pull in younger viewers bored by all the talking maybe or more about the clash of all the different household personalities. Or, if I’m giving it too much of a pass for the little moments of surprisingly well-executed comedy, like some of the crazier antics of the little kids or Zoey’s ongoing struggle with Kate’s total lack of boundaries but her willingness to babysit whenever for free. So it’s fine, is where I land. Everybody here is doing fine, maybe not their most, maybe in Union’s case just enough to make you wish she had more opportunities to shine, but fine. And, if you don’t agree with this family movie night pick, you can always fall asleep. B-

Rated PG for thematic elements, suggestive material and language, according to the MPA on Directed by Gail Lerner with a screenplay by Kenya Barris & Jenifer Rice-Genzuk (based on the really cute novels by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbrath Casey that I read a million years ago), Cheaper by the Dozen is an hour and 47 minutes long and is available on Disney+.

Windfall (R)

A rich couple is held hostage by the man who has broken into their vacation home in the quirky suspense movie Windfall.

The nameless burglar (Jason Segel) is almost out the door of the couple’s house, having lifted some jewelry, cash and a gun, when the couple — a jerky tech billionaire (Jesse Plemons) and his unhappy wife (Lily Collins) — arrive. The wife spots him and soon the couple is being held at gunpoint (though it’s a while before anybody actually shows anybody a gun) and the burglar is demanding more cash. The billionaire gets it for him and then the burglar leaves, barricading the couple inside of their sauna to give himself time to escape.

He is starting his car, parked on the edge of the property, and ready to leave when he spots a security camera directly above him. He returns to the house, corrals the couple again and demands more money, now that his identity is likely known. He needs enough to disappear, start a new life, but an amount that is physically small enough for him to carry off. Thus begin negotiations for how much, how it will get to him and what the trio will do while they wait for the money to arrive.

Googling around, I couldn’t figure out if this tight, bottle-episode-like thriller was a pandemic-era-made film, though with its small on-screen cast (in addition to the main trio, Omar Leyva shows up as a gardener and that’s it) and its single location it has the feel of that in the best way. (Single location but what a location! The beautiful ranch-ish home is set in an orange grove and with a kind of desert-style stretch of manicured garden. You could spend an hour just gazing at shots from the house and surrounding property.) I did see the word “Hitchcockian” a lot, which fits with the choices this movie made with its score, its tone and even its title fonts. The burglar is committing the crime but everybody in the setup has secrets and parts of themselves they are holding back. Everybody also has bits of cruelty and selfishness running through them — add Plemons’ character to the growing list of horrible tech bro-characters. It’s not that the movie leads us to root for the burglar but neither are we filled with sympathy for Plemons. Collins gets the most complexity as a woman who is constantly making a choice to stay with Plemons that even she doesn’t seem to agree with.

There are moments of humor and moments of tension but overall there is a breezy engrossing-novel quality to Windfall that makes it a brisk, enjoyable watch. B

Rated R for language throughout and some violence, according to the MPA from Written and directed by Charlie McDowell, Windfall is an hour and 32 minutes long and is distributed on Netflix.

Featured photo: Deep Water.

Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama, by Bob Odenkirk

Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama, by Bob Odenkirk (Random House, 285 pages)

It’s hard to imagine now, but in its first season, the AMC drama Breaking Bad didn’t make much of a splash. In fact, when his agent first brought up a potential short-term gig playing a sleazy lawyer named Saul Goodman, Bob Odenkirk had not seen the show.

“I vaguely recalled the image on the billboards — a guy in his underwear in the desert?” He figured, “I would phone a friend, see if anyone had actually seen it,” Odenkirk writes in his new memoir.

Breaking Bad, of course, would go on to be a monster hit and make household names out of Odenkirk and several of his costars. And the show’s success eclipsed the work he’d been doing since he was in middle school. (“By age twenty, I’d been steadily pumping out the blithering idiocy for over a decade,” he writes.) What he wanted to do, what he’d always done, was make people laugh, and he had been (mostly) paying his bills by writing jokes and sketches, going from the famed comedy stages in Chicago to the set of Saturday Night Live.

