Feminine touch

Roomful of Blues at Rex with new singer

Over almost six decades as a band, Roomful of Blues has seen its share of personnel changes, but the latest is a biggie.

“Basically, half the lineup is new,” guitarist Chris Vachon, who joined in 1990, said recently. Two members of the horn section and a keyboard player have joined and, crucially, the band has its first female lead vocalist since Lou Ann Barton was a member for a very short tenure in the early 1980s.

New singer D.D. Bastos and Vachon have played together in the Rhode Island band Sons of Providence since mid-decade, so “there’s some history there,” Vachon said. However, the departure of singer Phil Pemberton, who left due to declining health, means that typical set lists will be shifting dramatically.

“We don’t change front people too much, that’s rare…. Phil was in the band for 15 years,” Vachon said. “Having a new person come in as a front person, you’re going to replace a lot of the material to things that are more suited for them. That’s exciting for us, with a new show and all that.”

The RoB horns and drums backed Pat Benatar on her jump blues True Love album, and Bastos will offer a few songs from that when the band stops by the Rex Theatre on July 12, along with some tunes from the Barton era. The latter lasted only three months, ending when the Texas blues chanteuse realized she’d never acclimate to New England winters.

It’s a local show for one of the new members. Sax player Craig Thomas lives just a few blocks from the Amherst Street venue. Another new face on stage will be keyboard player Jeff Ceasrine, though he has a history with RoB, having played occasionally with them since 2008.

“Jeff is a natural to take over where [former keyboard player] Rusty Scott left off,” Vachon said.

The new lineup was in fine form during a recent Extended Play Session filmed at the Fallout Shelter in Norwood, Mass. Bastos shined on the Etta James classic “Good Rockin’ Daddy” and the burning ballad “Please Don’t Go,” while whipping up the crowd on the energetic call-and-response boogie “That’s Right!”

Vachon pumped out some hot licks on his Gibson SG during the cool groove number “I’m Tryin’” and the horn section’s latest additions, Chris Pratt on trumpet and Thomas on tenor sax, had a long stretch to show off, all in preparation for a big month ahead.

“We’re going to be full steam and we’re all pretty excited about it,” Vachon said.

The idea has remained steady even as players come and go, with a style that can feel like big band but find a rock groove when called for while staying true to its namesake and playing the blues. Their schedule has changed, however.

“My early years in the band, we were gone all the time,” Vachon said. “It’s mostly weekends now.”

Their last album is 2020’s In A Roomful of Blues, a fun effort with songs like the snarky “Phone Zombies” along with the B.B. King-esque title cut. As with a lot of records made that year, the band didn’t get many chances to perform it early on — it’s hard to be in a roomful of anything while staying six feet apart.

Eventually, they took it on the road, and Vachon said they’re ready to add to their 20-plus collection soon. Meanwhile, they continue to be the band that plays blues to make folks forget their blues.

“We don’t do too much of the weepy stuff,” Vachon agreed. “We do happy, swingy things you can dance to. I mean, we’re going to do stuff that’s uplifting and fun.”

An Evening With Roomful of Blues
When: Friday, July 12, 8 p.m.
Where: Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $29 at palacetheatre.org

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 24/07/11

Local music news & events

2000s redux: Last year’s successful Summer Gods Tour returns with Third Eye Blind again topping the bill. Yellowcard, with a punk pop sound augmented by electric violin, is the middle band on the show, rounded out by Arizona. Thursday, July 11, 6:30 p.m., BankNH Pavilion, 72 Meadowbrook Lane, Gilford, $33 and up at livenation.com.

Country girl: Summer music on Lake Sunapee continues through August. Coming up is April Cushman, a singer and guitarist with a solid reputation in her home region who will go worldwide when she performs in Denmark this autumn. Upcoming at the bucolic performing space are Madou Sidiki Diabate (July 19), Charlie Chronopoulos (July 26), The Rough and Tumble (Aug. 9) and Ari Hest (Aug. 16). Friday, July 12, 7:30 p.m., The Livery, 58 Main St., Sunapee, $20 at thelivery.org.

