Arts Fuse critics select the best in film, dance, visual art, theater, music, and author events for the coming weeks.
By The Arts Fuse Staff
Through December 3
Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA
Prospect is a rare example of a DIY low-budget sci-fi film. The debut feature of writer-directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl, the film began life as a short that the filmmakers finished with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. “The feature adaptation expands on the premise, adding Jay Duplass, Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal, and The Wire’s Andre Royo to the mix, while also holding true to the original short’s aesthetic inspirations. The finished product isn’t as arresting as the best indie science fiction films, but it nevertheless establishes Caldwell and Earl as filmmakers to watch, capable of doing a lot with very little.” (The Verge)
December 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA
The final film in the New Cinema from Brazil Series. A mysterious and wealthy woman hires a lonely nurse named Clara to be the nanny to her soon-to-be born child. There’s a full moon and a werewolf is born; Clara makes it her mission to care for the monstrosity and protect it from others.
Bright Lights Screening Room at the Emerson Paramount Center 559 Washington St, Boston, MA
306 Hollywood is a magical realist documentary about two siblings who undertake an archaeological excavation of their late grandmother’s house. They end up embarking on an adventurous journey in search of what life remains in the objects that have been left behind. Discussion with directors Elan and Jonathan Bogarin to follow. Free and open to the public
Bathtubs Over Broadway
December 7 through 13
At the Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA
Winner of the New Documentary Director Award at the Tribeca Film Festival. “A delightful deep-dive into one man’s obsession with the obscure world of industrial musicals — corporate-sponsored song-and-dance revues from the golden age of American capitalism. Think of it as ‘big-brand music,’ commissioned for company retreats where the pieces would be performed once (sometimes by such entertainers as Susan Stroman, Martin Short, and Chita Rivera, who fondly recall performing in such “sold-out” shows) and then forgotten. Well, almost forgotten, since a handful of collectors have developed a kind of ironic affection for these loony tunes, which makes for an outrageous but never-less-than-reverent tour down the back alleys of Broadway. (Variety)
Back for Good
December 9 at 11 a.m.
Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, MA
The Goethe Institut continues its run of contemporary German films with the story of Angie, a reality television star, who is fresh out of rehab. It turns out that the visit was really just a PR stunt to secure a place on the next season of “Jungle Camp.” In her absence, she has been dumped by her boyfriend and her manager. None of her so-called friends are able to take her in. She returns to her backwater hometown and moves in with her mother and teenage sister, Kiki, who lives with epilepsy. Angie becomes a invaluable mentor to her sibling. Still, the temptation to return to the reality television world leaves the actress wondering where she belongs.
Black Narcissus (1947)
December 9 at 3 p.m.
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA
Black Narcissus is part of MFA’s Color Tells a Story Series. These are films whose visuals self-consciously reflect a particular color pallet. This entry is directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Red Shoes). The movie is “an explosive work about the conflict between the spirit and the flesh and the epitome of the sensuous style of Powell and Pressburger. A group of nuns, played by some of Britain’s finest actresses, struggle to establish a convent in the Himalayas, while isolation, extreme weather, altitude, and culture clashes all conspire to drive the well-intentioned missionaries mad. A darkly grand film that won Oscars for Alfred Junge’s art direction and Jack Cardiff’s cinematography.” (Criterion).
Island of the Hungry Ghosts
December 10 at 7 p.m.
At the Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA
Australian filmmaker Gabrielle Brady’s Island of the Hungry Ghosts is about a trauma counsellor working in a high-security detention center for asylum seekers on a remote Christmas Island. The documentary explores the psychological helplessness of people on the move and far away from home. The therapist, Poh-Lin, is herself traumatized by the experience of helping refugees and listening to their stories of suffering, often caused by the indifference of the center’s management. The film manages to be visually beautiful — without poeticizing the refugee experience. Vivid shots of a detention center in the jungle, surrounded by migrating red crabs, take on the scary resonance of a primal experience straight out of a Terence Malick film. Filmmaker Brady will attend via Skype for a post-film discussion
— Tim Jackson
December 4 at 8:30 p.m.
