The events on Monday April 15th at the Boston Marathon left the Country in shock and Boston with a bit of a bloody nose. Cities around the US were rallying around Boston and watched as the police, FBI, EMT and firefighters and citizens all responded with heroic grace and then tuned in as the perpetrators of the terrorist acts that upended the city were hunted down and captured. Boston responded as it always has; with style and grace and a stiff upper lip. There's a lot to this great city. It's a great sports town, a political and social hub, the top city in the world for education and medicine and Boston is one great music town with a long and storied history.
Our Top 20 Boston Roots artists this week took more time making a decision about what to include rather than whom. The climate in Boston is very music friendly. Roots music in Boston never needs to take hold, it is already there. Celtic Roots brought fiddles, banjos and acoustic guitars as default instruments for the 1960’s Folk scene that took place right across the river in the Harvard Square folk clubs that dotted Cambridge. The artists that have broken out of Boston are extensive. The amount of colleges supports taking a chance with your music as well as giving an audience.James Taylor, Martin Sexton, Ellis Paul, Tracy Chapman, The Del Fuegos , Tom Rush, The J Geils Band, Crooked Still, Morphine, Frank Black, Aimee Mann; the musicians and music that have used Boston as their breeding ground is nearly as endless as the line of future musicians that will continue to utilize the atmosphere of the Boston music scene.
The Boston scene is tough, both to get ahead and to stay fresh. The 20 artists compiled here represent Roots music. Some have been making independent music for decades, some with a recent debut. Boston has taken a stand since the days of the American Revolution. Its citizens are proud and do not like getting punched around. Music is the soundtrack.
1. Adam Ezra Group - After a clean sweep at the 2012 New England Music Awards, and Best band at the 2013 ceremonies it's obvious how the music fans in Boston feel about The Adam Ezra Group. They scooped up the awards for Best Band, Best Album and Best Song. But this band is not just a force in Boston, they sell out shows from coast to coast with relative ease. Ezra's music centers in on the human condition; provoking their audience to think and motivating them to feel what they're feeling. The band is an absolute monster, combining jazz, rock, roots, funk and soul into marathon concerts that leave the crowd drenched in sweat and filled with passion. Through The RallySound Foundation, the Adam Ezra Group contributes 25% of their earnings on tour to community and global charities. Hands down the best roots rock band to come out of Boston since the Del Fuegos. The Adam Ezra Group was accidentally left off of our Top 50 Roots Bands List where they would have ranked comfortably in the Top 5.
Listen and buy the music of Adam Ezra Group from AMAZON or iTunes
2. Eilen Jewell - Eilen Jewell is not originally from Boston but "the Queen of the minor key" makes her home here. She broke onto the national scene playing the local club scene in Boston and Somerville. Now seven records into a stellar career, she is highly regarded as one of the most unique and innovative artists on the Americana Roots circuit based, in part, on her hauntingly beautiful voice and a band comprised of solid, accomplished players that back her up. She's dabbled in traditional country, swing, gospel, and roots music with authenticity and a maturity that belies her years. Eilen and Band walked off with Best Folk/Roots at the 2013 New England Music Awards.
3. Girls Guns and Glory - The main cog in the Girls Guns and Glory wheel is front man, singer, founder, songwriter and rhythm guitarist Ward Hayden, whose voice echoes somewhere between Hank Williams, George Jones and Dwight Yoakam, at times, in the same verse. The band has seen a variety of transitions since the first album. Fireworks and Alcohol, in 2006 but has settled on the current and most formidable line-up for the 2012 release Sweet Nothings. The album is centered around Hayden and the blistering twang of guitar slinger Chris Hersch. They've hoisted a number of local music awards over the years, including a surprising win at WBCN's Rock and Roll Rumble and Boston Music Award for Best Americana Act.
4. Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters - Ronnie Earl first appeared on the national scene as the replacement for Duke Robillard in the band Roomful of Blues in 1979 and was quickly recognized as a guitarist with immeasurable talent and a signature tone. He went solo in 1986 and formed the first version of the Broadcasters in 1988. The Broadcasters, over the last 25 years, have included a who's who of New England blues staples including Bruce Katz, Jerry Portnoy, Per Hanson, Darrel Nulisch and even a stint with Gregg Allman, but it's the current line-up that tops them all and includes Jimmy Mouradian (bass), Dave Limina (organ), and Lorne Entress (drums). Earl has won 2 Blues Music Association awards for Guitar Player of the Year, and he also spent 5 years as an Associate Professor of Guitar at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
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5. Sugar Ray and The Bluetones - It seems all things blues in New England, at some point, owe six degrees of separation back to Roomful of Blues and Duke Robillard. Sugar Ray Norcia was the harp player and front man for Roomful of Blues during the band's highly prolific years in the 1990's, but he's been a blues fixture in Boston and around New England since the 1970's when he and his band The Hound Dogs were backing Big Mama Thornton and other blues greats at the Speakeasy in Cambridge. For decades, his band the Bluetones, formed in 1977, has been another of the important "schools" that dozen's of blues musicians have passed through on their way to other high profile gigs. The current line-up includes guitarist "Monster" Mike Welch, considered to be among the world's top blues guitar players.