Saul Goodman, of course, is in many ways a comical character, although he exists within a serious and often violent drama. So maybe Odenkirk’s transition from stand-up wasn’t as big a transition as, say, playing the butler in The Remains of The Day, but it’s surprising enough to sustain a 200-plus-page book, at least for Breaking Bad fans. Those who have no interest in the show or its spinoff would have a tougher time paying attention unless they are young people looking to get into comedy.

The book, of course, begins with a joke:

“How does one begin a book? … Dickens, Melville, Odenkirk — all have faced the same query, and only one has failed. Melville. ‘Call me Ishmael.’ Talk about giving up.”

He goes on to riff about a childhood in Naperville, Illinois, that was most likely more painful than described. “A tale as old as time. Daddy issues. The end,” he jokes. Odenkirk was one of seven children in a Catholic family headed by a man with anger issues, so to speak. “Generally speaking, my dad was rough and too intense, and those were his good qualities. He was never around, and when he was, there was tension in the air.”

Odenkirk was relieved when his parents split up when he was 15; he says he shrugged when his father died when he was 22. His salvation was his brothers and sisters, encouraging teachers and, most importantly, discovering Monty Python, the British comedy troupe. Their comedy taught him that much of the world and many of its people were pretty awful “and you don’t have to respect these people, you can laugh at them.”

He mowed lawns in order to save enough money to buy a cassette recorder from Kmart (Google both of them, kids), on which he recorded comedy bits and interviews, but he couldn’t really envision doing comedy for a living until he was in college and had a chance encounter with Del Close, a legend in Chicago’s comedy scene. On impulse, Odenkirk asked if he could interview Close, “a gnarled, shaggy Sasquatch of a man,” and got two and a half hours of rambling memories, confessions, inspiration and advice. “All I can say is that it drew me in and shook me by the collar and screamed in my face, ‘YOU CAN DO THIS! THIS IS GONNA BE GREAT! I trembled in the presence of his galloping mind.”

From there, Odenkirk describes the ins and outs of his early career as a comedian and writer, including a trying time as a writer at SNL, which was then in its 13th season, working with people such as Al Franken and Chris Farley. It’s a revelatory in that he describes how what seems to be a dream job can actually wreck even someone with talent. (And it’s clear Odenkirk had talent — I am still laughing over a sketch he pitched about a cheap airline called “Greyhound Air” that doesn’t promise destinations but vague directions: “the plane is headed in a general direction … like towards New York.”)

It’s interesting that Breaking Bad doesn’t show up in the memoir in any real way until the ninth chapter, some 200 pages in. It shows how so many people in Hollywood can define a person by a single series or film, despite a robust body of work that precedes or follows it. And Breaking Bad, of course, gave birth to the prequel that Odenkirk is still immersed in: Better Call Saul, which he calls “the biggest break of my career by a fair margin.”

But here’s one of Odenkirk’s more interesting reveals: He initially said no to the role, because it was going to be shot in Albuquerque. He and his wife/manager had two kids, he was a school volunteer and a soccer coach, and a raft of other reasons, including that he felt he was famous and successful enough. “I am in this to entertain myself. Here’s how much fame I need: ‘just enough’ and no more.”

Maybe that’s the secret to Hollywood success: not really caring about it. Odenkirk concedes that his own success has in some ways been driven by luck. (He tells a young woman seeking advice, “You can’t make your own break.”) But it’s hard to look over Odenkirk’s life and not recall the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” With enough raw talent and a cheap tape recorder, it’s apparently enough to just want to entertain yourself.


Book Notes

The literary genre known as autofiction is a blending of fiction and autobiography, and not everyone accepts it as necessary. “It’s either memoir or fiction. There’s no such category as autofiction,” writing coach Brooke Warner argued in Publishers Weekly last year.

The industry begs to differ, as perhaps would authors of centuries past. Let’s just say Charles Dickens’ fiction likely would have been much different had he not grown up in his own bleak house.

