Luch Wainwright Roche: Glorious New Release

There’s a Last Time for Everything
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When you’re descended from as much folk royalty as Lucy Wainwright Roche, you’d better be able to deliver. With this, her second full-length CD, Roche obliterates all doubt and firmly stamps her own identity. Her voice is faintly reminiscent of Patti Griffin’s, but Roche is a singer of many moods–an ethereal and dramatic waif singing across the echoes (“The Year Will End Again”), a melancholy piano-backed torch singer (“Look Busy”), a queen of mystery (“Seven Sundays”), and the leader of a sunny folk/pop parade. Two of the latter are duets, “Seek and Hide” with Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, and “A Quiet Line” with Mary Chapin Carpenter. Ten originals and a stunning cover–Roche appropriates Robyn’s heart-thumping club hit “Call Your Girlfriend” and slows it down to create something as sensitive and fragile as a bruised rose petal. Roche brings her triumphant release tour to Northampton’s Parlor Room on November 15.

Rob Weir 


Newpoli Brings Italian Music to Life

Tempo Antico
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What is it Joni Mitchell sang? “You don’t know what you’ve got/till it’s gone.” Translate that into Italian and it could be the official motto for the octet Newpoli. Ten years ago a group of Italians left their homeland for Boston’s Berklee College of Music. A few lineup shifts and a couple of albums later and we get Tempo Antico, the ensemble’s third album. As the handle Newpoli suggests, the ensemble specializes in songs and tunes from Napoli and points south. For those unfamiliar with Italian music, place it in the live-large/live joyously niche occupied by Quebecois, Klezmer, and Cajun music. Italy is a land prone to drama, and you’ll hear that on this record–soaring operatic voices, wild tarantella dance cadences, lyrical canzones…. The 13 tracks on Tempo Antico are often madrigal-like in presentation, as befits material largely drawn from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is not, however, “ancient music” as that term is used in classical music. The musicians of Newpoli might have fancy education and impeccable credentials, but they are also keenly aware of the fact that Neapolitans were/are not known for slavish devotion to decorum, that the tarantella is an up-tempo (6/8 and 18/8) folk dance, and that peasants sang these songs as well as opera singers. Nor are they interested in preserving music in amber–you will hear Arabic and Greek influences in arrangements in which piccolo shares musical space with violins, accordions are as dignified (or not) as flutes, and tambourines give contrabass a run for its percussive money. Best of all, Newpoli made sure the music would unfold with unstuffy freshness by recording it live in an acoustically balanced church (in Swampscott, MA). This is a zesty album of unbridled joy. This reviewer accepts no responsibility for anyone who sheds shoes, suits, and inhibitions while partaking of it.

Rob Weir


Time for the NL to Adopt DH Rule

He made contact, which is more than most pitchers do!
The World Series is over–a feel-good story for Bostonians recovering from last year’s last-place finish under Bobby Valentine and the city’s even deeper anguish after the Marathon bombing in April. St. Louis fans are, of course, disappointed. Winners and losers aside, objectively speaking it wasn’t one of the better Fall Classics–too much sloppy play, a relatively non-competitive Cardinals’ team, and a woeful lack of hitting by either side. The Cardinals actually out-hit the Red Sox, though their just .224 to .211 margin isn’t exactly Paul Bunyan territory.

So let’s talk hitting. With then possible exception of watching Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma swing the lumber, is there anything more boring that watching pitchers flail away like a 4-year-old T-ball player? Pitchers went a combined 0-15 during the three games in Busch Stadium and it’s not that they were unlucky–they were as clueless as Ted Cruz when confronted by facts. The number one thing MLB could do to enhance its brand is tell the National League to get on board and adopt the Designated Hitter rule.

I can hear the self-styled “purists” screaming about tradition, strategy, and respect for the game. Poppycock! The DH isn’t exactly the flavor of the month–the American League has used it since 1973. Isn’t 40 years of “history” enough to prove that fans like it and that it’s good for the game? MLB attendance went up the first year the DH went into effect, but let’s look at the overall picture. In the 40 years the DH has been in effect total MLB attendance per decade has soared from 329 million in the 1970s to over 808 million in the first decade of the 21st century. Sure there are other factors: expansion, new ballparks, TV hype… but maybe the purists might wish to consider that the game itself has gotten more exciting. Maybe it’s like the 1996 Nike commercial after all, and most chicks (and guys) dig the long ball way more than they do a 2-1 game.

Hold the true-athletes-can-do-it-all appeals. The truth of the matter is that pitchers never could hit worth a damn. By average the only recent pitchers with plate success are Micah Owens (.316) and Rick Ankiel (.266). The problem is that Owens also happens to be a lousy pitcher and Ankiel long ago converted to being an outfielder–just like the best-hitting pitcher in MLB history, one George Herman “Babe” Ruth (.342). I guess you could argue that Carlos Zombrano (.238) is also a better hitter than Kozma, but the Big Z isn’t putting up enough K’s these days. Nor should you listen to the hype about all those great hitting pitchers from baseball's Golden Age. Bob Gibson? Are you impressed by his .206 lifetime average? Or Don Drysdale’s .186? I remember some of these Golden Age players and I have to tell you that the only thing scarier than a Sandy Koufax fastball was Koufax trying to hit a thrown pitch by someone else. It didn’t need to be fast. Or close to the plate for that matter.

When we get right down to it, none of the evocations of tradition make any sense. The game changes, end of story. Can we really compare Ty Cobb to Willie Mays to Mike Trout? Not really. Not unless we standardize the equipment, the angle of the mound, the size of the ballparks, etc. Ever wonder if Joe DiMaggio would have hit in 56 straight games or if Ted Williams would have averaged .406 in 1941 if fielders of their day wielded today’s gloves? (When I was a kid, the word “glove” was more descriptive than today’s mitts, which look more a jai alai cesta!) Would Bob Feller have pitched as well off a flat mound? Would Mickey Mantle have prolonged his career if he could have been a DH?

That last line is the crux of the matter. Who do you want to see hit, someone like Mantle or the Astros’ Brian Mohler, a pitcher with a .045 lifetime average? As great as he is on the mound, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is a sissy with a stick at the plate (.078). Does it really make the game more strategic when everyone in the ballpark knows the outcome of a pitcher’s at bat? The NL needs to wise up and adopt the DH. It allows fans to see guys hit who might not otherwise be on the roster. Don’t believe me? In 2002 the Minnesota Twins released a player because a glove on his hand was uglier than a mule with a shaved butt. That’s right, I’m talking about 2013 World Series MVP David Ortiz. Would purists really rather see Clay Buchholtz swing for the fences?