Friday, August 30, 2013

Keep it Local Friday Artist: Man Alive!

 Man Alive! is what I would probably categorize somewhere in the "alt-folk meets haunting waltz meets country for people who don't like country" music genre. Confused yet? Good! All you really need to know is this is good music. Driven by strong percussive backbeats courtesy of Matt Chieffo's small kick drum and choppy guitar and banjo playing, Jeff Shattuck's swirling accordian lines, the concrete bass runs of Jordan Allain, and soaring fiddle of Amber Hoggatt, the band is doing something that not a lot of other folks are doing around this town. This is original music my friends. Take a little from this influence, a little from this influence, pour in your heart and bake something that is completely your own and unlike the other "folk" music coming out of the Boston music scene. I reviewed their aptly titled EP "4 Songs"a few months back (Here) and while I enjoyed the listen, this recorded work has NOTHING on a live performance from these guys. They really are a band with such high energy and presence on stage that you need to see them live to really absorb what exactly Man Alive! is.

I caught up with Matt Chieffo and Jordan Allain to get two views on the band, what they are doing, and where they are heading on this dusty road we call making music. Needless to say, they are kicking up some of that dust along the way and making some noise to go along with it.

RLR: Just tell me a little about the band, who is in it? What would you describe your sound as? Where have you been playing?

Man Alive! is : Matt Chieffo (vox and guitar and banjo) a boston public highschool writing teacher who doesn’t wanna act like a responsible adult. Jeff Shattuck  (accordion) PHD laser scientist . Jordan Allain (bass) – manager at the best bagel shop in Boston and Amber Ferner-Hoggatt (fiddle and vox) VMD – specializing in primate research

JA: To me our music feels like you just walked in on an old timey throw down where some people are swinging their beers and stomping their feet, while others are grabbing the nearest dance partner and tossing them around the dance floor.
We've been playing shows for a few years now at various local venues: Great Scott, O'Briens, Middle East, T.T.'s, Radio, Precinct, as well as some outdoor festivals and a couple basements for good measure.

RLR: The band name is interesting, where does it stem from?

MC: Man Alive! Is an old expression that can be used in a number of contexts. Man Alive! That lake is cold! Or Man Alive! Im having a girl! Or man Alive! That whiskey is strong. Or Man Alive! That band is good haha. 

JA: It stems from the exclamation Man Alive! which is a very versatile expression. You could be surprised, pleased, excited, bewildered, heartbroken. When you just feel something so passionately and words are failing you, let out a Man Alive!

RLR: What records are you listening to right now? . What records shaped you as a musician and made you want to pick up an instrument and be in a band?

JA: I just found out about this band The Wave Pictures that I've been getting really in to. Belle

MC:  We are an eclectic group as far as musical taste. Jordan and I love the kinks, dr. dog, and have been getting really into this group The Wave Pictures. Jeff comes from Maine and generally likes old time music though I'd say he's more up to date with bands in our genre than any of us...then there’s Amber. Another one who was raised up on old time but shes got a special place in her heart for 90s pop country..its true. As far as musical influence goes its a tough one - we draw from so many places- I can speak for myself..I think the Kinks have some of the best lyrics Ive ever heard..their subject matter is inspiring and Ray Davies point of view is always so perfectly absurd. The Grateful Dead - early Dead- Working Man's Dead - The lyrical delivery is really inspiring for me - The energy and rhythm of Roger Miller (one of my all time favorite people ever) I was raised listening to Van Morrison so he's in my head for sure...Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson- Tammy Wynette-  My grandparents were amateur country line dancers- EmmyLou and Gram Parsons - I also really love afro psych. There is so much more is hard to sort through. So much is there - I take pieces of it all - like I said its a particular aesthetic im after - take all of those and mix them all that is dark, morbid, and strange and you’re getting closer.

RLR: Aside from music, do you have any other pastimes? What would you want people to know about you aside from your musical endeavors?

MC: This is actually a good segue into our interests outside of music...I’m way into horror movies, I silk screen, go fishing about as much as I can, and make muppet style puppets..haha yes I do ..Rumor has it they might be making an appearance at our Halloween show.  Amber collects bugs and paints, Jeff plays competitive volleyball, and Jordan draws strange cartoons and writes short stories - he and I often give each other pieces we've written to read. Soo we are equally as eclectic in out extra curricular band activities... 

