The Beat Goes On: Valley music Dec. 10-23: Guitarists take center stage

  • Guitarist, singer and songwriter Steve Gunn plays Gateway City Arts Dec. 15. Image from Steve Gunn website

  • Hometown favorite, singer-songwriter Seth Glier, plays the Academy of Music on Dec. 17. Gazette file photo

  • The Sweetback Sisters bring back their popular Christmas singalong show to the Academy of Music on Dec. 18. Photo by Anja Schütz/Gazette file photo

  • Andrew Marlin, half of the folk-country duo Watchhouse, plays The Parlor Room on Dec. 11. Signature Sounds website

  • Yemen Blues Duo comes to the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity Dec. 18. Image from Bombyx Center website

  • Songstress Nellie McKay brings her barbed wit and her cabaret-style pop and jazz piano music to Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Dec. 19.  Signature Sounds website

  • Singer-songwriter Martin Sexton, who tours all over but calls the Valley home, plays the Academy of Music on Dec. 17. Martin Sexton website

  • Steve Gunn with singer-songwriter Sachiko Kanenobu at the Chapel in San Francisco on Feb. 16, 2019. JEFF MARQUIS/VIA WIKIMEDIA

  • Guitar virtuoso Steve Gunn plays a show at the Chapel in San Francisco on Feb. 16, 2019. He shares a Gateway City Arts date on Dec. 15 with fellow guitar slinger Jeff Parker. JEFF MARQUIS/VIA WIKIMEDIA

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2021 4:06:25 PM

Bring on the guitars: Steve Gunn and Jeff Parker will bring some unique sounds to Gateway City Arts in Holyoke on Dec. 15 starting at 8 p.m.

Headliner Gunn is a fingerstyle player who uses unusual tunings and influences such as Indian music to bring a distinctive touch to his songs, which offer a range of sounds, from country-flavored pedal steel to folk, pop, free jazz and blues.

A visual artist who once worked in an art gallery, Gunn has performed as a solo guitarist and singer/songwriter, as well as with other musicians, including Kurt Vile, and he’s now attracting more mainstream notice after years of flying largely under the radar. Rolling Stone calls him “rock’s best-kept secret” and says the songs of “The Unseen In Between,” his 2019 album, “set the bar for guitar-based transcendence.”

Gunn’s newest album, “Other You,” offers more pop richness and variety. Pitchfork says Gunn’s vocal melodies here “are among the tenderest he’s ever written, and they carry the same sense of inevitability that he invests in his guitar lines; they sound so natural, it can be easy to overlook their formal complexity.”

Parker, who one critic calls a “most humble guitar-god,” has worked in pop, rock, jazz and more while developing a style of playing with both recognizable and experimental sounds. A record producer and film score composer, Parker, says Jazz Time magazine, “has absorbed so many styles and worked in so many situations that he really comes across as an individual with vast roots.”


Martin Sexton and Seth Glier, Academy of Music, Northampton, Dec. 17, 8 p.m.— Sexton, the veteran singer-songwriter, has long been known for his considerable vocal range and skillful guitar work. He’s also taken many musical snapshots of America during his years on the road.

In his most recent release, the EP “2020 Vision,” he’s done more of the same, most notably on the song “Calling on America” (featuring guest guitarist John Mayer), which looks at the political divisions in the country but also the things that bring us together.

“I see America as flawed, but not irredeemable,” Sexton says. “My faith is renewed to see the injustices of the world beginning to be met with justice and accountability. I remain hopeful and optimistic.”

Even the pandemic had its silver lining, Sexton notes, as he was able to spend more time with his family here in the Valley, including building a treehouse with his son, an experience that inspired another new song, the soul-flavored “Hold On.”

Another local hero, pianist/guitarist/singer Seth Glier, also has a new album out, “The Coronation,” that was largely composed during the pandemic and reflects his concerns, as he told the Gazette in an interview earlier this year, with “imagining the world that we are trying to build” rather than simply documenting the problems we already face.


Sweetback Sisters, Academy of Music, Dec. 18, 8 p.m. — The holiday season in the Valley really isn’t complete anymore without the annual Sweetback Sisters show and its country-rock and swing versions of Christmas songs. Last year, the pandemic did a number on that concert, though the group — singers Sarah Bode and Emily Miller and their hot band — did perform an online show.

But what’s called the “Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular” is back this year, along with all its trivia contests, prizes and audience participation, and likely some new songs in the mix. As Miller told the Gazette a few years ago, the band, after more than 10 years of performing the Christmas concerts, has accumulated a significant cache of new holiday tunes, which have been steadily worked into the shows.

But audience members on Dec. 18 can probably count on hearing some of the group’s holiday standbys, like “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and the twangy instrumental rave-up version of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”


More music on tap


The William Hooker Trio, with Hams Tammen (guitar) and Adam Lane (bass), comes to Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. This Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares show is built around nearly five decades of work by Hooker, an acclaimed drummer, composer and poet.

Mandolinist and singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin, half of the folk-country duo Watchhouse (formerly called Mandolin Orange) has been spreading his wings more widely in recent years, gigging with other players, producing records and recording two instrumental albums. He’ll play some of those newer cuts when he comes to The Parlor Room in Northampton on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. with supporting musicians on guitar, fiddle and bass.

Almost Queen, billed as the “most authentic Queen live show since the days of Queen themselves,” brings four-part harmonies and more to Northampton’s Calvin Theater on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.

Pete Bernhard, the singer and main songwriter for The Devil Makes Three, comes to Hawks & Reed on Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. along with The Huntress and Holder of Hands, a five-piece band that draws on influences such as post-metal, blues and grunge-rock, as well as the use of cello, viola and string bass.

The Bombyx Center in Florence continues to bring in a wide range of jazz and world music. Dec. 18 will feature the Yemen Blues Duo, which pairs guitarist/bassist/oud player Shanir Blumenkrantz with singer/bassist/ percussionist Ravid Kahalani, who Bombyx describes as “part Prince and part James Brown.” The music encompasses Moroccan Gnawa, Nigerian Afrobeat, jazz and more.

And on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m., Big Yuki, an eclectic Japanese-born keyboard player and songwriter who’s been called “NYC’s secret weapon,” brings his trio and his mix of classical, hip-hop and jazz music to the center.

Songwriter, pianist and playful singer Nellie McKay burst on the scene in 2004 with the acclaimed album “Get Away From Me,” on which she first showcased what The New Yorker calls her “artful subterfuge ... McKay’s skillful tunes and vocal delivery enchant while her lyrics slyly disembowel.” She plays Hawks & Reed on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at


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