Sounds of Somerville – a review of local musicians

By Sarah Vivenzio Kipp

Many Somerville residents – and not just the students among us – stay up late experiencing the live music scene. Even if you’re not a night owl – and I happen to be a 28-year old who enjoys a 10:00 p.m. bedtime – there are plenty of bands and singers who perform during early weeknight hours.

One of the many Sounds of Somerville - Paddy Saul

Unfortunately for me, Paddy Saul is not one of them. He doesn’t sleep. In his own words, “I feel like I’ve got jet-lag every day — it’s always like I’ve just come back from a trip to Ireland.” For Saul, an Irish ex-pat who moved here in 1995, that fatigued feeling might persist: In addition to his frequent appearances in Somerville and other Boston-area locales, he is recording his second CD and planning a tour for spring 2010. He’s also a full-time mechanical engineer at Bruker BioSpin in Billerica, up at seven to commute each weekday.

With a sound reminiscent of David Gray, Saul’s music draws devoted fans to show after show. Saul alternates between love ballads and edgy, dark songs covering politics and culture. In 2007 he recorded his debut album, One Town Tasted, at the Zippah Studios in Boston with engineer Pete Weiss, who has worked with Aimee Mann and Vic Chestnutt.

Saul’s next album will be a collaborative effort between Saul and fellow musicians Steve Scully and Jeremy Dryden. His objective is to “make a slammin’ record that’s not overproduced and is very organic.” If he can capture the energetic intensity of his live shows, he’ll meet this goal. The album will feature Jimmy Ryan plucking the mandolin, fiddler Damon Leibert, and Andrea Gaudette on piano. Saul is confident the result will be worthwhile: “I wouldn’t bother me arse if it wouldn’t be good.”

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Whipping together varied genres like acoustic, country, j-pop and klezmer into a deliciously smooth musical frappe, Josh Lederman and the Cambridge/Somerville All-Stars (CSAR) will make you want to order a beer and twirl on the dance floor in your ripped jeans and hoodie. Somewhere between the Pogues and the band at a Jewish wedding on Long Island, CSAR have an easy, happy vibe. At their shows, everybody just wants to dance. Lederman tells me that they never rehearse. That’s partially because the All-Stars’ roster changes every week, depending on who is around. Their debut album on Nine Mile Records, Seven Years a-Roaming, comes out June 19.

The range of music is as varied as the lineup. Lederman & CSAR pump out bluegrass harmonies, drunken Irish sailor songs, clarinet ballads, polkas, bass/drum driven marches and even the occasional waltz, all heavy on the fiddles and clapping. During Sox games, they’ll play with one eye on the flat-screen, and break into jolly trills and stomps when there’s a run scored. Sometimes, the musicians pepper Scottish-highland yelps into the songs just for the pure joy of it all.

The shows also have a family vibe. Sometimes it seems as if half the people in the bar are friends of Lederman. Children run around during their afternoon shows; girls with hemp purses hop around to the beats, braids thumping on their backs. And Lederman is Somerville all the way — leading a band, he claims, for “the love of music and beer” and earning a master’s in rhetoric on the side.

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I was totally unaware that there was a band playing traditional music from Mali in Somerville. But SambaLolo has been here for seven years. Lead singer and founder Boubacar Diabate started drumming on the djembe at age six in Mali. Now that Diabate lives in Somerville, he brings together talented musicians to celebrate the songs of his country and adds his own personal flair with reggae, blues and jazz influences. The word SambaLolo is a combination of the words “peace” and “star” in Bambara. “My music is about life, building community, and giving good messages to people to make society stronger,” he says.

Diabate lived in Mali until he was 21, learning the djembe, guitar and balafon (basically a wooden xylophone with hollow gourds producing the sound). In Bamako, the capital, he met his current roommate and fellow percussionist Mateja Miljacki, and they moved to Somerville together. Diabate’s brother, Sory, already lived in Cambridge.

Arriving at a bar where SambaLolo is already playing is like showing up at a wedding right when everyone is in the conga line. Each band member has his own style of dress and movement. Diabate wears a suit and red satin vest; he sings in Mandinka or Bambara. Miljacki, in a loose shirt made of rough cloth, closes his eyes and bounces while vigorously playing two maraca-like hand shakers. SambaLolo’s songs are intensely loud. Often there’s little delineation between one and the next, so by the end of the night you feel like you’ve been on a loud steam train that never stopped chugging. I left the show exhausted and elated. Their show was a spellbinding and joyful musical stampede. .

So, the next time you’re brushing your teeth at 9:30 p.m., just pause to wonder which musicians are taking the stage at Sally O’Brien’s. Envision the crowd, sipping drinks; the joy and energy of a live show are about to wash over them. Why not throw on some jeans and head to Bull McCabe’s or Precinct to feel it for yourself?

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