The Beat Goes On: A post-Mardi Gras show in Florence, a popular area band celebrates its newest album in Amherst, and more

Jon Cleary, left, seen with his band at the 2023 Green River Festival, plays the Bombyx Center in Florence March 24.

Jon Cleary, left, seen with his band at the 2023 Green River Festival, plays the Bombyx Center in Florence March 24. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

The Soggy Po Boys, based in New Hampshire but musically inspired by New Orleans, open for Jon Cleary at the Bombyx Center March 24.

The Soggy Po Boys, based in New Hampshire but musically inspired by New Orleans, open for Jon Cleary at the Bombyx Center March 24. Image from Soggy Po Boys website

Bella’s Bartok will bring its mix of theater and rock, punk, folk and klezmer — and the songs from their newest album — to The Drake in Amherst March 30.

Bella’s Bartok will bring its mix of theater and rock, punk, folk and klezmer — and the songs from their newest album — to The Drake in Amherst March 30. Image courtesy of Bella’s Bartok

Chatham Rabbits — the married team of Austin and Sarah McCombie — play rootsy folk at The Parlor Room in Northampton March 24.

Chatham Rabbits — the married team of Austin and Sarah McCombie — play rootsy folk at The Parlor Room in Northampton March 24. Image from Chatham Rabbits website

Another musical couple, Mira Costa and Chuck E. Costa of The Sea The Sea, bring their folk/pop songs to the The Parlor Room March 28.

Another musical couple, Mira Costa and Chuck E. Costa of The Sea The Sea, bring their folk/pop songs to the The Parlor Room March 28. Image from The Sea The Sea website

Boston singer-songwriter Naomi Westwater will perform March 27 at Forbes Library in Northampton in a show dedicated to people of color in folk music.

Boston singer-songwriter Naomi Westwater will perform March 27 at Forbes Library in Northampton in a show dedicated to people of color in folk music. Photo by Sasha Pedro/courtesy Forbes Library

Boston pop/r&b/soul band Couch comes to the Drake March 28.

Boston pop/r&b/soul band Couch comes to the Drake March 28. Image from Couch website

Kathleen Edwards, a huge name in Americana and alt-rock circa 2002-2014 before taking a hiatus from music, is touring again at comes to the Iron Horse in Northampton June 17-18.

Kathleen Edwards, a huge name in Americana and alt-rock circa 2002-2014 before taking a hiatus from music, is touring again at comes to the Iron Horse in Northampton June 17-18. Image from Kathleen Edwards website

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 03-21-2024 2:10 PM

Modified: 03-23-2024 10:08 AM


Mardi Gras took place last month, but you can catch some of its flavor at the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity on March 24 at 4 p.m. when Jon Cleary & The Monster Gentlemen come to the Florence venue — with the Soggy Po Boys opening the show.

Cleary has raised his profile a bit in the Valley over the last few years, playing a number of gigs in the region, including at last year’s Green River Festival. But in New Orleans, he’s a legend, an acclaimed piano player whose music is steeped in blues, jazz, R&B, funk and more, and whose tours take him around the world.

He won a Grammy in 2016 for Best Regional Roots Music Album, and he’s gigged with a who’s who of New Orleans players as well as other musicians, including Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal, while fronting his own band for over 20 years.

That he’s a transplanted Brit makes the story even more interesting. Cleary moved to New Orleans from southeast England in the early 1980s, at age 19, lured by the albums his uncle had brought back from the U.S. by artists such as Professor Longhair. He’s been there ever since.

On his website, as part of a brief online piano lesson, he describes how he came to New Orleans “with a desire to figure out what it is that makes the piano playing and the piano players in this city so hip and funky and distinct from everywhere else … I’ve been here 40 years, and I’m still trying to figure it out.”

A singer, guitarist and songwriter as well, Cleary tours most frequently with two Monster Gentlemen in particular — drummer A.J. Hall and bassist Cornell C. Williams — but sometimes gigs with a larger band.

Meantime, the Soggy Po Boys have New England roots — New Hampshire, to be specific — but a real affinity for New Orleans blues and jazz, whether in their original songs or fresh covers of standards. They’ve also played the Valley in recent years, and in the Granite state, one critic has dubbed them “the hottest jazz band in New Hampshire.”

