Stealth band

Beyond a cappella with Naturally 7

Close your eyes is the advice Roger Thomas gives fans seeing his group Naturally 7 for the first time. Because even though there are only seven singers on stage, their sound always causes listeners to wonder: where’s the band? Along with lush harmonies, a guitar, keyboards, bass and drums are in the mix. The trick — the miracle really — is it’s vocal only, group members mimicking instruments while others sing lyrics.

Technically, it’s a cappella — music that’s all voice and no instrumentation — but it’s so different that Thomas, who founded Naturally 7 in 1999, decided a new name was needed.

“We coined the phrase ‘vocal play,’” he said by phone recently. “To let people know it’s something else.”

Called Seven until a Southern act with a copyright forced them to change the name, N7 was an all-singing group at the outset. Fate intervened, however, in the form of a chance meeting with a music superstar.

“We were in a bookstore, and the owner said, ‘Hey, Stevie Wonder’s here, I want you guys to sing for him,” Thomas recalled. Wonder seemed to enjoy their version “Amazing Grace” but at the end “he was like, ‘I know who your favorite group is’ — and that’s how he left.”

Thomas quickly deduced Wonder wasn’t paying them a compliment.

“He was saying that we sound just like Take 6, and he knows they’re our favorite group,” he said. “From that point on — this was just before we formed N7 — I was like, ‘We’ve got to find a way to make it something of our own.’”

Later, on a long car trip, Thomas’s wife and mother-in-law grew tired of his a cappella cassettes, except Swedish quintet The Real Group’s song, which included eerily lifelike vocalized instruments. “They both said, ‘That can stay in … it’s not a cappella.’ I was like, that’s it! We’re going to be the first on the planet to imitate instruments as the mainstay of the group. Not just a little piece of a show like so many people do, but all seven of us have to figure out what instrument best suits us.”

N7’s unique brand of vocal play has carried them across the globe and led to a lot of memorable collaborations. A management connection resulted in a tour with Michael Bublé, who wanted an opener that wouldn’t add any equipment to an already crowded stage. “He was thinking it would probably be good to have an a cappella group,” Thomas said. “We were supposed to do one leg … we ended up doing three world tours and won three Grammys with him. That was eight years of our lives.”

Coldplay’s Chris Martin once watched them in London and invited them to hang out in his London studio. “They were singing one of our songs, ‘Wall of Sound,’” he recalled. To return the compliment, N7 learned “Fix You” a few months later. “It seems like the obvious one to do, but we’ve got to do it, man. It’s just the power in that song has everything to do with what we do.”

Their upcoming show at Tupelo Music Hall will mix Naturally 7 at the Movies, with selections like “Axel’s Theme” from Beverly Hills Cop, “Jailhouse Rock,” “Shaft” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” along with Christmas songs both standard and original — “Satisfaction Guaranteed” shines among the latter. As always, they’ll do “Fix You,” which has become de rigueur.

“People get upset if we don’t do it; it’s part of who we are,” Thomas said. “We want to leave people with something that’s uplifting, even more so than just the circus part of our voices and the vocal play. We love when people give us credit [for doing] this vocally, but there’s nothing like people saying the music touched them for a lifetime…. ‘Fix You’ is that type of song.”

Thomas set out looking for a distinct sound.

“I want someone to know it’s Naturally 7 within the first couple of bars, like it is for Earth Wind and Fire, the Temptations, Bee Gees or Beatles,” he said. “That’s how you know you’ve created something special.

It was a big lift, and at the start success wasn’t certain.

“You don’t know for sure that you can accomplish this, but you’re going to try, and we were able to do it,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely a dream come true to go around the world now. Because the goal was to get out on the stage and have everyone not believe it. That’s the key mark … get to the point where people say, ‘I don’t believe it.’”

Featured photo: Behind the Seams: My Life in Rinestones by Dolly Parton

The Music Roundup 23/12/14

Local music news & events

Holiday green: Celebrating its 18th year, Irish Christmas in America is a multimedia show with music, song and dance, and a cast that changes from year to year led by Sligo fiddler Oisín Mac Diarmada. Past members include Niamh Farrell, Séamus and Méabh Begley, Karan Casey and Michael Londra. It features fiddle, flute, uilleann pipes, harp and bouzouki, along with energetic Irish dancing. Thursday, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m., Dana Center, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester, $45 and up at

Family band: Cape Breton musical ambassadors Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy return for a Celtic-themed Christmas show that includes seven of their children taking turns entertaining. McMaster’s fiddling has earned her an Order of Canada award along with a pair of Junos (husband Leahy has garnered three). Their performance is aimed at “the young and the young at heart.” Friday, Dec. 15, 7 p.m., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $43.75 and up at

Retro foolery: It’s always a good time when Mike Girard’s Big Swingin’ Thing steps on stage, but the side project of the Fools front man offers even more at an upcoming Nashua concert. Along with reinterpreting rock ’n’ roll hits, the 20-piece big band will serve up a bevy of holiday selections. Saturday, Dec. 16, 8 pm., Nashua Center for the Arts, 201 Main St., Nashua, $39 at

