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Chris O’Leary Toes ‘The Hard Line’

Chris O'Leary sings vocals live on stage while holding a harmonica.

While coming of age in Upstate New York, Chris O’Leary recalls his childhood home being replete with the sounds of everyone from opera to the Clancy Brothers, the Chieftains and Bruce Springsteen. But it was a disapproving look from his father, beholding some reprobate New Yorkers on the turntable, that effectively altered his son’s musical course.

“I was like 11 or 12, playing guitar and listening to KISS. My dad basically [said], ‘Turn that shit off!’” O’Leary recalls with a laugh. His father replaced the painted-up rockers’ record with Muddy Waters’s “Hard Again,” telling his preteen son to “give it a chance.”

“I heard [harmonica legend] James Cotton and that was it. I was hooked,” O’Leary said. “I got my dad to blame for my career choices.”

Traveling with The North Country

The North Country band sits together outside in front of a red photo backdrop. A wooden table in front of the band displays yellow and white flowers.

Give a listen to the new single “The Invisible Hand” from D.C.’s own North Country, and see what comes to mind.  Its influences are many, including—to my ears—1980s New Wave and Radiohead.  But Andrew Grossman, the band’s frontman, would rather its DNA be apparent to the ear of the listener rather than strictly defined by its songwriter. 

“It’s funny the stuff that people said they hear in that song,” Grossman said.  “And it’s all been stuff that I’ve listened to and liked, but maybe wasn’t explicitly thinking about when I was writing it and when we were recording the whole thing.   

“It wasn’t deliberate, but I’m sure it filtered down and came out somehow.”

Indeed, The North Country is making a name for itself in the capital area with its experimental soundscape. The group, which will be playing DC9 on Oct. 26, entails Grossman and five other musicians. Grossman met drummer Kirk Kubicek when they both studied at the University of Maryland’s arts scholar program. Many of the rest of the group met at our city’s dearly departed Bathtub Republic—where Grossman also lived for a time.

L.A. Bluesman Coco Montoya Returns to D.C. for Double-Header

Blues artist Coco Montoya poses with guitar in front of graffiti wall.

Career bluesman Coco Montoya discusses his upcoming D.C. area shows and how he carved out his own unique sound after taking advice from Albert King and B.B. King to heart.  
For a career bluesman like Coco Montoya, having the great Albert Collins as a mentor set the then-young man on a lifelong path to follow in the spirit of his late musical counselor.

“I was pretty green when I went on the road in 1972. He was like a father figure,” Montoya said of learning under Collins’s able wing. “It reached beyond the music. He was constantly looking out for me.”

Though Collins died in 1993, Montoya continues to keep his mentor’s music alive and well in his own output, including on the new album “Writing on the Wall,” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues chart. Touring behind the album, Montoya and his ensemble have two stops in the capital region this week, Oct. 10 at the Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis and then AMP by Strathmore in North Bethesda Oct. 13. 

Zaii Valdes of Violet Silhouette Discusses Musical Heritage

Violet Silhouette pose for a press photo at a dining room table that has a knife in the middle.

Zaii Valdes of Violet Silhouette discusses new album and proud roots in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
The sound of Violet Silhouette is unlike anything else you’re likely to hear. Their music blends rock and electronic with dance—with a great deal of mystery tossed in for good measure. But however it’s classified, their sound is rather unique.

Singer/guitarist/drummer Zaii Valdes is joined in the group by Dan Potvin and Justin Gianoutsos. The group’s latest EP, “FEVERBLUE,” drops October 20. In anticipation of the latest release, Valdes spoke with Alchemical Records about the new record and, in honor of his Cuban extraction, Hispanic Heritage Month—which kicks off September 15.
How did you first get involved in music?

Being of Cuban heritage, music and dance were very much a part of [my] cultural and familial experience. Not to mention, there was a spiritual aspect to it—trance states and such that could be achieved from rhythm and beat.

Marsha Goodman-Wood — Singing about Science

Ayanna Gallant and Marsha Goodman-Wood of Marsha and the Positrons - Photo courtesy of Philip Muriel

Marsha Goodman-Wood, a cognitive neuroscientist turned musician, gives a deep look inside her newest album, Energetic, released Sept. 1. Marsha Goodman-Wood started out as an academic, studying cognitive neuroscience and psychology. She was deep into graduate studies when she realized that her one true calling, music, demanded her full attention.

“The day I submitted my master’s thesis I bought a guitar,” she said. “I had already written a few songs and was jamming with a few people. I wanted to accompany myself, so I decided I wanted to play.

“I do songs about science and how the world works,” Goodman-Wood said. She smiled and chuckled amiably, adding: “One of my friends listening to the new record was like, ‘I love how nerdy you are!’”

Maryland’s Lauren Calve Embarks on First Co-Headlining Tour

Lauren Calve Shift press photo of 10 mirror reflection

Let no one say government workers are dull. Case in point: Meet the DMV’s own Lauren Calve, who works for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by day while spending her nights performing original music for capital-area audiences. Calve described this Diana-Wonder Woman divide as her “hybrid work life.” 

