December 31, 2009
New albums and bigger spotlights
Five local bands who made a mark in 2009
By Michael Witthaus firstname.lastname@example.org
The Goffstown junk rockers were far and away the biggest New Hampshire music story of the year, making a national splash on America’s Got Talent with a third place finish — behind two singers, giving them bragging rights as the NBC show’s top band.
A few days after the show ended, an impromptu homecoming show happened where it all began. The band returned to Goffstown High School for a free show in the school’s gymnasium. Fourteen years earlier, bandleader Justin Spencer debuted his musical project there for a school talent show.
The band toyed with doing a bigger venue, but didn’t think they could fill it on such short notice. That turned out to be false modesty. One-to-a-customer seats were snapped up in 15 minutes. Some fans started lining up at Shaw’s supermarket in Goffstown three hours ahead of time. A humbled Justin Spencer said later, “I didn’t realize how massive the support would be in New Hampshire, because we were in L.A. for the past few months and were kind of detached from all the media.”
Brooks Young Band
Blues rockers the Brooks Young Band began the year with the release of the Back On the Ground, a well-received EP of originals. The rootsy record had a vintage Rolling Stones feel, partly because guitarist Young plays instruments made around the same time that classic rockers were coming up – a 1962 Gretsch Country Classic and a 1957 Fender Stratocaster.
Two songs, “Last September” and “Dream Away” received radio airplay on 92.5 FM, The River. After an emotional high opening B.B. King’s Hampton Beach Casino show in August, the local guitar hero topped the bill at the recently opened Chandler’s in downtown Manchester. The lanky, clean living Young is the kind of guy that makes mothers encourage their kids to become musicians. His modern-hued blues excite fans across the musical spectrum, from Clapton to Dave Matthews.
In early December they opened a sold-out J. Geils/James Montgomery show at The Middle in Franklin. As 2009 ended, work on a follow-up to Back On the Ground neared completion, and the band prepared for big shows in Boston (Harper’s Ferry, Dec. 27) and New York City (Sullivan Hall, Jan. 7).
Berklee grad Ashley Alexander’s appearance opening for Chuck Wicks at the Palace Theatre in Manchester last September was a return of sorts. As a high school student, the hometown girl performed on the Palace stage as Sandy in a production of Grease. Alexander had a Sandy-like transformation of her own – a musical one - with the release of Heaven on Earth, an album of originals which was worlds removed from the come-hither funktronica of Fantasy, her teenage duo act with sister Arsha.
The well-received album, made with the support of Grammy-winning producer Bill Cuomo (“Bette Davis Eyes”), was more Reba than Rihanna, with empowered woman songs like “Good Luck” and “Goodbye Cry” along with love-gone-wrong tunes (“You’re Right, I Left”) and the husband-snagging romp “Too Bad You Don’t Know It Yet.” As the year closed out, Alexander was back in the studio working on a new album.
Jamantics formed last March, but in very short order they’ve gained a big following, from Capitol bars to Seacoast clubs and beyond. They’ve also attracted attention from local luminaries like Rock 101/WHEB Program Director Chris Garrett, who helped secure them a slot opening for Little Feat at Hampton Beach Casino last August.
The Concord-based combo blends elements of rock, funk and free-form jazz into a lively musical stew that sounds like it took years, not months, to perfect. Their set list of original material was 40 songs deep when the band was profiled in October. The band has already released three EPs, including Fall Sampler, released in November.
“As we jam into 2010, there’s lots of exciting things in store,” the band recently reported, including monthly exclusive shows at the Barley House in Concord, the release of a live winter sampler CD and a one-year anniversary celebration.
Black Brook Band
Always a favorite of traditional country fans, the Black Brook Band won big at the New Hampshire Country Music Association Awards in September. The NHCMA named the Manchester-based six-piece both Best Traditional and Best New Country band at its 22nd annual awards show, proving the maxim that versatility is the best measure of a bar band.
With a repertoire of standards from performers like George Jones, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash, Black Brook has won the NHCMA traditional award before. In 2006, they went on to win the national title. But 2009 was Black Brook’s first entry in the new country category.
Black Brook lead singer Marcus Knight says he didn’t expect to beat Jonathan Scott and the Blazing Hearts, a band that won multiple times in past years. When the award was announced, says Knight, “I was numb. We were stunned that we took the both of them.” Knight also took home personal honors as Best New Country Vocalist.
Ashley Alexander. Courtesy photo.
Poised to shine in 2010
Derry singer-songwriter Amy Petty spent five years building a catalog of original songs and performing them at venues throughout the area — Milly’s Tavern in Manchester, Milford’s Pasta Loft and Nashua’s Simple Gifts Coffeehouse. This and her debut album, Mystery Becomes You, helped Petty earn runner-up honors in the Hippo’s annual reader’s poll in March 2009 as Best Local Performer Playing Original Music.
The singer-songwriter is hard at work on a follow-up CD, and in December the Christmas track, “A Lullaby for a King,” arrived on her www.amypetty.com Web site. Petty is donating all proceeds from song’s sale to Habitat For Humanity. “You give to me, I give to you, we all give to those in need,” she wrote in a holiday note. “Generosity can be contagious.”
Petty will play her first Tupelo Music Hall show on Jan. 7, when she hosts the weekly songwriter’s night. She’s also scheduled to perform at Newmarket’s Stone Church on Jan. 17.
Jazz scholar and ace pianist Ben Geyer broke through as a composer in 2009. The New Hampshire native will formally release his new CD The Narrative, a pair of storytelling musical suites (including one based on John Steinbeck’s East of Eden), on February 1l.
A series of local release parties, featuring The Ben Geyer Sextet, are set for Nashua’s Studio 99 on Thursday, Feb. 11, at 8p.m., the Cambridge, Mass., Lily Pad club on Friday, Feb 12 at 7p.m. and Portsmouth’s Press Room on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 9 p.m. Geyer will also perform at a Homecoming Jazz Concert on Saturday, Jan. 2, with Robbyn Tongue and Chris Burbank at the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry. His band The Gate plays at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23, at Nashua’s Sky Lounge and Geyer will do a free solo show at Stella Blu in Nashua on Thursday, Feb. 4.