Hoppy music: Along with the Keep NH Brewing Festival’s many ales and lagers is music, from Taylor Hughes and Whatsername. The latter is a fun alt-rock trio that touches on a range of artists, from Green Day to the White Stripes and Tokio Hotel. Hughes is an engaging singer-songwriter with a growing catalog of original songs along with many well-chosen cover selections. Saturday, July 13, 1 p.m., Everett Arena, 15 Loudon Road, Concord, $50 at nhbrewers.org.

Street fair: A Summer Block Party presented by the Currier Museum has music from Party of the Sun, a psychedelic folk trio that’s informed by Americana traditions. They’ve released a pair of full-length records, and their songs have been on CW’s Charmed, Fox’s Deputy and other shows. The event includes art activities, free admission to the gallery, food trucks and a beer and wine tent. Sunday, July 14, 3 p.m., Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester, currier.org.

Blues summit: Free evening gazebo concerts continue in Henniker with Frankie Boy & The Blues Express performing music that ranges from traditional to modern funk, with a bit of hip-hop on occasion. . Tuesday, July 16, 6 pm., Angela Robinson Bandstand, 57 Main St., Henniker, henniker.org.

A Quiet Place: Day One (PG-13 )

A Quiet Place: Day One (PG-13 )

If you are feeling cynical and grumpy about the state of movies, the alien thriller A Quiet Place: Day One might actually be the perfect downbeat (but uplifting maybe?) movie for you.

Let’s consider this one sort of backward from how I usually do things. I’ll try not to spoil things along the way but if you want to go in to this movie with a complete blank slate — which somehow I did? — then just know that this one is worth seeing, probably even worth seeing specifically in the theater, where it holds all your attention. It is one of these “A Something-Franchise Saga” type movies — like Mad Max saga movie Furiosa or Star Wars saga movies Rogue One or Solo — but it is the least annoying of this kind of cinematic universe-building endeavor that I’ve seen in a while. And it hooks in even less to the Emily Blunt/John Krasinki family story of the first two A Quiet Place movies than those aforementioned movies do to their franchises. The first two A Quiet Places are not necessary viewing before seeing this one. All you need to know is that what we’re dealing with is aliens and those aliens have particularly good hearing and stompy-bitey abilities but not great vision. Be super quiet and they won’t “see” you.

About half an hour into this movie I had two issues with it which, by the end, I decided were not actually problems but excellent, tone-appropriate features. Issue 1: This movie seems to have very minimal stakes. Issue 2: The more time we spend with the aliens, the less interesting and impressive and “embodiment of all fears” they are. But, as I said, by the end of this movie my feeling was: “This movie has no stakes and these stupid aliens don’t matter! Cool!” So many movies have set as their central struggle “the end of the world” it feels fun and subversive that a movie about an actual apocalypse has kind of “meh” villains and very minor approach to what it counts as accomplishments.

Lupita Nyong’o, who IMDb says is called “Samira” even though we probably only hear her name said once, maybe twice, and I didn’t clock it at all, carries this movie. She is the focus of nearly every scene and we see her move through a variety of emotions including fear and defiance. She is excellent at delivering her character primarily through facial expressions, the way she holds her body and little gestures. Even though we’re only seeing Samira through what I think is just a few days, you feel, by the end, like you understand her whole life, or at least her full personality.

The movie begins just before the alien attack — or at least before Samira and other people in New York City realize they are being attacked by aliens. We get to see some of who Samira is coming into this situation and then the very 9/11-reminiscent images of the attack (all white dust everywhere, obscuring what is happening). Once, well, the dust settles, Samira makes a plan, which is kind of excellent, extremely relatable and involves her traveling through the streets of New York with her cat, Frodo. Along the way, various people (Alex Wolff, Djimon Hounsou, Joseph Quinn) are intensely important to the present moment, though that moment doesn’t always last.

