Normally, the rock-meets-baseball 'Hot Stove' event is not something I pay much attention to, anymore than I would want to watch rock musicians taking batting practice. However, for a unification of musical friends past and present (this year's event features members of Letters to Cleo, Belly and Buffalo Tom, as well as Cooperstown), 'Hot Stove' is pretty tough to strike out. OK, I'm being funny (being cut from the 9th grade baseball team never went down easy). The line-up includes a special set from one Mr. Christian McNeill (he of Hybrasil) who has recently re-emerged after a decade with a fine new band (Sea Monsters) and album, Everything's Up For Grabs--which is due for national release on Feb 2nd.
At 40, the burly, brawl-voiced son of Northern Ireland has had an interesting life even for an ex-pat rocker. A musician since his Derry City childhood, McNeill became a father in his late teens and then hit it medium-big right away with Schtum, a minor Columbia signing from the early '90s. McNeill was also the witness to some tragic and violent events in Northern Ireland that the singer and songwriter recalls with some hesitation. While resurrecting Mr. McNeill's memories aren't really the case at hand, the ongoing effects of him becoming a wise and world-weary songwriter are still apparent.
Over the course of our chat, the 16-year Mass-native called me 'friend' many times, his hearty affirming way resonating with the vibe of his barrelling Irish soul-music. Come one come all are what McNeill's songs seem to say as they shift through their themes of love, hate, resignation and forgiveness. It doesn't hurt to have a band that is basically the SNL band in terms of their skill and versatility in playing rock & soul (local names like Tom Arey - drums, Duke Levine - guitar, and Scott Aruda - trumpet). Don't get too groovy though--this is a serious kind of affirmation. So much so that when the album finishes playing on my iTunes and a light calypso jam by the Mekons comes on, it feels as refreshingly dumb and sweet as margarita with salt itself.
"I turned 40 last year and have never been happier or more content in myself and who I am. That's a nice thing to be able to say and a first for me," says McNeill when I ask him how things were going otherwise. As for music itself, he feels confident that he can give Everything's Up for Grabs' songs the all-in delivery that they require. "The last time I ever told anybody what to play was in Hybrasil. I decided I didn't want that anymore. You can't control everything. You need to trust the players you have around you and let the music breathe."
"Zero" showcases a band far from the alt-rock corner of Hybrasil holding it's breath and taking a skydive--it's liberated attitude echoed by the many spirited melodic variations in McNeill's singing. Probably improvs in many places.
Admist a solid grouping of more straightforward rock cuts, we hear the gospel-r&b of Muscle Shoals ("I Will Always Be Your Friend") and the class & brass style of Solomon Burke (the title track, which should be mentioned is sung by Jesse Dee). Others moments feature that more predicable Van Morrison soul-revival vibe ("If You Need Some") that you were looking for. And even a little Page/Plant folk makes the mix ("You Know I Believe In You."). Ambitious in its own conservative way--but with the polish to convince and hold the listener so that someone might actually be able to listen and consider what McNeill has to say.
"It has to be the rootsiest thing I've ever done," says McNeill of his current vernacular. "I didn't want the next thing I did to be the same as the last. If you listen to my four albums, you can hear how much i've evolved musically each time."
Christian McNeill & Sea Monsters at
Hot Stove, Cool Music
Also featuring performances by Mike O'Malley,
Hot Stove All-Stars featuring Peter Gammons, Bill Janovitz, Kay Hanley
The Parkington Sisters Christian McNeil & the Sea Monsters
Tanya Donelly, Chad Hollister Band
Doors at 6 PM; 18+ Show - Advance Box Office Price $40
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About the authorJonathan Donaldson is a Boston-based musician, writer, and second-generation music junkie. An Ohio native who moved to Boston in 1998, Jonathan's musical loves include R&B, psych, punk, bubblegum, country, electronic, More »
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