Music (383)

This week’s new music roundup includes several artists we haven’t heard from in a while and an impressive debut from an artist whose music we’ll be hearing for years to come.

I’m constantly impressed with the quantity and quality of music being created by Maine-based artists. We have an extraordinary lineup of talent in this state and it’s a privilege to be encouraged to tell you about their activities in these pages. This week, we give a listen to recently released EPs from three very different homegrown artists.

A fantastic spirit of joy and passion runs through each of the 14 tracks that comprise a new benefit tribute album for Joey Spampinato, co-founding member of NRBQ who was diagnosed with cancer nearly six years ago. The singer, songwriter and bassist spent the better part of four decades in that uncompromising and legendarily influential band, from 1967 through 2004, amassing a devoted audience of fervent fans, some of whom appear on this record.

“Party for Joey: A Sweet Relief Tribute to Joey Spampinato” (True North Records) features a lineup of Q fans and friends, including Bonnie Raitt, Ben Harper with Keith Richards, The Minus 5 (with members of R.E.M.) and comic illusionists Penn and Teller, each having a go at a different Spampinato-penned song, most of which were selected from the group’s expansive back catalog and all recorded expressly for this collection.

The results highlight the stylistic breadth of Spampinato’s songwriting, ranging from Beatle-esque pop and groove-driven rhythm and blues to rockabilly and old-school country, reinforcing the unassailable fact that NRBQ, then and now, is an American treasure.

Chicago-based bluesman Ronnie Baker Brooks says he loves Maine’s enthusiasm for the blues. The musician is scheduled to perform Sunday, July 11, at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland.

Brooks made his first appearance at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in 2005. He returned to the festival a few years later with his father, the late blues legend Lonnie Brooks, and brother, Wayne Baker Brooks, when they performed as the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty.

Brooks first appeared onstage at age nine playing guitar with his father. He launched a solo career in 1998, the same year he released his debut LP “Golddigger,” produced by Janet Jackson. In 2000, Brooks was nominated for the ‘Best New Artist’ Blues Music Award.

Ronnie Baker Brooks’ most recently released album is 2017’s “Times Have Changed,” featuring appearances from Steve Cropper, Bobby “Blue” Bland, “Big Head Todd,” and Felix Cavaliere.

I caught up with Brooks for an interview where he revealed he’s been working on a new album, partially inspired by the weekly shows he performed at home for fans watching online. He shared his fondness for Maine and the enthusiastic audiences here, and recalled his first appearance at the North Atlantic Blues Festival.

ROCKLAND – It will feel like homecoming at Harbor Park in Rockland on July 10 and 11 when blues fans and musicians alike will gather together for the 28th annual North Atlantic Blues Festival. The two-day festival featuring nationally known blues performers has become one of the genre’s most prestigious on the east coast.

North Atlantic Blues Festival founder Paul Benjamin says he and his staff are especially excited about this year’s event after being forced to abandon plans to hold the festival in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This week’s new music roundup includes titles in blues, melodic pop, gospel and Americana/folk, all released within the last couple of weeks.

Dennis DeYoung, former lead vocalist and founding member of the band Styx, has just issued what he says is his final solo studio album. “26 East Vol. 2,” (Frontiers Records) the companion to 2020’s “26 East Vol. 1” is titled after his Chicago-area childhood street address.

At age 15, DeYoung formed a musical trio with two friends who lived across the street, Chuck and John Panozzo. They formed the nucleus for the group that became Styx in 1970. The band went on to score 8 top 10 hit singles, seven of which were written and sung by DeYoung, who parted ways with Styx in 1999. He recorded 13 albums with the band, four which have achieved multi-platinum status, selling more than three million copies each.

“26 East, Vol. 2” offers a mix of rockers, ballads, and progressive rock, much like the mid-to-late ‘70s albums he recorded with his former band. DeYoung wrote a number of the tunes and also collaborated with Jim Peterik, founding member of the bands Survivor and The Ides of March. DeYoung credits Peterik’s “talent and encouragement and prodding” as the driving force in convincing him to record his final albums.

Gifted singer, songwriter and musician Keeton Coffman knows a thing or two about confronting adversity. The heartland rocker from Spring, Texas, located north of Houston, is set to issue his second full-length album, “Hard Times,” on June 18, featuring a stunning batch of songs he wrote as he found his way out of what he called the darkest period of his life.

Coffman launched a solo career after his popular Houston area band of seven years, The 71s, called it a day in 2012. A number of singles and the debut album “Killer Eyes” followed and created some powerful momentum for the artist until he was sidelined for about 18 months by a debilitating bout of depression.

Coffman had been diagnosed with bipolar II and obsessive-compulsive disorder as a high school student where he was a decorated athlete. When an injury at age 20 ended his dream of national championship status, he fully embraced music.

While speaking with Coffman about the episode which resulted in the clutch of original songs he wrote during that bipolar spell, it’s clear that he isn’t about to be defined by a chemical imbalance. The only reason we discussed it is because he probably wouldn’t have this particular batch of masterfully crafted songs had he not completed that dark journey.

In the following interview with The Maine Edge, Coffman revealed truths about the characters he sings of on “Hard Times.” He speaks of his influences, his songwriting technique and his earliest musical memories. Determined to keep it real, he also admits to a painful truth about his own character which he keeps in check by confronting it.

What’s more important, the journey or the destination?

For musician and songwriter Chad Walls of the Portland-based band An Overnight Low, both play a huge role when it comes to creating music. The group plans to release a fourth LP, “Connolly, Part Two,” on June 11, continuing their mission of creating music inspired by Walls’ various adventures abroad, in this case, Dublin, Ireland. The musically varied full-length LP is the sequel to a four-track EP issued last year.

An Overnight Low’s albums aren’t intended to be musical travelogues in the pure sense. There are no lyrics about helpful travel hacks or which airport offers the best pizza. The band’s records are collections of Walls’ impressions of the people he met and the locations he visited first as a student, and now as a seasoned traveler and observer. The group’s albums are titled after one of the four train stations he frequented most.

It feels good to say that Crowded House is back with an album containing some of leader Neil Finn’s strongest material in years. The band’s seventh LP, “Dreamers Are Waiting,” their first since 2010, features a new Finn-family oriented lineup and an inspired and memorable batch of songs that invite repeated listening.

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