Alt-Nation: Dan Blakeslee and Trying Out Jazz

Here are some things to listen to/consider while you are trying to avoid thinking about how summer is flying by at breakneck speed.

Dan Blakeslee – The Alley Walker

Straight outta Boston by way of Maine, troubadour Dan Blakeslee is a talented songwriter with a mellow country/folk sound that I would compare to Ryan Adams’ best stuff mixed with some Steve Earle. The Alley Walker is his sixth full-length, and an excellent entry in the Blakeslee canon.

You may know him as Dr. Gasp, his spooky alter-ego Halloween act. Blakeslee also has a prolific art career, and Motif beer nerd readers may be interested to know that he’s the one who drew the Heady Topper label. His album art alone is worth the purchase.

The album’s strength is thanks in large part to the fantastic playing from his band known as The Calabash Club. Check out the killer organ on “A Golden Turn” and the pedal steel on “Ready for the Cinema.”

It’s clear that Blakeslee has had some experience with this songwriting business, and I especially enjoyed Alley Walker’s lyrics. He’s great at creating characters, but I particularly love how Blakeslee can spin events in his own life into inspiration and imagery. He wrote the upbeat “Pride of the Piscataqua” while watching a bridge he grew up with being removed (“here’s to you my crumbling beauty/beneath your belly we did sail”), and “Lone Star” is a gothic country tune about being stranded on tour in Texas.

Similarly, “No Shame in Wasting Time” examines the great benefits of doing nothing, including how hard is it to be a clock (“you spend your whole life waitin’ for a punch, and another when they get back from lunch”).

All in all, every song on Alley Walker has something to offer. I hear that Blakeslee has recently moved to Providence, so look for a show at some point soon.

Free Music Bounty @ Burnside Park

Like most, I’m enthralled by the power of getting something for free, especially when it’s music. This summer, there are awesome free shows happening every Thursday at Burnside Park in Downtown PVD, sponsored by the Downtown Providence Park Conservancy, a public-private partnership that aims “to preserve and revitalize Providence’s historic downtown core by transforming it into a lively, cohesive and prosperous economic and cultural center.”

The schedule is as follows:

August 3 | Charles Allin – Ambient electronic music from Jeremy Harris, who is also the man behind the Lazy Magnet Project.

August 10 | Hott Boyz – Apparently not the rap group from the ’90s, but a group featuring members of Roz and the Rice Cakes and GYMSHORTS.

August 17 | Grupo Sazon – A Latin salsa explosion, this group will make you want to call in sick on Friday to enroll in conga lessons.

August 24 | What Cheer? Brigade & The Quahogs – The infamous brass of the huge What Cheer? street band paired with The Quohogs’ twangy rock ‘n’ roll.

August 31 | Roz and the Rice Cakes – Some of the most exciting alt sounds in town. I also heard they may have a new album dropping soon.

September 7 | The ‘Mericans – Providence alt-country lifers who always make for a good show.

This is all part of a greater effort to revitalize the greater Kennedy Plaza area and build a downtown parks system, so I guess by partying outside on a weeknight, you’re actually helping to strengthen your community.

Let this also remind us of this park’s namesake, Ambrose Burnside, perhaps the greatest Rhode Islander who ever lived. He was, among other things, a decorated Civil War general, railroad man and politician, but Burnside is best remembered for his ridiculously over-the-top facial hair, which resulted in the term “sideburn” being named for him.

Each show starts at 5:30 – perfect for after-work beers. Find more info at:

Newport Jazz Fest

Roughly a century after it emerged as America’s original art form, jazz is now as unpopular as ever. According to Nielsen Music, jazz is tied with classical at the bottom of the pack by national standards.

This Saturday, I’ll be attending the second day of the Newport Jazz Fest. I must admit that I am part of the reason for the genre’s waning, as I listen to hardly any jazz and am very underqualified to write about it. I am, however, looking forward to checking out Snarky Puppy, the boundary-breaking jazz group (almost an orchestra), Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops and bass legend Christian McBride.

Because I more often attend the sold-out Folk Fest, the JF feels like a relaxing reprieve where you can just sit back and take it all in. I honestly haven’t heard of any more of the Saturday artists, but I figure I should make at least one annual attempt to expand my horizons beyond the usual white dudes with guitars.

The Newport Jazz fest happens August 5 and 6. Tickets can be purchased at:

RIP Chester Bennington

I’d like to note the passing of Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, who recently took his own life. It’s always a tragedy when musicians go too early, and his death comes only months after the suicide of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell.

I can’t say I was a huge LP fan, but I definitely enjoyed the Hybrid Theory singles when I was younger and the right age to enjoy Bennington’s angsty vocal style. They were all over WBRU during my most impressionable years, when it started to become clear that obsessively listening to music wasn’t just going to be a phase.

It seems like prolific songwriting ability too often comes with mental illness or substance use, and this death is another stark reminder that someone’s success in no way determines what’s going on in the inside.

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