Harmony united

Bluegrass duo Green Heron

Fans of old-time music have a few opportunities to partake of one of the region’s best in the next few weeks, as Green Heron has performances ahead in Boscawen, Barrington and Laconia. Betsy Green and Scott Heron’s deft, delicate instrumental interplay and inspired harmonies make the case for them as New Hampshire’s own Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

The two initially connected as musicians, then found a deeper bond. In 2015, Green’s sibling group The Green Sisters was booked on a show with The Opined Few, which included Heron. At an after-hours jam session, Heron thought, “I’d like to get one of those girls in our band.” He ended up with more than that; they’re now married.

They’ve made three albums together. 2018’s Folk Heroes and 2019’s New Pair of Shoes contained mostly original songs, bluegrass with a timeless, dipped-in-amber character. Last year’s Feet on the Floorboards had a balance of Green Heron-penned tunes and traditional classics. Recorded at home, its 15 tracks offered a better reflection of their onstage sound.

For their next project, “I’m thinking a little bigger, and at the same time a little smaller,” Heron said by phone recently. “In this day and age, how many songs do you want to record? People aren’t necessarily sitting down and listening to full albums … let’s just get five or six decent songs together.”

Some of the newer material will likely be teased at their upcoming shows. They’re at High Street Coffee House on Jan. 6, bookending the regular open mic event. “We were lucky enough to get asked to kick off that series,” Heron recalled. “We played it once live, and also a livestream … it’s a wonderful time.”

In mid-2020, they serenaded an outdoor crowd from a gazebo overlooking Laconia’s Belknap Mill during the height of the pandemic; they’ll be inside for a Jan. 12 show. The many al fresco shows necessitated by Covid-19 were an unexpected pleasure that inspired them even after masks and social distancing were in the past.

“We actually did one in our backyard at our old house at the end of the warm-weather season, with a bunch of people and a couple of bands,” he said. “I miss that.”

A recent move to Barrington has them close to Nippo Golf Club, which is home to an early autumn to late spring bluegrass series that’s a fixture in the regional roots music scene. Green Heron’s next gig there will be a rare full-band affair. They’ll be backed by bass player Jed Rosen (Rockspring, Hot Day at the Zoo), Dave “Lonesome Dave” Talmadge (New England Bluegrass Band, Bolt Hill Band) on bluegrass banjo, and dobro player Bob Kordas (Fret Benders).

“The Nippo bluegrass series has just got such a fun built-in crowd,” Heron said. “A lot of friends go there regularly, and they’re all musicians, so we kinda just grabbed a few close friends and got them together.” It’s the first of two Nippo Lake appearances for the duo in the current season. Betsy also has a pair of shows with The Hazel Project, a tribute group that celebrates the music of bluegrass heroes Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard.

Both she and Heron have other musical irons in the fire. He plays with Tim Cackett in The Wagoners and performs in a duo with Manchester musician Liam Spain occasionally. Green’s sister act continues, and she’s in the harmony country folk trio She Gone, along with fellow Hazel Project members Lindsay Lassonde and Whitney Roy.

Bluegrass music moves naturally toward such community, and recruiting like-minded acolytes is a natural outcome, Heron observed.

“The music just kind of lends itself to collaboration, mostly because it’s acoustic and it’s simple… anybody with a guitar or banjo or fiddle can play,” he said. “We all kind of know the same stuff, [so] you can instantly start jamming.”

Green Heron
When: Friday, Jan. 6, 6:30 p.m.
Where: High Street Coffee House, 12 High St., Boscawen
More: facebook.com/greenheronmusic
Also: Full band on Sunday, Jan. 8, 6 p.m., Nippo Lake Restaurant, 88 Stagecoach Road, Barrington ($8 to $10 donation) and Thursday, Jan. 12, 7 p.m., Belknap Mill Society, 25 Beacon St., Laconia ($10 at the door)

Featured photo: Green Heron. Photo by Amanda Jean Kowalski.

The Music Roundup 23/01/05

Local music news & events

Groovy time: Among the many configurations keeping her busy, Mica’s Groove Train is the one that solidified Yamica Peterson as a top purveyor of soulful, danceable funk. Featuring Peterson on keys and lead vocals, with guitar, bass, drums and backup singer Suzanne Nicholas, the band electrifies wherever it plays. Thursday, Jan. 5, 6 p.m., Loft at Hermit Woods, 72 Main St., Meredith, $25 at eventbrite.com.

Solo songs: Acoustic guitarist and singer Christopher Perkins performs as The Lone Wolf Project. His set list ranges from Guns N’ Roses to Matchbox 20, with classic rockers like Bob Seger. He also handles ballads with aplomb, doing nice covers of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” along with engaging originals. Friday, Jan. 6, 9 p.m., bluAqua Restrobar, 930 Elm St, Manchester. See facebook.com/ASoloAcousticExperience.

Southern accent: Fans of the Allman Brothers Band will enjoy Idlewild, a Seacoast tribute act debuting in Manchester. The legendary band retired from the road in 2014; since then, there’s only been a one-off 50th anniversary show at Madison Square Garden featuring surviving members in 2020. So it’s up to acolytes like this one to carry the torch. Saturday, Jan.. 7, 8 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, $29 at palacetheatre.org.