You can also sign up to chow down at a New Orleans-style dinner at Bombyx after the show by visiting bombyx.live and following the link for the concert.

Article continues after...

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Over the years, Valley favorites Bella’s Bartok have had all kinds of descriptions applied to their music in an attempt to try to pin down a sound that mixes rock, punk, Eastern European folk, Klezmer, and some other odds and ends. They’ve called their sound a “foot-stomping freak folk” themselves; their live shows are known for their theatrical, circus-like vibe.

You can enjoy that vibe March 30 when the band comes to The Drake in Amherst at 8 p.m., their first gig in this immediate area since they released their most recent album, “Apocalypse Wow!” last fall.

The album title, a play on the 1979 movie of a similar name, makes a more tongue-in-cheek nod to the general darkness and apocalypse in “this cruel world” but insists the music can be an antidote.

“By the time the album ends, you will be cleansed, you’ll be able to stare into the abyss of hopelessness and despair, and choose hope,” the band writes.

New songs like “Love in the Time of Corona,” with its bouncy piano, New Orleans-style horns, and irresistible rock/music hall beat, definitely advance that theme. So does “Sticks and Stones,” another horn-driven tune with a looping melody and a fun opening line: “Sticks and stones may break my bones / But words won’t shape me / I’m not crazy.”

There’s lots more on “Apocalypse Wow!”: swirling guitar and synthesizer, accordion, washboard, and bass and drums. Lead vocals are handled by the band’s longtime frontman, Asher Putnam, and Julia Posin, who plays the washboard.

Opening for Bella’s Bartok is indie soul singer Aubrey Haddard and the regional progressive art-pop band Padded Waltz.

 

In Northampton, The Parlor Room is hosting a number of folk acts and singer-songwriters over the next week-plus, but a couple stand out because they’re made up of, well, couples.

Chatham Rabbits, who play on March 24 at 7:30 p.m., are the roots duo of Austin and Sarah McCombie, a husband and wife team from North Carolina. With Sarah on banjo and lead vocals and Austin on guitar and harmonies, the two have released four albums (one is live) in the last five years and have become fixtures on acoustic music circuits across the country.

They’re a bit reminiscent of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, who make up the North Carolina folk/bluegrass duo of Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange). But the combination of banjo and acoustic guitar gives the Macombies even more of an old-time feel, though their song topics are more contemporary.

As No Depression writes, “For this duo, braiding centuries-old musical traditions with modern-day stories and personal perspectives comes naturally.”

And on March 28 at 7:30 p.m., the indie folk-pop duo The Sea The Sea comes to The Parlor Room. Chuck E. Costa and Mira Costa, based in Nashville, have won notice from NPR, American Songwriter, and No Depression, among others, while Huffington Post says the couple have “two of the loveliest male-female voices you might ever hear this or any other year.”

Critics have also complimented their song structures. One reviewer noted many of the tunes on their 2020 album, “Stumbling Home,” contained complex chords, unusual arrangements, and “a level of experimentation not found often in folk music.”

More music on tap

It’s a busy night tonight (Friday, March 22) at Luthiers Co-op in Easthampton, beginning at 7 p.m. with Dingle Reunion, followed by Opal Canyon and Lonesome Brothers.

Forbes Library in Northampton is hosting a free show March 27 at 6:30 p.m. called Reclaiming Folk, which is billed as “a celebration of people of color in folk music.” Performers include Naomi Westwater, Anand Nayak, and guest musicians.

Couch is a fast-rising pop/R&B/soul band from Boston that brings Lake Street Dive to mind, though with more of a horn-based sound. They come to The Drake March 28 at 8 p.m. Multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Sophia James opens.

Longtime Valley percussionist Tony Vacca plays Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on March 29 at 7:30 p.m. with his friends Fusion Nomads, including guitarist John Sheldon.

BJ Korona brings his varied acoustic music to Gombo restaurant in Northampton March 30 at 8 p.m.

Advance show alert: The Iron Horse Music Hall began selling tickets to the public last week, and Americana/alt-rocker Kathleen Edwards will play there June 17-18. Edwards became a big name in the early 2000s with albums like “Failer” and “Asking for Flowers” before dropping out of music for a bit. But she released a new album in 2020 and is touring this summer. Tickets may go fast.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.