6. Johnny A. - It's been a while between "events" for virtuoso guitar player Johnny A., but he's working on a new album for 2013 to follow up the critically acclaimed DVD "One November Night" (2010). Johnny A. is in a class that includes only a few names, but when those names are Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Jeff Beck, B.B. King and Wes Montgomery, well, that's a good class to be in. It's been said that Johnny A. has "one of the best voices in music today and never sings a note," letting his guitar do all of the heavy lifting. He's a master of intonation, melody and technique and with Les Paul and Chet Atkins gone, probably the best "soul" for the instrument that's around today. Few artists have ever been able to garner as much critical and commercial success with instrumental music as Johnny A..
Listen and buy the music of Johnny A from AMAZON or iTunes
7. Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck - Bow Thayer is originally from the Boston 'burb of Hingham, MA and now makes his coffee in the morning in Vermont, but he and his band Perfect Trainwreck are the "house band" for Boston's innovative and progressive roots Americana music scene. They won the Rock and Roll Rumble (which is a rite of passage for bands that want to be considered among Boston's greats) and they frequently choose Boston for the band's more important events. Rising stars on the national stage, Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck released an ambitious and critically well-received album, Eden, earlier this year. Their music is progressive, forward-thinking and innovative with a keen eye on the world around them and the human condition that exists within it.
Listen and buy the music of Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck from AMAZON, CDBaby or iTunes
8. Patty Larkin - Patty Larkin was born in Iowa, grew up in Milwaukee, went to college in Oregon and then arrived at Berklee College of Music in the mid 1980's, but Patty Larkin now calls Cape Cod home, and Boston calls Cape Cod the summer house, so Patty Larkin is all ours. That and the fact that she, along with other Boston favorites Ellis Paul, Shawn Colvin and Patti Griffin were among the artists that revitalized the Boston music scene, and subsequent folk-revival in the early 1990's. Ellis Paul, Shawn Colvin and Patti Griffin have moved on to other places to reside or we'd be claiming them as well. Her unique brand of urban-folk music, concentration on women's issues and her philanthropic work make her an American as well as Boston treasure. She celebrated 25 years of recording with her album, 25, in 2010.
Listen and buy the music of Patty Larkin from AMAZON or iTunes
9. Kingsley Flood - The Boston Globe described them as "The Rolling Thunder Review with a punk edge." We placed them in our list of 20 Bands Pushing the Roots Americana Envelope. Kingsley Flood meld a variety of influences, both internally and externally, borrowing equal parts Dylan, Stones, Who and The Jam and the powerful musical talent each of the band members brought to the party. The Kingsley Flood star is rising, as evidenced by their invitation to the Newport Folk Festival this summer, a host of Boston Music Awards and an opening slot for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Their latest release, Battles, takes on a lot of sensitive subject matter and leaves little doubt where the band stands on the issues of the day.
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10. Peter Parcek 3 - One of the best 'un-sung' guitar players in a city that hosts a multitude of great guitar players, Peter Parcek is a student of the blues, jazz and roots music and combines all of them together to create a spiritual, soulful sound that can't be cornered into anything genre-specific. It's really just outstanding music performed by three outstanding musicians. Peter Parcek is an incendiary player when the song calls for it and also soulful and elegant when it doesn't. His album, Mathematics of Love, was well received critically and landed him a nomination by the Blues Foundation at the 2011 Blues Music Awards in Memphis. He was recently named Best Blues Act at The New England Music Awards and has been nominated for Best Blues Act at the Boston Music Awards.
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11. Sarah Borges - Like many coming-of-age girls with guitars, Sarah Borges tried her hand in rock bands. It was a nice fit for her stage show that included high kicks, sassy shakes and buckets of sweat outfitted with red lipstick and six strings. Sarah made it into her 20’s before Americana and Roots were an option- "I felt like I had spent all of this time trying to couch everything in metaphor, and when I started writing Americana songs. I could finally say it plain.” The ball of energy that is Sarah Borges is alive and well on upcoming album number four, Radio Sweetheart, produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin. The new album is just another step in the continual evolution of Sarah Borges.
12. Gracie Curran and the High Falutin' Band - Ms. Curran is possesses an amazing voice. It is the kind of voice that could easily smoke the competition. It is to the credit of the High Falutin’ Band that they can not only be seen but heard beyond the sunspot force of Gracie. Proof of Love, the band’s debut album, rounds out HFB with Geoff Murfitt on bass, Derek John Bergman on drums and the almighty, roof raisin’, can-somebody-get-me-a-glass-of-water guitar work of Tommy Carroll. Tommy is Berklee trained and crossroads bartering good on the guitar. His leads, and funky chord chops, are the perfect foil for Gracie Curran’s voice. Think Aretha Franklin on lead vocal with Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar…okay, you got the sound of Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ band.
