The Beat Goes On: A young guitar phenom, a young rock band with a retro sound, western swing, and more

  • Young rockers The Nude Party, steeped in ’60s rock but with a modern sensibility, play at Race Street Live in Holyoke on May 14. DSP website

  • Acoustic guitar phenom Yasmin Williams, recently profiled in the New York Times, plays the Drake in Amherst on May 13. Yasmin Williams website

  • Folk-pop favorites Darlingside return to the Valley May 22 to play at Black Birch Vineyard in Hatfield, part of an outdoor acoustic music series produced by Signature Sounds. VIA FACEBOOK

  • Jon Cleary, left, and his band The Absolute Monster Gentlemen bring their New Orleans-flavored blues and jazz to Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield May 14. Image courtesy Signature Sounds

  • Progressive western swing via Texas: The Quebe Sisters play the Drake in Amherst May 15. Image from Quebe Sisters website

  • Jazz drummer and musical adventurer Makaya McCraven, who studied jazz at UMass Amherst, plays Race Street Live May 17. Photo by David Marques

  • Singer/songwriter Ali McGuirk brings her powerful vocals to Hawks & Reed May 21; also playing that night are John Sheldon and The Mary Jane Jones. Image from Signature Sounds website

Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2022 4:09:52 PM
Modified: 5/12/2022 4:08:14 PM

Formed at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and now based in the Northeast, retro rockers The Nude Party drew their name from rehearsing in the buff while they were students at Appalachian State and even playing a few parties au naturale.

College hijinks might be behind them, but the six members of Nude Party, who come to Race Street Live in Holyoke on May 14 at 8 p.m., still play with plenty of youthful energy and insouciance, and they’ve got a sound to match it, with lots of chiming guitars, sha-la-la choruses, and the kind of lo-fi production you’d expect from a party band.

Lead singer and guitarist Patton Magee brings an appealing mix of roughness and melodicism to his vocals, and the band mixes humor and brashness in its lyrics, with the first verse of the Rolling Stones-flavored “Pardon Me, Satan” offering a good example:

“You keep talking about all of the good times / Says the gallows to the hanging tree / Well, I wondered if you had me confused with somebody else / I can’t figure out why you’re so hung up on me.”

The band has channeled a host of ’60s/’70s influences in its music. The 12-string electric guitar intro to “Shine Your Light,” for instance, recalls The Byrds, while the crunchy guitar, bluesy keyboard solo, and hazy harmonies of “Thirsty Drinking Blues” could fit right in on a Stones album circa the early 1970s.

Critics also see traces of The Kinks, T Rex, The Faces, Lou Reed and David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase in the mix. “It’s garage rock updated with a touch of 21st-century cynicism,” says Rolling Stone, “written and performed by a group of self-taught musicians who bonded over Sixties rock & roll.”

Habibi, an all-women rock band from Brooklyn, New York (habibi is an Arabic word meaning “my love”), opens the show.

When it comes to playing fingerstyle instrumental acoustic guitar, Yasmin Williams is overcoming a number of conventions. In a genre dominated by white men, Williams, a native of Virginia, is, as one critic puts it, “young, female, Black, digitally native, unabashed by tradition and open to all sorts of multicultural influences. She’s a fresh breeze blowing through a sometimes musty corner of music.”

Williams, who plays the Drake in Amherst on May 13 (tonight) at 8 p.m., is almost as fun to watch as to listen to. Using a variety of open tunings, she often plays with her guitar stretched flat across her lap, using her left hand to tap notes on the fingerboard, while with her right hand she taps on the strings near the guitar’s bridge with a tiny hammer, like someone playing a hammered dulcimer. She’ll also tap the guitar’s body with the palm of her right hand for another percussive effect.

Sometimes she’ll place a kalimba on the guitar’s body and pluck that in between playing the guitar strings, and she’ll tap out a steady rhythm with her feet on a wooden board set beneath her shoes. Her melodies can flow smoothly or reflect her focus on rhythm.

Now in her mid-20s, Williams followed an unusual path to playing guitar: She took it up after playing the video game “Guitar Hero 2,” begging her parents afterward for a real axe. She moved from electric guitar to bass, then from a 12-string to a classical guitar, before settling in on steel-string acoustic. She recorded and released a solo guitar EP while still in high school and now has two solo albums to her credit.

Williams, who played earlier this year at Signature Sounds’ Back Porch Festival, says she grew up listening to jazz, hip hop and R&B, and she’s also drawn to West African music. “Why not put them with guitar and expand the guitar canon?” she said in an interview last year.

NPR adds this thought about her playing: ‘In a lot of ways, the joy and possibility she brings to the guitar reminds me more of Eddie Van Halen than any of the other fingerstyle guitarists to whom she’s compared.”

 

In response to all the canceled concerts during the worst of the pandemic, Signature Sounds hosted a series of small acoustic shows in late summer 2020 and again last spring at Black Birch Vineyard in Hatfield (the Northampton record label and production company also produced a busy online music series, the Home Sessions, during much of that span).

Starting this month, Signature is reprising its Black Birch series with four Sunday evening shows, beginning May 22 at 6:30 p.m. (gates open at 5 p.m.) with Valley favorites Darlingside, the Boston folk-pop quartet that’s been a regular in these parts for years.

The band, praised for its close harmonies and “exquisitely arranged, literary-minded” songs (NPR), was one of the first groups to play an indoor show in the Valley last September (at Northampton’s Academy of Music) when live music finally resumed after almost a year and a half of pandemic shutdowns.

The Black Birch series continues weekly through June 12 with performances by, in order, bluegrass stalwarts Barnstar! singer/songwriter Caitlin Canty and banjoist Noam Pikelny, and singer/songwriter Heather Maloney.

These shows are all first-come, first-served, and while you can bring a blanket or lawn chair, no umbrellas or alcohol can be brought in; food trucks will be on site.

More music on tap

Two acoustic legends — instrumental guitarist (and occasional vocalist) Leo Kottke and folksinger Tom Rush — play Northampton’s Calvin Theatre on May 13 (tonight) at 7 p.m. They’ll be joined by singers Matt Nakoa and Monica Rizzio.

Jon Cleary and The Absolute Monster Gentleman, who were supposed to bring their New Orleans blues and jazz to the Valley in early March but had to cancel due to a COVID outbreak in the band, are hoping for better luck (and health) this time when they come to Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on May 14 at 8 p.m.

The Quebe Sisters of Texas — Sophia, Hulda, and Grace — bring their fiddles, tight harmonies and backing band to the Drake on May 15 at 7 p.m. for a night of western swing, country and more.

Jazz drummer and producer Makaya McCraven, who grew up in the Valley and studied jazz at UMass Amherst under the tutelage of players including Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef, is noted for his cross-genre work with numerous musicians. He comes to Race Street Live on May 17 at 8 p.m.

Also on May 17 at 8 p.m., the Mexican group Son Rompe Pera will bring its mix of punk, garage rock, marimbas and cumbia to the Bombyx Center for Arts & Integrity in Florence.

Hawks & Reed offers two separate shows on May 21, beginning at 6 p.m. with Valley guitar legend John Sheldon, who’s celebrating his 50th year of professional music making. At 8 p.m., singer/songwriter Ali McGuirk brings her show-stopping vocals and acoustic guitar to a split show with The Mary Jane Jones, the Valley band specializing in soul, R&B and rock.

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


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