By Noah Schaffer.
May is inevitably one of the busiest times of the year on the Latin, gospel, and R&B concert calendars as promoters hold Mother’s Day’s events and try to lure audiences indoors one last time before the start of summer.
José Manuel Calderón is credited with recording the first bachata recordings in the early 60s. He’s been largely out of the spotlight in recent years, but he still appears at the occasional dance, like the one taking place at the Macumba Latina night club in Mattapan May 11. Other Dominican stars coming through include regal bachata crooner Hector Acosta at the Centro night club in Lawrence on May 12, Alex Bueno at the Russell Auditorium in Dorchester on May 10, and merengue bad boy Tono Rosario at the Wonderland Ballroom in Revere on May 10. Tickets and more information for most of these shows are available at Franklin CDs in Jamaica Plain.
Now that the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers have gone into an apparent and well-deserved retirement, the Lord’s Messengers can stake their claim as the region’s longest running gospel group. Well into their sixth decade, the group cut some highly treasured singles for Skippy White’s Silver Cross label in the 60s. They’ll be appearing along with several of their protégés including Greg Logins and In Christ at a May 11 program at the Victory Chapel, 301 Columbia Road in Dorchester.
Another long-running group, the Swanee Quintet, cut scores of classic 45s and inspired fellow Augusta, GA native James Brown. Leader Percy Griffin has been with them for about 50 of their 70 years. They’ll be at the Russell Auditorium, at 70 Talbot Avenue in Dorchester, on May 18, with local groups and Deacon Lou Dobbs, a Connecticut singer who is not to be confused with the anti-immigrant TV host. Tickets and more information on both events are available at Skippy White’s CDs & Records in Eggleston Square.
Those who don’t mind a road trip can enjoy two strains of rhythm and blues that are almost never heard in New England. Go-go, the Latin-tinged, funky soundtrack of Washington, DC, is one of the last great American regional genres, and its elastic nature means that multiple generations have embraced it. Despite a variety of attempts to push it mainstream, it’s remained a steadfastly local sound. A top go-go band can play multiple dances a week without ever going outside of a 30-mile radius, although Natalie Hopkinson’s recent book Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City shows how gentrification is handing the music its greatest threat yet. Folk festivals in Lowell and Maine have featured go-go groups, but this writer can’t remember one ever playing a New England club show. That will change when one of the music’s originators, Trouble Funk, drops a musical bomb on Vibz Uptown in Hartford on May 18.
Almost as elusive around these parts is the raunchy blues known as southern soul. While many of the “chitlin circuit” stars like Little Milton, Marvin Sease, and Tyrone Davis have passed away, Ms. Jody and Nathaniel Kimble are among the younger artists who pack rodeos, Elks Lodges, and juke joints throughout the South. While her songs like “Play With It” and “The Better the Goods the Higher the Price” have no shortage of double-entendres, Ms. Jody is a first-rate belter. Kimble’s tales of infidelity bridge down-home blues with a modern flair. The pair team up for a night at the Panache Ballroom in Springfield on May 25 for a show suggested for grown folks only.
When classic soul shows do come to Boston they’re frequently packages of sweet 70s vocal harmony groups. Such an affair is headlined by Blue Magic, Heatwave, and Ray, Goodman and Brown at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester on May 25. Heatwave (“Boogie Nights” and “Always and Forever”) and, despite their name, Ray, Goodman and Brown (“Love on a Two-Way Street”) are down to one original member each, and it’s unclear who is composing this version of Blue Magic (“Sideshow”), but the matching suits and dance moves are guaranteed regardless.
Haiti’s tradition of classical composers and performers stretches back some two centuries and combines both French and African influences. One of its shining lights is composer, conductor, and flautist Julio Racine. He’ll be the guest of honor of the OAMEC Program, which provides at-risk youth with musical education and performance opportunities, at the Strand Theatre on May 26.
Calypsonian Winston Soso is so beloved in his native St. Vincent that he was the subject of his own carnival parade display in that country last year. Best known for penning odes to womanhood and calypsos that lament bedroom mishaps, Soso is always a popular attraction at functions in the Caribbean diaspora. He headlines a Mother’s Day show at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury on May 11. The event is promoted by veteran Boston radio host David Martin. Unfortunately the performers are likely to use a backing track rather than a live band.
Even though he’s only 19, Jamaican “sing-jay” Chronixx is being heralded as one of the saviors of “cultural” Rastafarian-themed reggae. He’ll be bringing his own band to Kay’s Oasis & Function Hall in Dorchester on May 25.
Nardo Ranks ruled the dancehalls in the early 90s, and you can still hear “Dem a Bleach” and “Barrup” at many a reggae dance. He’ll perform at the Good Life in Boston on May 29 alongside sound providers DJ Gravy, Sound International, and Bud E. Green, who hosts the crucial “Rub a Dub Market” radio show.
One of the most entertaining and well-crafted music documentaries of the past year was Hava Nagila: The Movie. The irreverent look at the Israeli-born dance that became an inevitable wedding moment celebrates the endurance of the song but never takes itself too seriously. After premiering at the Boston Jewish Film Festival, the film is now running at the Coolidge Corner Theatre at least through May 9.
After years as a musical punching bag, disco has recently gained a level of respectability it certainly never enjoyed in its heyday. Hipster audiences now embrace it as the sophisticated DNA of modern dance music, while scholars have argued that it was maligned because the white rock establishment was leery of a diva-dominated sound that grew out of the gay and black underground. Canadian comedian Jamie Kastner looks at the debate in The Secret Disco Revolution, which screens at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge on May 10 as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival.
Traditional Ukranian music usually features the plucked 30- to 60-string instrument called the bandura. One of the top bandurists, Julian Kytasty, appears at the Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland, RI, on May 19.
It seems like a strange booking: Big Sandy will forever be associated with the LA rockabilly scene, and his group the Fly-Rite Boys know how to keep a dance floor filled. Yet they’re playing Club Passim in Cambridge on May 8. But Sandy is just as capable of delivering a withering country ballad or reviving a classic doo-wop melody, so maybe the idea of seeing the group in a seated venue isn’t that far-fetched.
There’s a bluegrass festival in New England almost every weekend between Memorial and Labor Days. The one on May 30-June 2 in Strawberry Park in Preston, CT, combines an intimate atmosphere with a lineup heavy on the music’s stars. This year is no exception, with appearances by the likes of the Gibson Brothers, the Steeldrivers, and the Seldom Scene.