Boston, Barrence, & Blues

Award winning poet and writer Maya Angelou, fresh off a collaboration with Common on his latest album, in response to queries regarding the two artists’ different beliefs, as in: ‘what would she do about it?’ replied “Nothing,” and ruminated on philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli’s principle that “‘the surest way to control people was to divide them.’” This, as regards Ms. Angelou’s response, is actually not nothing, but quite something. It is a natural demonstration of making community (and art), most especially with those who have different ideas and perspectives than yourself. Angelou shows finely focused intelligence and human compassion as being infinitely more important than variance or dissimilarity. She makes the case, by example, for diversity as strength, instead of something which must be a precursor to entrenched battle.

And when making the case for unity what hath better charms to amalgamate disparate souls than music?

And in living breathing local music lore what better example of a master of the soulfully divergent than Boston’s own Barrence Whitfield?

Barrence conquered Europe early on, and has accumulated innumerable international accolades, and as this is written he’s in Dubai for its Jazz Festival, but his home is just as listed on one of his hot album covers: “Boston, Ma.” He’s played all over the state, won seven Boston Music Awards, and collaborated with countless local musicians as well as a who’s who of bands including Eli Paperboy Reed, Los Lobos, the ABC’s RocWiz Orchestra, Paris Wells, and the Hi-Risers.

In the early bygones of the Unconventional City’s Central Squares’ World Fairs, before the loss of Mark Sandman, after witnessing Barrence and the Savages ravage their stage, you could then stroll dazed and singed over to catch Morphine nearly getting electrocuted from sizzling, miasmic mic reverb on theirs. (Sandman, ever the sharp muse, on the apparent bloodlust of the audience: “it’s shocking”). All while international dance, art, food, and fashion were happening in coveys running up, down, and off Mass Ave.

Barrence’s vocal chops map a history of musical styles too: he started with gospel, then did time in a disco group, after that he—wait for it—fronted a Led Zeppelin cover band. Later, he and the Savages {David Scholl, Davey Roy, Allan Scheinfeld, and Wolf Ginades} would sometimes perform Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” invariably producing a crowd of awed grins. (Robert Plant is a fan). He’s thrown in a touch of country, garage, and travelled from Screaming Jay to bona fide soul brother with ease. All while giving his everything at every show. And if you aren’t moving too you need to be checked for circuitry, as you must not be human.

Some favorites include “Dig Yourself”, “Go Ahead and Burn” (with “The Monkey Hips”), “Stop Twisting my Arm (I Already Love You),” and “Girl from Outer Space”. “Willie Meehen” rocks and nobody makes hurt seem like a good thang the way Barrence does when he screams “Ow! Ow! Ow!” in “Bip Bop Bip”. But Barrence’s oeuvre is too long to list; go ear hustle it your own self, especially the new “Music Keeps Rollin’ On” from the soundtrack of John Sayle’s latest film “Honeydripper.”

—J. Marechal

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