Christmas magnetism: Inspired by the success of her analog album Memphis Magnetic, Morgan James recorded a live Christmas disc with curated nuggets like William Bell’s “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday” and “Backdoor Santa” (from the 1968 Atco Records sampler Soul Christmas), along with standards and originals. She will perform from it and sing a few other seasonal selections at an upcoming show. Sunday, Dec. 17, 8 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, $25 at

Helping out: Enjoy dinner and a holiday-themed performance from singer Sharon Jones, backed by an all-star band that includes pianist John Hyde, Mark Michaels playing guitar, Marty Ballou and Les Harris Jr. on bass and drums and sax player Marc Laforce. Monday, Dec. 18, 6 p.m., Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club, 135 Congress St., Portsmouth, $125 (includes dinner) at

At the Sofaplex 23/12/14

A Disturbance in the Force

If the words “Star Wars Holiday Special” conjure up an image of Bea Arthur or Carrie Fisher soulfully singing and give you a little devilish jolt of glee, then give yourself the $5 treat of renting this documentary about the 1978 post-Star Wars, pre-The Empire Strikes Back television special that was a little bit Star Wars — I mean, there were Wookiees — and a lot bit 1970s variety show. I have listened to a whole multi-episode podcast about the special but never seen it for myself. But this movie’s clips from not only the special but other late 1970s Star Wars detritus, including a Donny & Marie episode that features dancing Stormtroopers and Paul Lynde, really put you in the moment. Aging geeks like Weird Al Yankovic, Kevin Smith, Seth Green (who worked on a Lucas property and watched the special with fellow writers in Lucas’ screening room) and Paul Scheer explain the fan perspective while the likes of Bruce Vilanch talk about what it was like to work on this cultural artifact that had a one-and-done airing. George Lucas so disliked the thing that it was never aired again or reissued — but it also earned such a place in the canon of nerd culture that it is now readily available on the internet. The documentary acknowledges the weirdness of what it is — a story about the Wookiee holiday of Life Day mixed with standard variety comedy and musical segments — and places it in the universe of weird 1970s specials and programming. It also explains the special’s role in the larger Star Wars marketing effort that included books, comic books and, belatedly, toys — all of which was in part an effort to first sell the original movie in 1977 and then keep up interest in the Star Wars franchise until the next movie came out.

Whenever you plugged into Star Wars fandom, the documentary holds nostalgic charm for what the thing was before prequels and Disney+ shows. A

Available for rent or purchase on VOD.

Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain (R)

The comedy team of Martin Herlihy, John Higgins and Ben Marshall, who have cultivated a persona of pale, fragile indoor boys in their Saturday Night Live videos, bring that same sensibility to this 92-minute movie. They play roommates who work at Ben’s dad’s (Conan O’Brien) outdoor equipment store. They’ve been friends since childhood but John fears they’re coming apart, with Ben focused on trying to take over the store and Martin focused on buying a house with his girlfriend Amy (Nichole Sakura). When John realizes a compass they found years ago may hold a clue to the long-rumored $100 million gold bust hidden on Foggy Mountain, he thinks a quest might be just the thing to bring them back together. Along the way the boys meet Taylor (X Mayo) and Lisa (Megan Stalter), two park rangers who decide to try to get the treasure for themselves. Well, actually, Taylor decides that, and Lisa is just wondering if maybe she and John will need to make out for the caper to be successful — like, maybe they should anyway?

The Treasure of Foggy Mountain is extremely stupid and I mean that as the highest of compliments. The boys are intimidated by a hawk, they run in to a cult featuring Bowen Yang, and John Goodman serves as a not-impartial narrator. This is not great comedy but it is dumb comedy and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. B Streaming on Peacock.

Leave the World Behind (R)

An uptight middle-aged lady takes her Brooklyn family on a weekend trip to a beautiful country house on Long Island in Leave the World Behind, a dark, laugh-out-loud psychological horror.

The movie very self-consciously introduces us to marketing executive Amanda Sanford (Julia Roberts) and her roiling uptightness and anger by having her happily pack for a spur-of-the-moment family road trip as she explains to her college professor husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) that she spent the morning thinking about how much she hates people — and there was another, emphasis-adding word in there before “hates.” She’s rented a house for the family — which also includes teen son Archie (Charlie Evans) and just-turned-13 daughter Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) — in a hamlet called Pointe Comfort. The drive turns rural enough that Rose loses internet on the iPad where she’s binging Friends but the house is a design dream, with a large kitchen and a lovely pool. Amanda smiles sunnily as she meanders through the tasteful, dreamy master bedroom and has the same look of contentment as she loads purchases from the cute grocery market into her car, her mood only slightly darkening as she sees a local (Kevin Bacon) load up his truck with canned foods and water bottles. But all is well as the family lies out on the beach, enjoying the post-season sparse crowd and the sun and the view of the water where a large tanker ship seems strangely close. Doesn’t that seem close, Rose tries to say to her family several times but is ignored until Amanda, looking up from a snooze, is all, hey that’s really close and it’s not stopping. The family grabs their bags and rushes away just as the large ship runs aground up onto the beach.

