Santana Is Pure Joy
Aug 19th, 2015 by

The late Tito Puente made a few bucks last night. But more importantly, he would have been proud when Carlos Santana and his 10-piece band played a booming version of his ode to rhythm, “Oye Como Va,” which means “Listen to how my rhythm goes,” when you add the line “mi ritmo” after it.

I saw Tito Puente and his band at the Charles Ballroom in Harvard Square about 15 years ago. During that show he made a speech before playing that song, explaining how Santana made his song a hit and how at first he was a little angry and jealous, especially when audience members would say to him after his show, “you play Santana music.”

He said he used to argue with them and explain that he wrote that song and that Santana was playing Tito Puente music. “Until the royalty checks started rolling in. Now I tell them, ‘That’s right. I play Santana music!’,” he said right before his keyboardist started pounding on the opening chords to that song.

Santana is now an old master, but his chops on the guitar are as good as ever. Pure joy flows from it and he accentuates his guitar solos by offering the audience little treats:  a few riffs of classic songs thrown into the mix.

Last night, those little treats included a few riffs from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “I’m With the In Crowd,” and “Layla.” He doled out many more and the audience, dancing in the aisles, ate them up.

Good Music, Food and Friends
Mar 14th, 2010 by
From left to right, Jay, Kenny, and "Little Kenny."

From left to right, Jay, Kenny, and "Little Kenny." Click on the photo to hear them play and sing.

This is what rootsliving is all about.

My friends Kenny and Katie recently hosted what we like to call a “hootenanny,” complete with guitar singing, food, and good friends. Kenny is a singer/songwriter and he, and my friend, Jay (who you might remember helped me out on the backyard makeover project) played guitar and sang, taking requests from the small audience in Kenny’s dining room.  Kenny’s 16-year-old son, “Little Kenny” also joined in for a few numbers, playing bass.

Katie is one of the best cooks I know. She made a slow-roasted roast beef (recipe below) for sandwiches with Boursin cheese and tomato. And everyone else brought one appetizer. I brought my AI (Asian-Italian) Chicken Wings.

Here are some of the food and musical highlights from that day:

Very simple and very tasty, this fig, goat cheese, and bread appetizer couldn't be any easier to make.

Very simple and very tasty, this fig, goat cheese, and bread appetizer couldn't be any easier to make.

Carol’s Cheesy Fig Delights

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • French bread, cut up into small rounds
  • Fig jam
  • Goat Cheese

What she did:

Put jam and goat cheese in separate small bowls.

Put bread on a platter

Let guests make their own “delights” by spreading fig jam on bread and goat cheese on top.

This slow-roasted method produces a very tender, rare, roast beef.

This slow-roasted method produces a very tender, rare, roast beef.

Katie’s Roast Beef Sandwiches

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • Boneless eye-round roast (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pound)
  • Kosher salt (4 teaspoons)
  • Vegetable oil (2 tsp.)
  • Pepper (2 tsp.)
  • Boursin cheese (about 5 or 6 oz. or so; enough for as many sandwiches as you’re making)
  • Mayonnaise (about 5 or 6 oz.; just enough to make the Boursin cheese spreadable.)
  • French rolls (or any good Italian bread) (Katie got her rolls at Colarusso’s Bakery in Stoneham, Mass. and they were great!)
  • Tomato slices (enough for as many sandwiches as you’re making.)

What she did:

Sprinkle all sides of the roast with the salt. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 18-24 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 225 degrees.

Pat the roast dry with paper towels; rub with 2 tsp. of the oil and sprinkle all sides evenly with pepper.

Heat the remaining 1 tps. of oil in a skillet over medium heat and then sear the roast until brown on all sides (about 3-4 minutes per side.)

Transfer roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes per pound (Katie’s 4.25 pound roast beef took 1 1/2 hours to cook).

Shut oven off and DO NOT OPEN OVEN FOR 30 MINUTES.

Put roast on carving board and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

Mix just enough mayo into the Boursin cheese to make the cheese spreadable (about half and half).

Put a slice of roast beef in the roll. Spread Boursin cheese mixture on top. Add a few slices of tomatoes.

(Note: If you’re having a party — or a hootenanny — you can put the roast beef slices, Boursin cheese spread, tomatoes, and rolls out on separate plates and let your guests make their own sandwiches.)

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Note: If you’d like to print these recipes, click here or on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)

This Punk Does Country Right
Jan 16th, 2010 by

I’m not a big fan of country music, especially not today’s saccharin, mediocre-popped-out variety. But I’m falling in atypical, unrequited love with the new country album by former punk rocker John Doe called, “Country Club.”

Most of the album consists of country covers from the ‘50s and ‘60s: old school country in the tradition of  Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Tammy Wynette.  But Doe, along with the Canadian roots rock combo, The Sadies, make these tracks new again as they make them their own.

Fans from Doe’s days with the LA punk band “X” might suspect they’re performed as parodies, but they’re not. They are tributes that make you appreciate the fine songwriting talents and clever lyrics of some of Nashville and Bakersfield’s best.