Youthful battle: The final round of Pizzastock 6.5 has Fourth Degree, Crescendo’s Gate, Cozy Throne, and Second to Last Minute vying for top honors in the annual competition. Last year’s winners Rock Bottom serve as the house band. The event benefits the Jason R. Flood Memorial Fund, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention, access to mental health services and providing a safe space to gather for tweens, teens and young adults. Sunday, Jan. 8, 1 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $20 at tupelohall.com.

Co-workers: Recently engaged comedy couple Dan LaMorte and Natalie Cuomo perform at the weekly Ruby Room gathering. LaMorte has appeared on Gotham Comedy Live and Sirius XM, but he’s an inspirational figure for more than his ability to get laughs. A few years ago, he lost over 185 pounds and became an ultra runner. Queens native Cuomo is a master of the sharp retort; her TikTok videos have garnered millions of views. Wednesday, Jan. 11, 9 p.m., Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester, $10 at eventbrite.com.

The Fabelmans (PG-13)

The Fabelmans (PG-13)

Steven Spielberg directs and co-writes this movie adaptation of what appears to be his childhood in The Fabelmans, a very sweet story of a boy and his camera.

Look, I’m going to use words like “sweet” and “cute” and I mean all of them sincerely even though I realize there may be a damning-with-faint-praise quality to them. But this is a sweet tale of a movie-loving Boomer’s childhood and I think you just have to go with that kid’s-eye-view approach.

We meet Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan as a very young child; Gabriel LaBelle as a teen) as he waits in line with his parents to go see his first movie, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. He’s anxious about the experience and his mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), explains the magic of it all while his father, Burt (Paul Dano), explains the science that makes a series of photos move. It is the dichotomy that will follow Sammy through the movie — an artistic, emotional, searching mother and a quiet, rationality-focused father. Little Sammy isn’t thinking about that, though; he’s focused on the on-screen train crash. Later, he asks for a train set for Hanukkah and then almost immediately recreates the movie scene. Burt gets mad that Sammy would be so rough on such an expensive train set; Mitzi suggests that Sammy crash the train just once more and film it with the family’s home movie camera so he can watch it again and again. Thus we see the first film of a young Steven — I mean, Sammy — projected inside his closet and featuring the crash depicted with close-ups and from multiple angles.

We catch up with teen Sam as he makes movies with his buddies for a Boy Scout patch. He shoots an elaborate Western, figuring out special effects to make the gunshots look real. Later, he films what feels like a Saving Private Ryan precursor with some 50 kids, squibs, dust kicked up to look like explosions and an emotional arc for a central character. But at the same time, he’s also filmed something else during a family vacation. Without quite realizing it, he captures a romance between Mitzi and Ben (Seth Rogen), Burt’s best friend and a sort of adopted uncle. Once a pianist with big dreams, Mitzi seems to struggle with the narrow role of housewife and need something more from her life.

The Fabelmans feels like two things. One is a collection of events significant to Sam — not his life story, exactly, but more the moments that stand out, the moments he might discuss if giving an extended interview about his life. The other is Mitzi’s story as filtered through Sam. I think because Williams is a skilled actress, because she can bring complexity even when her character is going big, that is the more compelling story, for all that the Sam-focused moments are cute and often kind of mirror iconic bits of Spielberg’s filmography. The movie gives us Sam’s view of Mitzi but also is able to imply what parts of that view are the “only part of a story” any kid gets of their parent and also suggests how each of the Fabelman kids (Sam has three younger sisters, as Spielberg did, according to Wikipedia) have a different portrait of Mitzi.

There is something very sweet and earnest about the story we get here, with a lot of information delivered very plainly and upfront, very text, but just enough richness to the details of the story to make it pull you in. B+

Rated PG-13 for some strong language, thematic elements, brief violence and drug use, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, The Fabelmans is two hours and 31 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Universal Studios and via VOD for rent or purchase.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (PG)

Down to his last life, the swashbuckling cat Puss in Boots ponders mortality while heading out on a quest for a fallen star and its one wish in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, a mostly exciting animated adventure story/hour and 40 minutes of kid entertainment.

I say “mostly exciting” because there were some moments of fidgeting when I took my kids to this movie. Yay to swashbuckling, “how much longer is this movie” to characters working out their inner turmoil.

After liberating a governor’s gold (and wigs and fancy clothes) and fighting an earthen giant, Puss (voice of Antonio Banderas) finds himself waking up from his eighth death and thus he is entering the ninth (and final) of his cat lives. Shaken by approaching death — as personified by the bounty-hunting Big Bad Wolf (voice of Wagner Moura) — Puss decides to take his doctor’s advice and retire from adventuring, finding a home at Casa Luna, where the most dangerous characters are the health department officials chasing Mama Luna (voice of Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and her way-too-many cats. Having left his boots and sword behind and sporting a David Letterman beard and a collar that says “Pickles,” Puss is spending his days wallowing in self-pity and being friended at by Perrito (voice of Harvey Guillén), a small lonely dog pretending to be a cat to hang out with the Casa Luna crowd.