Once they’re home, they find the internet is out and their phones don’t have service but everything basically seems normal and the kids jump into the pool while the parents make dinner. Later, Amanda and Clay are playing Jenga and enjoying wine when there is a knock at the door. G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali), decked in a tuxedo, and his 20-something daughter Ruth (Myha’la), dressed in an evening gown, are at the door. G.H. graciously apologizes and calls Amanda by name when he introduces himself as the man she emailed with when she rented the house. This house is his house and they, G.H. and Ruth, have driven out to stay the night. The night or maybe longer — there’s a blackout in the city and he can’t walk the 14 floors up to his city apartment. With all the traffic and chaos, he doesn’t want to go back to the city and even offers to refund Amanda her money, unlocking a drawer and handing her cash, so that he and Ruth can stay in the in-law apartment in the home’s basement. Amanda is, er, the most printable description is probably “a brittle jerk” about this request and doesn’t entirely believe G.H.’s claims to own the house. Ruth finds her father’s extreme politeness to this snotty lady and her family excessive, especially since they are asking to stay in the basement of their own home. Eventually, though, everybody goes to bed with a general idea that they’ll make sense of things in the morning.

“Making sense” is not a task easily accomplished. After a vague emergency alert, the TV offers nothing but fuzz. No phones, no internet. Clay’s attempt to drive into town is disastrous without GPS. Rose keeps seeing weird animal-related things. But at least Archie seems pretty happy when Ruth comes down to the pool in her bikini.

Ruth and Amanda’s instant dislike of each other, Clay’s clumsy attempts at being useful and friendly, the kids’ them-focused problems (Archie wonders if he can visit his girlfriend vacationing an hour away, Rose just really wants to see the last episode of Friends), G.H.’s fears about what’s happening, Amanda’s whole personality — it’s all really well-executed in this movie that shoots even scenes of banal upper-middle-class-ness with theatrical dread. The characters are spikey but also get some humanity to them. They are helpful to each other but they also make things a little worse at all times with the information they don’t share. Amanda and G.H. seem to take turns condescendingly telling each other that things are going to be fine or that something is totally normal when neither particularly believes it themselves. And throughout there is a sense that one of the most fraught elements of whatever is happening may be the miscalculations and conclusions jumped to by these reluctant housemates about each other, with both Amanda and Ruth just wanting the other’s family to leave already.

Also, Leave the World Behind is funny — bleakly, sorta meanly funny, but funny. I found myself laughing out loud frequently (and in that vein, it has a pretty great final note) and just sort of enjoying the way the movie frequently seems to be tickled with itself. A

Rated R for language, some sexual content, drug use and brief bloody images, according to the MPA at Directed by Sam Esmail (who also wrote the screenplay, based on the book of the same name by Rumaan Alam), Leave the World Behind is two hours and 18 minutes long and is streaming on Netflix.

May December (R)

An actress attempts to get into the head of a woman she’ll be portraying in a movie in May December, a well-acted disturbing drama from director Todd Haynes.

Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) is a famous enough actress that people get wide-eyed when she passes by and will fan-out about her previous work. Her upcoming movie is a sort of indie production looking at a scandal from the 1990s involving Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), who was then in her mid 30s. As Gracie tells it, she was married and working at a pet shop when she had a passionate affair with a coworker that led to the end of her marriage to her husband at the time with whom she had three children. Another way to describe that “affair” would be felony child sexual assault, as Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), the boy she was caught with, was 13 years old.

Gracie went to jail, where she gave birth to their first child, Honor (Piper Curda), now a college student. Gracie and Joe eventually married and also had twins, Mary (Elizabeth Yu) and Charlie (Gabriel Chung), who are, as the movie starts, days away from their high school graduation. Gracie and Joe, who is now in his mid 30s, live in Savannah, the town they’ve always lived in. So they have a support system of family and a small group of friends who buy Gracie’s home-produced baked goods but also Gracie occasionally receives boxes of poo in the mail.

Elizabeth shows up to kind of shadow Gracie — to convey the truth of Gracie and Gracie and Joe’s relationship, as she tells everyone. Gracie might have her reservations but also seems to like the idea that she’ll have some control over the revisiting of her infamy. Elizabeth learns to mimic Gracie’s mannerisms and sometimes intentionally lispy speech and also inserts herself into the family’s life in a way that is mildly to moderately destructive to this already deeply damaged group of people. Included in this emotional quicksand is Georgie (Cory Michael Smith), Gracie’s youngest child by her first marriage, who was a tween when the scandal came to light and seems to have been destroyed by it.

Actually, even Elizabeth, who shows up with an almost journalistic pose of wanting to “understand,” seems pretty messed up in how she basically just wallows in the griminess of Gracie and her choices. She might claim to want “the truth” but that seems to always translate to the most tabloid-y approach. Portman is commendably game at letting us see the actory nonsense of her character without trying to convince us that Elizabeth is, like, doing art. Likewise, Moore is very good about leaving it vague how much of Gracie’s awfulness is the result of unhealed damage from her own youth and how much is self-conscious predatory behavior masquerading in false innocence. It’s an impressively unflattering portrayal.

