The Beat Goes On: A solo acoustic cover of ‘Abbey Road’ in Greenfield, intricate guitar in Northampton, blues in Amherst and more

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 09-22-2023 11:40 AM

Editor’s Note: The Juke Joint Jazz performance at the Marigold Theater in Easthampton on Sept. 24 has been rescheduled due to COVID cases in the band. A new date will be announced soon.

Several years ago, singer and songwriter Pamela Means decided to challenge herself with a new musical project: learn all the songs from The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and play them in order on solo acoustic guitar.

It seemed a tall order. There are plenty of Beatles songs suitable for acoustic guitar or specifically built around it, including a few on “Abbey Road,” such as “Here Comes the Sun.” But most of the album is layered with multiple guitar parts, keyboards, bass, and in some cases strings and brass (and Ringo Starr’s drums, of course).

It was the last album the band recorded together — and possibly their most produced.

But the Valley-based Means, a skilled vocalist and versatile guitarist who blends folk, jazz and blues rhythms, was able to pull it off, playing a number of sold-out shows in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of “Abbey Road.”

Now, after a little problem called COVID-19 shut down her Beatles project the last few years, Means has brought it back. She’ll play the entirety of “Abbey Road” at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m.

Means, who’s also got a number of protest songs in her repertoire and uses her music as a means of social activism, puts a lot of her own stamp on her Beatles material, injecting it with soul, emotion and a different perspective.

As she told the Gazette in an interview a few years ago, “It just sounded ‘badass’ to do it. And I was intrigued with the surprise element of an entirely solo acoustic approach, and maybe flipping the expectations of what an audience thinks.”

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As she wrote in a recent email about her show, “This is the only (Beatles) tribute by One Brown Queer Woman.”

Means adds that she’s also been careful not to radically alter the “Abbey Road” songs. Her challenge, she said in an interview in 2019, was to play the songs “as myself, but ... do it in a way that still honors” the Beatles.

You can recognize plenty of the original riffs and progressions in her renditions; her version of “Something” is a good example of how she mixes strumming, plucked chords and single-note leads to create a solid solo framework for the song.

And check out the muscled strumming and booming sound she brings to the album’s opening track, “Come Together.” You won’t be disappointed.

To hear another fine guitarist, check out Daniel Champagne when he comes to The Parlor Room in Northampton on Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. He’s billed as a singer-songwriter, but his percussive guitar playing is way beyond what you’ll hear from a typical folkie.

Champagne, who’s from Australia but now lives in Nashville, Tennessee — he spends most of his time touring — has taken a page from Michael Hedges and other fingerpicking masters who play in open tunings. He employs plenty of other tools of that style, like percussive taps on the guitar’s sound box and lots of harmonics.

His instrumental tune “The Pursuit,” recorded last year, is a great example of this approach. He begins the song by sliding his capo between two frets while sounding chords and tapping the sound box, then plays a Celtic-style melody by fingering notes with his left hand and tapping the strings with his right hand.

“My relationship with the guitar has always been a bit of an obsession in finding different ways to play it,” Champagne says.

But though Champagne includes instrumental tracks on his albums, his playing is primarily in support of his songwriting and vocals, which have some pop flavor. He’s got an unabashed romantic streak: Songs such as “Home to Me” speak to his many years of touring but the need for more than that in his life.

“You’re the only light I see / Let this highway turn you home to me / Cause this is all that I want to be / Let this highway turn you home to me.”

The mix of elegant guitar work and earnest songwriting has impressed many critics. As one wrote, “Today I saw the future of Folk — Festival goers flocking in the thousands towards the main stage to witness a young musical phenomenon from Australia dish out an absolute show-stopper.”

The Drake is hosting a back-to-back punch of blues and roots music in Amherst with Larry McCray on Sept. 30 and Amythyst Kiah on Oct. 1. Both shows begin at 8 p.m.

McCray, a veteran blues guitarist and singer-songwriter originally from Arkansas, later lived in Michigan and worked in an auto assembly plant there before signing a record deal in the 1990, the year he turned 30.

He’s since released multiple albums and played with blues standouts such as Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, John Mayall, Robert Cray, the Allman Brothers and many others.

Writing about McCray’s most recent album, “Blues Without You,” the online publication Velvet Thunder says, “This is a great album, and it gets better with every listen … McCray is an excellent musician, wringing tears and smiles out of his guitar in equal measure, with an excellent voice to boot.”

AmythystKiah, meanwhile, is a singer-songwriter from Tennessee whose music draws substantially from the blues. Her song “Black Myself” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2020 for Best American Roots Song, and Rolling Stone has dubbed her “one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets.”

Kiah also brings elements of alt-rock to her music, and she plays banjo, too; she’s been part of the group “Our Native Daughters,” made up of four women of color, including Rhiannon Giddens, that plays old-time music.

Jon Muq, a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist from Kampala, Uganda, opens Kiah’s show.

More music on tap

Star fiddlers and singer-songwriters Brittany Haas, formerly with the seminal bluegrass ensemble Crooked Still, and Lena Jonsson, from Sweden, will be at The Parlor Room on Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. The two have collaborated before, so expect some duets at the show.

Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton features three bands Sept. 22, beginning at 6:30 p.m. with young rockers The 413s, followed by the Americana sounds of Michael Hakanson-Stacy & the Gullywhumpers and folk with Eric Phelps and his musical friends.

Robert LaRoche, the lead singer for The Sighs, the popular pop-rock Valley band of the 1980s and 1990s, now lives in Texas, but he’ll be at The Divine Theater at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke on Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. to play songs from his latest album, “Forevermore.” Ray Mason opens the show.

Jazz ensembles The Argiro Quartet and Juke Joint Jazz will be at the Marigold Theater in Easthampton on Sept. 24 beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Alt-rockers The Wallflowers come to Northampton’s Academy of Music on Sept. 26 at 8 p.m., and country rocker Margo Price will be there Sept. 29, also at 8 p.m.

Singer-songwriter John Prine may be gone. But Billy Prine & The Prine Time Band, led by John’s younger brother, will play John’s tunes at the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence on Sept. 29 at 8 p.m.

Ukrainian violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv plays solo violin arrangements of J.S. Bach, in a benefit concert for Ukrainian musicians, at the West Whately Chapel Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m.

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

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