Compact Capsules kicks off this week’s piece with a look at a couple of New England acts that have working the primarily the Northampton to Boston circuit for a number of years, that being Ray Mason and The Lonesome Brothers (of which Mason is a founding member). Each has new music just out.
A Man & His Silvertone
Captivating Music CM-9161
Hailing from Western Massachusetts, Ray Mason has frequently been referred to as the granddaddy of the Northampton music scene. Over the course of some 30-plus years playing roll and roll, Mason has toiled in everything from rock clubs and bars to Legion and VFW halls dishing out his crafty tunes. During those years, the singer/songwriter Mason has wore several hats including co-founding Berkshire-based roots rockers The Lonesome Brothers, leading his own Ray Mason Band, and playing solo. So revered are the songs of Mason that 1999 saw the release of tribute recording It’s Heartbreak That Sells: A Tribute to Ray Mason. On the Ray Mason side of things, as a reference point think the best of the pop side of NRBQ ala the sweet ditties from the pen of Joey Spampinato. (Note that Mason has always held the ‘Q in high regard, hence a bit of their craftiness rubbing off on Mason’s own infectious tunes.) The newly released collection A Man & His Silvertone presents 11 favorites from the solo side of the Mason equation. The Silvertone is in the album title is in reference to the trusty and well-worn electric guitar that Mason has played at his countless solo gigs dating all the way back to 1980. Go back to that time and you could probably count on one hand the number of performers playing solo shows on electric guitar with his equally trusty Peavey Bandit 65 amp – Mason himself in the press release to this new album recalls only Billy Bragg and Jonathan Richman performing in a similarly solo, plugged-in fashion. As deft as they are when it comes to songwriting while possessing a keen ear for melody, Mason’s song bag is filled with nugget after nugget. During the ensuing 26 years, not once has he released a solo recording featuring just he on his guitar. Featuring Mason by his lonesome, A Man & His Silvertone sets the record straight on just how rewarding the Mason plugged-in, solo experience can be. His tenth album in all mixing the old and the new as far as material is concerned, the listener is treated to re-done versions of many of the favorites from the Mason performing repertoire including “Castanets”, “Reverb and a Zip Code”, “Water Off a Duck” and “I Wanna Be a Holiday”. Classify Ray Mason and A Man & His Silvertone as just another of life’s little pleasures. (Captivating Music, 9 Depot Road, Haydenville, MA 01039, or www.raymason.com)
Captivating Music CM-9161
I have to confess that one of the most satisfying live shows I’ve seen in recent years was a house concert just a couple of summers ago at a home deep in the woods in South Kingstown. Doing the honors was none other than the Lonesome Brothers. Rooted in country and rock, the song menu early on in the show stuck pretty much to material from the band’s half dozen longplayers with front men and co-founders Jim Armenti and Ray Mason doing the back and forth on the lead vocals. It was near show’s end that the band showed its colors, or make that influences, mixing in covers from the crunchy side of Neil Young & Crazy Horse with The Band and circa “Country Honk” Stones. It made for a perfect fit with the original stuff. Sticking pretty much to the Massachusetts circuit (with the occasional foray outside the state), The Lonesome Brothers do not have much for notoriety beyond New England lines. That evening made me realize it’s a darn shame more folks don’t know about the band. With the release of its sixth longplayer called Mono, The Lonesome Brothers celebrate two decades together. Keeping with the title of the recording, the disc was recorded entirely live in mono with a single microphone, a first for the band. Another change from past recordings is Mono is an all acoustic recording filled with acoustic guitar, dobro, mandolin, and even a bit of squeezebox. It’s a nice change of pace as the unplugged approach works as well on Mono as the electric formula of past releases. Once again, the band sticks to the blueprint, back and forth between Mason and Armenti on the songs. For this album Mason is in the leadoff position beginning things with a nifty little number called “One Plate Guy”. He sings of “life’s big buffet” and dealing with the hand you’ve been dealt, namely the highs giving way to the lows. Featuring a nimbly picked intro on guitar, Armenti’s metaphor-filled “Hammer & Tong” follows and the stage is set. “Later won’t help you now, you big procrastinator” sings Mason on the segueing number called “Later Won’t Help You Now”. It’s standard Mason taking something we all are guilty of and turning it into a catchy tune. The moments are many the remainder of the way with Armenti’s “These Are All the Secrets” and “Helium Hearts” along with Mason’s “It Takes a Lifetime” striking a chord with this listener. As a bonus, The Lonesome Brothers also toss in a live “ghost” track at disc’s end on which they take aim at Washington and the current administration, with a couple of cuss words, to boot. 13 tracks in all, Mono is the right stuff.
The Lonesome Brothers celebrate the release of Mono with a CD release party at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts on Friday, August 18. Show time is 7:00 pm. The Iron Horse is located at 20 Center Street. Call 413-584-0610 or check the club’s web site at www.iheg.com/iron_horse_main.asp.
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)