Back on the indoor stage: Music comes back in a big way in September

  • Americana performer Rhiannon Giddens and her partner, multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, come to the Academy of Music Sept. 8. Image from Academy of Music

  • Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar and his band bring their fusion of contemporary Saharan music and rock to Gateway City Arts on Sept. 11. Image from Mdou Moctar website

  • Folk-pop specialists will play all the songs from their debut album, “Birds Say,” at the Academy of Music Sept. 17.  Gazette file photo

  • The Milk Carton Kids — Joey Ryan, left, and Kenneth Pattengale — bring their original folk tunes and tight harmonies to Gateway City Arts Sept. 29. Image from Wikipedia/rkramer62

  • Irish folk stars The High Kings play the Academy of Music on Sept. 29. CONTRIBUTED/The High Kings

  • Venerable indie rock favorites Yo La Tengo will be at Gateway City Arts Sept. 17. Gazette file photo

  • Jazz singer and interpreter Madeleine Peyroux will sing all the cuts from her breakthrough album, “Careless Love,” Sept. 10 at the Academy of Music.

  • Julien Baker, who rocked the indie folk world at age 20 with her debut album, “Sprained Ankle” in 2015, plays the Calvin Theatre on Sept. 18. Image from IHEG website

Staff Writer
Monday, September 06, 2021

The outdoor music festivals have (mostly) come and gone. And though COVID-19 remains on the scene, music in the Valley is returning indoors in dramatic fashion.

After no indoor concerts for months, and just a handful this past August, close to 40 shows are scheduled in September at area venues such as the Academy of Music, Gateway City Arts, the Iron Horse Music Hall, the Shea Theater, and the West Whately Chapel, home of the Watermelon Wednesdays series.

Going from zero to 100 mph, metaphorically speaking, means music lovers may have some tough choices this month. Four different performers are scheduled Sept. 10, for instance: singers Madeleine Peyroux and Joan Osborne come to the Academy of Music; folksinger Dan Bern will be at the Iron Horse; and blues guitarist Poppa Chubby rocks Gateway City Arts.

Here are some highlights of the September shows. Check with all performance venues beforehand for pandemic protocols, as presently all require proof of a COVID vaccination for entry; audience members will also be required to wear face masks.

Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi, Sept. 8, Academy of Music: Rhiannon Giddens, the acclaimed Americana musician (and MacArthur grant recipient), and co-founder of the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, has been exploring American roots music — in particular early Black American music — for years.

But in the past two years, the singer, fiddler and banjo picker and North Carolina native has been ranging even further, working alongside her musical and life partner, Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi.

While the couple were in lockdown last year in their adopted home of Ireland during the pandemic, they set up shop in a studio on a working farm and recorded a new album, “They’re Calling Me Home,” that explores music from Italy, the United States, and the Emerald Isle, and which touches on the idea of missing a physical home as well as the concept of a metaphorical “call home” of death — the tragic reality of COVID-19 for so many.

From “Si Dolce è’l Tormento,” a 17th-century composition by Claudio Monteverdi, to some of the first old-time songs Giddens ever learned, such as “I Shall Not Be Moved,” the new album, released this summer, offers what No Depression magazine calls the singer’s “finest work to date. Intimately recorded and emotionally accessible, it is a near perfect album.”

Mdou Moctar, Gateway City Arts, Sept. 11: Tuareg guitarist and songwriter Mdou Moctar, who grew up in a small village in  Niger, reportedly built his first guitar himself, using scrap wood and, for the strings, bicycle brake cables. He taught himself to play in secret, as he lived in a region where secular music was all but forbidden.

Moctar clearly taught himself well, as he’s won acclaim for wedding western-style rock riffs to traditional Tuareg sounds and his distinctive playing style, which Pitchfolk describes as “brushing the strings with his left index finger ... while his right hand gallops along the fretboard, building melodies from nimble hammer-ons.”

Moctar also offers an unusual look — he’s left-handed — and his band includes rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane, a songwriter, producer and recording artist in his own right who’s known as a key “musical ambassador” to Tuaregs, a traditionally nomadic Berber people of northern and western Africa, giving young musicians access to instruments, recording opportunities and visas.

Madeleine Peyroux and Joan Osborne, Sept. 10, and Darlingside, Sept. 17, Academy of Music: These shows will offer a trip down memory lane, so to speak, as the artists will play the songs from one of their landmark albums in their entirety.

Peyroux, who was born in the U.S. but grew up partly in Paris, where she busked in the streets as a teen, returned to the U.S. in her twenties and rediscovered roots music. The result was 2004’s “Careless Love,” a mix of distinctive cover tunes of swing-era jazz, country blues, gospel and other acoustic styles; Peyroux earned critical raves for her vocals and her interpretations of the music.

Joan Osborne earned much praise (and big sales) in 1995 for her debut rock album, “Relish,” which was nominated for a number of awards. She’s since moved on to other varieties of music, including soul, R&B, blues and country, but “Relish” first introduced the world to her powerhouse vocals.

And Darlingside, the Boston-based folk-pop quartet, will sing all the cuts from their 2015 album, “Birds Say,” which first showcased their tight harmonies and inventive songwriting. The album’s producer will run the sound at the Academy show, at which some of the songs will be performed live for the first time, according to concert notes.

Julien Baker, Calvin Theatre, Sept. 18: Singer-songwriter Baker received immediate acclaim when she released her debut album, “Sprained Ankle,” in 2015 when she was just 20. The indie folk album used sparse guitar and piano tracks as backdrops for songs about substance abuse, loneliness, lost love and physical pain; Paste magazine calls it one of the best indie folk albums of all time.

Baker has since released two additional albums, including one this year, “Little Oblivions,” which includes several additional instruments — bass, drums, keyboards, banjo, and mandolin — most which she played herself.

Big Al Anderson and the Floor Models, Shea Theater, Sept. 25: Anyone who’s followed pop and rock music in these parts in the last 45-odd years knows Big Al Anderson was the inspired guitarist (and a singer and songwriter as well) of NRBQ before he moved to Nashville to become a successful songwriter for artists such as Carlene Carter and Tim McGraw; he released several of his own albums, too.

Big Al still loves to rev it up on stage, and when he comes to the Shea, he’ll be joined by some key southern New England musicians — guitarist Jim Chapdelaine, drummer Lorne Entress and bassist Paul Kochanski — as well as singer Christine Ohlman, the long-running vocalist for the Saturday Night Live Band.

The Milk Carton Kids, Gateway City Arts, Sept. 29: For 10 years, singer-songwriters Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have earned accolades for their lyrics, close harmonies and arrangements on acoustic guitars, particularly Pattengale’s inventive flat-picked solos and fills. Comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers and Gillian Welch have abounded (though the two also toured a few years ago with a big backing band).

The Grammy-nominated singers are also known for digging at each other during interviews and on stage. But when the arguing stops and the singing begins, you get what NPR once described as “gorgeous contemporary folk.”

Also of note this month: Millpond.live, a two-day festival at Easthampton’s Millside Park Sept. 10-11, features a range of music, from salsa to jazz to soul and funk; Arcadia Folk Festival at the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, Sept. 19; string band supergroup Darol Anger and Mister Sun, West Whately Chapel, Sept. 22; and The High Kings, one of Ireland’s most popular folk groups, at the Academy of Music, Sept. 29.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.