(Chieffo with one of his "muppet-like" creations)
photo courtesy of Eye Design

RLR: So what is making music important to you? Anything you look to do more of in the future?

MC: Well Man Alive! has taken a number of different shapes and seen a number of different people before settling in with the current line up. In the early stages it was more of a country rock band- electric guitar, bass, piano, drums with none of the current people in the band. I started writing songs and playing them at parties in the kitchen and then my friends started to play along and those were the instruments my friends played haha. I actually really liked the sound of that first line up but it wasn't Man Alive! I don't know how else to say it and believe me it was hard to explain that to my friends after we played a bunch of shows and the band was gaining momentum and I decided to completely dismantle the band and start from scratch. But there has always been a particular aesthetic I’ve been chasing with Man Alive! and its really hard to pinpoint. I'd say the aesthetic is more closely tied with my goals as a song writer. I wanted to tell stories..stories of my friends of my family of my own life. Life itself is inspiration. We all carry around these beautiful stories sometimes heartbreaking sometimes uplifting sometimes absurd or strange and I wanna tell them. I put myself in other people shoes alot I find the angle of the story that I find most interesting (this is where my own particular sense of aesthetic comes in) and I write from that point of view - Even when the story is my own. Couple the angle of these stories with melody and you have chance to evoke emotions in every shade you can imagine.

But just as every writer has a unique "voice" song writers do too.. and this "voice" is most sincere when it comes naturally -when you cant help things from coming out the way they do. My musical tastes do vary- I've always been into playing rock and roll, high energy music. But when I go to tell these stories with a guitar in my hand they just seem to come out "country." It didnt begin as an intentional move to play in this genre its the just the "voice" I found myself writing in. So when the first line up of the band starting taking me away from that "voice" I found myself writing to the sound of the band and not telling the stories the way I wanted to soooo I stopped and went back to where I started - playing by myself. ...But Ive never been one to be content for too long..always pushing the
envelope it wasn't long before I started playing with Jeff and then Jordan..Then we went through a couple mandolin players (Chieffo pictured left with former band mate, Brian Carroll and below Shattuck with Logan Chieffo - Matt's brother) and a drummer before I saw Amber playing with an old time string band at a barn in western Mass and recruited her and then this line up has been together ever since. 

We've written sooo many songs over the years and its fun as we get new players to watch the songs change and take new shapes it keeps things interesting. Its not easy for us to classify our sound. Im not pleased with the general label of americana and I personally feels its being abused- rock and roll with a tele and cowboy boots is all you need for that genre at times...but we're not singularly folk, country, or bluegrass either. A lot of people hear the accordion and hear a zydeco influence but thats not intentional either outside of the my dreams to add new orleans style horn sections and a drummer playing a trash drumset and a washboard haha..which we kinda tried already... 

We've also been really bad about recording. I tend to write new songs faster than we could ever learn them between practicing for gigs  so when we have time we often go to the back log of tunes and start plugging away.. But we promise we are getting better at recording. We just finished a four song EP which Redline graciously reviewed (thank you!) and we were pretty proud of it. We recorded it ourselves mostly live in Jordan's basement surrounded by some 30 odd old chandeliers that we hung around ourselves to feel at home. We have a pretty...interesting and specific way we've learned to record our band..there is a method to the madness and its best we do it on our own haha. We also recorded some great live video with EYE DESIGN among the chandeliers, which made an awesome set, but the video got..well lost/destroyed so we are planning a reshoot in the near future..we are also working on a new full length album which we plan to release in the winter so we've been a busy band and will stay that way, new songs will never be a problem haha. 

RLR: Cambridge/Boston/our city has been known for having a great music community, how do you feel about it? Do you agree with the sentiment? What bands do you like to collaborate with?

JA: I've never really been involved in any other artistic community other than Boston, so I don't have much to compare it to. There are times that I feel encouraged by it, and times that I feel frustrated by it. We've met a lot of awesome musicians and artists through playing and attending shows, and we've also had some nights that just didn't feel right for whatever reason. I think this would be the same no matter where we were playing though, you can't please everyone.