Day One has a short-story feel, where we dive deep into someone’s life but aren’t exactly there for a full arc, but it also offers enough closure (and a nice musical button to the movie) to give you the sense of resolution even if, as we know from the other movies, the overall story continues. Is this bleak story wryly offering hope? Not sure, but it’s definitely offering a better movie experience than I expected. B+

Rated PG-13 for terror and violent content/bloody images, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Michael Sarnoski with a screenplay by Sarnoski and a story by John Krasinski and Michael Sarnoski, A Quiet Place: Day One is a tidy hour and 40 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Paramount Pictures.

Despicable Me 4 (PG)

Gru and family and Minions attempt to assume new identities after a vengeance-seeking villain escapes from villain prison in the animated movie Despicable Me 4.

Gru (voice of Steve Carell) and wife Lucy (voice of Kristen Wiig) are a happy family with adopted daughters Margot (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voice of Dana Gaier) and Agnes (voice of Madison Polan); their new baby, Gru Jr. (voice of Tara Strong), and all of Gru’s Minions (all voiced by Pierre Coffin), who help Gru on his Anti Villain League villain-catching missions. At a villain school reunion, Gru captures Maxime Le Mal (voice of Will Ferrell), a villain who has harnessed the power of cockroaches. The AVL takes Max to prison but he breaks out, reunites with his girlfriend Valentina (voice of Sofia Vergara) and swears revenge on Gru. Fearing what Max and his cockroaches can do, the AVL gives Gru and family new identities and resettles them in the snooty town of Mayflower. As you might expect, the family doesn’t blend right in, making it even more likely that Max may eventually find them.

Meanwhile, most of the Minions are hiding out with the AVL and, as part of an experimental program, five of them have been supercharged to become Mega Minions, with powers like laser-beam eye and super stretchiness. Unsurprisingly, the Minions are very destructive when they attempt to save the day.

All of this story business is really just a framework to hold the collection of scenes — scenes whose relationship to the overarching story varies but that all hold that standard Minion Looney-Tunes-like quality of goofy physical humor and mild violence between Minions that reads as sibling-vs.-sibling tussling. The bits? Gru Jr., who seems perennially annoyed with his dad, is forever sneezing on him, squirting fruit mush at him or tricking him into smooshing his face into a banana. The Mega Minions are, as mentioned, kind of bad at superhero-ing. Of the Minions who are with Gru and family, one spends most of the movie stuck in a vending machine. Lucy, posing as a hairstylist, accidentally burns most of a woman’s hair off attempting to color it — that one is probably one of the less funny and highlights the “gotta give everybody a thing to do” problem with having so many characters in the Gru story at this point. The movie also adds a teen character, wannabe villain Poppy (voice of Joey King), who feels she doesn’t really need to be there and a tighter movie would have found a way to give her actions to existing characters.

But then again, story and characters and all of that aren’t really why we’re here. It’s the Minions and the spirit of wackiness in general that are really the stars here. The Minions’ scenes of tomfoolery and kid-like troublemaking are usually the ones that get the biggest laughs. And laughs and silliness really seem like the core of this movie, as least as much but probably more even than the, like, emotional growth of Gru as a father or whatever.

All of which is to say that my kids, and the surrounding kids in the theater, seemed to have a good time (except for the toddler who fully horror-movie-heroine screamed at the sight of Max in all of his cockroachiness; maybe this is not one for the littlest littles). “Very funny” and “I liked the fighting” were their reviews and I feel like that reaction — in the well-paced hour-and-34-minute movie — is exactly why you watch it. B

Rated PG for action and rude humor, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Chris Renaud and Patrick Delage and written by Mike White & Ken Daurio, Despicable Me 4 is an hour and 34 minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios.

Featured photo: The Quiet Place: Day One.

The Lost Letters from Martha’s Vineyard, by Michael Callahan

The Lost Letters from Martha’s Vineyard, by Michael Callahan (Mariner Books, 293 pages)

The quintessential beach read doesn’t have to have a beach in the title or cover art, but it helps. Just ask Elin Hilderbrand, the queen of beach reads, who recently announced she’s retiring from the genre because she has “run out of really good ideas.” Maybe Michael Callahan can step into the void.