But then Goldilocks (voice of Florence Pugh) and Mama (voice of Olivia Coleman), Papa (voice of Ray Winstone) and Baby (voice of Samson Kayo) Bear show up looking for Puss in Boots to hire his thieving skills. He convinces them that the legendary Puss in Boots is dead but overhears their plan to steal a map from Jack Horner (voice of John Mulaney) that will lead them to a fallen star, which can grant one wish. Puss decides to search for the star by himself, tailed, like it or not, by Perrito. He learns, of course, that such a map is a prize for several thieves, including his old rival/romantic interest Kitty Softpaws (voice of Salma Hayek).

Eventually, the characters are in a sort of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World scenario, withJack Horner and his collection of magical items and hired henchmen chasing Goldi, and the Bears chasing wary reluctant partners Kitty and Puss, who are joined by eager Perrito, who soon names their trio “Team Friendship.” The wishing star lies deep in the Dark Forest, which is filled with psychological obstacles set up specifically for whoever holds the map; thus does the good-hearted Perrito get a path filled with flowers and rainbows while Puss gets a kind of hall of mirrors featuring reflections of his own bravado.

The Last Wish is largely full of questing, silliness and occasional moments of Dreamworks-y tartness (a put-down session that includes some bleeps). Banderas makes full use of his vocal talents —that blend of overinflated ego, dramatics and, in this movie, vulnerability — to craft Puss, who is selfish and vain but also kind and ultimately sort of lovable. There is also some sweetness going on with the Goldilocks and Bear family storyline. When we initially meet them they are basically a gang of thieves, but Coleman gives Mama a kind heart and Pugh makes Goldi more than just a pushy low-rent Cinderella, as Baby calls her.

The Shrek universe, of which this is a part, was always one of the better aspects of Dreamworks Animation, and this Puss in Boots tale is a solid, entertaining entry. B+

Rated PG for action/violence, rude humor/language and some scary moments, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado with a screenplay by Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Universal Studios.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (PG-13)

Detective Benoit Blanc is invited (maybe?) to a murder mystery weekend (with a real murder?) in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a fun sequel that takes the comedy at least as seriously as the mystery.

Blanc (Daniel Craig) is one of the guests who meet at the dock for a boat to take them out to the Greek island where tech bro Miles Bron (Edward Norton) has a big, elaborate, weird home and has planned a big, elaborate, weird weekend for his friends circa early spring 2020. The friends include politician on the rise Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn); Bron’s company head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.); faded model and leisurewear company owner Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick); influencer Duke Cody (Dave Batista) and his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), and former friend to them all Andi Brand (Janelle Monae). Andi was until recently business partner with Miles but was, as the others explain, Eduardo Saverin-ed out of the company. We don’t know the cause of the break, exactly, but it seems that Miles got the friends in their split — possibly because, as we learn, all of the friends have some financial stake in Miles’ friendship.

At first, the assembled crowd — delighted to take a break from the isolation and masks of the early pandemic — believes that Benoit Blanc, the world’s greatest detective, is with them to add authenticity and a bit of challenge to the promised mystery game. Miles is always whisking his friends away for a theme weekend and his invitations come this year in ornate mystery boxes. But once the party arrives at the island, we learn that Miles is as surprised to see Benoit as everyone else was (well, almost everyone else — clearly someone reset their invitation box and sent it to him, Benoit posits to Miles). Why has one of the guests arranged for Benoit to come to what is supposed to be just a carefree weekend away? Why has Andi shown up for a weekend with frenemies? And is someone using the murder mystery theme to plot a real muhrr-derrr?

This is a mild spoiler but stupidity plays a big role in the central mystery of Glass Onion and I truly appreciate that, both for the wider messaging and for how clever the movie is about turning the conceit of the cunning Moriarty-like killer on its head. This movie is fun, at times even goofy. It (or maybe I should credit writer/director Rian Johnson) really enjoys sending up the different flavors of rich person — the careless rich, the cynical rich, the head-up-its-rear techie rich. But it is a handcrafted bespoke goofiness; the movie’s fun is all specific and organic to the story it’s telling and the characters it’s building. Perhaps it was Norton’s presence that initially got me thinking about Wes Anderson movies and how everything is perfectly crafted and intentional down to the grains of sand. This feels similar, not in tone but in its purposefulness.

Also having a specific blast is, well, everybody involved. Hudson is lively and so good at being a very particular kind of daft. Hahn is, well, Hahn but just always brings a certain martini-with-lime quality to everything. Monae gets a heavier lift than the others and does some really fun stuff with it. And Craig, much like Chris Evans in the last movie, seems to be enjoying shaking off his franchise and playing everything just a little sillier.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a thorough pleasure. B+

Rated PG-13 for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is two hours and 19 minutes long and is available on Netflix.

The Banshees of Inisherin (R)

Two former friends become strange enemies in The Banshees of Inisherin, a quirky comedy with a dark and melancholy heart.