Listen and buy the music of Gracie Curran and the High Falutin' Band from AMAZON, CDBaby or iTunes
13. Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers - Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers proudly refer to their mix of delta blues, country, Americana, soul, and world music as “Charles River Delta Blues”. It puts their brand in the dirty water that everybody in the city of Boston loves. On album, and in live shows, The Delta Swingers produce an upbeat, danceable sound featuring original tunes and classic blues from 1930’s delta blues and ragtime to the Blues/Folk of the late 60’s/early 70’s. The band features Erin on electric and acoustic guitar and lead vocals, backed by Jim Countryman on bass, Bob Nisi on drums and vocal harmonies, and a revolving cast of Boston’s best blues soloists, including the blistering electrified harmonica of Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt, slide guitar and barrelhouse piano. Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers are currently hard at work on their debut album, which will be released later this year.
Listen and buy the music of Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers from AMAZON, CDBaby or iTunes
14. Dropkick Murphys - Dropkick Murphys started life in Quincy, Mass but have become inseparable from big city Boston through yearly St. Patrick’s Day week shows and “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”, their track featured on the Academy-Award winning film, The Departed. The song has become an anthem for Boston-based sports teams. The group stayed Indie through five albums, singing with Warner Brothers in 2007, through their vanity label, Born & Bred. Dropkick Murphys made room on the Billboard charts for American Celtic Punk with both of their last two releases, Going Out of Style (2011) and Signed and Sealed in Blood (2013), finding homes in the chart Top 10.
15. Mr. Nick and His Dirty Tricks - Nick David's harmonica playing has a swagger - developed over thousands of one-nighters from Massachusetts to Memphis and from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, and all over Europe. Maybe it's a swing, or a little extra hip-shake, just like the grooves generated by the powerhouse band he's formed with four other kingpins of the New England blues scene: Mr. Nick & His Dirty Tricks have jukebox Soul waiting for the coin to drop on Oh Wow!
16. James Montgomery Band - The James Montgomery Band deliver on From Detroit to the Delta, the band’s recent release. Full frontal horns, courtesy of the Uptown Horns, crisp, clean leads from JM Band member George McCann, guests such as James Cotton on harp, Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer (drums) and Brad Whitfield (guitar), Johnny Winter lending his Firebird slide guitar skills and a rock solid rhythm held down by JM backers, David Hull (bass, producer) and Seth Pappas (drums). The man that holds down the mic, and harmonica, is James Montgomery, a position that he has filled for forty plus years. Whether the tunes honor the Detroit or Delta side of the album title, the music is all Saturday night. There are no quiet mediations, no rambling jams, you have to stay alert and in the pocket of the groove to keep up with From Detroit to the Delta.
17. The Bandit Kings - The Bandit Kings have a sunny, singer/songwriter tone to the songs on their recent release, III. The group incorporates an Alt Country jangle and rock rhythms as a foundation for two female lead vocalists, Renee Dupuis (vocals, keys) and Ann Marie (vocals, tambourine). Rounding out The Bandit Kings is Dan King on lead guitar, Dennis Monagle on drums and Joe Cardoza on bass. III offers vocals that snake around the music, weaving in and out of arrangements, playing tag with guitar leads. BK craft smiles into the bright playing, even when the ladies are telling their respective love interests that “I can’t wait for you to throw me away” (“I Can’t Wait”).
18. Sarah Blacker - Sarah Blacker adds ukulele and mandolin to the traditional singer/songwriter guitar and mic default accompaniment. Her most recent release, Perfectly Imperfect E.P. (2012) wraps a story about being humor with the ukulele on the title track. The E.P. follows her 2009 debut, The Only Way Out is Through, and Come What May (2010). Sarah Blacker is a full-time, hard-working, touring singer/songwriter who still manages time to give. Sarah is a part-time Music Therapist for children and adults with special needs. Sarah Blacker was named Female Performer of the Year at the 2013 New England Music Awards.
19. Jesse Dee - Jesse Dee is a Boston-based soul man. He released his debut, On My Mind / In My Heart, his debut recording for Alligator Records in 2013. The album is soul music through and through. Perfectly placed horns, chopped guitar chords as rhythm, a bumping bass that pops out notes like spitballs and drums that never let the beat wander, all create a groove that sticks like glue. All the elements are present but what wraps it all up is the voice of Jesse Dee. On My Mind / In My Heart holds within its border eleven Jesse Dee originals that are equally filled, like Jesse, with hooks of hope. It is the sweet soul music that you have heard about, the kind stuck with a 1960’s stamp and put in the closet with sharkskin suits, beehives and aspirin in soda pop as a go-to high.
20. Jo Henley - Putting together a tradition of Roots music with a rock stance and delivery, Jo Henley is the band home to longtime musical collaborators Andy Camplieto and Ben Lee with drummer Mike Dingley. The group released their independent full length, Sad Songs and Alcohol, in 2008. In 2012, Andy lost his Dad, a man who had not only been a supporter but, with son Ben, had handcrafted most of the guitars heard on Jo Henley albums. Andy and Ben headed to a remote cabin to sing a catharsis for the loss and returned with demos of songs that would become the base of The Fall Comes Early, Jo Henley’s December 2012 release. The album is a deeply personal look at universal themes of life, death, relationships, and time playing out over jangly mid-tempo rock, train-beat folk and classic country and top tappin’ bluegrass.
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