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Mike Dow

Mike Dow

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Iconic progressive rock guitarist Steve Hackett says he’s had a most productive lockdown.

The former guitarist for Genesis (1970-1977) has just released his 25th solo album, his first acoustic offering since 2008. Hackett says the 11 pieces of music recorded for “Under a Mediterranean Sky” take inspiration from his extensive travels in and around the Mediterranean with his wife, Jo, whom he credits with the idea.

During an interview with The Maine Edge, Hackett says his goal was to not only pay tribute to the extraordinary beauty of the Mediterranean but to offer a transportive experience for listeners who’d like to break away from their current inertia and take the journey with him.

When Hackett’s live performances last year vaporized in the wake of COVID, he rescheduled his Genesis Revisited tour “Seconds Out and More” for this fall in the U.K. with forthcoming dates to be announced soon for the U.S.  

Last summer, Hackett released his memoir, “A Genesis in My Bed,” an engrossing and revealing read that shed light on his life in and out of music, his years spent creating classic prog-rock albums with his former band and the myriad musical journeys undertaken during his solo career, all delivered with a hefty dose of levity.

Each piece on “Under a Mediterranean Sky” is devoted to a different part of the Mediterranean landscape while highlighting the regions’ cultures and indigenous instruments. It’s a beautifully written and recorded album centered by Hackett’s classical guitar playing and longtime collaborator Roger King’s orchestral arrangements.

How scary has the shutdown been for musicians? Many professional players and music teachers have spent most of their lives working toward the goal of supporting themselves and their families by playing music. Some are classically trained and have spent years or decades mastering their craft after obtaining prestigious and pricey degrees while others are self-taught. Many rely on filling their schedules with gigs wherever they can find them in restaurants, bars or at weddings. For those who can do it, it’s a dream come true, but when it all stops, the black void of uncertainty that is our current reality can be soul-crushing.

Soon after last spring’s shutdown, the New England Musician’s Relief Fund (NEMRF) was established to assist musicians in easing the financial strain. Nine months later, the fund has distributed more than $300,000 to musicians in New England and New York’s Upper Hudson Valley to help make ends meet.

We live in a time where the answer to almost any question is only a click away. But what about those answers not so easily obtained?

William Shatner examines history’s most bizarre mysteries Fridays at 9 p.m. on The History Channel’s “The UnXplained.” Season 2 episodes are airing now.

As host and executive producer of “The UnXplained,” Shatner seeks to discover how the seemingly impossible can actually happen. Each episode is packed with multiple mysteries under a central theme. Scientists, historians and witnesses add context but it’s Shatner’s eternal curiosity and engaging personality that makes the show compelling, creepy, spooky and fun.

It’s been suggested that you have to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues. For guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader, Andy Watts, the blues is a way of life (“certainly here in the Middle East,” he jokes), and his dues were paid up a long time ago. Watts has been proclaimed (by Blues and Muse magazine) Israel’s “Ambassador of the Blues,” which is probably accurate when you consider Watts’s longevity as an Israeli blues performer and the fact that he has repeatedly brought many of America’s greatest blues artists to his country.

Watts’s fifth album “Supergroove” is a fully charged dose of the blues, tinged with rock, soul, funk, and R&B, that he says is a reflection of his live show. Produced by six-time Grammy nominee Kenny Neal and released on Neal’s label, the album features ten tracks of Watts with his 9-piece band blazing through five originals and interpretations of five blues classics from Freddie King, Joe Louis Walker, Rick Estrin, and Watts’s greatest influence, Peter Green, the late founder of Fleetwood Mac.

Guests on “Supergroove” include Blues Hall of Fame inductee Joe Louis Walker, singer Eliza Neals, Roy Young, and Israeli vocalists Danny Shoshan and Gadi Altman.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020 10:51

A few of my favorite 2020 musical things

It’s only speculation on my part, but I’m guessing you sought an escape route this year. Many of us, myself included, found it in music.

I’ve never subscribed to the belief that all of the good stuff has already been recorded. I believe a case could be made that there is more good music being written and recorded now than at any other time.

Despite the lack of live shows (and I miss that experience dearly), a wealth of truly great music was made this year. Here are some of the artists and titles that saw me through. As I look over my preliminary list of 2020 musical faves, it occurs to me that they are all independent artists.

Need a little boost of holiday spirit or some DIY decorating tips for Christmas? “Mr. Christmas,” otherwise known as Benjamin Bradley, is ready to assist. The star of the sweet Netflix hit “Holiday Home Makeover with Mr. Christmas” brings with him two decades of design expertise, and a desire to share his vast knowledge of all things Christmas.