Pádraic (Colin Farrell) stops to get Colm (Brendan Gleeson) for their regular walk to the pub for a pint in 1923 on an island off the Irish mainland. Pádraic can see Colm sitting in his house but Colm ignores his knocks and, when Pádraic finally does run into Colm, Colm tells Pádraic that he doesn’t want to talk to him any more. After what’s implied to be years, probably decades, of friendship, Colm has decided he doesn’t like Pádraic, whom he thinks is “dull.” Colm wants to spend his time writing music that will be remembered through the centuries, like Mozart, and just being a nice guy doesn’t get you remembered.

Pádraic is shocked — he doesn’t understand Colm’s request for silence from him. Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) tries to get Colm to knock it off and Pádraic recruits the local priest to try to talk to Colm. But Colm is determined to have nothing more to do with Pádraic and threatens to start cutting off his own fingers and throwing them at Pádraic if he ever speaks to him again.

It’s a strange and gruesome threat but it’s a strange and gruesome island. Siobhán gets a piece of mail that has been opened “in the heat,” the mail woman tells her on the grayest of days — we and Siobhán know that the woman is desperate to hear any news of anything. Pádraic’s pal after Colm dumps him is Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a young man who has a troubled home life with his father (Gary Lydon), who is the local police officer. One of Siobhán’s few visitors is Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton), a black-clad widow who might very well be a banshee herself. One of the other regular visitors inside the family home is Jenny, Pádraic’s beloved pony, despite Siobhán’s demand that he keep his animals outside. While gunshots and cannon fire from the mainland occasionally suggest that the island is a refuge, there is lots of evidence that it is also something of a prison keeping these people trapped in lives without a lot of choices.

Despair, civil war and wacky pony comedy — The Banshees of Inisherin is very much an unexpected mix of tragedy (Dominic’s truly horrific abuse at the hands of his father, Siobhán and Pádraic’s grief over the deaths of their parents, Colm’s feelings of despair and meaninglessness) and laugh out loud moments of comedy. There are times when the residents of the island have a real “what a bunch of characters” feel and you could see a version of this movie that was all cutesiness and charming affectations. But the more performative aspect of their lives seems to be, more than anything, the coping mechanism for the problems people have — the uncertainty of the outside world, the stucked-ness of the island. It is occasionally a little jarring to go from thick brogues and a vaguely witch-like neighbor to child abuse and self-mutilation. But it works? I mean, but it works. Sometimes the question mark pushes its way in there but then the truly heartfelt “you can see all the years piling on” performances, particularly of Farrell and Gleeson, push the questions away and give you real people having internal struggles. B+

Rated R for language throughout, some violent content and brief graphic nudity, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin is an hour and 54 minutes long and distributed by Searchlight Pictures, for rent or purchase via VOD and on HBO Max.

Featured photo: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Great Short Books: A Year of Reading — Briefly, by Kenneth C. Davis

Great Short Books: A Year of Reading — Briefly, by Kenneth C. Davis (Scribner, 448 pages)

In the early stages of the pandemic, Kenneth Davis grew tired of doomscrolling, but he wasn’t up for reading long books. As a compromise, he began to read a collection of tales set at the beginning of the Black Death in Florence, Italy, in the 14th century. It’s called Decameron, written by Giovanni Boccaccio, and its style is similar to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in that a character tells a different story each day.

Davis set about reading one of the novellas each day, which took him a little more than three months. After that, he decided to move on to short novels. Great Short Books is the culmination of this pandemic experience; it is Davis’s ode to the short novel, which he likens to a first date: “It can be extremely pleasant, even exciting, and memorable. Ideally, you leave wanting more. It can lead to greater possibilities. But there is no long-term commitment,” he writes.

Of the short novels he has read during the pandemic, Davis selected 58 to highlight in hopes that more readers will come to appreciate short fiction. Great Short Books contains the work of both famous and obscure writers from around the world; what they have in common, he says, is that they can be read in “one to several sittings” and “with careful rationing” we can read one each week. (With that, Davis reveals himself to not have small children under his care.) Generally, this means these books are anywhere from 100 to 200 pages, with some exceptions.

They aren’t just books he stumbled upon; he got recommendations from friends, librarians and people who work in publishing, and took care to make sure that the list wasn’t all from “dead white guys.” But Davis says that there was one standard that was nonnegotiable: to be included, the book had to be a pleasure to read. “I had … pledged that I would not read out of duty,” he writes.

The resulting titles include the work of George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin, Toni Morrison and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among other famous writers, as well as authors that would only be household names to people with multiple graduate degrees in literature. (Or maybe I’m just revealing my own ignorance by being unfamiliar with the work of Nadine Gordimer and Chinua Achebe.)

Each work gets its own chapter, set up with the opening sentences of the book. Perusing the openings of 58 lauded books is instructive in and of itself. (Some grab you at the start; others make you wonder why the eventual publisher even kept reading.)

From there, Davis composes his own CliffsNotes-type summary, promising no spoilers, then gives us a rundown on the author. He concludes each chapter with a bit of literary moralizing in a section called “Why you should read it,” and finishes with a summary of “What to read next.” For example, in the chapter on Orwell’s Animal Farm, he suggests we follow up with Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell’s three nonfiction books (Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia) as well as one of the author’s essays, “Politics and the English Language.”