The standout performance, though, is from Melton, who gives us a Joe so firmly stuck in the trauma of what happened to him that he can’t see his way out or even be particularly useful in shielding his kids from their mother’s emotional abuse. Melton does a good job of giving us a person who seems thoroughly flattened — someone who is never not screaming on the inside but is almost immobilized on the outside. It is all deeply unpleasant to watch.

And there’s your May December poster quote: “very well acted, deeply unpleasant to watch!” The movie has moments of (very dark) dry humor but those don’t exactly lighten the “aftermath of a horrible car crash” vibes that follow you throughout. I don’t think you’ll be sorry having seen it, particularly if you are a follower of Oscar-y, year-end movie conversation, but I won’t pretend you’ll have a whole lot of fun sitting through it. What’s that, like a B+? For all the quality?

Rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language, according to the MPA on Directed by Todd Haynes with a screenplay by Samy Burch, May December is an hour and 57 minutes long and streaming on Netflix.

Featured photo: Leave the World Behind.

A Christmas Vanishing, by Anne Perry

A Christmas Vanishing, by Anne Perry (Ballantine, 190 pages)

Since childhood, Christmas reading has been a large part of my enjoyment of the holidays; I could quote from A Christmas Carol in grade school, and one of my favorite books is a collection of Christmas stories from celebrated authors. I start scouring new releases in the summer looking for upcoming holiday books and was hopeful when I came across A Christmas Vanishing by the late Anne Perry.

Perry, born in London and raised in New Zealand, is one of a few authors (Debbie Macomber and Richard Paul Evans among them) who churn out yearly Christmas-themed. There is an assembly-line precision about Perry’s 21 holiday offerings, which in recent years included A Christmas Deliverance, A Christmas Legacy, A Christmas Resolution, A Christmas Gathering and A Christmas Revelation — think of a noun, and Perry put “A Christmas” in front of it and turned it into a bestseller, and she would have continued to do so if she had not had a heart attack last December and died in April at age 84.

Perry is best-known as a crime writer, and the Christmas novels, set in Victorian England, follow that theme.

A Christmas Vanishing follows Mariah Ellison, a widow in her 80s (and the grandmother of a recurring character in Perry’s novels, Charlotte Pitt), on a journey from her home in London to a small rural town where she has been invited to spend Christmas with a friend and her husband. Mariah has known Sadie for a half-century but hasn’t seen her in 20 years; she remembers a falling out of some kind the last time they were together, but she can’t recall the specifics and is pleased to renew their friendship and see the town where she once also lived.

Also, “if she was being honest, she had to accept that she had nowhere else to go, which was entirely her own doing. Her daughter-in-law and grandchildren all had their own seasonal arrangements and she had not been included.”

When Mariah arrives at Sadie’s house via horse-drawn buggy (one of the occasional reminders that this novel is set during Queen Victoria’s time), Sadie’s husband, Barton, unpleasantly tells her his wife isn’t there, he doesn’t know where she is or when she’ll be back, and he’s sorry-not sorry but she can’t stay there. She goes to the house of another old friend but is told she can’t stay there either, and is sent to the house of that friend’s sister, Gwendolyn, where she finally finds a warm welcome.

Because this is a time in which there is no Nancy Grace or internet sleuths, and even Sadie’s husband doesn’t seem particularly interested in finding Sadie, Mariah struggles to assemble a search party, but soon she and Gwendolyn are joined by kindly bookstore owner Oliver, and they puzzle over the possibilities.

Did Barton kill or injure his wife? Did she take off on a lark? Was she in an accident? Has she run off with another man? Been kidnapped? The latter scenarios seem far-fetched given that Sadie is in her 70s and has no family money. The mystery deepens (as deep as this largely shallow story gets) when Oliver and Mariah learn that Barton spotted his wife, looking happy, in the window of a local vacant cottage not long after she disappeared.

There are hints that Sadie’s life was not quite what it seemed, and neither was Mariah’s. And Mariah is realizing she is trying to figure out the mystery of Sadie’s disappearance based on the Sadie that she knew long ago, not Sadie as she would be now. As the story unfolds, so do the secrets of the principal characters, and an element of danger is introduced that threatens Mariah.

“We all have things we would never want publicly known,” Oliver tells her at one point, and that was true for the author as well. In 1994 she was outed by the Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures as having participated in a murder when she was 15. Kate Winslet played Perry’s character in the movie, which was based on the true story of the killing of Perry’s friend’s mother. Perry is a pen name for the writer, whose given name was Juliet Hulme.

