FEAR-FREE DENTISTRY, AS A FAVE BAND MAKES AN ASBURY HOMECOMING

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), April 4, 2019

Their music has been summarized, analyzed, and characterized as “dreamy,” “sun-dappled,” “saccharine,” “seductive,” “indie-pop jangle,” “retro-pop smooth,” “California surf-rock,” and (this, our favorite from the Aquarian’s John Pfeiffer) “beach-breaking Fujiwaras that roll from choppy, pop punk kick outs to hot-dogging groundswells of millennialism angst.”

The only thing that we have to add to the growing body of words devoted to Dentist is that, while Dentist hits all the right notes regarding the crucial D.I.Y. work ethic of the indie rock arena, the Shore-based trio is not so much a “garage” band as it is carport: airier, breezier, open to the light. A state of mind and an attitude that’s less about dark, cluttered corners and grease-stained workbenches and outdated calendars; more about sleek modern lines and high visibility — plus the wherewithal to just drop everything, get in the car, and take to the beckoning road.

When they’re out there on that road — which they are a very good deal of the time — the team of Emily Bornemann (lead vocals, bass),  Justin Bornemann (guitars), and Matt Hockenjos (drums) has assumed the role of roving ambassadors for their home base of Asbury Park; a function they’ve fulfilled to a greater extent than any other combo on the contemporary scene, and a real ear-opener for audiences to whom their stripped-down songcraft is a delightfully surprising alternative to the traditional notion of the E Street/Jukes big-band Template of Soul.

“We definitely always tell them we’re from Asbury Park,” says Hockenjos, himself a city resident whose prior involvement with the Asbury Park Music Foundation — for whom he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival — found the nonprofit organization expanding its educational and outreach activities within the community at large (and in a big world beyond that stood to benefit from being educated on the diverse array of sounds emanating from that music-mad city by the sea).

In a land where even a rave review on NPR stated that “they’re from Asbury Park New Jersey, and I don’t even hold that against them,” the members of Dentist have their work cut out for them, in terms of dispelling outmoded preconceptions about Jersey music, female-fronted acts, and the proper way to prosecute a rock-group career amid the shifting quicksands of the millennial music biz. But for the Bradley Beach-based Bornemanns and Mr. Matt, the band has been Priority One within the past few years; an interlude that has seen Dentist release its second and third acclaimed albums, produce numerous videos for songs like “Meet You There (in Delaware),” “Awful,” and “The Latter,” make several wide-ranging tours across the North American continent, and become a regular presence at the annual Austin, TX-based South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival.

Having been named by Mercury News as one of the Top Ten Bands at SXSW in 2018, Dentist returned this past March to Austin for a third time — their first as an “official” act within a scene in which, according to Justin, “there’s a ton of UN-official shows going on all over the place…the festival’s getting better at allowing that sort of thing.” The madcap month also featured gigs in Pittsburgh, Cincinnatti, Fort Worth, Lawrence (their second time around in that University of Kansas host city), Denver, and Boise.

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GARDEN STATE SONGWRITERS MAKE THE SCENE, FOR YOUR NJ-MENT

L-R: Dean Friedman, James Dalton, and Nikki Briar Shore up their local base of support, in three separate events going on Friday, March 29.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch, NJ) March 28, 2019

SOUNDS: Dean Friedman at McLoone’s Supper Club 

He stood out from the pack of earnest 1970s singer-songwriter types by staking a sonic streetcorner all his own; a place where it was perfectly permissible to name-check fast food franchises, New Jersey shopping malls, New York television stations, and such august institutions as the Saddle River Little League. His wryly  good-humored takes on contemporary life would occasionally land Dean Friedman in the midst of controversy — and that same sense of humor has always served as a “critical survival tool” to the Paramus native whose lone foray into the US Top 40 (“Ariel”) was a reference-packed romance that turned a chance meeting with a peasant-bloused, vegetarian Jewish girl (“I said Hi/ She said  Yeah, I guess I am”) at Paramus Park into the retro-catchiest pop song of 1977.