For anyone who’s already a fan of Orwell, nee Eric Blair, there’s not much to be gained here; in fact, even Davis says that his advice to read or re-read Nineteen Eighty-Four is a “no-brainer.” But then again, this is not a highbrow book, nor does it pretend to be. Davis describes himself as the “common reader” that Virginia Woolf wrote about: “He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously” as a critic or scholar, she said. “He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others.”

Davis writes for people who find solace and camaraderie in books of all sorts, not necessarily those that win literary prizes. He advocates for reading outside of one’s comfort zone as a form of lifelong learning, no different from taking courses at a community college. And there’s no question that anyone who reads Great Short Books will come away with a list of a dozen or more on their “to-read” list. I’ve picked out a few just by virtue of their opening sentences. (July’s People by Nadine Gordimer and Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson.)

If there’s anything to quibble with here, it’s Davis’s argument that “Short novels are literature’s equivalent to the stand-up comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s signature line: they ‘get no respect.’” He says they “occupy the place of the neglected middle child of the literary world.” As an example, Davis says that critics dismissed Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach as too short (203 pages) to be a candidate for the Booker Prize in 2007. “So, a degree of critical prejudice — call it literary sizeism — exists against short fiction,” he concludes.

But does it really? Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These (128 pages) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year and won the 2022 Orwell Prize for Political Fiction. One of the most beloved books of all time, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, is only about 31,000 words, roughly a third of the size of a typical novel.

And many books in the canon presented here argue against the author’s own words. Was there critical prejudice against Charlotte’s Web? A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man? And the book we all forget existed prior to the movie: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King?

That argument doesn’t hold up over centuries; in fact, with America’s famously shrinking attention span, it’s likely short books like these are our future. From the titles highlighted here, that’s not a bad thing. B+

Album Reviews 23/01/05

Winery Dogs, III (Three Dog Music)

On Feb. 26, 2023, The Winery Dogs will be at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, New Hampshire. They’re something of a rebirth of the hard rock superband Mr. Big, which older people will remember as an act whose main spotlight was on former Talas bass player Billy Sheehan. I remember seeing them in the late ’90s and thinking Sheehan was a little overhyped, but he’s good, whatever. Also on board is frontman Richie Kotzen, who, after graduating from Mr. Big, played guitar for Poison for a bit, and rounding things out is former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. Lot of borderline-interesting Guitar Player magazine-level wonkiness here, which usually spells bad songs delivered with panache. As far as that goes, album opener “Xanadu” (not a cover of the Rush song, point of order) is a lot of lightning-fast notes trying to find a purpose in life, but Kotzen’s David Coverdale impression makes it interesting. And so on and so forth, self-indulgent butt-kicking and etc. B

The Bombadils, Dear Friend (Epitaph Records)

Influenced by classical, jazz, bluegrass, Celtic music and various singer-songwriter traditions, this Canadian couple (Luke Fraser and Sarah Frank, FYI; their band name came by way of a Tolkien character) were nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award for their sound, which, taken as a whole, tends to evoke John Prine/Emmylou Harris duets tendered with a Loreena McKennitt edge at its best moments (“Bicycle” for starters, which stumbles upon some really pleasant moments of contrapuntal vocals, a thing I’d really like to hear from more indie bands). “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming” sounds simultaneously Fleetwood Mac-ish and like top-drawer Americana; the sturdy, vocally adventurous “Through and Through” gets even more Appalachian, so much so that you can practically smell the campfire cooking whatever’s going to be dinner. Fans of Bela Fleck and that sort of thing would be quite pleased with this, I’m sure, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear these two on a soundtrack or three in future. A


• Finally everything is sort of normal again, now that the holidays are over and there’s nothing left to do but ignore the voices in your head, as the winter starts getting worse and worse. It’s that time of year when you try not to end up turning into a snowbank-ghost like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, yessir, it’s all downhill from here, guys, my favorite is when some dude in a pickup truck tailgates you during a crazy snowstorm because he figures everyone has chains on their tires, just like him, same as they do in Siberia (or northern Maine, same thing). But keep it together, all you’re really supposed to be doing while we wait for the annual thaw and flooded streets is go buy some albums, and that’s what we’ll talk about in this section of the newspaper, the new albums scheduled for release on Jan. 6. First up this year is famous stage-diving violence-clown Iggy Pop, with a new LP called Every Loser. I hope you’re as excited as I am for this new set of tunes, and I’m sure you are, because let’s face it, Iggy is the last hope for cool in America. I recently saw a really nifty video of Iggy, with his pet parrot/cockatiel/whatever hanging around on his arm, and there was a sort of trip-hop/African tribal tune playing. So slowly but surely the parrot got more and more into it and started bobbing its head up and down, and then it got really into it and was totally hypnotized and danced, and Iggy was cracking up over it, anyway where were we, oh yes, there’s a new single from the Ig-Man, called — wait a minute, the Igster put the whole album up on YouTube, so we can just listen to the opening track, “Strung Out Johnny,” and bag this. Ha ha, this is so cool, like the guitar part is something Stiv Bators would have written, like borderline goth ’80s dance. I’ll make it short and sweet, just buy this album, OK, that’d be great.