The latest buzz in the realm of autofiction is Checkout 19 (Riverhead, 288 pages) by Claire-Louise Bennett, a novel published in the U.K. last year and released this month in the U.S.

It is, as much as I can tell from reading excerpts and reviews, a stream-of-consciousness novel about books and their effects on the narrator’s life. But the opening will draw in anyone who, like the narrator, would go to the public library as a child and emerge with a stack of books they could barely see over.

It’s better, Bennett’s narrator, says, to just pick one book, rather than to be distracted by the siren songs of 10 others all week: “[J]ust because we were allowed to take out six books eight books twelve books four books didn’t mean did it that we had to.”

That could be autofiction for many of us.

Meanwhile, one has to marvel at the timing of Vladimir: A Novel (Avid Reader Press, 256 pages) by Julia May Jonas, which was released a few weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has nothing to do with Putin, but surely benefits from people searching for books on Russia’s president. It’s about a New York college professor who develops an obsession with the titular Vladimir while her husband is under investigation for having untoward relationships with students.

Finally, Anne Tyler fans are rejoicing at this week’s release of her 24th novel, French Braid (Knopf, 256 pages), a multigenerational family story — set in Baltimore, of course.

Book Events

Author events

AN EVENING TO REMEMBER: CONVERSATIONS WITH CONCORD-AREA AUTHORS Authors Margaret Porter, Virginia MacGregor (Nina Monroe), Paul Brogan and Mark Okrant, in conversation with NHPR’s Laura Knoy. Presented by The Duprey Companies. Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord. Wed., April 6, 7:30 p.m. Free to attend. Visit

MAGGIE SHIPSTEAD Author presents The Great Circle. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Wed., April 13, 6 p.m. Registration required. Visit or call 224-0562.

EMMA LOEWE Author presents Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us, in conversation with author Hannah Fries. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Wed., April 13, 7 p.m. Registration is required. Held via Zoom. Visit or call 224-0562.

MARIE BOSTWICK Author presents her new book The Restoration of Celia Fairchild. Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester. Fri., April 15, 5:30 p.m. Visit or call 836-6600.

BECKY SAKELLERIOU AND HENRY WALTERS Becky Sakelleriou presents The Possibility of Red. Henry Walters presents Field Guide A Tempo. Sat., April 16, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit

ANNE HILLERMAN Author presents The Sacred Bridge. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., April 19, 7 p.m. Held via Zoom. Registration is required. Visit or call 224-0562.

BRANDON K. GAUTHIER Author presents Before Evil: Young Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, and Kim. Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord. Wed., April 27, 6:30 p.m. Visit or call 224-0562.


REBECCA KAISER Poet presents Girl as Birch. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Mon., April 11, 7 p.m. Held via Zoom. Registration is required. Visit or call 224-0562.

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit

Album Reviews 22/03/24

Raveena, Asha’s Awakening (Warner Records)

Another Missy Elliott wannabe heard from, more or less, although this diva is more prone to tabling reggaeton and such than Ariana Grande-ish Disney-spazz when she’s in gyration mode. With regard to her reggaeton, her singing on “Rush” has the same fluttery fragility as The Jets’ “Crush on You,” if you remember that one, and “Secret” borders on same, but the beat there is more a general-purpose Shakira thing than anything else. “Mystery” is different, though, a rather straightforward R&B tune with a pretty remarkable amount of bubbly femininity. I wouldn’t want to be trapped in a car driving around with nothing but this album for a few hours, but it’s pleasant enough. And mind you, the LP revolves around a conceptual theme regarding an alien princess “who, through a fantastic journey across the centuries, learns about love and loss, healing and destruction.” So anyhow, that. The closest her tour will bring her to New Hampshire will be on June 15, at Brighton Music Hall in Allston, Mass. A-

Dave Douglas, Secular Psalms (Greenleaf Music)