Lilypad, Cambridge, MA.
I like the zone these guys are working, fronted by saxophonist Joel Springer: “Brazil; 1970s modal jazz, Haitian compas & Afro-Cuban music; composers Julius Hemphill, Carla Bley, Sun Ra, and more.” Sign me up. Springer is joined by saxophonists Allan Chase and Rick Stone, bassist Fernando Huergo, and drummer Austin McMahon.
John Scofield Quartet
December 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston, MA
Guitar master Scofield changes up bands regularly, with a fresh concept every time. His Combo 66 band (commemorating Scofield’s 66th birthday, this past Sept. 28) is pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Vincente Archer, and drummer Bill Stewart. The band’s namesake CD features all manner of Scofield originals, with nods to country, rock, and blues.
Vanguard: The Music of Ran Blake
December 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Jordan Hall, Boston, MA
Pianist, composer, teacher, MacArthur “genius” and unclassifiable jazz master Ran Blake, 83, joins the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra in a performance of his pieces “Horace is Blue,” “Memphis,” and “The Short Life of Barbara Monk.” Like almost all faculty/student shows at NEC, it’s free, but a ticket is required, available through the school’s website.
Aardvark Jazz Orchestra
December 8 at 7:30 p.m.
At the Emmanuel Church, Boston, MA.
The annual Christmas concert, a benefit for the Poor People’s Fund, will feature a premiere of musical director Mark Harvey’s “Healers of the Universe,” a tribute to Rosie’s Place women’s shelter founder Kip Tiernan. Other pieces will include seasonal standards like “What Child Is This” and “A Cradle in Bethlehem” as well as Harvey’s “Benedictus.” Expect to hear Harvey’s Ellingtonian streak come to the fore in this one. The magnificent band of Boston-area ringers includes Arni Cheatham, Peter H. Bloom, Phil Scarff, Chris Rakowski, and Dan Zupan on saxes and woodwinds; K.C. Dunbar, Jeanne Snodgrass, and Harvey on trumpets; Bob Pilkington and Jay Keyser on trombones; Jeff Marsanskis and Bill Lowe on bass trombones, and tuba; Richard Nelson on guitar; John Funkhouser on bass; Harry Wellott on drums; and the terrific singers Jerry Edwards and Grace Hughes.
Lee Konitz Quartet
December 8 at 8 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston, MA
Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz turned 91 on October 13. He’s still playing, and he’s still incomparable. The band will include longtime sidekicks George Schuller on drums, Bruce Barth on piano, and Joe Fitzgerald on bass.
Rhythm Future Quartet
December 13 at 8 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston, MA
Taking their name from a particularly adventurous Django Reinhardt composition, the Rhythm Future Quartet builds on the “gypsy jazz” of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France with their own modern outlook and compositions, and their own brand of dauntless virtuosity. Their new CD, Rhythm Future Quartet and Friends, also includes pieces by Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Oscar Pettiford, and Joshua Redman. The quartet at Scullers: violinist Jason Anick, guitarists Olli Soikkeli and Max O’Rourke, and Greg Loughman on bass.
John Coltrane Memorial Concert
December 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Blackman Auditorium, Northeastern University, Boston, MA
The 41st annual John Coltrane Memorial Concert is titled “My Favorite Things,” is geared toward a holiday theme, and will pay special tribute to two esteemed members of the Boston jazz community, Bill Pierce and Stan Strickland. Under the musical direction of Carl Atkins, the program will include the title tune and other Coltrane-associated pieces like “Greensleeves,” “Afro Blue” (featuring Strickland), and the Coltrane original “Like Sonny” (featuring Pierce). The band is Pierce on tenor and soprano saxophones; Strickland on soprano, tenor, bass clarinet, flutes, and vocals; Carl Atkins, Leonard Brown, and Bobby Tynes on saxophones; Billy Buss, Mike Peipman, and Charles Lewis on trumpets; trombonists Tyler Bonilla, Bill Lowe and Dorsey Minns; pianist Laszlo Gardony, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Yoron Israel. Eric Jackson hosts.