Anti-Flag is a roots-punk rock band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which you whippersnappers would already know if the establishment hadn’t done away with punk years ago and replaced it with stuff like Green Day and whatnot. Lies They Tell Our Children is their new LP, and the rollout single is called “Laugh. Cry. Smile. Die.” And wait a minute, these guys put out their first album in 1996, so they’re just basically Green Day except from Pittsburgh! Whatever, they were kind of rough-ish and punk in 1996, and this new song is pretty fast and punk-ish. That means they’re basically like Panic! At The Disco, but whatever, Anti Flag everyone, don’t forget to wear a helmet or mom won’t let you try any funny business trying to skateboard through the half-pipe with your homies or whatever you people call “friends” nowadays.

• LOL, look, it’s RuPaul, with their new album, called Black Butta, and it’s on the way! Get over here, horrible new album, lemme give a listen to this new song, called “Star Baby,” before I change my mind and go drinking or whatnot. Hm, the tune is basically like the last million Britney Spears hip-hop-ish songs, except there’s some wub-wub. Is it catchy? I don’t know, you tell me, what am I, some sort of music expert or something? I don’t like it at all, if that gives you any idea.

• Finally, yikes, I may have spoken too soon, because there aren’t as many albums coming out as I’d thought. Like, there’s nothing left for me to write about except for some hip-hop person named Venus Da Kid, whoever they are, and their new album, um I mean mixtape, Dreams: The Mixtape Of Life. Actually, the tune “Apartheid” is kind of cool, like this dude sounds like a young DMX, and there does seem to be some substance to it. You might like it, and you actually should, but it sounds like he recorded it on a boombox (which makes it even better, just saying).

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).

Gin sour

“I’m an attractive person,” you might say. And you’d be right.

“And,” you might add, “I tip well. I don’t ask for anything complicated when we go out — a gin and tonic, or a sea breeze — something fast and easy to make. So why aren’t the drinks I get at the bar very good?

“I mean, they’re all right: gin, tonic, lime; or vodka and cranberry juice. There’s not much to mess up there. They just don’t taste as good as when I make them at home. Why is that?”

This is a good question.

It isn’t about the competence of your bartender. Trust me, she knows what she’s doing. And it isn’t that she doesn’t care; I’m sure she’s a conscientious professional who wants you to have a good drink.

The problem is that you’ve been ordering something utterly forgettable.

Don’t get me wrong. Classics are classics for a reason. There are very few things in life better than a properly made gin and tonic. The laughter of a small child is a petty and grating thing compared to the piney, slightly bitter dance of gin, quinine and lime.

But look at it from your bartender’s position.

There’s a good chance she didn’t expect to be working at all tonight, but Sheila called in sick, so she was stuck. She was able to get a babysitter at the last minute, but this is the first time she’s left her kid with this new sitter, and she’s not sure she trusts the large numbers of facial piercings the girl had.

Then, there’s Stanley, at the end of the bar. He tipped her an extra 50 cents once, a year ago, and ever since then he’s felt entitled to her attention, even during rushes.

Plus, it’s Thursday, which means that there aren’t as many customers as on the weekend, but somehow the bar moves just as much booze, which brings its own set of issues.

All of which is to say, your margarita, rocks-no-salt, probably didn’t benefit from her complete focus and attention.

You know how sometimes you pull into your driveway at the end of the day and have no memory of driving home? That’s how she just made your completely reasonable, utterly forgettable cocktail.

So, what’s the solution?

For the sake of everything Good and Decent in the Universe, please don’t order something obnoxious with a cutesy name. Or anything with 17 ingredients. Or anything that will involve dusting off a bottle from the back of the bar.

What you want is a gin sour.

And what is a gin sour, you ask?

It’s a gimlet, but with lemon.

I sense that you are still staring at me, waiting for further explanation.

OK — a gin sour is one of those very basic cocktails that is a cinch to make, takes 45 seconds and is truly delicious. It has three ingredients: gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. It uses the same proportions as about six other cocktails: two ounces of alcohol, an ounce of citrus, and three quarters of an ounce of something sweet — the same as a margarita or a daiquiri or a lemon drop.

The difference is, nobody else has ordered one this week.

So, just like stopping for your dry cleaning on the way home makes you pay more attention to your commute, making a gin sour will be just out of the ordinary enough to grab your bartender’s full attention. It’s not difficult, but she will have to keep her mind on what she’s doing.

And you get a very nice drink.

So nice that you will probably start making it for yourself at home.

Gin sour

  • 2 ounces gin (see below)
  • 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker.




So, the question you are probably asking yourself right now is, what kind of gin?

Wanting to give you the best possible information, I made three gin sours last evening, identical except for the variety of gin. The floral gin was exceptional, truly delicious. But so was the version with gunpowder gin; the lemon really played a leading role. The dry gin was slightly more astringent, which gave it a delicious booziness on the back end. You would really have to make a deliberate effort to mess this drink up

And after three of them in quick succession you will be astonished at what sparkling conversationalists your houseplants are.

