The Beat Goes On: Twisted Pine brings its pop-flavored stringband sound to Northampton, jazz great Houston Person comes to Amherst, and more

  • Twisted Pine brings its eclectic stringband music to The Parlor Room in Northampton Dec. 2-4 Photo by Blake Hannahson

  • Veteran tenor sax specialist Houston Person, who’s been playing jazz since the 1960s, plays at the Drake in Amherst Nov. 29. Photo by Steve Mynett/Wikipedia

  • New York rocker/singer-songwriter Willie Nile comes to Race Street Live in Holyoke Dec. 3. Photo from Willie Nile website

  • The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow plays at Hawks & Reed Peforming Arts Center in Greenfield Nov. 25. Gazette file photo

  • Valley folk/pop specialists Eavesdrop come to the Drake Nov. 26.  Photo from Eavesdrop website

  • Bring on the Dead: Mind Left Body will interpret The Grateful Dead at Luthiers Co-op in Easthampton Dec. 3. Photo by Burns Maxey

  • The Irish ensemble Cherish the Ladies bring their “Celtic Christmas” to the UMass Fine Arts Center Dec. 2. Image from Cherish the Ladies website

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2022 3:33:25 PM

When they first formed in Boston several years ago, Twisted Pine had their feet planted fairly firmly in bluegrass — not the traditional kind, but with enough drive from guitar, fiddle, mandolin and bass to make it clear where the band’s roots were.

But then came an EP, “Twisted Covers,” released on Signature Sounds, that included some unique takes of very un-bluegrassy tunes like “Dreams” by The Cranberries, Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” and The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

If there was any question Twisted Pine was charting its own path, the quartet’s second full album, 2020’s “Right Now,” also on Signature Sounds, provided the answers. The record showed the quartet stretching its sound in all kinds of directions — funk, pop, jazz — and playing traditional instruments in unusual ways.

Twisted Pine, which comes to The Parlor Room in Northampton Dec. 2 to 4, does this all with amazing energy and instrumental virtuosity. But none of those instrumental fireworks ever sound self-indulgent: The band is a tight unit in which the members all complement one another.

Centered around Kathleen Parks on fiddle and lead vocals, Twisted Pine includes Dan Bui on mandolin, Chris Sartori on upright bass, and flutist Anh Phung, the group’s newest member. Phung, whose musical background includes progressive rock, jazz, and classical, may have done as much as anyone to broaden Twisted Pine’s sound.

The pop-flavored “Don’t Come Over Tonight” on “Right Now” offers a good example of their amalgamated sound. Beginning with a slow, descending bass riff and Parks’ vocal, the song moves through tricky rhythm and time-signature changes, with free-form, jazzy solos by Phung and Parks in the middle, plus a bit of scat singing by Parks.

Then it races to the end with a stepped-up beat, all restraints seemingly removed as Parks sings “I want to be myself around myself without you calling me … crazy.”

Twisted Pine will play The Parlor Room Dec. 2 and 3, with both shows beginning at 7 p.m. Opening the Dec. 2 show are The Slocan Ramblers, a Canadian bluegrass band; soulful singer-songwriter Ali McGuirk opens the Dec. 3 show.

Twisted Pine will also hold a bluegrass workshop and jam session Dec. 4 starting at 1 p.m., part of a new plan that will see The Parlor Room transition to a nonprofit model and community music center.


On Oct. 1, jazz legend Ron Carter, considered the most influential bass player around, played at the Northampton Jazz Festival, his first-ever gig in Northampton. Carter’s career goes way back: He’s 85 years old.

Now another esteemed jazz veteran will visit the Valley: tenor saxophonist Houston Person, who at 88 has a few years on Carter.

Person, who comes to the Drake in Amherst Nov. 29 at 7 p.m., first became known in the 1960s when he began a long stint touring and recording with Etta James. He also recorded multiple albums with Prestige Records, establishing a reputation as a “big boss tenor” with soul jazz records like “Blue Odyssey” and “Goodness!”

By some counts, the South Carolina native has been a band leader on 100 albums and played on over 300 in total. In a review of one of those records, “Live in Paris,” released in 2021, All About Jazz wrote that Person has a quality all great jazz musicians share: “They make everything sound so ridiculously easy.

“Tenor saxophonist Houston Person ... who keeps sidestepping every obstacle including Father Time, is one such master,” the online magazine wrote. “Regardless of groove or tempo, he seems perfectly at home.”

At the Drake, Person will play two sets alongside The Green Street Trio, the Valley ensemble that plays regular gigs with guest artists at the Amherst club.

 It’s probably fitting that Willie Nile, who grew up in Buffalo, New York and has long since made his home in New York City, looks a bit like Lou Reed, because he’s got some of that same NYC sensibility and grit in his music.

Nile, who comes to Race Street Live in Holyoke Dec. 3 at 8 p.m., is a rocking singer-songwriter whose career goes back to the 1980s, and though he’s flown under the radar for part of that span, he’s earned growing attention over the years, particularly in the last two decades. The New York Times has called him “one of the most gifted singer-songwriters to emerge from the New York scene in years.” Another critic labeled him a “one-man Clash.”

He’s also become a favorite of many other musicians, sharing stages or recording with artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, The Who, Lucinda Williams, Ian Hunter and Ringo Starr. On his two most recent albums, he sings duets with Steve Earle on the songs “Blood on Your Hands” and “Wake Up America,” taut rockers that explore themes like greed, fractured politics, war and the pandemic.

“Well you can dance with the devil,” Nile begins on “Blood On Your Hands” before noting “You can buy all the glory / that your conscience can afford … Blood on your hands, blood on your hands / there are cracks in the wall of your best-laid plans.”

“These are turbulent times,” Nile said in an interview last year. “That song is about dancing with the devil, whether it’s something personal between two people or politics on a world stage … and if you dance with the devil, you can get blood on your hands.”

Dan Zukergood and the Mostly Happy Band opens the show.

More music on tap

Also at Race Street Live: seminal alternative rockers Dinosaur Jr. play tonight (Friday, Nov. 25) at 8 p.m.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, with special guest Sandy Bailey, plays tonight at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield beginning at 8 p.m.

Eavesdrop, the Americana folk/pop trio formed some years back by Valley singers Kara Wolf, Laura Buchanan and Kerrie Bowden, has broadened its sound over the years and will play with a full band at the Drake Nov. 26 at 8 p.m. Western Massachusetts singer-songwriter Grayson Ty opens the show.

Cherish the Ladies, the Grammy-winning Irish ensemble, bring their “Celtic Christmas” show to the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

It’s country-flavored music night at Luthiers Co-op in Easthampton Dec. 3 when three acts take the stage between 7 and 11 p.m.: Matt Medeiros, Shea & Co., and Mind Left Body. The latter band performs what it calls “thoughtful interpretations” of the Grateful Dead songbook.

Will Evans, frontman for the popular jam band Barefoot Truth, comes to the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence Dec. 3 at 7 p.m., where he’ll use live-looping to combine his sounds on didgeridoo, steel drums, acoustic guitar, and vocals.

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