Quite the Da Vinci Code-tinged curveball here from jazz trumpeter Douglas, who was commissioned by the city of Gent, Belgium, to score music for the city’s 600th anniversary celebration of the creation of a 24-part polyptych (multi-paneled painting) titled “The Adoration Of The Mystic Lamb.” There’s an interesting backstory of course, revolving around the 2012 discovery that the altarpiece had been overpainted around AD 1550, and a couple of pieces are apparently missing, and such and so, all of which served to inspire Douglas and his sextet to work with such components as Latin Mass chanting, medieval folk songs and the work of composers of the period. As well, the band plays unconventional instruments such as a lute and a serpent (a huge, meandering ancestor of the tuba), which takes us to the first track, “Arrival,” a bizarre piece that evokes a William Peter Blatty fever dream. There’s relatively normal stuff as well, some readily accessible modern jazz and such, but chanting and such things do appear from time to time. Like its subject, a unique, rare artwork. A


• Onward we slog, my stouthearted ones, to March 25, when the new albums will magically appear in your Spotify, begging for just a little space in your non-existent attention span. Pitchfork will have to talk about these albums, as will YouTube’s resident clue-mosquito “musicologist” Anthony Fantano, a.k.a. “Needle Drop.” As always, in between making up nonsense words in an effort to overanalyze simple rock ’n’ roll songs, Fantana will make super-funny comments and perform two-second skits dressed up as a butler or Haystacks Calhoun or whomever he assumes will entertain his audience of 11-year-olds that day. And once he’s done confusing the young’ns, he’ll either toddle off to say something completely idiotic on some political podcast run by college freshmen who’ve never actually read any political books, or he’ll go shopping for more funny costumes in order to better entertain his fans, who apparently don’t have ears attached to their own heads, so there’s no way they can judge all that awful music for themselves. Needle Drop will definitely ignore the new Cowboy Junkies album, Songs Of The Recollection, because he is fake-edgy and only likes songs he could play his stupid bass to, but you know this album will be OK, because the ole Junkies have always made it a point to make a stop in New Hampshire when they tour, which is pretty cool of them. This year they’ll be at Portsmouth Music Hall on April 12, and the alternative country-folk veterans will surely play a few numbers from this new LP, a collection of cover tunes. There’s a boozy/pretty version of David Bowie’s “Five Years” on board; singer Margo Timmins sounds particularly Melissa Etheridge-ish on it.

• Speaking of Bowie, there’s a new album coming from British pop-punkers Placebo, who benefited greatly when Bowie took them on tour with him in 1996. It’s all well and good by me that they’ve had success; I suppose the world could always use a band that sounds like a weak version of Killers, but such analyses are beyond the scope of this newspaper article, as I’m supposed to discuss this new album, Never Let Me Go, and move on to the next thing. Fine, then, one of the tunes, “Surrounded By Spies,” has the same rhythm as “Cry Little Sister” from the soundtrack to The Lost Boys, like it’s music for dancing slowly and weirdly around a roaring campfire and making googly eyes at people, except the vocals sound like Pet Shop Boys. I have no idea what these guys think they’re even doing these days, but anyway, that.

• What else, what else, what else, oh look, it’s Toronto hardcore punk band F–ed Up, with a new album, called Do All Words Can Do. The title track really is old-school, which is cool, like, it’s really fast and crazed, and it sounds like it was recorded on a boombox and whatnot, but the only reason I even brought this up was that you bands out there really need to stop having swears in your names, because 99 times out of 100 you’ll be ignored by respectable newspapers like this one, because young children would accidentally read it and have questions. It just isn’t done, you see. If you’re looking for a way to make me listen to your music, I’d much rather that you brag about how awesome your band is instead of behaving like a 10-year-old, that’d be great. This has been a public service message; the more you know.

• Let’s wrap up the week with Australian all-girl indie-rock trio Camp Cope, whose new full-length, Running With The Hurricane, is heading your way in trucks right this minute! The title track is really good, evoking Florence & The Machine in a Woodstock frame of mind, you’ll like it, I promise.

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. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

Pizza and beer

You can’t overstate the perfection of this pairing

After a quick glance at the beer menu at Cornerstone Artisanal Pizza & Craft Beer in Ogunquit, Maine, a couple weeks back, I ordered the Forklift Unicorn IPA by Stoneface Brewing Co.