“I always had an affinity for those kind of details,” observes the composer whose descriptions of dates with the titular Ariel included onion rings at Dairy Queen, a band gig at the American Legion hall, Annette Funicello movies on TV, and a fundraiser for radio station WBAI. “They help to conjure up that time and place.”

Having performed occasionally in Asbury Park since those days — beginning with a  high profile 1977 opening set for Southside Johnny and the Jukes — Friedman makes an encore appearance at McLoone’s Supper Club this Friday night, March 29, with a set of “story songs” drawn from a 40 year recording career. Scheduled for 8 pm, the show that finds Friedman performing solo on guitar and keyboards is described as  “a deep dive” into a catalog that spans eight studio albums and more than 300 released tunes; an “atypical set list” about which the songsmith says “I figured it’s stime to give some of those overlooked songs a chance to shine…but no worries, I’ll always play the fan favorites.” Continue reading

GARDEN STATE FILMFEST CULTIVATES SOME JERSEY TOMATOES

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch NJ), March 21, 2019

“It’s an honor. An honor!

The preceding represents the entire transcript of a speech delivered by Christopher Lloyd, as he quickly accepted an award from the producers of the 2018 Garden State Film Festival— and just as quickly made his way out the door of the festival’s host venue, the onetime Neptune High School building reborn in recent years as the Jersey Shore Arts Center.

A vividly familiar presence in big-budget Hollywood properties like the Back to the Future franchise, The Addams Family, Star Trek III and Roger Rabbit — and a serial Emmy winner for his work in Taxi and other projects — the veteran character man was briefly present in Ocean Grove to promote his participation in an indie thriller being screened that evening, and to help welcome the festival as it went “back to the future,” in a return to the community that it called home for the first 11 years of its existence.

Founded in 2003 by Diane Raver and the late Robert Pastorelli (an Emmy nominee as Eldin on the original Murphy Brown), the GSFF spent four years in Atlantic City before relocating once more to a fast-morphing Asbury Park and neighboring precincts. By that time, the city had spawned several all-new entertainment venues (including the  expanded ShowRoom arthouse cinema); welcomed aboard a slew of new concert series and special events — and given birth to a high-energy, high-profile Music and Film Festival whose upcoming schedule in April 2019 boasts appearances by, among others, writer-producer-director Peter Farrelly (fresh off his  double Oscar win for Green Book).

But while Raver’s festival has welcomed such well known guests as Glenn Close, Ed Asner, Batman producer Michael Uslan, That 70s Show actor Kurtwood Smith, On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg and half the cast of The Sopranos beneath its tent in past editions, its roots remain grounded in the still-fertile soil of the independent filmmaking movement — with a particular emphasis on the plump and flavorful “tomatoes” cultivated by the creative community of the Garden State.

And when the 17th annual GSFF presents its smorgasbord of international fare beginning this coming Wednesday, March 27, the guest list will carry a pronounced Jersey accent, with special recognitions given to a set of screen performers with deep local connections — and a keynote event that once again explores our seemingly bottomless fascination with the legacy of HBO’s Sopranos series.

Screening at 7 pm Wednesday, and hosted at the JS Arts Center, My Dinner With Alan finds writers Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz — longtime television correspondents for the Star-Ledger, and authors of the book The Soprano Sessions— discussing the lasting impact of David Chase’s groundbreaking, Jersey-centric project (among various other topics) inside Holsten’s, the Bloomfield restaurant that served as the setting for the show’s still-controversial finale.

Sepinwall and Seitz are scheduled to be present for a post-screening panel discussion with director Kristen Fraga, joined for the occasion by a trio of Sopranos actors: Artie Pasquale, Federico Castelluccio, and Dan Grimaldi (famous for playing both Parisi twins, and familiar to followers of Long Branch’s New Jersey Repertory Company for his roles in Mercy and The Jag). While it’s included in the festival’s weekend pass option, the event (which features a book signing pre-order option for $25) also offers a $15 individual ticket at brownpapertickets.com/event/4094178.