As was detailed in her obituaries, Perry, who had a chaotic childhood and struggled with mental illness, spent five years in prison in New Zealand before reinventing herself and becoming an extraordinarily successful writer, penning not just mysteries but also a series of novels about World War I. Hers is about as good a redemption story as you can get. We shouldn’t speak ill of the dead or their books, and Perry’s Christmas novels are beloved by millions. But I found A Christmas Vanishing more workmanlike than inspired, and it is a Christmas story only in that it is cold, homes are decorated and there are people roasting chestnuts on the street. C

Album Reviews 23/12/14

Asha Jefferies, Ego Ride (Nettwerk Records)

Debut album from this Australian pop-princess, steeped in queer sensibilities, aimed at the straight-ahead alt-pop demographic that gravitates to Liz Phair and such, and look, it’s on the Nettwerk Records label, which always promises goodness. I’m way ahead of the curve on this one, which isn’t out until April, but Katy Perry did pretty much the same thing with her first LP, like I was already sick of hearing about her months before her LP came out. I’ll leave it to you to grok the parallels there, but in the meantime, this one’s a winner from the word go. “Stranger” starts off in a casual Portishead-ish direction, triple-layered with lazy synths, slow-bonked piano and orchestral statements, and even before Jefferies adds her Sarah McLachlan semi-yodel to it you’re already envisioning its future as a roll-credits fadeout to a major movie, something of that sort. The artiste’s people want me to talk about the single, “Keep My S—t Together,” a master-class mid-tempo chick-rocker a la Sheryl Crow, and so here goes: It’s pretty dreamy too. A+

Tutu Puoane, Wrapped in Rhythm (SoulFactory Records)

Another far-in-advance notice that’s well worth the wait. Born in Pretoria, South Africa, and a resident of Belgium since the early Aughts, this theatrical singer has collaborated with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Bert Joris, the Flemish Philharmonic, Tineke Postma, John Clayton, Metropole Orkest and Black Lives – from Generation to Generation. Her lilting soprano, which you’ll find here nestled among typical smoky room-jazz components like belled trumpets and such, is of the Toni Braxton variety, at least when she’s in a more or less post-bop groove, but as well — and this should come as no shock — she’s got a world-music side to her, half-singing about esoteric concepts like the promises the Earth made to her forebears and how she feels them in her feet. This is a lot more advanced than what Braxton fans have become accustomed to over the years, but Braxton is without a doubt the touchstone here. The passages glide and swoop and become more irresistible by the minute. A+


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Ack, ack, I’m supposed to be writing about albums coming out this Friday, Dec. 15, but I’ll bet you there aren’t any on my go-to critics’ cheat sheet! Yup, nope, just one, an LP titled One Wayne G, the sixth one from Canadian jangle-pop annoyance Mac DeMarco, but since I’d rather go get a root canal than — wait, never mind, he’s a cat person, he made a video about his cat, Pickles, who died recently, so in honor of Pickles I’ll go check out whatever YouTube has on this album. Huh, looks like he named all this album’s songs after the dates he wrote them. Here’s one of the dumb things, titled “20180512.” It’s really mellow and upbeat and he thankfully doesn’t sing; it’s like what you’d hear if Spyro Gyra wrote an elevator music song for a yoga retreat, so forget all this nonsense, I’ll look for something kind of normal at a little-known CD-release-information website called Well well, the first thing I see is a soundtrack thing, titled Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 2023 Broadway Cast Recording. Now I know what you’re thinking, you want to watch me predict what I think this album will sound like, as if I’m just here for your entertainment. Well, to heck with it, I’ll tell you, I predict it sounds like bad but important-sounding music from a Broadway play that people stopped going to see back in 2011. Et voila, that’s exactly it, the same music they played on the super-boring 2007 Stephen Sondheim/Johnny Depp film that was based on Christopher Boyd’s 1970 play. Josh Groban sings the Sweeney Todd parts in this one, not that it helps any.

• There are so few new CD releases coming out as the “countdown to Christmas” winds down that I think we may as well just talk about new country & western albums for the remainder of the column, because that’s all I’m really seeing. But before that, if you’re wondering why you don’t have as much fun during Christmas as you did when you were 11, it’s probably because the mass media wants you to think there really is a “countdown,” like you’re not actually having fun or experiencing the joy of camraderie yet, because the countdown is still going on. Or at least that’s what “they” want us to think. The truth is that the journey is the fun part. In fact, when HannuKwanzmas day actually arrives, that’s when the fun ends, you know? That’s when things really get stressful as you run around trying to get your relatives out of your house, returning gifts and whatever. So enjoy the season, fam, and in the meantime you might consider buying country singer Riley Green’s new LP, Ain’t My Last Rodeo. Green is of course a Jon Pardi wannabe, sounding sort of like Thomas Rhett or a tin-plated Merle Haggard, but at least it’s not Rascal Flatts, so count your blessings, cowpokes!

• Sticking with this week’s country music tangent, Earned It is the new album by Larry Fleet, who sounds like every modern male picker-grinner, and plus, he has a ZZ Top beard, at least at this writing. The title track is really bluegrass-y, which I respect, like, if Larry the Cable Guy could hold a tune it’d probably sound like this.

