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By Bill Copeland on April 14, 2013
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The 2013 New England Music Awards offered a display of New England’s best original recording artists in between the award presentations. Putting Adam Ezra Group, Hot Day At The Zoo, Jessica Prouty Band, The Alternate Routes, Sarah Blacker, Air Traffic Controller, The Veayo Twins, and The Luxury all the same bill is a guarantee of a good time.
The Luxury and then The Veayo Twins opened the festivities with their unique take on pop-rock styles. The twins sounded like a pair of angels up there as most of us were coming in and discovering their sisterly cool harmonies. The Veayo Twins have a seven song album out called A Game We Play. They play out all over their home state of Maine, and points elsewhere in New England, bringing their message to kids suffering from the trauma of bullying. It’s an important cause to them and their generation.
Everybody’s main man, Charlie Farren, played solo electric. With a big jazz guitar in his hands, Farren crooned as beautifully as ever. His voice on “Nobody’s Somebody” reached up to heavenly high notes with an imperceptible force. You can’t really pinpoint what makes his voice so powerful. He just lets his loose, and it does amazing things.
Next up was the Jessica Prouty Band performing her song “Set Me Free.” Prouty’s keyboardist, Andy Covino, and lead guitarists, Aaron Shuman and Cody Nilsen, played out wild phrases to intro the anthem-like song. Prouty then displayed her arena size vocal over a wedge of compelling, gripping, driving music. Prouty is studying at Berklee College Of Music, and she is still young enough to get signed to a modern rock record label. The right person at the right time will surely notice her stage presence, songwriting, and that voice made for stadiums.
Hot Day At The Zoo proved a crowd pleaser when they drew several audience members onto the dance floor between the tables and the stage. Their mandolin and upright bass sounded great on “Long Way Home.” They played their folk-root music with such a graceful ease that you could feel every nuance of every rhythm, making them a perfect dance band, even though they’re not what modern audiences would usually think of when choosing dance bands. Their keyboardist simulated accordion melody, and its old world charm brought the imagination back in time. Acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin meshed into a fine tapestry. Creole flavored piano melody, later in their set, took music from America’s past and turned it into lively entertainment in 2013. It would be cooler than cool to see a band from this genre make it big in the 21st century with their nod to early 20th century roots music. It makes sense because people with eclectic taste in music could listen to their material all day long.
There was another young band with plenty of mainstream appeal. The pop-rock alternative fun of Air Traffic Controller got a boost from their violinist adding great touches to an already pleasingly unique sound. The band also stands out visually because bassist Casey Sullivan plays a similar style four string to Paul McCartney’s model from The Beatles era. Lead singer Dave Munro has a charming stage presence, and he adeptly applies clever word play when he delivers his original lyrics. This five piece played their fun story song “Bad Axe, Michigan” with sweet harmonies and a masterful control of dynamics. Tell Sullivan that Paul McCartney called. He wants his bass guitar back.
Sarah Blacker and her band shared the stage with Alternate Routes, trading off on some beautiful, melodic singer-songwriter material. Blacker’s percussionist had a really cool instrument that looked like a square box that put out a bulbous drum beat and fulsome percussion pattern, adding an extra depth of character to her songs. Blacker sang with her usual appeal, her chirpy timbre full of purity, managing her vocal phrases with silky ease, just the sort of thing that’s likely to catapult her into a much higher level of recognition in the years to come. “Plugging Away” is likely to be a big local hit for her and her band, and it might be the breakthrough she needs.
The Alternate Routes began their portion of the back and forth exchange of songs with a lovely ringing guitar phrase from Eric Donnelly. Their singer-songwriter acoustic guitar player, Tim Warren, made an impression on vocals, guitar, harmonica and even a tool box percussion technique that had everyone in the house, no doubt, wondering what he had in that box. His wide drawling harmonica line was another highlight.
The Adam Ezra Group, as usual, played a great set, and they drew several people to the stage. Ezra rocked on banjo, and his comedic “The Devil Went Up To Boston” was a hoot take on the Charlie Daniels Band tune of a similar title. AEG called their previous tour fiddle player, Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki to the stage for the rollicking fun, but for the remainder of their set they showed off their new fiddle player, Corinna Smith She‘s good too. Josh Gold’s sprightly piano tinkling walked the audience right into the classic Ezra hit “Are You Listening,” and he carried that sharp, high feeling all the way through. It was just one of the nice little touches that Adam Ezra Group has become known for. Ezra, with handsome voice and neo-hippie vibe, delivered his rap about becoming a musician because he wanted to become that moment inside a song when everything is perfect.
Ezra called every player and singer in the house to close out the evening with The Band’s classic roots rock number “The Weight.” As can be imagined, many of the finest talent in the New England music scene on stage together made for a few minutes of beautiful music. Ezra and Farren sharing the microphone on one chorus was one of many fine match ups. The acoustic instruments were one mesh of natural sound and the massive groove coming from the stage created a lot of toe-tapping, foot-stomping action in the audience.
For a recap of nominees, winners and humanitarian awards, please visit New England Music Awards website.