MC: We are super excited to be in Boston right now - there are a ton of great things happening in the city rand we are happy to be a part of as much of it as we can. EYE DESIGN is in our opinion the best thing happening within the Boston music scene over the last year or two. Erick and Ian are some of the nicest and sincere people I know and they have become really good friends of ours – plus their work is incredible. They film bands and book shows. If you’ve never been to a Treat Yo Self show at Great Scott well then go treat your damn self – live art, music and treats yessir. But we are in the process of working on some music video concepts with them too.

We also really love Peachpit and the Fantastic Liars and we have been playing with Peachpit a bunch. They are great everyone should go see them..Actually see us together at Precinct on 9/14. Sometimes the drummer plays trumpet on one of our songs! And rumor also has that all three of us bands will be covering each other’s songs as part of our Halloween extravaganza this year.

RLR: Plug away...anything else at all that you want the fine readers to know?

MC: Well I think that’s it for now..lots of fun stuff coming up – we have a show at middle east up on 9/9 with two amazing bands – As the Sparrow and Sway
This is the first show we have put together in awhile and we are psyched for it!

Be sure to check out Man Alive! online at:

AND listen to some tunes here:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New England Americana Fest 13: schedule and "my fest"

I am a firm believer that when it comes to community, the Boston roots music scene is the pinnacle for exemplifying what a music scene can and should be. Case in point, the New England Americana Festival. Throughout the year, everyone in this scene shares gigs, checks out each other’s shows, and sits around tables to pick out traditional tunes together and throw back a few adult beverages. BUT, one weekend a year this all culminates in one, gigantic Americana cluster-f*ck…ok, maybe that’s not the right term, “organized roots music chaos” perhaps? This year, that weekend occurs on September 27-29 in Harvard Square with performances throughout the day and evenings, inside of venues and out on the streets, with a substantial variety of music in the “umbrella genre”, ranging from blues to bluegrass, pure rock to pop folk, and everything in between. Anyway, here’s my breakdown of where you might see me during the event (though, if I had a choice I would clone myself 3 times over to check it all out!) Schedule is up on the NEA site at
(DISCLAIMER: If I could, I would see every single one of these sets, there truly is not one musical act on this festival bill that you would be let down in seeing…its really THAT good)

The Festival officially starts off Friday evening (though word is there is a special pre-party kick off at the Lizard Lounge on Thursday the 26th) with a wrist-banded, 3 venue take over of the square (same applies for Saturday evening). It’s going to be tough to split up your time between Passim, Tommy Doyle’s and the Tasty Burger bar...but I am likely going to be checking the tasty bluegrass stylings of Sam Reid & The Riot Act at TD’s to begin the evening and then run fast to Tasty Burger to further my bluegrass fun with The Whiskey Boys. After that set, I will likely have to flip a coin (or see if I can even get into Passim) to check out either Chasing Blue (at Passim, and keeping with the bluegrass theme) or get back to TDs to see Maine’s The Mallett Brothers…decisions, decisions! Luckily, you really can’t go wrong. Then, running back to Tasty Burger bar check out Mark Kilianski and the Moonshine Ramblers…man, it’s a bluegrass kind of night for this writer! Finally…I have no idea which closer I am going to see, maybe a little of each by sticking around for The Field Effect’s first couple tunes, running to Passim to catch Jimmy Ryan and Hayride, and then get blues-rocked to tap my night with Coyote Kolb at Tommy Doyles. Phew, and this is just the first night!

The daytime on Saturday holds a slew of incredible, more stripped down performances outside at Winthrop Park and Brattle Square (plus an indoor stage at Goorin Brothers hat shop). Nate Leavitt kicks things off at 1:10, so be sure to get it going at Brattle Square then either stick around for Jenee Halstead’s excellent mix of country twang and songwriter soul, or go check out the incredible (and tiny) Fiddlin’ Quinn and his big folks band across the street. Back to back to back, I personally, will be checking out the Bean Picker’s Union, North of Nashville, and a few tunes from Casey Abrams at Winthrop Park, and hopefully making it over to Goorin Brothers out check out Sonny Jim Clifford and Evan Gavry play a few tunes. Back to Brattle for the soul/bluegrass blend of Cold Chocolate (these guys play some HOT bluegrass…don’ let the name fool you!), and cap it all off by seeing the amazing folk songs and dancing of Dan Blakeslee