• We’ll wrap up this week’s horse-ropin’, chicken-pluckin’, pig-scramblin’ column with the new full-length from Nashville’s most famous “nepo baby,” Rosanne Cash! The album is called The Wheel, and the title track is actually pretty good, some busy finger-picking guitar-tronica. Imagine Wilson Phillips trying to be seriously country and you’d be in the ballpark.

Raspberry-Rose Rickey

It’s a pretty good party.

There is good jazz playing in the background — Louis Armstrong, and Tony Bennet, and Nina Simone, with a sprinkling of Sinatra. Good stuff, but not distracting, nothing that anyone will have a deep attachment to from high school. Nobody’s going to shout, “Hey! Crank that up!” and derail the vibe.

There’s a nice blend of guests — obligatory family members, and actual friends you want to spend time with. Interestingly, your college roommate has struck up a friendship with your Uncle Charley with the conspiracy theories. They’re both smiling and gesturing wildly, so they seem to have found some common ground.

You don’t have a fireplace, but there’s a Yule log burning on the TV screen, which also keeps your cousin from switching on the game.

Everyone has brought something for the Yankee swap. You’ve got a good feeling about this year. You spent all year combing flea markets and yard sales and finally scored a brass sculpture of an exotic dancer with a clock in her belly. She’s wrapped inconspicuously in plain brown paper with a tag that says, “Open me. Or not. It’s no skin off my nose either way.”

Dinner went well — tacos, so everybody got a little bit of what they wanted. There’s tres leches cake for dessert. It took a couple of years to convince the family to try it, but now it’s become a tradition. A couple of years ago a slightly inebriated cousin spent 15 minutes enthusiastically explaining tres leches to your friend Maria, who grew up in Chiapas.

“It’s like CAKE, but it’s uh, um —,” he said for the third time.

“Wet?” Maria suggested, with a small smile on her face.

“YES! It’s CAKE but it’s WET!” he half-shouted enthusiastically.

“And cold?” Maria suggested again.

“AND COLD!!!” he agreed, beaming at Maria, filled with goodwill and Budweiser, then staggered off to find a couch.

You have three or four children at the party this year and they are so full of tacos and cake that if it weren’t for the promise of presents they’d have fallen asleep by now.

Your mother and her sister are getting along tonight. It’s always a toss-up whether they will get along, or end up looking at old family photos, which will remind them of some half-forgotten grudge from the 1970s, and releasing the Drama Kraken.

All in all, it’s a pretty good evening, as long as you keep topping off everyone’s glass. That’s why it’s a good idea to make batches of drinks ahead of time.

For instance:

  • Raspberry-Rose Rickey
  • 1 12-ounce package frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup floral gin – I used Uncle Van’s and was very pleased
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice – about 4 limes
  • ¼ teaspoon rose water
  • plain seltzer

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to combine, and leave, covered, for an hour at room temperature.

Mash the contents with a potato masher, re-cover, and leave for another hour.

Stir, then strain with a fine-mesh strainer. You will not believe how many seeds raspberries have in them.

In a rocks glass with ice or crushed ice, fill with the raspberry-gin mixture, then top with seltzer. Stir.

Roses and berries have a natural affinity for each other. In this case, the background flavor of roses should add a woody/floral note that will meld with the floral gin. In turn, gin and lime are a classic combination, as are lime and raspberries. The four main ingredients chase each other around and around, tickling your palate.

This is a fairly low-octane, not-too-sweet drink that even your most suspicious relatives will accept. Your actual friends will probably love it.

It’s like RASPBERRIES, but WET, with ROSES dunked in it!

It’s time to find somewhere to sit.

Featured photo: Raspberry-Rose Rickey. Photo by John Fladd.

In the kitchen with Tracy Fitts

Born and raised in New Hampshire, Tracy Fitts has had experience in the restaurant industry since she was 13 years old working at Golden Acres, a clam shack in Pinardville. Along the way she met Cyndee Williams, who went on to open White Birch Eatery in Goffstown. There Williams asked Fitts to join in, and she is now the executive chef and director of operations.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

There are so many tools, pieces of equipment and people that we need to do what we do. It’s all important. I will agree with a lot of the other chefs that a good-quality knife is needed.

What would you have for your last meal?

Anything from Mama Reykjavik in Iceland, an absolutely delicious vegan restaurant with an artsy hippie vibe and the nicest people.

What is your favorite local eatery?

Aside from White Birch — I truly do love coming here — I would say if I am taking a bit of a drive it would be Green Elephant in Portsmouth. For Manchester, it’s Restoration Cafe.

Name a celebrity you would like to see eating in your restaurant?

I wouldn’t mind seeing Lenny Kravitz sitting at my table, but honestly, nothing makes me happier than one of our customers telling me how much they enjoyed their meal. It’s why I do this and have done this for 30 years.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Our vegan Reuben.

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

Restaurants offering alternative menus to include gluten-free and vegan options. It’s so great.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Noodle bowls, rice noodles, spicy broth or peanut sauce and lots of fresh veggies.