The album (hear snippets here) kicks off with the upbeat, rockabilly song made popular by Waylon Jennings, “Stop the World and Let Me Off.”  And from there Doe’s booming tenor brings you on a journey of love-lost longing, heartache, and stories of betrayal.

Highlights include the hopeful sorrow of “‘Til I Get It Right,” made famous by Tammy Wynette; “There’s a Fool Such as I,” with high-pitched harmonies from Cindy Wasserman; and the standards, “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” by Kris Kristofferson and a dramatic rendition of “The Night Life,” which starts with a far-away guitar riff reminiscent of the Animal’s version of “House of the Rising Sun.”

More proof that Doe and the Sadies have a fine appreciation for these stalwarts of Americana is found on the four original tracks on this record.

“It Just Dawned on Me,” written by Doe and his former wife and fellow “X” bandmate Exene Cervenka, sounds as if it could be an old Johnny Cash song. The duet on this number, with Doe singing low and Kathleen Edwards singing high, sounds eerily similar to a Johnny Cash/June Carter collaboration.

“Before I Wake,” written by the Sadies, is a wonderful song about hopelessness — “I can’t help you and there’s no helping me,” — where sturdy guitar riffs are the only thing holding up Doe’s and Margaret Good’s downtrodden vocals. You get a sense that both singers would collapse if it wasn’t for the steady backbeat coming from the impeccably tight Sadies.

What I’ve always appreciated about good country music is it’s innate ability to express an emotion in its raw state and its knack for taking you to another place and time. The place this album brings you to and the place John Doe is singing from is a real, country, dive: the type of place you’d like to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon drinking beer and doing shots of whiskey.

Read about other good sounds in the Music section.

Savor This Album Like a Fine Stew
Sep 2nd, 2009 by
Jen Kearney and the Lost Onion are playing at Toad in Cambridge on Thursday nights in September.

Jen Kearney and the Lost Onion are playing at Toad in Cambridge on Thursday nights in September.

Lowell musician Jen Kearney‘s latest work blends jazz riffs, latin rhythms, Motown grooves and a rock n’ roll sensibility into one cohesive album that should be savored like a fine meal, not scarfed down like a drive-through cheeseburger at 2 a.m. after a Saturday night out.

“The Year of the Ox” is a concept album where the songs were carefully crafted and then put together in a specific order.

Kearney’s voice has been compared to Stevie Wonder and on this album it sometimes sounds like him; sometimes like a young, screechy Michael Jackson; sometimes like a booming Joan Armatrading; and sometimes it’s uniquely her. But the music that accompanies her is truly original, blending a mixture of sounds including jazz flute with Motown saxophone, latin drums, and caressing backup vocals.

A good example is the masterpiece of the album: “Gentle and Precise.” This song is put together and built like a (pick one) masterful oil painting; a finely-tuned European sports car; or a gourmet stew; with many different things going on at once. But the arrangement by Kearney is flawless and it works.

It starts out with a riff reminiscent of Miles Davis, heads into a mariachi trumpet sound, and then Kearney’s deep strong voice belts out, “Busy fools building shrines, Got a high education, But can’t seem to lift up their minds.” Her staccato inflection is then buoyed by a crescendo of soothing backup vocals. You hear all of these rhythms and melodies at once and you can’t help but smile (and maybe even dance).

Twelve musicians play a variety of instruments which makes this a very different album. There’s a trumpet, a flugelhorn, tenor sax, flute, trombone, violin and viola to go along with the standard lead guitar, drums, bass and keyboards. There is also something called a cuica and talking drum and a theremin, which provides some of the other-worldly sounds.

Other highlights include the songs:

  • “To the Moon”: This song has a funky groove with a bopping bass line layed down by Brian Coakley, followed later by some jazz flute by Dan Abreu that sounds reminiscent of Tito Puente’s band.
  • “Succotash Blue”: Kearny sounds like a young Michael Jackson here with a nice jam session towards the end.
  • “Bossa Nova Stereo”: Opens like a song from the Buena Vista Social Club album and ends with a bossa nova beat. Nice lyrics about a wise woman giving her advice: “She said you’ll never find peace thinking the way you think,  It’s not in a man, in a pill or a drink, Keep rolling along, Keep writing your song, And you’ll learn baby.”

The main theme that runs through this album is the desire for self-improvement and the pull of nature (specifically the moon) vs our free will. Kearney uses these primitive concepts to take us on a wild musical ride into what makes us human.

(“The Year of the Ox” is available on CD at CDBaby and for download at Amazon.com.)

(Discover more roots music in the Music section.)

Hogan’s New Album is Life’s Work, Labor of Love
Aug 17th, 2009 by
The album is available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon.com and at Book Oasis in Stoneham.

The album is available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon.com and at Book Oasis in Stoneham.

Massachusetts singer, songwriter Kenny Hogan says his new album took three years to make, but if you listen carefully to him and the music, you soon realize this has been a lifetime in the making.