— Jon Garelick
Paula Cole (vo, music director), Meshell Ndegeocello,(b, vo), Terri Lyne Carrington (dm), Shemekia Copeland (vo), Nona Hendryx (vo). Doyle Bramhall II (vo), Dom Flemons (g / vo), The Western Den [Chris West (g /vo) & Deni Hlavinka (kb / vo)] at The Cabot, 286 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA, December 4, at 8 p.m. A benefit show — to support renovations at The Cabot — that honors Bessie Smith. Each of the headliners will take a turn playing a song from Bessie’s catalog, and then perform an original. The range of talent is impressive and eclectic, from jazz to blues to Americana.
Charles Lloyd (ts/fl), Lucinda Williams (vo), The Marvels [Bill Frisell (g), Greg Leisz (pedal steel / dobro), Reuben Rogers (b), Eric Harland (dm)]. At the Berklee Performance Center, Boston, MA, December 16 at 7 p.m. Sponsored by Celebrity Series of Boston. There’s no simple way to characterize this colloid, but you may never get the chance to see anything like it again. In 2016, singer-songwriter Williams and Lloyd teamed up with Bill Frisell’s countryish band The Marvels to record Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.” The single caught fire. So a CD (Vanished Gardens) and a tour made sense, and now it comes to Boston. The CD showcases Williams in four of her originals and Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel,” but she is not leading the way. It’s a real partnership. Damn the genres and full speed ahead.
— Steve Elman
Pianist and composer Marc Copland, whose career has included stints with bassist Gary Peacock and guitarist John Abercrombie as well as his own 40+ albums as a leader, comes to town to celebrate the release of two new solo piano albums. One of these, the aptly titled Gary, consists of compositions by Peacock. This is an excellent opportunity to see the compelling, lyrical pianist in a solo setting. Note: tickets sold at the door only ($20; $15 students).
William Forsythe: Choreographic Objects
Through February 24, 2019
Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston , Boston, MA
Whether you’re a long-time fan of William Forsythe’s world-reknowned choreographic works or hearing his name for the first time, the ICA encourages you to step inside his choreographic world through this unique installation (the first of its kind in the U.S.). Spanning over two decades, this major exhibition includes room-size interactive sculptures, participatory objects, and video installations inviting viewers to confront and engage with the fundamental principles of choreography, which Forsythe calls “Choreographic Objects.” This exhibition was organized by Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator, with Jeffrey De Blois, Assistant Curator. Arts Fuse review
Twyla Tharp: Minimalism and Me
December 13, 14, & 15
Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Boston, MA
Minimalism and Me proffers a unique retrospective on the career of the legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp. Join Tharp as she recollects the creation of her early seminal works and the impact of living among major visual artists in New York City, as dancers from Twyla Tharp Dance perform excerpts from the works she discusses — illuminating the progression of the Minimalism movement in the ’60s and ’70s and the influence it had on her choreography. Enjoy a pre-performance talk by former Tharp dancer Richard Colton 30 minutes before each performance.
Boch Center Shubert Theatre
Those in search of a Nutcracker production that stands out among the rest should head to Tony Williams’ Urban Nutcracker, the modern Boston-centric holiday classic presented by City Ballet of Boston. This year marks the production’s 18th annual season with an exciting venue shift to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre. Experience what The Boston Globe has aptly described as “a holiday arts tradition reflecting the rich multicultural diversity of Boston.”
And further afield…
american / woman
December 8 & 9 at 7:30 p.m.