Saturday night = damn. While, I will for “certain reasons” likely be at Passim for most of the night…I will put up some other suggestions should you want to be on the move. Kick it off with Eva Walsh at Passim for sure! The place will be packed early on, so try and get a good seat. If you aren’t sticking around for the remaining line up, make sure you catch the end of Kieran Ridge Bands set and stick around for Tad Overbaugh and the Late Arrivals…grab a shot of whiskey and toast Jeff Byrd & Dirty Finch as they alt-country your face off for a tune or two. Then head to Tommy’s to catch Comanchero, Old Jack, and Tallahassee…or hit up Passim for Patrick Coman & the Lo-Fi Angels and John Colvert & the Great Brighton Fire back to back (man, this shit is getting hard!). Ok, stick it out at Passim (or head there if you aren’t already) and catch Sam Otis Hill’s set, seriously, Sam and the boys are an excellent band…then rush to TDs and catch Rick Berlin & the Nickel and Dime band. Last year they had the crowd “ringing around the rosie” at end the night. They are sure to be one to see this year as well!

While you are nursing your hangover, grab some greasy brunch then hit the square again for some outdoor sets. And again, be hit hard with really tough decisions. Michelle Lewis kicks off the Brattle stage at 1:10, followed by the always excellent Danielle Miraglia and then the Mark Whitaker band (Mark is probably one of my favorite musicians to watch and make music with, I urge you to check him out!). Then I will likely be heading for Ian Fitzgerald (one of my favorite songwriters) at Winthrop park. Boston’s favorite country rockers Girls Guns and Glory will be rockin’ the Brattle Plaza stage at 5:10 so hit that up too and bring your dancin’ boots and two-step partner…then close your night out with Brendan Hogan’s acoustic bluesy sound back at Winthrop.

Then, you are free to hibernate for the next week…because you will need the rest after this whirlwind of Americana music. Local music lovers and those that have no idea what the local music scene has to offer should both, at the very least, check out this event for a day set or two. You will see so many different, insanely talented musicians, songwriters, and artists over the course of these three days that it should be a mortal sin to miss out.

See you in Harvard Square. Who do you guys really want to check out this year???

P.S. Be on the lookout, I will be doing a feature on different performing artists throughout September until the festival sure to check back often for those!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Be de la Cour "Ghost Light" album review

Ben de la Cour is a traveling minstrel of sorts. A man who has been around and seen a lot. Traveled the country with a guitar on his back like the greats that came before him. He just recently released a new record called "Ghost Light"...and its pretty ghostly in its sonic qualities (which is an excellent thing!). The album was recording in New Orleans, which shines through if you look just right.

The record kicks off with the dusty road kicker "I Went Down to Dido". With subtle hints of Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen, it would be hard for a folk/roots fan to be disappointed with this track and the record as whole. I feel like I am getting pulled along for the ride as Ben sings out "and the road goes on forever / past factories, farms and fields", driving along vacant buildings and lots on the side of some dirt road.

I feel a bit wrapped up tight in a blanket of torment, sin and regret as "Howlin' in the Dark" kicks in. But I can take comfort in that feeling of regret because he presents it with such charm and poise. A great story song with a waltzy dance feel to it. The ambiance of this song bleeds out of the speakers and engulfs the room.

"Memorial Day" is a nice change of pace. A more uptempo acoustic rocker with some real nice dymanics and lines that are a sure fan favorite. Some country tremolo guitar, a strong back beat, and de la Cours always on point lyric work. He is very to the point and blatant, there is no sugar coating, he sings what he feels and I love about his music.

and I tried to give up drinking / but nobody understood
how hard it is just to make shit work / when you know that you're no good

It has a bit of a haunting feel to the music, without being over dramatic about it. The music really speaks for itself in that respect, no over use of reverb or atmospheric effects to successfully pull it off. And that's a good thing. De la Cour gently proclaims the tales of a road weary heart and charismatic traveler that has been around. I just love the way this guy annunciates certain phrases (listen to "Down in Babylon" for more examples). Soft but harsh, brooding but purposeful, and fragile but strong all in the same breath. A true troubadour for the modern age.