Callahan, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, seems an unlikely author to produce a beach read, but that’s what The Lost Letters from Martha’s Vineyard is, despite its aspiring to be a Gone Girl-like thriller. It checks all the boxes: Island in the title. A beach on the cover. Plucky heroine, “roguish” love interest. Chowdah. Plus dueling timelines that go back and forth between the 1950s and 2018, just to make sure we’re paying attention.

The premise is intriguing enough: Kit O’Neill is a single woman who works for a TV star in Manhattan. After her parents died, she and her older sister were raised by the grandmother they called Nan in a roomy suburban colonial in Westchester County. The young women adored their grandmother and were devastated when she died, but it has fallen to them to clean out her house and ready it for sale, which they are reluctantly doing.

Cleaning out the attic, Kit works through the usual stuff of attics — dusty boxes filled with Christmas ornaments, old curtains and bills, yellowed photographs, all familiar. And then she finds a box full of curious things: a playbill from a 1959 production at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse featuring an actress called Mercy Welles, a couple of matching shells, a prize ribbon, and a photo of her grandmother with her arm around a man that Kit doesn’t recognize.

Intrigued, Kit takes the box downstairs and does a Google search for Mercy Welles — and among the results, she finds an article called “The Strange and Curious Case of Mercy Welles,” which detailed the mysterious disappearance of a Hollywood actress at the start of a promising career. There was a photo of this Mercy Welles: It was Kit’s grandmother, Nan.

Before Kit can recover from the shock, the author swoops us back to May 1959 to meet Mercy, a winsome young woman from the Midwest whose real name was Edith. “She was twenty-six but feared she looked 30. The industry did that to you. With her green eyes, pale skin, and wavy, honey-blond hair, she knew she was objectively pretty. It did little to assuage the paranoia.”

For all her insecurities, Mercy had gone to Los Angeles seeking a career and quickly became a success, getting engaged to a film producer and nominated for an Oscar as a best supporting actress within three years. But things weren’t good with the fiance, and at the suggestion of a friend, she made plans for the two of them to take a short vacation in New England. Mercy knew nothing about Martha’s Vineyard but imagined a week there in spring to be something like a travel brochure: “a fireplace, steaming mugs of cider, soft cashmere sweaters, a walk hand in hand by the water.”

Then she found her fiance at a hotel with another woman. The romantic vacation was off, but Mercy went to Martha’s Vineyard anyway to figure out her next steps. And within days, she had rented a cottage on the island for the entire summer and was befriending the locals.

Back to the future, in 2018, Kit turns investigator, thanks in part to the celebrity journalist she works for, who is intrigued by the story and is fine with Kit taking off to Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Massachusetts to try to unravel the mystery of how her grandmother sneaked out of fame’s glare and took to raising kids in anonymity in Rye, New York.

With some lucky breaks, she tracks down an old roommate of her grandmother’s, with whom Mercy had corresponded while she was in Martha’s Vineyard. (Not only was there no internet, but there was also not even an analogue telephone in her cottage, leading Mercy to write to the friend, “we’ll have to communicate the old-fashioned way, via correspondence. How very Jane Austen it all will be!”)

Then we’re back to Mercy, who was not quite as anonymous as she thought she would be on Martha’s Vineyard, as many of the islanders had seen the film for which she’d earned an Oscar nomination. As her summer unfolds, we learn about those mementos that her granddaughter will eventually find, as she becomes friendly with a gruff oysterman and with a young Black musician and playwright, and eventually becomes entangled in a crime involving the most famous family on the island.

And on it goes, back and forth between young Mercy and young Kit, as the riddles of the story are somewhat blandly unspooled. The author spent time at a writers’ colony on the island, and knows it well — perhaps too well, as at times he seems driven to mention every village and restaurant. Perhaps he plans to do for the Vineyard what Hilderbrand has done for Nantucket.

