Alt-Nation: A Winter Music Medley

This isn’t a particularly uplifting time; the recent deep freeze has turned these parts into a dreary hellscape for what seems like a decade, and at this point in the year some people won’t even get a day off till Memorial Day. Fortunately, the musical community doesn’t slow down very much, so there are more than enough ways to occupy your time.

The Sultry Sounds of Neko Case

This Sunday, January 14, The Columbus welcomes Neko Case, an artist whose instantly recognizable voice and ballsy songwriting has made her into something of a national treasure.  She’s perhaps better known for her work with supergroup The New Pornographers, and she was also recently involved in 2016’s excellent Case/Lang/Veirs project with KD Lang and Laura Veirs.

Neko Case

Neko Case

Her first few albums were more middle-of-the-road country/folk fare (see: Everly brothers cover, “Bowling Green”). In later albums things started to get a little darker and more poetic, kind of like a country girl who went to college and started reading beat poetry and listening to the Pixies. The arrangements become more orchestral and song structures less traditional, with use of stark lyrical imagery. Take the lyrics to “Red Tide,” from 2009’s  Middle Cyclone:

“There’s a smell here that stands my hairs on end/Dog hair in the heater, gas pumps and cedar/And jackknifes on the nine/And seabirds choked on fishing line”

With her last solo, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Case pushed herself even further (see: Robyn Hitchcock cover, “Madonna of the Wasps”). Even the clunky experiments, like the mostly a capella  “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” show that she’s not afraid to land on her face.

I remember at a New Pornographers show years ago in Boston, someone threw a CD at frontman AC Newman. Case unleashed a wave of threats and expletives at the perp that lasted for at least a few minutes. So I guess she’s not afraid to raise some hell, either.

There are few on her level, so this is not one to be missed. At the time of this writing, the show is very close to being sold out. Indie folk act Mt. Joy opens.

Neko Case comes to the Columbus Theatre on Jan 14 at 8pm.

The Mallett Bros.

Come watch The Mallett Brothers swing the alt-country hammer at The Met next Saturday. Helmed by brothers Luke and Will Mallett, the Portland, Maine-based crew plays their own high-quality brand of rockin’ Americana and folk, a sound I’d compare to a rustic Jason Isbell or Lucero. They usually travel as a six-piece unit and entrance audiences with myriad instruments like pedal steel, banjo and dobro.

The Mallet Bros

The Mallet Bros

Their latest release, 2017’s The Falling of the Pine, is an interesting reimagining of Maine-area folk songs they found in an old book. The album is full of historical yarns and tributes to local points of interest (“Chesuncook Lake”), but their renditions don’t come off as cheesy or insincere.

There’s a crunchy blues version of Canadian folk song “Peter Amberley” and logging ballad (I guess that’s a real classification) “The Jam on Gerry’s Rock.” The album is a little less rollicking than their previous albums, with more of a folksy Appalachian feel, but with the same superb playing. In my experience, people from Maine are totally obsessed with Maine, so it seems like they’re doing right by their community.

The Mallett Brothers hit The Met on Jan 20 at 9pm. 

Holy Hands New Magnetic LP release @ AS220

New Bedford-based punk band Holy Hands will celebrate the release of their first LP, New Magnetic, this month. The tunes fall into the post-hardcore/heavy emo end of the spectrum, and the LP is a step up sonically and creatively from the band’s debut EP.

I can’t say I’m 100% plugged into this scene, but this is some of the highest quality music I’ve heard from the area. The musical performances are first-rate, moored by booming rhythm section Craig Burns (bass) and Evan White (drums), with the high end handled by Adam Gonsalves (vox/guitar) and Ryan Parker (guitar).

The style of music may be abrasive, but the crisp, professional production makes New Magnetic a pleasure to listen to. It makes sense that the album was engineered and mixed by Kurt Ballou, noted producer and guitarist from the band Converge. Clocking in at around 27 mins, the album and its 2- to 3-minute songs don’t give you anything you don’t need.

Some of the songs also convey the restlessness and anger of the Trump Era well, from the brooding “Bombs Aren’t Beautiful” to the swaggering “Love is Love.” There will always be great art that pushes back against the status quo, but aggressive music like this sounds more vital in the midst of troubled times.

The album release show is a stacked bill that features Leopard Print Taser, Darklands, Trevor Vaughan (also out of New Bedford) and Bare Bodies.

Holy Hands is at AS220 Psychic Readings on Jan 19 at 9pm.

Benny’s: The Musical

Benny’s, the late, great chain of stores will be honored with its very own musical at AS220. At the helm is the Empire Revue’s Sparkling Beatniks, AS220’s house sketch and variety outfit headed up by Keith Munslow. It’s also fitting that it’s being put on at AS220, an institution that is almost as RI as Benny’s. Few details have been released, but you can expect more coverage from Motif as they’re available.

Benny’s: The musical is at AS220 on Mar 4. Tickets can be purchased at

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