musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

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Introducing… Sarah Beatty (and Belle Starr)

Sarah Beatty

In her new album Bandit Queen, Sarah Beatty tells the story of 19th-century American outlaw Belle Starr, who provided the inspiration for this sultry new music. By all accounts, Ms. Starr was one tough lady, convicted as a horse thief in 1883 and shot dead under mysterious circumstances in 1889. She’s pictured in her Wikipedia entry wearing long skirts and holding a revolver. This title track, the lead single from Beatty’s upcoming album, conveys an appropriate mood of danger and moxie.

Based in Hamilton, Canada, Beatty’s debut album, Black Gramophone, was released in 2012. Her style is a smooth blend of folk music and country with touches of jazz. Her delivery is bluesy, soulful and a bit wicked. You can hear the devilish gleam in her eye. On the new album, she’s joined by co-conspirators Matty Simpson on electric guitar and Justine Fischer on upright bass (both are from The Fred Eaglesmith Band), plus Dave Clark (Rheostatics, The Woodshed Orchestra) on drums.

Beatty’s mission on Bandit Queen, and in particular on this first single, is to help listeners discover their own “inner outlaw” and to share the historical account of a woman who was both powerful and flawed. It’s the kind of story not frequently told about women, even now. As she explains it, “I wanted to invite the dark parts into the storyline and inspire listeners to be their whole, real, bodacious, outlawed selves.”

Bandit Queen can be ordered on iTunes.

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On Making the Unknown Known

Alone with Friends

J. Stoller

Alone in the company of friends. These are strange times. I’m ashamed of the weariness I feel, worried by the emptiness and the confusion. I find I’m forcing myself to make smalltalk, feeling like a fraud as I do so. Bereft of what was once familiar, I wander around the ornate rooms as conversation swirls around me. But maybe that’s exactly the point and what must necessarily come before progress?

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing — and keeping the unknown always beyond you.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

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Clinging To What No Longer Serves

Clinging to an old blanket

by J. Stoller

In times of trouble, people cling to the mundane and to the familiar company of family and friends. They gravitate to comfortable surroundings, to deeply-entrenched ideas and attitudes. They hold on tightly to old and tattered possessions to which they are accustomed, even if these objects no longer serve a purpose.

When feeling challenged and under siege, people will embrace what they already believe to be true, speaking in the same language, however tired or inappropriate for the new situation at hand.

Surrounding oneself with the theatrical props of stability is not the same as feeling stable, safe and secure in your heart. What is needed is a paradigm shift.

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What if… What then?

What if, just like MySpace, Twitter suddenly changed their code or shut down completely, and all of those clever things you thought up, all the people who “liked” you and made you an internet sensation for 24 hours, all of that disappeared into the ether. Erased from Earth’s fragile history, you’re left alone in your basement room, with your dusty books and hardened mind, while the real people you shut out of your life have drifted away to find more satisfying conversation and a more reciprocal love. What then?

These are false communications, as transient as a Tibetan sand mandala. But unlike the mandala, whose essense remains in the collective unconscious, your clever thoughts, in the morning light? No one will remember them.

Indeed, we are all fleeting, we are all grains of sand, though we disappear without a trace or our essence remains based upon the decisions we make — whether to truly communicate, or to build an emotional wall.

As you slowly discover that the old proverb is true, you reap what you sow, betray and betrayal, abandon and abandonment, disregard and disregarded — What now?

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Was 2016 The Year Mental Health Came Out Of The Closet?

Mental Health in the News

Overburdened law enforcement, soldiers and PTSD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, celebrities coming forward and election anxiety

The stigmatization of mental illness and the tendency to push mental health issues under the carpet is far from over, but the conversation has begun. The year 2016 has been chock-full of news stories, discussions and public figures in solidarity or coming out of the closet with their personal struggles. Whether your daily news source is the local newspaper, network television, NPR or Facebook and Twitter, it’s hard not to notice that mental health issues have been popping up with great frequency. Read more on >>

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Introducing… Workman Song

Workman Song

Photo: Sakare Anderson

When literary prowess meets golden throated tones, it’s a beautiful thing. Sean McMahon of Workman Song will likely remind you of Bob Dylan, except that McMahon can actually sing. Heh. Sorry Bob, that’s harsh. But seriously, this guy is really something. He’s the sort of storyteller that can really draw in an audience — warm and engaging. In this wonderful video, he sits down for a One on One Session in the Garden during The Outlaw Roadshow in New York City on October 20, 2016.

Based in Western Massachusetts, singer-songwriter Sean McMahon spent five years in Brooklyn, where he created his alter-ego Workman Song. As a member of Brooklyn/Auckland indie-folk band Streets of Laredo, he toured with bands like Cults, Albert Hammond Jr. and The Kaiser Chiefs. He is now back in his hometown of Northampton, MA. He has released two EPs, Lamb (2014) and Ion Zelig Vol. III (2015), and is now working on his full-length debut with his bandmates Monte Arnstam (Outer Stylie) and Marc Seedorf (Seth Glier).

And a salute to Boston impresario Ryan Spaulding’s brave and fearless The Outlaw Roadshow, which defies the odds in today’s mean and treacherous music biz to give the world’s brightest indie musicians a shot at greatness. Or at least the ability to pay their rent.

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Winter Solstice Musings

Trying to unwind the gnarled thoughts from this fretful year, it seemed so very easy to sink comfortably into all the hatred and venom and take up arms. To become hardened to the perceived threat, rather than try to understand it. Gather comrades tightly around and fortify defenses, rather than reach out to the enemy. But all that did, in retrospect, was to widen the rift and poison the air around us.

