Here’s the promised musical follow-up to “Giving Local,” un/fashionably late, as usual. I’m not a musician, but the grassroots music scene has been a vital part of my life since I landed on the rock. It’s been a vital part of island life for a lot longer than that. Some homegrown musicians have played on distant stages, like the late bluesman Maynard Silva (1951–2008) and the very much alive Willy Mason (b. 1984). Willy now plays internationally, but he’s having the release party for his newest CD at the Pit Stop tomorrow night. He’s the son of two island-based musicians, Jemima James and Mike Mason.
2012 isn’t over yet, but my nominee for stand-out performance of the year is the world premiere of The Ape Woman at the Pit Stop at the end of August. May Oskan’s “rock opera” is stellar — moving, infuriating, eloquently sung and played by an ensemble that includes May’s mother, Michele Jones, on guitar and her sisters Marciana Jones (vocals and autoharp) and Nina Violet (vocals and strings; more about her below). May not only wrote and composed The Ape Woman, she sings lead vocals and plays ukulele.
The great news is that a world premiere performance was recorded live by Anthony Esposito. It’s available for MP3 download from Bandcamp.
Confession time: Nina Violet’s stupendous CD We’ll Be Alright came out a year ago. I’ve been wanting to review it ever since but have been seriously hung up on the “I can’t write about music” blues. Well, no, not quite: it’s more that I don’t have a language to describe what I’m hearing, so how could I write anything worth reading?
So why do I love this CD? I’m a sucker for vocal harmonies, that’s one thing, especially women’s vocal harmonies. You’ll notice that these share some textures with those in The Ape Woman, and with good reason: they’re produced by the same trio, Nina and her sisters May Oskan and Marciana Jones. The instrumental textures underpin and embellish the vocals in ways that transport the listener — like a sea voyage, I keep thinking, and the lyrics often suggest likewise: “Wake of the Ship” is one title, and “Run to the Stream” contains one of my favorite images:
Your eyes the color of the water in the channel
My mother told me not to swim in
because it would take me out to sea
wouldn’t be able to swim back in . . .
If you’re not persuaded yet, go read Dan Waters’s M.V. Times review. He’s a musician as well as a writer. This helps. Then you can download We’ll Be Alright from Bandcamp or order the CD from CDBaby. If you’re on the Vineyard, you can probably find the CD at Aboveground Records or at the Pit Stop (about which more follows).
Tristan Israel, Tisbury’s singing selectman, has to be one of the very few who could make a catchy tune out of something as serious as hepatitis C, but with “Hep C,” on his new CD, The Sound After the Flash, he pulls it off. Strange but true: He did the same for tularemia a few years ago. Tristan is ably backed up by Nancy Jephcote on fiddle and Paul Thurlow on — everything? “One-man band” doesn’t do this guy justice: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion. Paul also produced and I’ll bet good money he is at least partly responsible for the intriguing and often unexpected rhythms and instrumentation on this satisfyingly varied collection of songs. Both CD and MP3 download can be had from CDBaby.
As the title suggests, to me at any rate, several of these songs explore life after the flash of youth is long past. They range from the sweetly straightforward “Home” to the bluesy, tongue-in-cheeky “I Don’t Think About You” to”Ask Me in the Morning” — loneliness and angst never sounded so upbeat. The threat of loss often lingers between the lines. Sometimes it’s somber, as in “Maynard,” a tribute and a promise to the late Maynard Silva. Other times, the songwriter grins while daring fate to do its worst, as in “Angry Lost Mad & Sad.” And still other times he emerges from life and loss with a slightly surprised “Maybe I Am Someone” — one of my favorite cuts on the CD. I’m wary of songs about endangered species, mainly because I’ve heard so many that are mawkishly sentimental, blatantly anthropomorphic, or both, but “Bonobos” works, in part because of the haunting arrangement.
And finally, while we talking about giving local, the Pit Stop is celebrating its first birthday right around now. It’s already a key part of the Vineyard music scene. Nina’s We’ll Be Alright was recorded there. The Ape Woman had its world premiere there. Anthony Esposito’s popular Monday open mikes are giving the next wave of island musicians a place to hone their craft and try out new work. Take yourself to a show. Take a friend too. And buy yourself a membership. For $100 ($150 for families), you get a discount on every performance you attend and the satisfaction that comes with supporting something wonderful.
See you at the Pit!