Recent albums from one-man band The Suitcase Junket and a new project from Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars fame are in this week’s Ear Bliss spotlight. The Suitcase Junket is Bay State native Matt Lorenz. Produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos fame, Mean Dog, Trampoline is Lorenz’s second full length album and easily his most polished effort to date. For his latest album called Solstice, Luther Dickinson is joined by a harem of lady singers he dubs Sisters of the Strawberry Moon and who include Amy Helm, Allison Russell from Birds of Chicago, Amy LaVere, Sharde Thomas, and gospel group The Como Mamas. Frankly speaking, the ladies steal the show on the album. Let’s take a look.
The Suitcase Junket
Mean Dog, Trampoline
Signature Sounds Records
Face it, the one-man band thing can get a bit redundant for an entire album of songs and even more in the live concert setting. Judging by what these ears hear on the new album called Mean Dog, Trampoline from one-man band The Suitcase Junket, he (Matt Lorenz) most assuredly figured that out before diving into this project. Mean Dog, Trampoline is a fresh blend, sonic stew of myriad soundscapes offering multiple looks vice the typical bang-on-guitar-and-beat-foot-drum approach of all too many of these single person operations. Produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Lorenz is still responsible for most all of the instrumentation on this album and there is plenty on his multi-styled plate. In comparison to the heavy garage and primitive blues bashers on his prior album called Pile Driver from 2017, Mean Dog, Trampoline, while still paying heed to lo-fi antics, has plenty more pop appeal. Lorenz’s secret weapon, in addition to his own unwavering voice and multi-instrumental talents, just may be his sister Kate who sings on eight of the dozen tracks comprising the album. Being siblings, I guess it’s not surprising how well their voices mesh with standouts to these ears being the songs “Everything I Like,” “Gods of Sleep,” “Dandelion Crowns” and “What Happened.” There’s both restlessness and a sense of curiosity to Lorenz’s songs, all originals. They are his observations of his surroundings at any given time be it attending a workshop for first-time homebuyers, random thoughts while listening to the news on a drive to New York City, or Joan Jett. Lorenz boils those moments up beautifully into the cacophony of guitar, be it jangly, fuzzed-out, or bashing. It’s makes for a highly listenable brew. Recommended. (Visit www.signaturesounds.com)
Luther Dickinson and Sisters of the Strawberry Moon
New West Records
Subtitle this album “Luther & the Ladies,” as in Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars fame and son of the late and legendary jack-of-all-trades music man Jim Dickinson and an all-star collection of female singers that include Amy Helm, Allison Russell from Birds of Chicago, Amy LaVere, Sharde Thomas, and the Mississippi female gospel trio The Como Mamas. Calling themselves Sisters of the Strawberry Moon, they gathered with Dickinson for a day in the summer of 2016 to make some music, beautiful music at that. The result is the 12-track affair fittingly titled Solstice. With Dickinson at the production helm and also playing guitars, each of the “Sisters” get at least a couple of turns to demonstrate their vocal talents. The music as played by Dickinson and a variety of accompanists is kept mostly understated allowing these ladies to showcase their interpretive powers on a diverse mix of folk-styled tunes. In other words, the stars of this collection are truly the Sisters of the Strawberry Moon. There are many great songs here with two performed by Amy LaVere being particular standouts to this scribe, the wonderful David Egan tune “Hallelujah (I’m a Dreamer)” and the playful “Cricket (At Night I Can Fly)” from the pen of LaVere herself. Equally great is “Superlover” performed by Russell and written by her Birds of Chicago partner Jeremy Lindsay. Dickinson has created a little slice of magic with Solstice which was his primary goal with the project. “The whole idea of this album was to introduce a bunch of friends and get them to collaborate with each other,” says Dickinson. “I wanted to let the chemistry flow, to create an environment where everyone’s flavors naturally blended together and each artist could just be themselves. I think you can feel that freedom in the music.” Terrific chemistry is all over Solstice. Visit www.newwestrecords.com.
Using songs from the Broadway stage to the movie screen to the pop charts, the Providence Gay Men’s Chorus tell stories of the human experience that are unique to the LGBTQ community and yet common to us all as part of a program called “Rights of Passage.” It is being staged multiple times this weekend at the Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich (59 Main Street). Friday and Saturday night performances are at 7 pm and there is a special matinée performance at 4 pm on Sunday.
When it comes to reggae, as a true architect of the sound the legendary Toots Hibbert is no doubt hall of fame material. Along with his band, The Maytals, he has commanded some pretty large stages in his long career. All that makes his appearance at the “intimate” Ocean Mist in Matunuck (895 Matunuck Beach Rd) on Friday night a must-see event. Show time is 9 pm.
It will be the music of the J. Geils Band all evening long on Friday at Chan’s Restaurant in Woonsocket (267 Main Street) when the original J. Geils Band “Ace of Bass” himself Danny Klein brings his talented Full House Band to perform one show at 8 pm.
As if Friday not is busy enough, the outdoor concert season at Bold Point Park in East Providence (555 Waterfront Drive) gets rolling that evening with a bill featuring the Robert Cray Band, Marc Cohn with The Blind Boys of Alabama, and special guest Shemekia Copeland. Show time is 6 pm. The series of outdoor shows continues on Sunday when WHJY presents a twin bill featuring Collective Soul and Gin Blossoms starting at 6 pm.
If you dig bluegrass with an alt country edge, makes tracks for Shaidzon Brewing Company (141 Fairgrounds Road) in West Kingston on Saturday afternoon to catch Boston-based band Grain Thief playing from 3 – 5 pm.
Celtic rock prevails next Thursday evening at the Met Café in Pawtucket (1005 Main Street) when Gaelic Storm performs. Show time is 8:30 pm.
Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.