Out & About: Amy Black, Heather Pierson top musical choices
Two interesting singer-songwriters are visiting Portland this Friday, performing only a few blocks apart on Congress Street.
Amy Black is from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Yes, the Muscle Shoals of F.A.M.E. fame. Nowadays Black is from Boston, and she’s currently touring with a tribute act to the musicians who made her hometown famous a half a century ago. She’ll be at One Longfellow Square.
Heather Pierson hails from Conway, New Hampshire. She plays piano and guitar, and is a two-time winner of the New England Songwriters Competition. She’ll be holding forth at Acoustic Artisans in Congress Square.
“Legally Blonde,” a musical comedy, is a stage adaptation of the movie of the same name. It’s both funny and moving, and it’s happening at Arundel Barn Playhouse.
What do The Rolling Stones, Arthur Alexander, Otis Reading, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Lou Rawls all share in common? In the 1960s and 1970s, all these famous artists and many others recorded some of their best-remembered work in a small studio in the small city of Muscle Shoals, in the northwestern corner of Alabama.
Now add Amy Black, a singer-songwriter who grew up in Muscle Shoals and now lives and works in the greater Boston area. Inspired by memories of driving past the F.A.M.E. Studio countless times in her younger days, Black recently returned to her hometown and recorded a four-song EP in the very same space.
The success of that EP, which recalls the glory days of the Muscle Shoals sound, led to a live show, titled “Sock It To Me,” which will be playing this Friday at One Longfellow Square.
The Muscle Shoals sound represented a cultural crossroads, where black and white musicians freely mingled and brought their distinctive cultures to into the mix. Rhythm and blues plus soul melded with country music and gospel.
In order to educate music lovers about Muscle Shoals’ rich history and help bring the music back to life, Black decided to bring it to audiences via a live show. She is bringing Sarah Borges, who Black describes as a “vocal powerhouse,” to join the tour. Plus she’s adding some of Boston’s best and most soulful instrumentalists.
A small sampling of song titles from Black’s set list represents a Hit Parade of the past: “Better Move On,” by Arthur Alexander; “You Left the Water Running,” by Wilson Pickett; “Do Right Woman,” by Aretha Franklin; “First Cut is the Deepest,” by Rod Stewart, and “Wild Horses,” by The Rolling Stones.
Catch Amy Black’s “Sock It To Me” at 8 p.m. Aug. 15 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.
At first glance, Heather Pierson looks like the girl next door: youthful, friendly, a little bit shy. (If you live in Conway, New Hampshire, she might actually be your next-door neighbor.)
Seated at a piano or brandishing her father’s vintage Gibson guitar, Pierson morphs into a captivating singer-songwriter who bares her soul in a manner that leaves audiences breathless and aching for more.
I first met Pierson about five years ago at an outdoor music festival, where she was one of many performing artists. I liked her style from the get-go. Pierson’s first-rate chops at the piano and guitar paired with her bell-tone, pitch-perfect vocals are comfortable in multiple genres. She’s equally adapt at performing her own songs or interpreting the works of others.
I’ve enthusiastically followed her career since meeting her, always urging her to venture into Portland more often. Now I’ve got my wish. This Friday she’s fronting her own Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio at a new Portland venue for live entertainment: Acoustic Artisans, a luthier that occupies the second story of the historic “flatiron” Hay Building in Congress Square, has a new performing arts series.
Pierson has recorded seven CDs. I attended the release party for her sixth, “Make It Mine,” back in 2010. The title cut took second place in the New England Songwriting Contest the following year. In 2012 she returned to cop first prize with “A Hard Man To Please,” which is featured on her most recent album, “The Hard Work of Living.”
Catch the Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 at Acoustic Artisans, 594 Congress St. in Portland. Call 671-6029 or visit acousticartisans.com.
With its catchy title, interesting story and appealing heroine, “Legally Blonde” has become one of the hottest Broadway musicals of the early 21st century.
The musical is a stage adaptation of the 2001 Hollywood film of the same name, based on the novel by Amanda Brown. The stage musical has a book by Heather Hach and score by Nell Benjamin and Lawrence O’Keefe. It opened on Broadway in 2007 and garnered seven Tony nominations. It’s had several national tours and has become a favorite of regional companies. Arundel Barn Playhouse is currently running a fine professional production.
I’ve seen “Legally Blonde” several times before in the recent past, and I’m very impressed with how the show affects me on several levels. For starters, there’s the basic comic formula: a fish-out-of-water tale of an air-headed fashionista who ventures into the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School. After the laughter from the obvious jokes has subsided, there’s a second story of a “dumb blonde” who spectacularly succeeds in a brainy game.
And on the third level there’s the story of a young woman who discovers that she possesses an inner loveliness that’s fully equal to her super-abundant superficial beauty.
“Legally Blonde” is a show where young women shine, and Arundel Barn Playhouse has hired a fine cast of up-and-coming professionals.
They’re headed by Kate Turner, playing Elle Woods, the title character. Turner succeeds admirably in portraying the three levels of Elle. I also liked the trio of Elle’s sorority sisters – sometimes doubling as a “Greek chorus” – played by Chrissy Albanese, Kelli-Ann Paterwic and Aili Venho. This delightful threesome adds immeasurably to this show’s appeal.
Elle’s lovelorn hairdresser is a wonderful comic role, played to the hilt by Ashten Banister.
Among the men, Martin Glyer is appropriately vainglorious as the former suitor who rejects Elle in the second scene, while Roger Reed shines as the guy who earns her love in the denouement. Michael Sheehan is adequate as the arrogant professor of criminal law, but he doesn’t project the sleaziness that this role demands.
Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) presents “Legally Blonde” through Aug. 16. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.