The bartender-slash-server said “It’s good,” and while that might not have sounded like an overwhelmingly ringing endorsement, I can tell you that based on the complete interaction, it was, in fact, the equivalent of a five-star Yelp review.

With good reason, too. The New England IPA was delightfully juicy and hazy with big hop flavors, pronounced tropical fruit and citrus notes, but with what seemed like zero bitterness. Plus, it lacked the heft of many of today’s IPAs, which was great because I was about to eat a lot of pizza.

The beer was secondary on this particular occasion, however. My wife and I had somehow found a way to take a weekend away and Friday night was my night to pick dinner. After a traffic-filled drive, we were famished and craving more carbs and cheese than our bodies could actually handle. (Is there anything that gets you craving pizza and a beer like a frustrating car ride?)

As I said, the beer delivered on the server’s promise, and so did the pizza. We went with a barbecued pulled pork pizza and a sausage, pepper and mushroom pizza.

Sipping on a delicious beer and biting into a savory, cheesy, meaty satisfying slice of pizza may not be the height of luxury, but let me know if you can think of a better combination. There’s just something about it. I swear it’s good for your soul, if not for your gut. I’m craving it right now and it’s 10 a.m.

My grandmother is 90-something years old and she still will not eat pizza without having a beer. She gets it.

Now, the type of beer matters. You want to put a bit of thought into the pizza you’re eating when selecting a brew. A coffee porter probably wouldn’t have been a great pairing with the pizzas we chose that night. Something drier, like an Irish stout, probably would have been just fine with the earthiness of the mushrooms.

IPAs stand up to just about anything but they’re so intensely flavored themselves, they can overpower your palate while you’re eating, which is why I tend to stay away from big double IPAs when I’m eating. They just offer too much flavor and too much heft for my palate.

Pilsners, like the Alexandr by Schilling Beer Co. in Littleton or the Beer Hall Lager by 603 Brewery in Londonderry, are perfect for pairing up with pizza, as lighter, crisper brews provide a perfect counterpoint to the combination of chewy dough and rich cheese.

Sours — and I would suggest sticking with lighter varieties, like a Berliner weisse — also pack a tart counterpoint that can be very nice with a slice of pizza. That said, sours vary quite a bit, so again, you just need to think about flavor combinations when you’re ordering.

My wife enjoyed the Dichotomie Saison Inspired Cider by Austin Street Brewery and the beer’s fruity, funky flavor worked really well with the pulled pork pizza, which included a topping of crunchy, sweet coleslaw.

Saisons can be spicy, which makes them an interesting choice for pairing up with pizzas that have a little spice as well — think banana peppers and pepperoni.

I finished up my Forklift Unicorn and ordered an Irish red ale by Geaghan Brothers Pub & Craft Brewery out of Bangor, Maine, and I found the light body and flavorful malt a nice pairing with both of our pizzas.

The core message here: Be like my grandmother and don’t eat pizza without beer.

What’s in My Fridge
Guinness Draught Stout by Guinness & Co. (Dublin, Ireland) It was Saint Patrick’s Day last week after all, and of course Guinness is a fitting choice. There’s nothing quite like watching a Guinness cascade in the glass as you prepare to enjoy a meal of corned beef and cabbage. Dry and drinkable, Guinness is a perfect change of pace. Cheers.

Featured photo: Forklift Unicorn IPA by Stoneface Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Cheddar and chive scones

It is yet another week of baking, but this week has a different spin. These are savory scones. For the first 10 to 15 years that I made scones they were always sweet. Then my sweet tooth diminished, and I began to consider alternate fillings.

Even though they are savory, these scones still make a fabulous breakfast dish. Serve them alongside or even underneath the eggs that you are making for a weekend breakfast. Or you could serve them at dinner as a side with a bowl of soup or stew.

This recipe is pretty straightforward, especially if you got through last week’s sweet scone recipe. The ingredients shouldn’t need modification, except for the buttermilk, so I’ve left the same note at the foot of the recipe.

Here’s to a delicious, savory baked good that works at almost any time of day!