For the american / woman project, choreographer Betsy Miller collaborates with dance artists from across the country to explore aspects of identity and cultural politics. Each collaboration is centered on the distinctive identities, interests, and desires of the performer. Kicking off this national endeavor are performances by New England artists — Shura Baryshnikov (RI), Ali Kenner Brodsky (MA), Alexandra James (ME), Kellie Ann Lynch & Rachel Boggia (CT), Jessie Jeanne Stinnett (NH), and Lida Winfield (VT). The assemblage is presented by MAGMA + Trident Live Arts Series.
— Merli V. Guerra
Corncobs to Cosmonauts:Redefining the Holidays during the Soviet Era
Through January 27, 2019
West Gallery, Museum of Russian Icons, 203 Union Street, Clinton, MA
The museum’s West Gallery has been transformed into a glistening winter wonderland. 150 Soviet Era ornaments sit alongside festively adorned “New Year’s trees” and holiday toys, books, and cards. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the anti-religious Bolsheviks discouraged the frivolities of Christmas, seeking to promote the achievements of the state. Donated to the museum by collector Frank Sciacca, these limited edition ornaments depict a wide variety of unexpected inspirations for decoration: including grapes, corncobs, folk heroes, chubby babies, airplanes, and cosmonauts.
Constanza Aguirre: Wandering in the Land of Oblivion
Through January 11, 2019
Urbano Project, 29 Germania Street, Jamaica Plain, MA
“The Wandering is the displacement in space and time of thousands of individuals. This gives rise to a loss; a loss of references, the loss of knowledge, trades, and a loss of history. This wandering can only be reclaimed through creating as a process of individuation.”
A powerful series of large scale black and white works that depict darkly silhouetted figures gesturing in movements of work and labor. In her work, this Colombian (but Paris-based) artist investigates the possibilities of emancipation and reclamation through the elevating powers of creativity and making.
Through January 21, 2019
Museum of Fine Arts, Avenue of the Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA
Full of subtle contemporary nuances, Dutch portraitist Rineke Dijkstra’s hypnotic work deserves concentrated examination. Her famed artistry looks at quiet yet powerful moments of transition and change. On display in this show are seven full length portraits from her Park series, which presents photographs of children in major urban parks around the globe.
Preserved Pages: Book as Art in Persia and India, 1300-1800
Through January 6
Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA
The vibrant colors and wealth of detail in these pages of Iranian and Indian art supply glorious hints of the ways these treasured books reflect fascinating interconnections between visual art and literature. Co-curated by Hannah Hyden and David J. Roxburgh, the exhibition examines how manuscript pages were used to illustrate epic poetry and important public events — as well as how they were popularly collected as bound albums.
Alexandria Smith: A Litany for Survival
Through January 27
At the Faye G., Jo, and Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA
Inspired by an Audre Lord poem that explores the political implications of the Black body, Smith’s work examines Black female subjectivity. This is her first solo show in Boston; it is an installation of figure-based paintings that appears to have emerged from the artist’s subconscious. Her depictions are of duplicate (or twin) suggestive feminine forms captured in rich hues of deep blue, purple, black, and gray. The visually pleasing yet challenging work uses painterly gradations of light and color to successfully explore such topics as hybridization and duality.
Longing for Mountains: Andy Moerlein
Through December 9
Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA
Created from wood, ceramic, and a plethora of other media, Moerlein’s sculptures are inspired by Chinese scholar rocks and Japanese Zen gardens, as well as his childhood growing up in the wilderness of Alaska. His captivating abstractions suggest nature and artifice simultaneously.
Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective
Through January 6, 2019
MIT List Visual Arts Center, 20 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA
Best known for his groundbreaking contributions to ’60s minimal music and structural film, this pioneering American artist and Harvard University graduate spent six decades forging his own path through various art movements, from Fluxus to the Pictures Generation. This is the first large scale museum survey of his innovative work, which should be seen as only an “introduction” to the many ways in which he challenged the boundaries of various mediums such as painting, sculpture, film, video, performance, and installation.