It is far less comfortable, far less safe, to detach from and step out of enveloping womb of one’s world view. To gaze harshly upon oneself from the enemy camp and begin to question. Is there any room inside that hardened shell of righteousness for a different perspective?

In the quiet of winter, the cold hush of hibernation, there is the time and the space for contemplation.

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Boston’s Bearstronaut gets especially dreamy with “Begonias”


Although they’re technically from Lowell, I’ve always thought of Bearstronaut as a good ‘ol Boston band. And I probably don’t cover Boston bands as much as I should. So let’s catch up with them. They released a full-length album Telecoast last June, which has a strong dreamlike quality in addition to being deeply satisfying for those who enjoy their take on shoegazey Brit-pop that incorporates elements of electro for today’s dance floors. What does this mean? It’s my lame way of saying that their music has considerable heart and soul while still being infectiously dancey. Put it this way: these songs wouldn’t be out of place with flashy strobe lights, but at the same time, it’s not completely inappropriate for a romantic evening at home.

It’s good to see the band still going strong and putting out good music seven years after their debut album Broken Handclaps back in 2009, which honestly seems like a lifetime ago. Here’s the latest single from that album, titled “Begonias.”

The current band lineup is Dave Martineau (guitar, vocals), Paul Lamontagne (guitar, synth, samples), Phil Boisvert (bass, synth, vocals) and Nate Marsden (drums). They’ll be performing at The Sinclair in Harvard Square on January 24 with Austra and LAFAWNDAH.

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Introducing… Lily Virginia

Lily Virginia

photo credit: Mark Jaworski

To immerse oneself in the music of Lily Virginia is to sink luxuriously into an aural hot bath, and then to be quickly dried off and taken on a breathless road trip. Her soft, supple vocals and symbiotic musical accompaniment slide expertly over, under, around and through each other. There are many moods here, from dreamy nostalgia to quick, astute assessment. Soulful vulnerability, proud self-assuredness, sharp and cynical street smarts, wistful nostalgia — all human emotions are on display here in this wide-reaching collection of songs and stories.

Brooklyn-based Lily Virginia’s Play Me Twice audiovisual album is an ambitious effort. It comprises nine songs, a series of in-studio music videos and an interactive Play Me Twice Podcast hosted by Lily Virginia and her producer, Alessio Romano. In each episode, they discuss the creative process behind a particular song on the album in addition to discussions with peers about what it’s like to be an indie musician in the current music biz environment. They also invite listeners to comment on what they hear. The podcast serves as “digital liner notes” that are ideal for our super-connected times. Fans are encouraged to ask questions via social media or texting as each song’s video is released, forging a strong connection between artist and audience.

Lily Virginia’s musical heroes are diverse, from St. Vincent and Bon Iver to Little Dragon, James Blake and Celia Cruz. Genres are seamlessly blended, including rock, folk, pop and world music touches. She and her band have performed around the U.S., including New York venues like Rockwood Music Hall, BAM and Highline Ballroom, and at special music events like SXSW, NOLA and Sofar Sounds.

Virginia’s inspiration for this album was to explore how vulnerable and intimate she could get. It’s clearly a personal album, confessional and poetic. It was inspired, as she says, by “wanting to write bluish purple songs with silver-gold shimmers.” Her live band, who can be seen in the in-studio videos, features Berklee alumni Alessio Romano (drummer and producer), Andre Vasconcelos (guitar) and Scott Kapelman (bass).

If you like what you see and hear, you can listen to Play Me Twice on Spotify or buy it on iTunes.

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Introducing… Hana Oceans

Hana Oceans

It is difficult, if not impossible, for an artist with any sensitivity to create in a world that is so troubled and not be affected by what happens around them. For Swedish singer-songwriter Hanna Nilsson, who goes by her stage name Hana Oceans, the plight of European immigrants fleeing war in their native countries is impossible to ignore. For her recent single “Invincible Borders,” she tells their story with a powerful video that was directed by Natalya Holley and produced by Holley London/Lauren Holley. It immediately personalizes what can all-too-easily become just a series of newsreel images from some distant, foreign land.

“So let’s break these walls, these invincible borders,
crushed we feel small but we can’t live by their orders,
so we march march to the sunset, fight fight til the day ends
There is a fault, that’s always on their minds but never outshined
there is a people that never are heard but will always rise, will always rise

– Invincible Borders

In a premiere feature and interview with Atwoods Magazine, Oceans explains what inspired her to write this song:

“I can’t be happy in a world where people have to risk dying at sea for the hope of a better life, only to be blocked by borders if they are lucky enough to reach dry land. It upsets me that over 60 million citizens of the earth are fleeing from conflicts.,” says Oceans. “Nobody should have to live in fear and the more that people start to organize, the more chance we have of affecting the politics that have led to so many people facing uncertainty every day. However, I want people to know ‘Invincible Borders’ is not about all of the negativity surrounding this political crisis. This song is a reminder that there is hope in the world, and that hope is represented by unity only.”

Traveling the world at a young age, Oceans became interested in the idea of inspiring people through music. She studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston before releasing her critically acclaimed debut EP Dust (OStereo) in 2015. As for her own inspiration, her favorites include Florence and The Machine, Ane Brun and Highasakite, in addition to pop and cinematic music.

Hana Ocean’s Dust EP (which includes the single) can be found on iTunes. You can listen to “Invincible Borders” on Spotify.

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