Cheddar and chive scones
Makes 8

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup buttermilk*
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup minced chives
1 3/4 + 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 Tablespoon milk
Flaked sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
Add butter.
Combine butter and dry ingredients using a pastry blender (or two forks) until butter is reduced to the size of grains of rice.
Whisk buttermilk and egg in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup or small bowl.
Add liquids to dry ingredients; mix until dough forms a ball.
Stir in chives and 1 3/4 cups cheese.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface and press into an 8-inch square.
Brush the top of the square with milk and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and a pinch of sea salt.
Cut into 16 squares.
Transfer squares to a parchment paper-lined, rimmed baking sheet.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the scones are crusty on top and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Serve warm with butter for an extra treat.

*In lieu of buttermilk, you can combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice and enough milk (I’ve used both cow and almond milks with success) to equal 3/4 cup. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before using in the recipe.

Featured Photo: Cheddar and chive scones. Courtesy photo.

In the kitchen with Kaylon Sweet

Kaylon Sweet — known by many simply as “Sweets” — is the owner of Osteria Poggio (18 Main St., Center Harbor, 250-8007,, a farm-to-table Italian eatery set inside the historic Coe House, which overlooks Lake Winnipesaukee. In late January, he also took over culinary operations of the Mak’n Ends Meat food truck (, and on Facebook and Instagram @maknendsmeat) as part of a collaboration with its owners, the Osgood family of Birch Rise Farm in Sanbornton. Mak’n Ends Meat is unique for utilizing Birch Rise’s own farm-raised proteins on board the truck, giving Sweet the opportunity to dabble in all kinds of menu options, such as pork smash burgers, chicken tacos, ham and cheese “foldies,” and ramen burgers topped with a house Japanese-style barbecue sauce. One of Sweet’s first restaurant jobs was at Cookie’s Chuck Wagon in Hudson, a town where he lived for a few years as a teenager — since then, he has studied Italian cuisine abroad in Florence and, upon returning to the Granite State, has gone on to establish himself as a chef working closely with local farms in sourcing his ingredients. Locally, you can find Mak’n Ends Meat parked at Lithermans Limited Brewery (126B Hall St., Concord) on Friday, March 25, from 4 to 8 p.m. Sweet will then return to Lithermans for its six-year anniversary celebration on April 8 and April 9, and he’s also due to appear at Great North Aleworks (1050 Holt Ave., Manchester) on April 16.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

You’ve got to have a nice flat metal spatula and a towel. … I can make everything else work with those items.

What would you have for your last meal?

My mom makes these pork ribs with a barbecue sauce recipe that my grandmother gave her … [and] they always come out absolutely amazing. I’d want those one last time. She does a chocolate raspberry cheesecake too that I go nuts for. … Then I would also have our Caesar salad with our house hot sauce squirted into it, and some smoked Gouda mac and cheese with honey. It’s your last meal, so you’ve got to make it count, you know?

What is your favorite local restaurant?

The Thompson House Eatery up in Jackson is one. I have a buddy who owns it. He was just up for a [James] Beard [award] and he’s definitely earned it. … I’d also have to say The Wilder in Portsmouth. It’s always fantastic.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from the truck?

[Chef] Mason Hereford from Turkey and the Wolf, which is a sandwich place in New Orleans. His claim to fame is a fried bologna sandwich. … He’s somebody that I follow religiously on all of the social media platforms. He’s very much a guy that is who he is … [and] I’d like to have him come through because I know I’d get an honest answer out of him.

What is your favorite thing on the truck’s menu?

I really like our pork smash burger. It’s a ground sausage-based burger that we just pound out and fry up. I like to do that with a fried egg, some bacon jam and chipotle aioli. … I’d have to say that the ham and cheese foldy is also something that I really like. It’s basically like a ham and cheese quesadilla, but the ham from Birch Rise Farm is what makes it. It’s an insanely good ham.

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

Tacos and Asian fusion, to be honest. … Every time I see some place trying to start their own thing, that’s where it seems to be that they are gravitating toward.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Usually just a bagel, egg and cheese sandwich and then I’ll dip it in something. … I’ve also been playing around a lot lately with fried rice.