“I call my job my ‘patron job’ because I work from home full time—I have for almost eight years,” Calve said of being well ahead of the curve in terms of remote employment. “I could have never foreseen how much this job has allowed me to continue music, which you wouldn’t think [given] it’s not a creative job.”

Calve’s single “Shift” dropped in May, followed by “Everything at the Same Time” July 7. “Shift” is a dynamic piece of music in the best tradition of the singer-songwriters—and perhaps reminiscent of Dar Williams and Shawn Colvin. Meanwhile, “Everything at the Same Time” and the more recent single “Subtle Alchemy” bear more of the country stamp—unsurprising given Calve’s significant time in Nashville. (More on that later.) 

New Live Album by Everclear — Tour Stop at Fillmore Sept. 13

Members of Alternative Rock band Everclear, wearing black while standing on a great concrete floor along a painted white wall.

If even Art Alexakis, Everclear’s frontman, has creditors on his mind, it’s probably OK for us mere mortals to be so preoccupied. 

“I gotta pay the bills, bro.  I’m not independently wealthy.  I’m not getting checks and [then] going to play golf,” Alexakis said via phone from his home in Pasadena, California.  “Who knows where I’ll be in five to 10 years.  I might be in a wheelchair, so I’ve gotta strike while the iron’s hot.” 
From that metaphorical forge, Alexakis has crafted a new album with his band, “Everclear Live at the Whisky A Go Go,” recorded at the iconic Sunset Strip juke joint, and which bows September 8. Everclear is also hitting the road in honor of the 30th anniversary of their major label debut, 1993’s “World of Noise.” Their 32-date tour brings them to the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, September 13, for the first time—and where they will share the bill with the Ataris.

However, sometimes the musician wishes it was easier to get home after a faraway gig.

John Ford Coley Has Rock Stories—and Some Familiar Songs

John Ford Coley plays an acoustic set live

John Ford Coley sits down with contributing writer Eric Althoff to discuss what audiences can expect at his Aug. 29 Rams Head On Stage show.
People took stock of their lives during the pandemic—including their romantic relationships. The musician John Ford Coley, a self-described disciple of alternative medicine, was warned by his wife that if he went out to the grocery store and Starbucks during those early months of the pandemic, she would refuse him reentry into the home.

Perhaps, given that Coley’s nickname for his soon-to-be-ex-wife was “Panic,” the marriage wasn’t going to last anyway.

“I packed a bag, and I’ve been gone ever since,” said Coley, who left their shared house in favor of his Nashville condo. “So it cost me my marriage.  It [also] cost a lot of time not being able to go out on the road. I’m a hugger and I missed that during covid.

“But I’m a belligerent individual,” the singer summed up his outlook—not just on disease but on pretty much anything he’s told. “When somebody says the sky is blue, I’m going to look it up.”

Feat of Clay

Clay Melton performing live on guitar - Photo courtesy of Miguel Martinez

Texas bluesman Clay Melton performs at Stages Music Arts in Cockeysville, Maryland on July 23.
Clay Melton hails from a long line of Texas bluesmen. ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan were both on his radar growing up, and he also grooved to the strains of Buddy Guy. But it was a sonic encounter with Jimi Hendrix’s take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” that inspired Melton to chase the rock dream.

“I remember hearing that when I was kid, and it just blew my mind,” Melton, who is originally from Louisiana but now resides in Houston, reflected on that formative experience. “I got a guitar when I was about 11 [and that] sent me [to] older styles [including] lots of New Orleans funk and jazz.”
But it’s that Texas blues that’s called his name as an aspirant. With Melton on lead guitar and vocals—backed by Zach Grindle on drums and Zack Cox on bass—he will be coming to our area for a gig at Stages Arts Music in Cockeysville, Maryland, on July 23.

“It will be a genuine rock show,” Melton said of performing with his three-piece ensemble. “We all come from cutting our teeth in the live clubs, so there’s a lot of roots and blues influence, but at our core we’re a rock n’ roll band.

“We’re loud, we’re energetic. It’s a party.”

This Florida Man Has Turned the Punchline into Blues Gold

Selwyn Birchwood performs live on stage

Oh, those wacky headlines that invariably begin: “Florida Man…” And fill in the rest.

Selwyn Birchwood, a native of the Sunshine State, has set this unfortunate, longtime punchline to the blues in “Florida Man.” Indeed, his recent song features such lyrics as “Florida Man is drunk and shoots guns at hurricanes. Florida Man is high on bath salts and eats your face.”

There are headlines—and footage—to back up all of these anecdotes, which Birchwood includes in his music video for the song.

“I thought it was an interesting idea for a song. And I saw it as kind of a challenge to see if I could actually make the lyrics reflect those actual stories,” Birchwood said from the road in between tour stops. “The whole idea was [there was this] mythical creature, that could be down there, that has many forms in many headlines.”

Indeed, Birchwood combed the internet for the outlandish news stories, which he also shares in the video. Choose your favorite: “Florida couple ‘trapped’ in unlocked closet for two days”; “Bath salts blamed for face-eating attack”; “Florida man tells deputies he drank at stop signs, signals only.”

All tragically—hilariously—real.