The only complaint I could possibly come up with is that 10 songs may have been sufficient and the 12 felt like just a bit much after the first listen through. The general tone of the record is fairly static, which, don't get me wrong, absolutely works here. Ben's voice complements the music perfectly and the feel of it the entire record flows great. I just find sometimes I get lost after that 11th track (from a review standpoint at least) and sometimes honing the focus to a limited number works rather than cranking out 12-14 tunes for an album. Otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed this listen and think you will too.

Check out Ben online at:

And his bandcamp page here:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Show you need to know about: Black Prairie to the 10th Annual Festival on the Green

Every so often a really great event comes along that you all should be aware of those just so happens to be coming to Mansfield, CT on September 22nd, put on by the fine folks at the Mansfield Downtown Partnership. It's a wonderful thing for folks to do things like this for their community, so be sure to check out the press release below and try and make it out for this! 

The Mansfield Downtown Partnership is pleased to welcome Black Prairie to the 10th Annual Festival on the Green. Black Prairie plays a brand of Americana that defies easy categorization, cross-pollinating a number of different styles while exposing the venerable, forgotten roots of folk and bluegrass. This talented ensemble is pulled together from different corners of Portland, Oregon’s rich music scene and, while the high profile of each musician in the band - which includes three-fifths of the Decemberists - ensures a certain amount of attention, it’s clear that Black Prairie are in it for purely musical reasons. The band cultivates an almost classical approach to composition, with songs containing multiple movements that ebb and flow in a way that differs greatly from traditional pop or bluegrass structure.

Black Prairie will take to the Festival on the Green stage following a full summer schedule that includes stops at Bonarroo, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and Newport Folk Fest. Their performance will begin at 2:30 pm.

The Festival on the Green will be Sunday, September 22 from noon to 4:00 pm in front of E. O. Smith High School (1235 Storrs Road, Mansfield, CT 06268). If it rains, the event will be held inside the school. In addition to the performance by Black Prairie, the event will feature the Celebrate Mansfield Parade at noon; children’s games and crafts; a Juried Art Show; food booths by local restaurants; and more! 

The Festival on the Green is free and open to the public. For more information about the 10TH Annual Festival on the Green, visit or call the Partnership office (860.429.2740).


Black Prairie also played at Newport Folk (one of my obvious favorite festivals based on recent posts,  right?) Check out their set below and be sure to get out to this great event…even if you aren’t in the direct area, it’s well worth the hike!

Keep it Local Friday Artist: Chuck Melchin

I (again) and going to embark on a new adventure in blogging and try to do a short feature, each and every Friday on an artist I think you NEED to know about, that you may not know about. They don’t have a CD that was just released, they don’t have any particular show coming up, but are just someone I thoroughly enjoy listening to and think you should as well.

 The head of the “revolving chair band”, the Bean Picker’s Union, Chuck Melchin is a character who will play with nearly anyone, adds a great deal to any artists songs, and is just a hell of a musician and songwriter in his own right. An extremely smart musician who doesn’t over-think parts, but always comes up with something original and leaves others thinking “why didn’t I come up with that/play that right there?!”.

Melchin is as prolific a songwriter as they come. His music truly has an air and ambiance about it. His songwriting burrows deep into your being and makes you feel and experience what he was writing about. The majority of the music he puts out is fairly sparse in it’s accompaniment (at least it feels that way) with a handful of string instruments typically filling the void of sound behind Melchin’s clear, strong and (sometimes) melancholy voice. It evokes an atmospheric texture to the songs, pulls you into the gray and surrounds your soul with the story. You don’t just listen to Chuck’s songs, you experience them. The only way to really describe this music is that it is truly beautiful.

His songwriting is always on point. He weaves narratives with often mournful and haunting perspectives (fitting the bill of the sonic qualities perfectly). One might feel that the typical “sad song” doesn’t hold as much clout as something more upbeat, a country shitkicker if you will, but the songs that pour forth from this songwriter are moving, deep, and powerful.

The 2007 full length ‘Potlatch’ goes down as one of my favorite local releases of all time. The follow up record  ‘Better the Devil’ released in October 2012, was just as strong and further cemented the fact that Melchin is just a great songwriter, arranger or music, and musician. And even further, I posted a review of Chuck’s “Demos and Covers” ( because I enjoyed that so much. 

Go check out all of the Bean Picker’s music up on their bandcamp page. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.