As beach reads go, The Lost Letters from Martha’s Vineyard does not disappoint, but it does in the places where striving to be something more. B-Jennifer Graham

Album Reviews 24/07/11

The Mystery Lights, Purgatory (Daptone Records)

This Salinas, California,-based band aims for a mid-’60s Kinks and Easybeats-inspired sound, which is evident from the start of this, their fourth album. They’ve been around the block many times, first with a few independently released EPs, and then a single on Daptone’s rock imprint, Wick, in 2015, and that should suffice for the inside baseball nonsense; the upshot is that they could certainly give Black Lips a run for their money, given that they incorporate Howlin’ Wolf, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and (of course) Creedence Clearwater Revival into their unabashedly ’60s-rock chi. Their brains are in their pants, which is admirable these days, at least in my book, starting with album opener “Mighty Fine & All Mine,” with its bouncy and boneheaded two-chord shuffle, just what the doctor ordered. “In The Streets” fuses Gang Of Four angularity with Bon Scott-era AC/DC transgressiveness’ “Sorry I Forgot Your Name” is prehistoric rockabilly the way the Pixies would have built it. Obviously very fun stuff. A

Matt Wilson’s Good Trouble, Good Trouble (Palmetto Records)

Whole lot of fun, this album from jazz drummer Wilson’s new quintet, which features players who, unless I’m mistaken, have all been featured on this page as bandleaders. Wilson likes swing, but it’s also obvious he’s spent a good amount of time digging on more proggy groups like Pat Metheny and whatnot; a lot goes on here. Tia Fuller’s alto sax holds down the upper-middle end of the mix in glorious style, while Dawn Clement’s piano stands just to the right of it, alternately doodling and bonking at the right moments — OK, what I’m saying is that the mix is exquisite and expansive. We’ve talked about clarinetist Jeff Lederer here before of course; here he adds a lot to the complicated but relatable twists and turns, thickening them out in unique and friendly fashion. On “Be That As It May,” Clement adds a vocal that far surpasses the phoned-in performances I hear constantly within this genre. A great one for summer drives. A+


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• July 12 is approaching, like a cat in the night, preparing to steal off with half the summer, we’re already halfway done with it before the winter comes, guys! Adding to my misery is the fact that I need to talk about one album in particular that’s streeting on that date, specifically a new album of caterwauling nonsense from 1990s annoyance Ani DiFranco, titled Unprecedented Sh!t (yes, that’s her actual clever censoring of the title, so much for freedom of speech, folks!). If you can’t tell yet, I am not a fan of Ms. DiFranco, which makes me sort of normal, given that I’m not the only person to have written about her super-annoying music; I could cite articles from Reddit, MetaFilter, ilXor and dozens of others that support my position, but you either already know all about it or you only enjoying listening to annoying music, which means you might like her. She is a nepo baby of sorts, born to a couple of rich MIT grads, but the little ingrate hated being told what to do by her parents, so much so that she left her mom’s apartment in 1985 to become an emancipated child at age 15, does anyone remember that hilarious ’80s trend? Anyhow, despite her being an unemployed teenager, she was somehow able to sell enough Girl Scout cookies to start her own record company, Righteous Babe Records, through which she’s released all of her “art,” including this new album. Oh, well, at least she uses some of her riches to back various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility, like, at least we know she’s not just another Gwyneth Paltrow or Ghengis Khan. So, if possible, let’s belay all the hating for the moment and go check out the first tune from this album, “Spinning Room,” so we can just move past all this. It’s a gently rolling number, led by a monotonously bonking piano, the beat waxing Beatlesque. A lot of people might actually like this, and I have no control over that.

• El Paso, Texas, is home to dream-pop band Cigarettes After Sex, whose singer, Greg Gonzalez, has a very androgynous voice. The band’s new album, X’s, is on the way to your Soundclouds and whatnot, and I heartily recommend it if you like Portishead, because that’s what the leadoff single “Baby Blue Movie” kind of sounds like, although it’s even more squishy and dream-poppy. Others have used words like “ethereal” and “limerent” to describe this band, so today I learned that “limerent” means holding “romantic feelings for another person, and typically includes intrusive, melancholic thoughts, or tragic concerns for the object of one’s affection.” Usually I just say “hopelessly hormonal,” but you do you.