In the kitchen with Jake Norris

Jake Norris of Nashua runs the Wicked Tasty Food Truck (wickedtastytrucks.com, and on Facebook and Instagram) with his business partner, Oliver Beauchemin. Originally from Salem, Norris got his start in the industry working as a line cook for Murphy’s Taproom in Manchester about 15 years ago, eventually working his way up the ranks and cooking at other restaurants in different parts of the country. Wicked Tasty’s concept, he said, is centered around paying homage to New England classics with a modern twist — items include a smash burger with a house-made maple bacon onion jam, as well as a deep fried Fluffernutter that’s rolled in Corn Flakes and served with a strawberry and banana icing. The truck’s whereabouts are regularly updated on its website and social media pages. Locally, you can find Wicked Tasty next at Intown Concord’s annual Winter Festival on Saturday, Jan. 28.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I’m going to have to say some nice metal tongs. My hand becomes like a heat-resistant tool when I have those.

What would you have for your last meal?

I like to keep it simple. I’m a steak and potatoes kind of guy, so a nice tender juicy medium-rare rib-eye with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus would do me just well. And a Mountain Dew.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

I actually would like to give a shoutout to another food truck, Rico’s Burritos. … They have great burritos, and they do a couple of twists on things. They had a steak and cheese fajita egg roll over the summer that was really great.

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

I’m going to say Adam Sandler, because I think he would appreciate our concept the most, being another New Hampshire boy.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

That would have to be our 617 Hot Dog. It’s a quarter-pound all-beef hot dog with a cheddar jack cheese crisp that I do and then our maple onion bacon jam. It’s underrated and super good, much like New England.

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

Honestly, I think Mexican food is really making a stamp here. … It’s a cuisine that I’ve seen pop up pretty hard recently, and it’s really sticking, which I think is great.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

If not a nice steak with mashed potatoes, then it’s going to be a chicken pot pie. I do a nice sweet potato and sage pie crust … and then some nice roasted chicken and vegetables.

Roasted garlic aioli
From the kitchen of Jake Norris of the Wicked Tasty Food Truck

2 cups mayonnaise
1 sprig fresh thyme, off the stem
½ cup parsley
1 teaspoon chives
¼ cup roasted garlic
1 clove raw garlic
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Mince the parsley, chives and garlic until they’re super small. Avoid the knife work by placing all of the ingredients in a blender and pulsing until smooth and mixed well. Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until mixed well. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Featured photo: Jake Norris, chef and owner of the Wicked Tasty Food Truck. Courtesy photo.

A wine wonderland

LaBelle Winery owner releases debut book

Winemaker Amy LaBelle of LaBelle Winery in Amherst and Derry has opened full-service restaurants, launched her own line of culinary products and enjoyed recognition on the national stage as an entrepreneur — and just as 2022 came to an end, she’s also now a published author.

Released Dec. 16, Wine Weddings: The Ultimate Guide to Creating the Wine-Themed Wedding of Your Dreams, is LaBelle’s debut book, filled with photographs taken at weddings hosted at both of the winery’s locations. LaBelle also shares the details of planning her own wedding and offers general tips and advice on planning and hosting weddings of every size and type.

“The book came out of our decades of experiences with watching couples be stressed and the implication around a wedding day now. … There’s just a lot of pressure on these poor couples, and so I wanted to write a book that would help alleviate some of that pressure and stress, and give them a road map toward planning the wedding of their dreams,” LaBelle said. “So my idea for that was to theme your wedding as a wine wedding, so that every decision you have to make gets filled through the lens of wine, because wine is such a timeless theme. It’s always going to be in style, it’s always going to be appreciated, and you’re never going to get tired of it.”

Even though it required considerable work and coordination among her team, LaBelle said the entire book came together in only about three months, dating back to August.

“The book kind of just fell out of my head. It was the strangest thing,” she said. “I wrote 1,200 words a day for like 30 days straight … and I literally felt like the words were just tumbling right out of my brain. … Danielle Sullivan, who was my assistant on the book, helped me pull together all of the visuals from photos in our archives of all of the brides we’ve had.”

At about 10 chapters, the book covers everything from choosing invitation designs and wedding favors to creating your own menu of signature drinks and wine choices, and also includes a section about working with vendors. Hardcover print copies are available onsite in Amherst or Derry, or online at LaBelle Winery’s website — the electronic version of Wine Weddings was also scheduled to be released on Jan. 4 via Amazon.

“I’m actually ready to write a second book … because I think this is going to end up being a series,” LaBelle said. “So the first one was Wine Weddings, and the second book will be Wine Celebrations, so every chapter will focus on a different celebration that you can host at home through the lens of wine. … I’d like to get that book out in time for Christmas next year.”

LaBelle founded LaBelle Winery in 2005 at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole and moved the operations to Amherst in late 2012. On Saturday, Jan. 28, the Amherst vineyard will hold a special 10th anniversary masquerade gala, complete with a cocktail hour, a four-course dinner, and performers like jugglers and fire-breathers. Proceeds from the gala will benefit both the ALS Association and LaBelle’s own charity, Empowering Angels, which promotes youth entrepreneurship opportunities.

