Canadian folk icon Bruce Cockburn is back in town, playing a solo show Sunday at the Van Duzer. It's not that long since his last visit, just two years, but a few things have happened in the interim. Probably most important, he has a new baby at home. He also finished the album he was working on, Small Source of Comfort (his 31st), and it won a Juno Award (the Canadian version of a Grammy) as "Roots and Traditional Solo Album of the Year." It's far from his first Juno: that would be the one he took home in 1971 in connection with his first record, Bruce Cockburn.
The liner notes for Small Source include an eclectic set of thank yous to those "who helped shape the contents ... whether they knew it or not." Among them, film director Ang Lee, the NYPD, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the late Lois Cockburn (his mother, who inspired an instrumental, "Lois On The Autobahn," co-written with Jenny Scheinman), the late Richard Nixon (who shows up reincarnated as a single mom living in the projects in "Call Me Rose") and "sundry Corporate Scumbags (the same ones who shape everything else in the world)."
Those scumbags came up when we spoke last time he was here, as the conversation turned to politics and money. "Of course the politics is such that you don't get anything done without somebody being willing to spend money, or refusing someone's offer of money, or something," he declared. "It's all on a piecemeal basis. There's no overview. The overview would be to totally change the system, but that isn't going to happen, at least not in any way I'm able to contribute to."
Does he think his songs can help? "I think a drop in the bucket is all you can expect -- I think that counts. It would be a mistake to believe that a song by itself is going to make a difference in the course of events, but a song as a rallying point for a whole bunch of people's opinion does have that potential. It's not really the song that does it, it's the people's opinion, but a song can be an anthem for a movement, or it can pull a movement together and help it to recognize itself as a movement." Yes, Cockburn's song are like that.
Sarah Nutting and Karisha Longaker make up the folk duo MaMuse, a name they break down as follows: "Ma" as in "Mamma;" "Muse" as in "the one who inspires." With a third album, Integration of the Awkward, just out, MaMuse is on the road, working the way down the West Coast with a stop Monday at the Arcata Playhouse. The ladies from Chico weave their voices together into an intricate harmonic macramé with gentle strings (mandolins, uke, guitar, string bass) and hand drum percussion easing the flow. The songs are on the earthy goddess side and, as promised, inspirational. (If you have fond memories of Francine and Nymiah, you'll love MaMuse.) The overall effect is what you'd have to call sweet, but definitely not cloyingly so and not sugary -- more like agave nectar or organic honey. Lyndsey Battle opens, which seems just about perfect.
Joanne Rand is at the Arcata Playhouse Thursday night backed by a band she calls The Dell'Arte House Band, specifically keyboardist Tim Randles, drummer Tim Gray and bassist/flautist Marla Joy. (While the threesome (and friends) did, in fact, serve as the band in Mary Jane: The Musical and other Dell'Arte shows, they are also typically the musical force behind inhouse Playhouse shows, but let's not quibble.) The show, which comes at the end of Joanne's NW solo spring tour, will be a bit different from others you may have seen by the songwriter. "It's all dance music, all upbeat, all sorts of covers, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, that sort of thing, then some of my songs," she explained, calling from the road. "We're calling it the ‘Hurricane Party' -- that's a song my brother wrote." It's all about partying in the face of adversary. "It's a tradition in the South: When a storm is coming you fling the windows open wide, make a pitcher of margaritas or something and you party. For my brother, well, he was dying of AIDS when he wrote it, so that was part of it. Basically what we're saying is: Celebrate the mayhem when the world is going to hell in a handbasket."
Gil plays Gil Friday night in the Fulkerson Recital Hall as Dan Aldag directs the HSU Jazz Orchestra and Symphonic Band in a centennial celebration of the life of legendary jazz arranger Gil Evans (he would have been 100 this year). Gil Cline guests on trumpet and flugelhorn playing selections from Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool era albums.
Saturday night at the Van Duzer it's a school year-end Caribbean percussion bash featuring the thundering steel drum sound of the Humboldt State Calypso Band under the direction of Eugene Novotney, Howard Kaufman's World Percussion Group and young percussionists known as We Got the Beat.
They're calling the Arcata Playhouse Saturday evening membership party "Jump, Jive and Swing." It's a ‘40s-style theme night, with swing dance lessons from Debbie Weist, retro-cocktails, costumed craziness including a mock ‘40s game show and appropriate music for swinging by Magnolia. Free admission if you are a Playhouse member, and if you're not, they'll sell you a membership at the door.
On another end of the musical spectrum you have Saturday's Diamondback hip hop show at the Arcata Community Center. The "Hostile Takeover 2012" tour is a "strategic, coast-to-coast, assault" featuring the aggressive Kansas City rapper Aaron Dontez Yates, aka Tech N9ne. The name comes from the rapper's rapid-fire style, akin to the infamous bullet-spitting Swedish semi-automatic pistol. Mr. N9ne also alludes to the technical nature of his word-flow and says the "nine" signifies numerical completion. Assembled by N9ne's label, Strange Music, the tour also includes Strange artists Machine Gun Kelly (aka MGK), Mayday, Krizz Kaliko, Prozak and Stevie Stone.
Swinging that musical pendulum back again, there's the annual Rhododendron Festival Concert that night at Eureka's Christ Episcopal Churcg. Local choral and brass musicians perform Luigi Cherubini's Requiem Mass in C Minor, under the direction of Betty Burton, with Douglas Moorehead on the massive church organ.
"Tassels Not Hassles" at Nocturnum Saturday is a fundraiser for Humboldt Domestic Violence Services featuring the Va Va Voom Burlesque Vixens. Says Gini from Va Va Voom, "Not only are there brand-new acts the lovely ladies will perform, but also live and silent auctions (for which our community has generously donated dozens of fabulous items), and DJ 360 will spin dance tunes after our show is over. I promise it will be fun -- because everyone loves boobs. And together, we can break the chains of domestic violence with beauty and burlesque!"
Speaking of fundraisers, "From the Core to the Cosmos" is a dinner/dance Saturday at the Bayside Grange, a benefit for this summer's Arcata to D.C. "Occupy Road Trip." It starts (at 6 p.m.) with Kirtan chanting, followed by fiddler Nicol Hawkins and friends, then dinner with circus acts, then local funksters Acufunkture and Soulemente (9-ish) concluding with the "re-awaken the dreamer vision council." Who's going on the Occupy trip? I asked via Facebook -- no one answered. I studied occupyroadtrip.org, but couldn't really figure it out. Sounds like a good idea though.
Saturday's "Eleventh Hour Fundraiser" at Dean Creek Resort for the (Deadish) Head-to-Head Music Festival is billed as a "V.I.P. Pinball Tournament" with two real pinball machines, fire spinning and burlesque by Circus of the Elements (fresh from a big 4/20 show at the Mateel) and music by Lonesome Locomotive (jam), Arden Park Roots (reggae/rock) and Twin Engine. Why 11th hour? "This is a crucial moment for the future of the Head-to-Head Music Festival," the heads note with a hint of desperation.