Empresses of China’s Forbidden City
Through February 10, 2019
Peabody Essex Museum, East India Square, 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA
200 spectacular objects tell the untold stories of the Forbidden City’s hidden empresses and how they shaped China’s last dynasty — the Quing dynasty — from 1644 to 1912. This priceless collection of sumptuous treasures illuminates their contributions to the famed court’s politics, art, and religion.
– Aimee Cotnoir
A Nightmare on Elf Street, written by Ryan Landry, “based on the obvious.” Directed by Kimi Samko. Staged by Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans at the Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts (Machine Nightclub), 1254 Boylston Street, through December 23.
The annual Christmas entertainment from Landry and company is a “slasher that marks the return to the stage of audience favorites Detective Shirley Holmes (Landry) and Dr. Jodi Watley (Qya Cristal), who are on the case to figure out who is murdering the members of Santa’s flight team.”
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Directed by Sean Daniels and Bridget Kathleen O’Leary. Staged by the Merrimack Repertory Theatre at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre at Liberty Hall, Lowell, MA, through December 23.
Well, it had to happen. A made-for-the-stage sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “heroine Lizzie invites her sisters to spend the holidays at her new home, Pemberley.” Polite romantic hijinks no doubt ensue.
Generations, an evening of plays by Peter Anderegg, Andy Bayiates, Matt Cogswell, John Paul Colaianni II, Mary Darling, Samantha deManbey, Nina DiRusso, Erik Nikander, Ashley Lauren Rogers, and Ian Vincent. Staged by the Forge Theatre Lab at the McKay Theater at Fitchburg State University, 67 Rindge Road in Fitchburg, MA, December 6, 7, and 8.
“Join The Forge Theater Lab for its inaugural event, a night of short plays by ten playwrights. This full evening of theater will feature a variety of works ranging from absurdist comedy to thought-provoking drama. There’s something for everyone, so bring a friend and discover new voices from New York, Chicago, and across Massachusetts.” One of the dramatists whose work is on view — Arts Fuse theater critic Erik Nikander.
s.i.n.s.o.f.u.s., a diptych of works by Weimar-era writers for US (feat. SEVEN DEADLY SINS), with music by Kurt Weill, texts by Bertolt Brecht and Marieluise Fleisser. Directed by Ashley Tata. Music direction by Catherine Stornetta. Staged by Theater, Dance & Media at Harvard University’s Farkas Hall, 12 Holyoke Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, December 6 through 9. Free — but reserve at link.
The production “takes the Weill/Brecht ballet/chanté, Seven Deadly Sins, and pairs it with a few female-driven pieces from the Mahagonny songspiel as well as writings from Brecht/Weill’s contemporary, Marieluise Fleisser.” Sounds like an intriguing round-up of Brecht/Weill material — perfect counter-programming fare for the consumer driven holidays.
A Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by Debra Wise. Staged by Underground Railway Theater at the Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA, through December 30.
One assumes that Debra Wise’s version will pack some Sanders-esque punch. This year’s production features Jeremiah Kissel as Scrooge, Vincent Ernest Siders as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Ramona Lisa Alexander as Marley.
Breath & Imagination by Daniel Beaty. Directed by Maurice Emmanuel Parent. Music Director, Asher Denburg. Additional Music Direction, Doug Gerber. A co-production between the Lyric Stage Company of Boston and The Front Porch Arts Collective at 140 Clarendon Street, 2nd Floor, Boston, MA, through December 23.
This musical “chronicles Roland Hayes’s inspirational journey from a Georgia plantation to a singing career that included command performances for kings and queens. Despite his international acclaim, Roland never left behind his complex and loving relationship with his mother, his Angel Mo’.” The cast includes Davron S. Monroe, Yewande Odetoyinbo, Doug Gerber, and Nile Scott Hawver. Arts Fuse review
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, an original adaptation written and directed by Alexander Huh. Staged by the Arlekin Players at 368 Hillside Avenue, Needham, MA, through March 3.