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IT’S PRIME TIME FOR SOME PRIME CUTS OF (MARC) RIBLER

Marc Ribler (left) and Steven Van Zandt (photo by Rene van Daimen)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 21 2019

“He got the bug again,” says Marc Ribler of his friend and frequent collaborator Steven Van Zandt, by way of explaining how that iconic prime mover ‘n shaker of the Shore music scene — a guy who, after all, had diversified his portfolio in recent years to score significant successes in the realms of on-camera acting, Broadway theatrical production, satellite radio, education, philanthropy, and everything this side of branded spaghetti sauce — came to rely on the veteran musician as his music director for a newly resurgent iteration of the Disciples of Soul.

“Steven was working with Darlene Love, and asked me to be her music director for some shows,“ recalls the singer, songwriter and guitarist whose own solo trajectory ranges from charting songs for other vocalists, to earning a reputation as an ace interpreter of signature stuff from the classic rock playbook. “We’d do a few of his compositions at each show — ‘‘Love on the Wrong Side of Town,’ ‘Til the Good Is Gone,’ ‘Forever’ — and we all came to the realization that, wow, there’s a great body of work here.”

“A year later he called me to do a one-off festival in London, and, well…ever sonce then he’s been immersed in his own artistry. Right now his music is the center of his universe.”

Having “toured continuously”  in recent years as Van Zandt’s right-hand lieutenant (as well as co-producer of SVZ’s recording sessions), the Brick Township-based Ribler prepares to hit the international road once again, on the momentum of two new projects with the resurgent Little Steven: the just-issued Soulfire Live! box set/ Blu-Ray package, and the May 2019 release of the all-new studio set Summer of Sorcery.

“If he had somehow misplaced that songwriter within, he’s reconnected with it in a major way,” says Ribler of the bandana’d bandleader whose upcoming itinerary brings him to Australia in April, and various European ports of call in May (with some high profile CD release shows planned for New York and LA). “He’s a man on a mission!”

Before all that, however, Marc Ribler returns, in the company of assembled Friends, to the Asbury Park venue where he’s found happy harbor for the past several years — Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, the sophisticated space-age saucer that hosts not just one but twoRib-sticking repasts in the next couple of weekends. This coming Saturday, February 23, it’s a birthday salute to the life and musical legacy of the “Quiet Beatle,” George Harrison — a retrospective for which Ribler is joined by the in-demand rhythm section of Rich Mercurio (drums) and Jack Daley( bass), as well as by keyboardist Andy Burton from SVZ’s band. Then the following Friday, March 1st, it’s an Electrifying Tribute to The Who that finds the core band joined for the occasion by vocalist Dale Toth.

“Everyone in the band grew up with this music…it’s in our DNA to begin with,” observes the chief Friend  whose repertoire of special salute sets also includes a Traffic tribute performed in partnership with Jukes keyboardist Jeff Kazee. “We’ve been celebrating George’s birthday for five years now…both here, and at the Cutting Room in New York…and we like to do it at least once or twice each year.”

Scheduled for 8 pm, the Harrison set traces the personal and professional journey of a Beatle bandmate whose years in the considerable shadow of Lennon and McCartney saw him emerge over time as “an artist with an incredible sense of self…and a genuine humanity.”

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MACK DADDY: THE ‘JAMILY’ PATRIARCH’S AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE IN JANUARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 3 2019

For a couple of generations’ worth of Shore music fans, he’s a scene stalwart and a living landmark whose presence remains every bit as reassuring as a favorite club or neighborhood watering hole. To his fellow music makers, he’s the go-to man for all manner of sessions and sitting-in situations; a blues harp ace who can stake out harmonious common ground with acoustic old-schoolers, supercharged axslingers, roots rockers and alt-Americana songsmiths alike — or as local radio linchpin Rich Robinson said, “he could sit in with anybody like he’s played with them forever.”.

But perhaps above all else, Sanford “Sandy” Mack is the keeper of a weekly ritual that rivals any family’s most cherished Sunday-sauce tradition. At 4 pm, during every so-called “day of rest” on the calendar, an extended “jamily” of musical regulars, guest players, fans, friends, and drop-in passersby convenes inside the lobby lounge of the Asbury Hotel for a little gathering known as Sunday Jam— a lovably loose but enviably organized afternoon-into-evening that offers up a sonic smorgasbord of danceable Dead, concise classics, and some often wild workouts on things you’d least expect. All of it presided over by Mr. Mack, the patriarch of this Jamily and the founder of the feast that’s been an Asbury Park fixture for the better part of a decade.