Hogan, who grew up in Medford (in the same neighborhood where I grew up) and now lives in Stoneham, has been a professional musician for 40 years, having played lead guitar in several bands that toured nationally.

His new album, “Frank’s Imperial,” features all original songs in a variety of genres including soul, rockabilly, blues, jazz, country, and electrifying rock n’ roll. Amazingly, he sings all lead and backing vocals and plays all of the instruments on most tracks.

Hogan’s influences are apparent: Motown, Beatles, Steely Dan, even Hank Williams. However, this album is truly original and a welcome find for music fans from the ’60s and ’70s.

The name of the album refers to Hogan’s memory of his father’s love for his 1967 Imperial automobile. The title track is a smooth, soulful tune that conjures up images of a 12-year-old boy sitting in the back of this massive luxury sedan with shiny chrome and fins while his father negotiates “rollercoaster road.”

So far, the album has gotten some play on NPR, and a few local radio stations. And the song “Backyard Barbecue,” is now the theme song for an online radio talk show called “BBQ Emergency.”

Hogan is a veteran of the Greater Boston music scene.

Hogan is a veteran of the Greater Boston music scene.

The album is available on CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes, where you can hear samples of the songs, including:

  • “Let’s Go!”: A hard-driving, rockabilly tune.
  • “Real Good Day”: An easy going melody featuring a jazz clarinet gives this track the same feel-good sentiment as the Beatle’s “Good Day Sunshine.”
  • “The Uke Song”: This number makes you think of grass skirts on a tropical island as Hogan sings about being away on a business trip in Florida while his wife is stuck up in snowy, freezing Boston. A smart DJ would play this for comic relief during the winter months.
  • “Heaven”: Lush backing vocals on this soul tune are all Hogan.
  • “Everything I Need”: Bluesy, grinding harmonica accompanies this song about “family, friends, and music.”

All of the songs on this album were a labor of love for Hogan. And it shows.

(Kenny Hogan will be interviewed live on WMBR radio on Sept. 10 at 4 p.m.  Cuts from “Frank’s Imperial” will also be featured.)

Check out more roots music in the Music section

What’s On Your Summer Checklist?
Jul 15th, 2009 by
Reading a book or watching the sailboats from a beach on this Maine island is a favorite summer pastime.

Reading a book or watching the sailboats from a beach on this Maine island is a favorite summer pastime.

So here it is mid-July. You’re probably stuck, toiling away at work somewhere. Before the summer slips away, it’s time to take stock. What are your favorite things to do in the summer? Make a list now, before it’s too late. And make sure you do everything before that first nip in the air hits in late August (or September, if we get lucky in New England).

I have to confess: this isn’t my idea. I stole it from my friend: musician, humorist, and all-around creative recreationalist, Kenny Hogan. (Hey, instead of coming up with my own ideas for this blog, I need to go out and start checking off my own list. ) You can check out Kenny’s list here.

Here’s the RootsLiving list:

  • Lobster and champagne (served at home or at a cottage on a small island in Maine). There’s no better combination to make you feel like you’re living large.
  • A sit-down dinner outside in the yard with family and friends. (This is an upscale version of a cookout with real dishes, several courses — some made on the grill — and great wine.)
  • A backyard hootenanny, with music supplied by friends who know how to play a guitar and sing. (This often happens after the sit-down dinner in the yard. Hey, most people with talent are used to singing for their supper.)
  • A trip to Hampton Beach, NH. (Or anyplace on a beach near you that has a boardwalk with carnival games and is a great place to people-watch. Note: It’s a known fact that Hampton Beach has more people with tattoos per capita than any place in America.)
  • Listening to a ballgame on an AM radio, preferably in a summer cottage without TV. But in a car traveling late at night is good too.
  • Eating cold, fried chicken in the late afternoon or early evening on your favorite beach (mine is Good Harbor in Gloucester, Mass). There are no crowds then, plenty of room to park. And I have to confess, I often make things easy on myself by cooking up frozen Banquet fried chicken (Don’t tell Martha!).
  • A rowboat on calm seas on a summer day --- Aaaaaah.

    A rowboat on calm seas on a summer day --- Aaaaaah.

    Rowing a boat on a lake or a kayak in calm seas.

  • Attending at least one outdoor concert, preferably a small venue where you can bring a picnic.
  • Attending a minor league baseball game, where the ticket prices and concession stand prices are cheap, and it’s all about the kids, not the players’ egos.
  • Sitting at a raw bar overlooking the ocean, eating the freshest oysters and clams and chasing it down with a cold beer.
  • Picking and eating fresh tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Body-surfing on a beach with big waves.
  • Playing bocce in the yard or on the beach.
  • Making dinners with the bounty of the season: fresh seafood, greens, and fruits.
  • Blowing off an item on my “work to-do” list to do one of these fun things. The summer is all about playing hooky.

Please comment below on some of the things that are on your summer checklist.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)

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