Ramen smash burgers
From the kitchen of Kaylon Sweet of Osteria Poggio and the Mak’n Ends Meat food truck (yields about three burgers)

3 Martin’s potato buns
¾ pound ground pork
1 teaspoon canola oil
2 Tablespoons water
1 bag instant ramen noodles
3 slices American cheese
Japanese barbecue sauce
Any additional toppings of choice (optional)

Heat up your ramen per instructions. Drain and set aside. Save the seasoning packet for the burgers. Heat up a nonstick pan and add canola oil. Divide ground pork into three equally sized balls and semi-flatten. Season with ramen seasoning packet and salt on one side. Place in the pan and leave to get a hard sear (according to Sweet, it should achieve a dark golden brown color, “like good maple syrup”). Season the uncooked side and flip. Smash burgers down and flatten. Add one slice of cheese to each patty. Cook through and set aside. Add ramen into the still hot pan. Add two tablespoons of water to release the sticky bits, then add the Japanese barbecue sauce. Once all of the noodles are coated, set aside and prepare to build. Put a patty on a bun, add ramen on top and place your top bun on. Add any other optional toppings — Sweet’s favorites to use are shredded lettuce, chipotle mayonnaise, pickled onions, pickled ginger and a fried egg.

For the Japanese barbecue sauce:
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup pickled ginger
¼ cup chopped scallions
1 ripe pear, with cores chopped

Place all ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a saucepan and cook on a low temperature until the mixture has reduced by a third. Cook and store in an airtight container.

Featured photo: Kaylon Sweet. Courtesy photo.

Soup’s on

Concord’s SouperFest returns

By Alexandra Colella

Food can always bring a community together, no matter the circumstances. The Concord Coalition to End Homelessness is partnering with local eateries once again for its annual SouperFest event, set for Saturday, March 26, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at White Park in Concord.

Each year local restaurant owners donate a selection one of their soups to raise money for the Coalition, which aims to raise awareness about homelessness in the community through its many partnerships. The Coalition hopes to raise $50,000 with SouperFest and, if the weather is nice, feature a live performance from the New Orleans-influenced State Street Jazz Band.

brass band playing in park on sunny day
Photo courtesy of Mulberry Creek Imagery.

Eight Concord restaurants are participating in this year’s event, and the soup flavors are diverse, ranging from a mushroom beef and barley soup courtesy of Revival Kitchen & Bar to vegan and vegetarian chilis from Col’s Kitchen and Hermanos Cocina Mexicana, respectively. There’s also going to be a Hungarian mushroom soup provided by the Concord Food Co-op, and a lentil soup from The Works Bakery Cafe, among others.

“The soup selection … is awesome, and it will be wonderful to see friends and supporters again,” said Ellen Groh, executive director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, “and, I must say, hearing the State Street Jazz Band makes for a great festive mood.”

Online orders can be made before the event. Advanced online ordering is a better option to secure the soup you want for the event. Weather permitting, soup lovers are invited to bring chairs to the park to watch the live band perform, or you can take your soup to go and enjoy at home. Anyone who orders online will be prompted to choose a designated pickup time during the event’s hours.

Previous SouperFest events have been held indoors, bringing together hundreds of attendees to enjoy several dozen locally made soups. The pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020, while last year’s event was the first in its history to make the transition outdoors to a mostly takeout format.

Event organizer Greg Lessard called SouperFest “a tremendous testament to the Concord community’s compassion, generosity and commitment” to ending homelessness in the city.

“This was evidenced when the call went out to local restaurants to ask them to donate soup,” he said. “Although over the past two years restaurants have had a challenging time, eight … immediately confirmed their commitment to the event.”

Of its $50,000 goal with the event, $40,000 has already been raised from local businesses. Soups may be available on the day of the event, but selections are expected to be limited.

When: Saturday, March 26, 1:30 to 4 p.m.
Where: White Park, 1 White St., Concord

Featured photo: Photo courtesy of Mulberry Creek Imagery.

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