Roots Report: An Annual Rant

wickedOkee dokee folks … Every year it seems that I have to adopt my Ebenezer persona earlier and earlier. I don’t do Christmas. I haven’t for almost 30 years. It is hard for most to understand this, but I am not religious and I am not one for pomp. When Christmas music and decorations are out BEFORE Halloween it is beyond ridiculous. It was already hard  to deal with holiday madness from Thanksgiving until the New Year without squeezing an extra month into the mix. Nowadays Thanksgiving is just glossed over on the way to Christmas. That is fine with me as well — I am a vegetarian and am not into celebrations based on dead birds and convoluted stories. Do I sound like a curmudgeon? I hope so! It is my goal in life! I am only sort of kidding. If you have read my column for the past 11 years you have heard this all before. The whole idea of binge-buying gifts at a certain time of year is foolish. It is like when folks only think to feed the hungry at Thanksgiving. What about the other 364 days of the year? If you want to give gifts, that is grea,t but please make them mean something. It’s not about quantity or dollar value. Personally I will buy things for people if I see something that I think that they would like, but not because a calendar date dictates so. But here I am, again, writing my blurbs for the Gift Guide. At least I can rant, maybe sway a few people over to the Dark Side, and stop the giving of Chia Pets. If you can’t give without expectation of return and give like you mean it, don’t bother. Please. And if you do buy gifts this season PLEASE buy from local merchants and artists. Phew! Aren’t you glad that you read this? Please, read on…

As I write, I am actually listening to a new holiday CD. I know that it goes against everything that I just wrote. Believe it or not, I actually produced an alternative holiday compilation CD about 20 years ago and even had a  (cynical) song on it. Well, the CD I am listening to now is strictly missionary. It is a collection of seasonal standards by local musicians Fred DeAngelis and Joe Caron titled The Wicked Awesome Acoustic Holiday. While the CD’s title is a bit odd, they do provide some nice arrangements and interpretations of 12 classic holiday compositions. DeAngelis and Caron handle the vocals and array of instruments including guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, sitar and kazoo. Caron has been playing guitar professionally for over 40 years and performed with rock bands such as Touch and Run21. DeAngelis is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, music educator and producer with more than 30 years of experience and has even performed for a US President.

The Wicked Awesome Acoustic Holiday starts with DeAngelis’ mellowish-jazzy version “Jingle Bells” followed by Caron’s guitar and sitar instrumental version of “Little Drummer Boy.” Caron also provides uniquely arranged and played instrumentals of “What Child Is This?,” “Last Christmas” and “Il est né, le divin Enfant (He is Born, the Divine Child)” to the disc. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Santa Baby” feature additional vocals by 16-year-old, Bangor, Maine, singer Catherine Howe. She sings with a combination of innocence and sultry tone that makes her performance stand out on both cuts. “Mele Kalikimaka” is a fun Hawaiian Christmas song complete with a modulation and kazoo solo. The recording also includes: “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “Silver Bells.” I think the best track of the CD is the DeAngelis/Howe duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

This is truly a wonderful holiday CD with some fine singing, harmonies, and virtuosic playing. I guess you could call it wicked awesome — it is Rhode Island after all — but this disc is far beyond just a local recording; it is light years better than the versions of these tunes that the radio and store PAs will assault you with from now until December 25. If you need a soundtrack for your holiday, here it is. The CD is available from CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon. For more, jingle over to facebook.com/FrederickLewisDeAngelis