Warm Spinach Dip
From Tracy: This dip is a quick crowd-pleaser! All of the ingredients get stirred together and spread into a baking dish. The finishing touch is another layer of cheese. Bake your dip until it’s hot and melted, serve with bread, or tortilla or pita chips.

8 ounces cream cheese softened
1 cup sour cream
10 ounces fresh spinach leaves
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (save 1/2 cup to sprinkle on the top at the end and melt in the oven)
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
bread, crackers and vegetables for serving
cooking spray (spray your dish first to make clean-up easier)

The most important part of making this recipe is to be sure all of the water is removed from your spinach. You can squeeze the spinach between your fingers to remove the liquid, press it in a potato ricer, or wrap the spinach in a few layers of paper towels to wring out all the liquid. You can use frozen spinach or sauté fresh — just make sure to cool it and squeeze dry.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes and remove and sprinkle the remaining cheese and place back in the oven for 10 minutes to melt.

Featured photo: Katie Pope of Confections by Kate. Courtesy photo.

Meal on the town

Where to eat on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Looking for someone else to cook a special holiday meal? Here are a few places serving up special eats. Did we miss a spot open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or serving a special holiday dish? Let us know at

Bedford Village Inn (2 Olde Bedford Way, Bedford, 472-2001, is hosting The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Thursday, Dec. 21, at 6 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres before a meal of three plated courses, all featuring fish, followed by Italian desserts like ricotta pie, cannolis, tiramisu, cookies and chocolate mousse.

• Through Saturday, Dec. 30, Colby Hill Inn (33 The Oaks, Henniker, 428-2581, will be serving its Chef’s Christmas Cheer Menu from 4 to 8:30 p.m.; it will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Entrees on the menu include pork wiener schnitzel with cucumber dill salad, sweet and sour red cabbage and french fries ($40), lobster and scallop pot pie with whipped potatoes and garlic confit ($54) and ricotta honeynut squash ravioli with broccoli rabe, chanterelle and black trumpet mushrooms and truffle butter ($40). Rum cake with coconut pineapple ice cream, peppermint panna cotta, apple strudel with whipped cream, an adult cookie tray and Black Forest cake are for dessert.

The Grazing Room will be serving beverages and food like bratwurst and apple strudel during the Winter Wonderland Barn Market on Saturday, Dec. 16, and Sunday, Dec. 17, with local craft food and art vendors. Also that Sunday is Christmas! High Tea at 12:30 p.m. with mimosas, Christmas treats, holiday cocktails and punch. It is $65 per person for this event.

Open Christmas Eve

Airport Diner (2280 Brown Ave., Manchester, 623-5040, open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Alan’s Restaurant (133 N. Main St., Boscawen, 753-6631, is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Bedford Village Inn (2 Olde Bedford Way, Bedford, 472-2001, will serve a three-course prix fixe menu from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the dining room followed by a dessert buffet and cash bar at the Great Hall. Dinner will also be served at Fondi from 4 to 8 p.m. as well as breakfast from 8 to 10:30 a.m.

Buckley’s Great Steaks (438 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack,, 424-0995) is taking reservations for Christmas Eve.

Chez Vachon (136 Kelley St., Manchester, 625-9660, will be open regular hours.

CJ’s Great West Grill (782 S. Willow St., Manchester, 627-8600, will be open until 5 p.m.

The Common Man (Lago, 1 Route 25, Meredith, 279-2253; Camp, 298 Daniel Webster Hwy., Meredith, 279-3003; Lakehouse, 281 Daniel Webster Hwy., Meredith, 279-5221; 60 Main St., Ashland, 968-7030; 10 Pollard Road, Lincoln, 745-3463; 88 Range Road, Windham, 898-0088; 1 Gulf St., Concord, 228-3463; 304 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack, 429-3463; 21 Water St., Claremont, 542-6171; 231 Main St., Plymouth, 536-2764; Route 104 Diner, 752 Route 104, New Hampton, 744-0120; 61 Laconia Road, Tilton, 286-2204; 2280 Brown Ave., Manchester, 623-5040; is open for dining on Christmas Eve from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at their Lakehouse, Meredith, location, and from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Ashland, Concord and Merrimack; Route 104 Diner in New Hamptonis open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Copper Door (15 Leavy Drive, Bedford, 488-2677, accepting reservations until 8 p.m. and will be open until 10 p.m.

CR’s The Restaurant (287 Exeter Road, Hampton, 929-7972, is taking reservations for Christmas Eve dinner from 4 to 8:30 p.m.

The Derryfield Restaurant (625 Mammoth Road, Manchester, 623-2880, will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Epoch Gastropub (90 Front St., Exeter, 778-3762, is open for Christmas Eve brunch from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Farm Bar and Grille (1181 Elm St., Manchester, 641-3276) is open from noon to 4 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended.

Foster’s Boiler Room (231 Main St., Plymouth, 536-2764, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Fratello’s Italian Grille (799 Union Ave., Laconia, 528-2022; 155 Dow St., Manchester, 624-2022, will be open until 8 p.m.