“This unique production is presented in Russian and English simultaneously. The ability to love can either be a gift or a curse. What brings us together or prevents us from understanding each other? These are the challenging questions that our main character, a porcelain rabbit, will grapple with on his miraculous journey.” Arts Fuse review
A Story Beyond, written by the Lab Ensemble. Sonceived and directed by Jason Slavick. Staged by Liars and Believers at the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA, December 6 through 22.
A world premiere. The world-changing set-up: “A young heroine struggles to save her village from the looming dark Cloud. The stories we tell create the reality we live in, in an original fable told with music, masks, and puppetry.” The show features “a new score by Nathan Leigh and dynamic puppetry by Faye Dupras.”
Winter People by Laura Neill. Directed by Avital Shira. A BU New Play Initiative production, produced by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, December 6 through 16.
“Set in the exclusive enclave of the Hamptons — the idyllic summer playground to the rich and famous on New York’s Long Island — Winter People focuses on the fates of five local families after a fire destroys one of the island’s summer mansions. Playwright Neill says the work is inspired by the Long Island summer town where she grew up.”
— Bill Marx
Cambridge Society for Early Music
Through December 8
Various Locations (Check the website)
“Concerts featuring Elizabethan music by Holborne, Dowland, Johnson and Byrd.”
First Monday at Jordan Hall: Exploring Cultures of the World – Italian
On December 3 at 7:30 p.m.
At Jordan Hall/New England Conservatory 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston, MA
On the program: Rossini’s Duo for Cello and Double Bass; a capella works from the Renaissance; Verdi’s String Quartet; Berio’s Folk Songs.
A Renaissance Christmas: Music of Palestrina, Byrd, and more
December 7 at 8 p.m.
At The Memorial Church of Harvard University, One Harvard Yard, Cambridge, MA
Boston Early Music Festival presents The Tallis Scholars. Selections include “Palestrina’s celebratory motet Hodie Christus natus est and his Christmas Mass based on it, sublime settings of the Magnificat by John Nesbett and Hieronymus Praetorius, Byrd’s beloved Lullaby, and a newly commissioned work for The Tallis Scholars by New England composer Nico Muhly.”
A Cantata Singers Christmas
December 7 at 8 p.m. and December 9 at 3 p.m.
At the First Lutheran Church, Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA
“Celebrate the holidays with Cantata Singers! The beloved voices of Schütz, Byrd, Purcell, and others ring in the holiday season with celebratory joy and cheer.”
Brookline Symphony Orchestra
December 15 at 8 p.m.
At All Saints Parish Brookline, 1773 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA
Nordic Adventures with Sibelius, Nielsen and Thorvaldsdottir: Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture; Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Hrim; and Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5.
Bach and the Violin
December 16 at 4 p.m.
At the First Church in Boston, 66 Marlborough Street, Boston, MA
On the program: Bach’s Six Sonatas for violin and keyboard. Performers: violinist
Robyn Bollinger and pianist Sergey Schepkin.
— Susan Miron
Roots and World Music
Tufts Takht – “Kawkab Al-Sharq”
December 8, 4:30- 6:30 p.m.
Tufts University, Somerville, MA
Any list of the great voices of the past century is incomplete if it omits Egyptian icon Umm Kulthum. Tufts’ Arabic music ensemble will pay its respects with a free concert of her most popular songs.
Playing for the Planet: World Music Against Climate Change
December 8, 7-10 p.m.
Community Church of Boston, Boston, MA
Yet again artists are taking a stand when politicians have failed. Musician Warren Senders’ ongoing series of benefit concerts for the climate change 350MA.org continues with a typically eclectic and musically enticing bill of three local string instrument masters: Nepali virtuoso Shyan Nepali, traditional folk stalwarts Lorraine Lee and Bennett Hammond, and Korean gayageum marvel Do Yeon Kim.