If you really want to get someone a very cool gift this Christmas, head to the Mill at Shady Lea where for the past 18 years the talented tenants have held an open house (studio) and will again on December 6 and 7. The resident painters, sculptors, weavers, jewelry makers and glass blowers will show and sell their original work. Why am I putting this in my music column? Well, besides all the artisans previously mentioned, there is Shady Lea Guitars. They teach guitar building! Shady Lea Guitars will display the work of some of their accomplished luthier students and present the sounds of some of their musician friends! What an interesting, thoughtful and meaningful gift it would be to give the gift of knowledge and craftsmanship. Shady Lea Guitars offers an instructional course on building guitar family stringed instruments. No woodworking experience is required to take the classes, and students have complete creative say in the design of their build. From start to finish, they guide the students in building a truly personal and unique heirloom quality instrument. I asked SLG’s Ariel Rose Bodman if they offered gift certificates. “Absolutely! We do sell gift certificates and many of our students got going in the first place because a loved one knew it was something they would like to do! It’s certainly a gift that keeps on giving long after the instrument is completed!” For more, carve over to shadyleaguitars.com

On Saturday, November 21, my former musical partner Mary Ann Rossoni will bring her band to the Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland for an evening of music and art. Rossoni will be joined by Mederick Bellaire on guitars, mandolin and vocals, Fred Wilkes on bass, Paul Dube on harp and accordion, Matt Dube on percussion and Betsy Ritz on violin. Mary Ann’s artwork will also be on exhibit in the BRT gallery; all works are for sale and at her concert, and she will let the purchaser set the price for some of her earlier works. On November 28, BRT presents its 16th annual Homecoming Concert and Silent Auction fundraiser. It’s BRT’s one big benefit of the year and features some of the best of Rhode Island’s homegrown talent as well as others who now live in the Ocean State. This year the lineup features The Eastern Medicine Singers, Moi, Robbie O’Connell, Pendragon, Grant Maloy Smith, Ed Sweeney, and The Vox Hunters. Get your tix early for this – it is a lot of fun and is usually a sell out! Looking ahead to the BRT December calendar, on the 12th and 13th will be the Blackstone River Theatre Christmas Celebration featuring Cathy Clasper-Torch, Rose Clancy, Robbie O’Connell, Erika Damiani and members of Tir Na Nog Irish Dance, Kevin Doyle, Bob Drouin, Josh Kane, Russell Gusetti, Ed Sweeney, and the Swamp Meadow Victorian Carolers. For more, eggnog over to RiverFolk.org.

Where’s my shoehorn? Need to squeeze a bit more in. At Sandywoods in Tiverton, on Friday, November 20, The Rhode Island Songwriters Association presents Lara Herscovitch, David Bosworth, Jim Tata and Allison Giuliano. Oregon-based, roots/Americana, singer-songwriter-guitarist, Lauren Sheehan, who played the Sandywoods folk festival last May, returns to Sandywoods on Saturday, November 21. Also at Sandywoods, on December 12 is the Providence Wholebellies (sandywoodsmusic.com). After many years at The Coffee Depot, the Friday Night Open Mic will be moving into a new space effective December 4. The First United Methodist Church at 25 Church Street in Warren is where The Church Street Coffeehouse happens. Gretchen Peters, acclaimed American singer-songwriter, performs at Common Fence Music on December 5 (commonfencemusic.org). The Bluegrass Throedown happens every Wednesday at Nick-a-Nee’s with Morning Bugle on December 2 and Rock Hearts on December 9. The Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band, a true New Orleans institution, will be at Fete in Olneyville on December 2 (fetemusic.com). The 8th annual Singing For Shelter concert will take place on Thursday, December 3, at 7pm at Channing Memorial Church in Newport. This acoustic Christmas concert is a benefit for Lucy’s Hearth and The McKinney Shelter. Performers include Jimmy Winters, Tom Perrotti, Slackwater String Band, Chief Noda, Rand Bradbury, ZanRicky, The Blenders, John Monllos and Joanne Rodino, Alan Bernstein, Mike Coffey, John Previdini, Ed Ledwith, In Tandem, Chris and Diane Myers and The Rocco’s Pizza All Stars. For tickets, call 401-849-4250 or email MGorman20@cox.net. The Weight, a tribute to The Band, which purportedly includes past members of The Band, will be at the Narrows on December 4 (narrowscenter.org).

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading! www.JohnFuzek.com

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