Cassandra Jenkins is an ambient/folk-pop singing lady from Brooklyn, N.Y. Her new album is My Light, My Destroyer, sounds a bit conflicted, wouldn’t you say? In 2022 she opened for Mitski in a few U.K. shows, which is encouraging; her dooming habit is that she takes way too long between albums. This is only her third in eight years, but forget that, music is more about quality than quantity; the single “Delphinium Blue” is like a cross between Enya and Goldfrapp, anyone who’s normal would probably like it.

• We’ll end the week with a look at an artiste who was talented enough to get on TV. In 2014, while she was a senior in high school, Palo Alto, California,-born singer Remi Wolf appeared as a contestant on American Idol but didn’t win. Her second album, Big Ideas, is slated for a Friday release, and the LP’s first song, “Toro,” is pretty neat, combining Janet Jackson with Ke$ha. It’s OK!

Blueberry Pierogi


  • 1¼ pounds (or 567 g) (or 2 10-ounce bags of frozen) blueberries
  • ½ cup (99 g) sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon – depending on how flavorful your blueberries are
  • 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • zest of 1 lemon


  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup (79 g) water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your counter when you knead and roll your dough, so it doesn’t stick


  • sour cream
  • lemon wedges
  • sugar
  • blueberries in syrup (see below)

Add all the filling ingredients to a medium-sized saucepan. Stir everything to combine it, and to make sure you don’t have a bunch of sugar at the bottom of the pot that might turn into caramel before the mixture comes together.

Cook over medium heat, until the berries give up their juice. This happens easily with frozen berries, because of the ice crystals inside them, but the sugar will pull juice out of the berries even if they are fresh. You know that word from high school science that you were supposed to remember, but never could — osmosis? That’s what’s happening here. Once there is some sauce, taste it. Blueberries are a flighty fruit; you never know how they’re going to taste. If these taste a little dull, they probably need another squeeze of lemon juice to brighten them up. If they are just not very flavorful, add the cinnamon. On the other hand, if the syrup tastes fruity and zingy and makes you want to do a blueberry dance, you should probably leave well enough alone.

Bring the blueberry sauce to a boil, and let it simmer for two minutes, then remove it from heat.

In a medium bowl, mix the dough ingredients, starting with the eggs and water, until it forms a shaggy dough. Turn it out onto a floured counter and knead it until it comes together and makes a smooth ball. Cover it and set it aside for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. While the dough rests, chill the blueberries in your refrigerator. You and the pierogi could both use a breather.

When you’re pretty sure the dough has rested enough, flour your counter again and roll the dough out as thin as you can. Don’t go overboard and try to read a newspaper through it or anything, but if you can get it as thin as a penny, you’re probably in good shape. Use a drinking glass that is 3 inches across to cut as many circles as possible out of the dough.

Take the blueberries and sauce out of the refrigerator, and strain it, saving the syrup.

Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.

Now, this is the part of the procedure that requires confidence. Do not let the pierogi dough intimidate you. Making sure your counter is still dusted with flour, take a dough circle, and put a small amount — one half to a full teaspoonful — of the blueberries in the center of it. Fold it in half, to make a moon shape, then crimp the edge with a fork, to seal the berries inside. Keep doing this until you’ve used up all the circles, then roll the leftover dough out again and repeat, until you use it all.

Boil the pierogi, six or seven at a time, just like you would ravioli. Make sure none of them stick to the bottom of the pot, and fish them out when they float to the surface of the water.

Eat these warm, garnished with sour cream and a sprinkling of sugar. If they need some more brightness, another squeeze of lemon juice will do that for you. If they don’t taste strongly enough of blueberries, drizzle some of the blueberry syrup over them. These will chew like pasta, taste like summer, and give you some well-deserved emotional validation.

Featured Photo: Photo by John Fladd.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!