On “Holiday Home Makeover with Mr. Christmas,” Bradley and his team meet with families and communities deserving of a Christmas makeover.

Each of the four episodes from the show’s first season (shot pre-pandemic) begins with Bradley at home with his dog, a sweet chocolate lab named Ebenezer. Bradley reads a letter from a family struggling in some way when it comes to the holidays, then introduces them to the viewer before transforming their home or community into a Christmas wonderland.

Along the way, Bradley shares his love of Christmas and its many traditions and offers up plenty of insightful holiday hacks and helpful decorating tips that most anyone could pull off on their own. It’s heart- and hearth-warming entertainment when we need it.

Since she burst on the scene in the mid-1980s with her own hits and as collaborator, percussionist and eventual musical director for Prince, Sheila E. has been a constantly positive force when it comes to uplifting and empowering women in life and music.

Her new weekly series, “Sheila E. TV” debuted on her birthday, December 12, and her new single “Little Drummer Girlz” finds the percussion legend collaborating with three young female drummers on a song designed to aid the girls’ musical education.

It really hurts to consider that John Lennon has been gone for 40 years - the same interval of time that he lived. How could someone whose influence is still so tangible today, who’d provided so much joy, who’d created so much timeless art, and who’d just reemerged with new music after five years away to raise his son, be destroyed in an instant by a delusional nobody? It’s painful to consider the many what ifs and the possibilities that became impossible after the night of December 8, 1980.

James Patterson’s latest book, “The Last Days of John Lennon,” doesn’t really answer the question of why, because there isn’t one, but it does tell the story, and not just of John’s final days.

Patterson’s book, a collaboration with Boston-based journalists Casey Sherman and Dave Edge (“Boston Strong,” “Hunting Whitey”), is a true-crime drama that does a pretty good job of accurately delivering the story of Lennon’s life from childhood through the Beatles years to the end. Meanwhile, we sense Lennon’s killer lurking in the shadows, where he mostly remains until mid-story.

Patterson’s coauthors accessed the killer’s criminal case files and parole review interviews which illustrate the intent to gain fame by killing his idol. As Patterson explains during the follow interview, he saw the killer as a boring, one-dimensional figure so he devoted more space to Lennon’s Beatles period, which serves to make the sense of loss more profound at the book’s conclusion.

(A quick note about the interview: I eliminated the name of Lennon’s killer from the transcript.)

You know a film moved you when you can’t stop thinking about it. If you’re even mildly interested in the life and music of Frank Zappa, you need to see Alex Winter’s “Zappa,” the first all-access documentary on Frank utilizing his vast archive of film and recordings.

Through “Zappa,” we meet the real Frank through vintage film and interview footage, most of it unseen until now. We meet the musicians he trusted to deliver his music, both rock and classical, and we discover how he interacted with them. We meet his wife Gail and see Frank being a husband, a father, a rock star, a classical composer and conductor, a free speech advocate and a tireless battler of injustice in its many forms. Frank was a complicated guy.

We see how Frank dealt with the cancer that ultimately claimed his life in 1993. In one of the movie’s most impactful scenes, we see part of his final concert performance in Prague, as well as footage from Frankfurt in 1992 when he conducted Ensemble Modern performing music from “The Yellow Shark,” the last album (of 62) released during his lifetime.

It’s a film befitting of the Zappa name because it’s an honest portrayal of his life and work, even when it doesn’t portray him in the best light. Zappa was all about the truth, and as his son Ahmet reveals during the following interview, staying true to his father’s modus operandi was the vision of everyone involved in this movie through the six years it took to get it made.

“Zappa” is a powerful film and one of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year.

My interview with Ahmet Zappa began with a little revelation about his longtime fascination with the state of Maine. I encouraged him to leave L.A. behind and join us here full time.

The Jerky Boys turn prank phone calls into art but it’s been many years since we’ve heard a new album bearing the name. Johnny Brennan decided now is the right time to release a new self-titled album of prank calls as The Jerky Boys, and as you’ll read during the following interview, it’s not as easy as it used to be to nail down a call worthy of The Jerky Boys name.

The original duo of Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed released six albums of prank calls made to unsuspecting recipients using a variety of character voices inspired in part by members of their family. Since Brennan and Ahmed split in 2000, Brennan has focused on voice work, most famously the voice of Mort Goldman on “Family Guy.”

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