December 8, from 8-9:30 p.m.
City Winery, Boston, MA
One of the finest chroniclers of the dark side of the human condition, blues philosopher king Chris Smither has a new album out called Call Me Lucky. The disc includes a startling minor key reimagination of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” as well as quite a few striking originals. Originally scheduled opener Laurie Sargent seems to have been placed by Kris Delmhorst.
Cowsills Family Christmas
December 10, 8-9:30 p.m.
City Winery, Boston, MA
2011’s Family Band, one of the great music business documentaries, is about the Cowsills. In the late ’60s the Newport siblings, plus their mother, were at the top of the charts thanks to pop masterpieces like their version of “Hair” and “The Rain, The Park and Other Things.” (The band served as the real-life inspiration for The Partridge Family.) While several of the siblings struggled as adults and died young, Susan, Bob, and Paul keep the group going. There will be harmonizing on some holiday favorites along with Cowsills hits.
Swelltune Records Holiday Shindig
December 15 from 8 p.m.- 2 a.m.
O’Brien’s, Allston, MA
Beck Rustic, proprietor of the invaluable New England Shake-Up festival, has recently been channeling her seemingly endless energy into a rockabilly-oriented label called Swelltune. It hosts a holiday bash with local favorites Jittery Jack and Miss Amy, New York’s Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co., DJ Easy Ed, and an exceedingly rare and welcome Northeast set from Jimmy Dale. The talented Oklahoman Dale has the kind of voice that would be criminally wasted on anything other than honky tonk country. And he always picks first-rate material. In the video above he sings a holiday chestnut.
— Noah Schaffer
Rock, Pop, and Folk
Guitarist Mike Cooley is a co-founding member of Drive-By Truckers. Although he may be slightly eclipsed by fellow founder Patterson Hood, Cooley has written at least one song on each of the group’s eleven albums. On 2014’s English Oceans and 2016’s American Band his contributions numbered six and five, respectively, and he composed seven of the 19 tracks on 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Therefore, the fact that he has little or no solo material to draw from will do nothing to diminish what will surely be a jaw-dropping display of brilliance at City Winery on December 4.
Mr. Morganfield’s first name obviously isn’t — literally or figuratively — Mud. However, his last name is identical to the real one of venerable bluesman Muddy Waters. He is, after all, the eldest son of the man who was born McKinley Morganfield. Mud, whose first name is actually Larry, has released four albums since beginning a music career in his fifties. The most recent, They Call Me Mud, came out this past March. Morganfield will surely mix in some songs by one of the 20th century’s most important musicians when he performs at Beverly’s 9 Wallis on Friday.
Marissa Nadler is a Jamaica Plain-based musician and artist who released her first full-length album in 2004 and her most recent, For My Crimes, on September 28, 2018. Nestled within her extensive catalog are several EPs, rarities collections, and covers albums. As for her album covers, they are a usually a strong visual indication of the recording’s dark, sparse, and obscure musical content. Her last Boston gig was as the opener for The Decemberists at the Orpheum Theatre in October. On Saturday night, she will have an opening act of her own at Great Scott. (PS: Nadler is married to musician and writer Ryan H. Walsh, whose book — Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 — I wrote about for The Arts Fuse.)
Ryley Walker is a Rockford, IL-born singer-songwriter and guitarist whose mastery of his instrument has drawn comparisons to British luminaries like Davy Graham, Bert Jansch, and John Martyn. (The name Tim Buckley pops up in quite a few reviews, too.) The 29-year-old’s fecundity is apparent by both the five solo albums and collaborations that he recorded between 2014 and 2017 and the two LPs that he has released this year. The most recent of the latter ones is The Lillywhite Sessions, which is Walker’s recording of an unreleased 2001 Dave Matthews Band album. I suggest that you not let the threat of a few DMB songs keep you away from Great Scott on December 11.