“I’ve been doing Sundays around town for about eight years now,” says Mack, speaking amid the game tables, ultra-designey bar and conversation pit of The Asbury’s Soundbooth Lounge. “I started at Asbury Blues, and continued there when it became The Press Room…it was the first place where I ever did Grateful Dead music…and then (Stone Pony honcho) Kyle Brendle asked me if I would do a Wonder Jam event each week at the Wonder Bar.”

Those Sunday sessions at Lance and Debbie’s Circuit landmark became the stuff of latter-day legend in themselves; happenings that generated their own momentum, drew a fairly fervent fanbase, and soon had a whole lot of top-shelf talents expressing a desire to sit in. But when it came time once again to relocate the moveable feast, Mack was momentarily at a loss as to where to go next.

“I was curious about The Asbury…it didn’t look like my kind of place;; kind of upper crusty, you know…but I reached out to them,” he recalls. “They originally gave me three dates, to see what happens…that was a year and a half ago, and as you can see we’re still going strong!”

Sandy Mack will once more sit at the head of the figurative table this Soundbooth Sunday, January 6 — but before that, the harpist and a crew of his fellow Jam-mates will be performing a very special gig that’s required an unusual degree of rehearsal: a set paying tribute to The Allman Brothers, scheduled as part of A Celebration of Jam Bands.

Going up this Friday, January 4 at Asbury Lanes (where Mack and company were one of the first acts to play the reborn bowl-a-rama in a “soft opening” event last spring), the program further features the Grateful channelings of The Cosmic Jerry Band, as well as a Phish tribute featuring members of Secret Sound.

It also represents a return to the Duane/Gregg catalog for Mack, who teamed with Marc Ribler for a classic Allmans tribute a couple of years back. Joining in for the occasion will be Jam standby Mike Flynn, key man Arne Wendt, guitarist Big John Perry,  plus bassists Mike Caruso and Mike McKernan, drummers Kevin Johnson and Dan Donovan, and special guest Matt O’Ree. Stu Coogan of 90.5 The Night Brookdale Public Radio hosts the tenpins taproom throwdown, with doors at 7 pm and admission a positively spit-take-inducing five bucks.

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HAVE YOURSELF ASBURY LI’L CHRISTMAS: A GRAB-BAG OF MUSIC ‘N MORE

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 6 2018

‘Tis the season when carols of Yuletide fill the chill air; when local houses of worship, halls of learning and points of purchase ring out with traditional hymns, choral cantatas and orchestral chestnuts of well-roasted resonance and enduring appeal. Here in Asbury Park, however, the sounds of the season boast a decidedly more jingle-bell RAUCous bent — coming in from all angles, and continuing well on through the gloriously un-silent nights of the holiday interlude. It’s a souped-up Santa sleighload slate of sonic ‘citement; a multi-genre mashup of merry wassailing  (and maybe a bit of cheerful assailing  of stodgy sensibilities) that fairly glows with civic pride and positive vibes, here in this place Where Music Lives.

It all begins this weekend — with The Big Event (and the hottest ticket in town) being the first-ever edition of A Very Asbury Holiday Show. Hosted at the Paramount Theatre  on Sunday, December 9, and produced (by those most proactive preservers and promoters of the city’s principal export to the world) The Asbury Park Music Foundation, the 7 pm extravaganza assembles a multi-generational mixtape of performers with deep Asbury roots. Featured are some of the living-legend architects of the classic SOAP scene (Bobby Bandiera, JT Bowen, Billy Hector, Lance Larson), next-wave singer/ songwriters (Emily Grove, Taylor Tote, Williams Honor), veteran master entertainers of the Shore clubscape (Jo Bonanno, Layonne Holmes, Brian Kirk, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Pat Roddy, Eddie Testa) and representatives of the dynamic new generation of Asbury-centric show bands (Remember Jones, Desiree Spinks, Waiting On Mongo).