“It’s going to be the party of the season,” LaBelle said. “We are closing down the restaurant that night, so we’ll be doing a cocktail hour throughout the building.”

By Amy LaBelle
Wine Weddings: The Ultimate Guide to Creating the Wine-Themed Wedding of Your Dreams, by Amy LaBelle
Hardcover print copies are available now through Amazon, Corkscrew Press, or wherever books are sold. They are available online at amylabelle.com or at labellewinery.com. The electronic version of the book was scheduled to be released on Jan. 4 via Amazon.

Featured photo: Amy LaBelle and her husband, Cesar Arboleda. Courtesy photo.

The Weekly Dish 23/01/03

News from the local food scene

Chilling out: New England’s Tap House Grille of Hooksett is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a special three-day Ice Fest, happening on Thursday, Jan. 12; Friday, Jan. 13, and Saturday, Jan. 14, from 6 to 10 p.m. each evening at the Tap House’s sister location, the Oscar Barn Wedding Venue (191 W. River Road, Hooksett). This outdoor party will feature a massive ice cocktail luge, interactive ice displays, live bands, fire pits, food trucks and more. “We have the Bonhomme Carnaval, which is the mascot from the annual winter carnival in Québec City,” said restaurant co-owner Dan Lagueux, who’s originally from Québec, Canada. “We’re going to have our pizza oven and our Tap House Express menu, which will have some French-Canadian items on it. … We’ll have our poutine, [and] I also have maple toffee and sugar on snow.” Another special activity of Ice Fest, he added, will be a beginners’ curling rink courtesy of NH SCOT. “I played curling, growing up in Canada, for many years,” he said. “They’re lending us that rink for the week, so it should be fun. ‘Learn How to Curl’ is going to be an event there.” Entry tickets are $25 per person and can be purchased online; food and drinks during the event, Lagueux said, will be purchased using special tokens, with one token equaling four dollars. Parking to Ice Fest is available nearby at the Tri-Town Ice Arena (311 W. River Road, Hooksett) with shuttle buses going back and forth for the duration of the event. Through Jan. 31, Lagueux said, any leftover tokens you have can be used as cash at the restaurant. Visit taphousenh.com to purchase Ice Fest tickets and tokens.

Get balanced: A new eatery offering acai and grain bowls, paninis, toasts, soups, smoothies, teas and other health-focused options is now open in Amherst. Balanced Cafe opened on Dec. 27 inside The Square on Amherst plaza at 135 Route 101A, the owners recently announced on their website and social media channels; the spot (most recently home to The Utopian restaurant) is their third location in the Granite State overall, joining two others in Plaistow and Windham. The cafe is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., its Facebook page said. According to its website, new “bistro bars” are also due to open soon at the Plaistow and Windham locations, featuring specialty cocktails, beer and wine. Visit eatdrinkbalanced.com.

On The Job – Brooke Tilton

Dog treat baker

Brooke Tilton is the owner of Buff Cake Barkery, a Nashua-based all-natural dog treat business.

Explain your job and what it entails.

I’m the owner and baker for Buff Cake Barkery, which is a gourmet, all-natural treat and custom cookie barkery for dogs. It’s predominantly an online business, with a variety of pop-ups, but we just recently expanded into several retail stores.

How long have you had this job?

I’ve been in business since January 2021.

What led you to this career field and your current job?

I started making treats and food for our rescue dog after we learned that he has a sensitive stomach. I love to bake, so it was a fun new endeavor. After I was making treats and food for a couple of years, we decided to see if it could turn into a business, and it has.

What kind of education or training did you need?

Degrees are not required for this line of work because it is something that can be self-taught. However, you do need to know the laws surrounding pet feed, distribution and what ingredients are dog-safe. Treats need to be lab-tested, and labels need to be approved by the DOA. All of that aside, I actually do have the formal education, a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts and a Servsafe certification.

What is your typical at-work uniform or attire?

When I’m in the kitchen, it’s whatever is comfortable — with an apron.

What was it like starting during the pandemic?

Starting the business was both fun and scary. There was a level of uncertainty, but also a “no time like the present” mentality. It’s been a wild ride, to say the least. Each new opportunity has inevitably opened the door to something else. I wish I had started it sooner, but I’m grateful for the opportunities, and I think it has panned out exactly how it was meant to.

What do you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?

Not everyone will understand or appreciate what you do, and that’s OK, because there are still plenty of people who do.

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

I’m not a mass-production operation. Every ingredient is carefully sourced and picked. Every treat is rolled and cut by hand. Every bag is labeled, filled and sealed by hand. Every order is packed with a handwritten note. There are so many steps to the process, and the prices reflect that.

What was the first job you ever had?

I was a coffee maker and doughnut filler at Dunkin’ Donuts.

What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever received?

Just be yourself and the right people will find you.

Five favorites

Favorite book:
You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
Favorite movie: Pretty Woman
Favorite music: Everything from classical to heavy metal, and almost everything in between
Favorite food: Chocolate
Favorite thing about NH: Its beauty

Featured photo: Brooke Tilton. Courtesy photo.

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