Recordings of Yuletide standards can easily be seen as a cynical cash grab, a lazy contractual obligation cop out, or an indication of writer’s block. Ingrid Michaelson, however, brings the same enthusiasm, integrity, and pep to the 12 tracks on Songs for the Season that she has to all of her output since the mid-2000s. She even wrote an original song, “Happy, Happy Christmas,” for the occasion. The Staten Island native will bring holiday cheer — along with old favorites such as “The Way I Am,” which my wife and I danced to at our wedding — to an Orpheum Theatre audience on December 15.
It makes perfect sense that the last three albums by North Carolina’s Hiss Golden Messenger have been on Merge Records. After all, merge is exactly what M.C. Taylor does with virtually all genres of popular music. Those who missed out HGM’s 2010-2013 material — or want to turn on friends or loved ones to it — can invest in the recently released Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children, a box set that includes remastered versions of the albums Bad Debt, Poor Man, and Haw, as well as a disc of rarities called Virgo Fool. They could also buy tickets to Taylor’s show at The Sinclair at on December 17.
— Blake Maddux
The Library Book
December 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, Cambridge MA
“On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, ‘Once that first stack got going, it was Goodbye, Charlie.’ The fire was disastrous: It reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. Investigators descended on the scene, but over thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library — and if so, who?”
“Weaving her life-long love of books and reading with the fascinating history of libraries and the sometimes-eccentric characters who run them, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean presents a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling story as only she can.”
The Jewish American Paradox: Embracing Choice in a Changing World
December 5 at 7 p.m.
Brookline Booksmith, Coolidge Corner MA
“Jews in America are in a period of unprecedented status and impact, but for many their identity as Jews — religiously, historically, culturally — s increasingly complicated. Many are becoming Jews without Judaism. It appears success and acceptance will accomplish what even the most virulent antisemitism never could — if not the disappearance of Jews themselves, the undermining of what it means to be Jewish.”
The Dakota Winters
December 7 at 7 p.m.
Brookline Booksmith, Coolidge Corner MA
“It’s the fall of 1979 in New York City when twenty-three-year-old Anton Winter, back from the Peace Corps and on the mend from a nasty bout of malaria, returns to his childhood home in the Dakota. Anton’s father, the famous late-night host Buddy Winter, is there to greet him, himself recovering from a breakdown. Before long, Anton is swept up in an effort to reignite Buddy’s stalled career, a mission that takes him from the gritty streets of New York, to the slopes of the Lake Placid Olympics, to the Hollywood Hills, to the blue waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and brings him into close quarters with the likes of Johnny Carson, Ted and Joan Kennedy, and a seagoing John Lennon.”
The Wine Lover’s Daughter
December 10 at 7 p.m.
Porter Square Books, Cambridge MA
“In The Wine Lover’s Daughter, Anne Fadiman examines — with all her characteristic wit and feeling — her relationship with her father, Clifton Fadiman, a renowned literary critic, editor, and radio host whose greatest love was wine.”
“An appreciation of wine — along with a plummy upper-crust accent, expensive suits, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Western literature — was an essential element of Clifton Fadiman’s escape from lower-middle-class Brooklyn to swanky Manhattan. But wine was not just a class-vaulting accessory; it was an object of ardent desire.”
Harvard Book Store Gives Back
Sundays in December: 11/2, 11/9, 11/16
Harvard Book Store, Cambridge MA
“This holiday season at Harvard Book Store and harvard.com, shop with us on any of the four Sundays after Thanksgiving and a portion of every purchase will go to support important local organizations. This year your purchases will help support 826 Boston, Community Cooks, and On The Rise. Our annual Gives Back program is a way for Harvard Book Store to contribute to local nonprofits during the holidays. On four consecutive Sundays, a percentage of in-store and online sales will go to our selected charitable organizations.”
— Matt Hanson