This plus The Weeklings, Danny Clinch and the Tangiers Blues Band (as well as whatever looking-for-a-gig friends might show up), the kids from Lakehouse Music Academy, and some promised appearances by members of 60s heavyweights Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals (schedule subject to change, natch) — all under the direction of bandleader Tony Perruso, and with the helpful services of iconic Pony DJ Lee Mrowicki and guest emcee/ WABC-TV newscaster Michelle Charlesworth to keep track of the players. Proceeds benefit the APMF, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County (there’s also an invitation to donate new unwrapped items to the Asbury Park Toy Drive) — and info on available tickets can be had at asburyparkmusiclives.org. Continue reading

A HAPPENIN’ HALLO-WEEK, IN AND AROUND ASCARY PARK

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, October 25 2018

Let other towns lay claim to being the area’s capital of Christmas cheer; home to the longest running St. Patrick’s Day celebration; scene of the most star-spangled July Fourth display. With dozens of venues in which to dance the witching hour away — and plenty of world renowned boardwalk and boulevards on which to strut one’s carefully costumed stuff — Asbury Park has a lock on the days and nights leading up to the Eve of All Hallows, making the seaside city that so famously “came back from the dead” the undisputed headquarters of Halloween festivity.

It’s an interlude that sounds an early-October keynote with the Asbury Park Zombie Walk, the annual lurch previewed in these pages a few weeks back. And in between there are events like this past Saturday’s Haunted Carousel Dance Party, the gala-ghoul benefit for local charities from which images can be seen at ahauntedcarousel.com. But from the moment the sun goes down tonight, October 25 — and on through the moment the clock strikes midnight on November 1, the Day of the Dead — both the legendary haunted landmarks and the shiny new haunts of the greater Asbury area are where the sights, the sounds, and the seriously fun cosplay can be found.

CONCERTS

On the Asbury boards, the major concert event in the season of the witch is Convention Hell — and in this year’s edition of the Hall-rocking happening, the venerable venue welcomes the jam-circuit juggernaut Pink Talking Fish, a band that — as the name implies — triangulates a tribute to the collected works of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Phish. On Saturday night, the four-piece group and friends will be saluting Floyd’s epic album Dark Side of the Moon in sound and light — and joining in the spirit of dress-up fun are three local favorites portraying acts who appeared at Convention Hall in summers past: Wild Adriatic (as Led Zeppelin), Waiting For Mongo (as James Brown and his Famous Flames), and The Burns (as Jim Morrison and The Doors). Doors open at 7 pm, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 d.o.s.)  at the box office or via apboardwalk.com.

While the Convention Hell show is open only to concertgoers age 21 and up, fans of all ages can take it over to the headquarters of the Asbury Park Music Foundation (in the Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue) on Saturday night, where from 7 to 11 pm the annual Diamond Concerts Halloween Show presents a bill headlined by the up-and-coming Brick Township-based band The Ones You Forgot. Continue reading

THE SUMMER OF TUNES STARTS NOW!

Adam Ant makes a not-at-all-desperate and very-much-indeed serious July 21 stop on his summer Singles tour; just one of many high-profile happenings at Asbury Park’s venerable venue the Paramount Theatre.

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, May 24 2018

From the days of Arthur Pryor’s long-running seaside serenades, to the syncopated incubations of the legendary Springwood Avenue nightspots…and from those amplified guitarslingers who plugged into the Circuit during its 1960s-70s heyday, to the new generations of dreamers who seek their fortunes on our boardwalk, boulevards, barrooms and bowling alleys…Asbury Park has long been that unique little town that comes equipped with a soundtrack.

Granted, it’s a pulsebeat that emanates year-‘round from venues located throughout the downtown and waterfront…but the coming of summer turns up the volume and ups the ante on all that, as open-air bandstands, festival stages, and suitably flat surfaces transform parks, plazas, and prime portions of beachfront real estate into vehicles for musicians of all stylistic stripes to do their thing. It all begins in earnest this Memorial Day weekend…so here’s to every maker of sweet sounds who ever turned their sandcastle dreams into concrete reality in this city of summers (plus every awesome out-of-towner who ever made Asbury Park a must-play whistlestop on the never-ending tour), and here’s a round-up preview of all the sounds coming your way. Continue reading