Friendly Red’s Tavern (22 Haverhill Road, Route 111, Windham, 437-7251; 111 W Broadway, Derry, 404-6606, is open until 8 p.m.

Lakehouse Grille (281 Daneil Webster Hwy., Meredith, 279-5221, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Pasta Loft Restaurant & Brewing Co. (241 Union Sq., 627-2270, will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Red Arrow Diner (112 Loudon Road, Concord, 415-0444; 137 Rockingham Road, Londonderry, 552-3091; 61 Lowell St., Manchester, 626-1118; 149 Daniel Webster Hwy., Nashua, 204-5088, is open for its regular hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Concord, 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Londonderry, 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Manchester open 24 hours; Nashua 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.)

Surf (207 Main St., Nashua, 595-9293; 99 Bow St., Portsmouth, 334-9855, is taking reservations via phone.

T-Bones (25 S. River Road, Bedford, 641-6100; 404 Main St., Concord; 39 Crystal Ave., Derry, 434-3200; 77 Lowell Road, Hudson, 882-6677; 1182 Union Ave., Laconia; 311 S Broadway, Salem, closes at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve at each location.

• Lobster ravioli, salmon, maple sausage pizza and more will be served at Wild Rose Restaurant (3351 White Mountain Hwy., North Conway,, 356-3113) on Christmas Eve from 5 to 8 p.m. Visit their website to make your reservation.

900 Degrees (Dow St., Manchester, 641-0900, will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. They will be open until 6 p.m. for gift card sales.

Open Christmas Day

Airport Diner (112 Loudon Road, Concord, 415-0444; 137 Rockingham Road, Londonderry, 552-3091; 61 Lowell St., Manchester, 626-1118; 149 Daniel Webster Hwy, Nashua, 204-5088, is open regular hours on Christmas Day at each location and will be offering a turkey dinner for $18.99.

Lakehouse Grille (281 Daniel Webster Hwy., Meredith, 279-5221, will be open for breakfast from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a special Christmas menu.

Salt Kitchen and Bar (Wentworth by the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, 422-7322, will have a brunchfrom 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Wentworth Ballroom with smoothies, a Belgian waffle station and a carving station. Seats are $89.95 and $26.95 for children under 12 years old.

They will also have Christmas dinner from 1 to 10 p.m. with sliced prime beef tenderloin, Scottish salmon, sous vide pork chop and coq au vin chicken. Seats are $69.95 and $26.95 for children under 12 years old. Visit their website to make reservations.

An Italian Christmas

Bedford Village Inn hosts Feast of the Seven Fishes

The halls are decked at Bedford Village Inn with garlands, decor and an upside-down lighted Christmas tree suspended 30 feet high from the ceiling in the Great Hall, where the Inn will host the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian-American celebration, on Thursday, Dec. 21.

“When you enter for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which is traditionally held on Christmas Eve … [you’re] greeted by … beautiful holiday decor,” said Melissa Samaras, the sales and marketing director at the Bedford Village Inn. “There’s courses all including fish that go out into an extended over-indulgent evening of incredible wine and cuisine that is very heavily focused on fish.”

While the Feast of the Seven Fishes is not an official tradition or term, and its true origins are not known, eating fish on Christmas Eve could stem from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from eating meat other than fish before communion, according to a post by Brian Trembath on the Denver Public Library website. Sydney Dominick, writing for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, says the tradition comes from Italian immigrants who came to America during the 20th century.

“As the guests are seated for dinner, each course is going to be accompanied with a wine pairing that will complement each item being served,” Samaras said. “We change the menu [but] it kind of follows the same prototype in a sense. [There are] certain things you always want to include.”

The evening starts with a cocktail hour with passed and stationary hors d’oeuvres such as shrimp cocktail with bloody mary cocktail sauce and lemon, oysters on the half shell with Champagne citrus mignonette, and smoked trout crostini with chives. As per tradition, hors d’oeuvres are followed by a salad, which will be a grilled calamari salad with pickled vegetables, radicchio and arugula. The second course is spaghetti with clam sauce and parsley, followed by the third course of cod puttanesca with herb-roasted Yukon potatoes and green beans with garlic and almonds. Dessert includes assorted cannolis, tiramisu cups, ricotta pie, chocolate mousse and Italian cookies.

“People can vary as to what they offer,” Samaras said. “You don’t have to stick to any course options; they just have to be fish-focused.”

Italian cuisine is special to Jack Carnevale, the owner of Bedford Village Inn.

“[It] goes back to [his] Italian roots. [He] just really [loves to celebrate] and bring that focus and those memories from his childhood…,” Samaras said. “This celebration … is near and dear to him and he wanted to create the event here to share with everyone else. … It’s really special for us to be able to extend those kinds of celebrations here….”

Feast of the Seven Fishes
Thursday, Dec. 21, 6 p.m.
Where: Great Hall at Bedford Village Inn, 2 Olde Bedford Way, Bedford

Featured photo: Torre di Fruitti di Mare. Courtesy photo.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!