Releasing the Burdens

Richard Scullin and Karin Stack are The Burdens

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 7, 2004) – What the world needs about now is some pure, minimalist rock – some simple, straightforward guitar lines, maybe a dissonant chord here and there, plus some functional yet witty drumbeats. An occasional bass line would do to propel things along. Melodies should emerge organically from the chord changes, and understated, naked vocals should reflect lyrics stripped to the bone.

This wouldn’t be artsy and overblown like the White Stripes – although it might tap into a similar impulse. And if the musicians were a husband-and-wife duo – and if the wife played drums, at once subverting the rock ‘n’ roll cliché while nodding to the Stripes and the more intelligently inclined Yo La Tengo – all the better.

Meet The Burdens, a Williamstown-based, husband-and-wife, guitar-and-drums rock duo, who are a dream come true, and who will celebrate the release of their terrific new CD, “Uh Oh,” with a concert at Mezze on the corner of Main and Water streets tomorrow night [ Saturday ] at 9:30.

The Burdens emerged out of living room jam sessions between guitarist Richard Scullin, the group’s chief singer and songwriter, and Karin Stack, who holds down the drum seat and adds some accordion and marimba notes to some of the tunes. Scullin also wields a mandolin and bass, and a few guest musicians lend other instrumental touches, including harmonica, lap steel and organ. “Uh Oh” includes 16 songs with titles only a minimalist could love like “Oh No,” “Sparse,” “Unsure,” “Dirge” and “Rain.” The lyrics to the title track, a Dan Hicks-like, junk-swing tune, are “Roy G Biv” in their entirety.

It’s an evocative album with an informal, homegrown feel, variously reminiscent of Yo La Tengo, recent Wilco, the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Television, and early Talking Heads. Scullin is a deceptively modest vocalist, with an insinuating, yearning voice that draws a listener in with its implied intimacy and deft phrasing that at its best, as on “Blind Philosophy,” recalls Elvis Costello.

“Right Now” skips along to a honky-tonk tempo, and “Oh No” is a bluesy, harmonica-inflected roadhouse romp. But even when they’re at their most upbeat, the Burdens parlay an alluringly wistful melancholy.

When not plugging in, Scullin works at Village Ventures, the Williamstown-based venture capital firm. And when not pounding out beats, Stack works as an artist (her work can be viewed at and freelance graphic designer.

The Burdens will also perform at Mass MoCA in North Adams on January 24, opening for storytelling collective The Moth.

Jazz twins

Francois and Louis Moutin have a lot in common. They both have advanced degrees, one in physics, the other in mathematics. They are both jazz musicians who have gravitated to the rhythm section, the former as a bassist and the latter as a drummer. They both are composers, and they now showcase their original music in their own band, the Moutin Reunion Quartet, which performs its hard-swinging acoustic jazz at Club Helsinki next Thursday, January 15, at 8.

Oh, and did I mention that the Moutin brothers are identical twins?

Joining the Moutins at Helsinki and on their newest CD, “Red Moon” (Sunnyside) are pianist Baptiste Trotignon and saxophonist Rick Margitza. The brothers, born and raised in Paris, give the lie to the term “rhythm section” as applied to bass and drums. They are fully as dynamic, musical and melodic in their playing on “Red Moon” as are the “lead” instruments, on exciting, explosive compositions full of twists and turns and peaks and valleys. Their style ranges from straight-ahead bebop to more contemporary, rhythmic-oriented tunes, like the drum-n-bass powered “Jazz Married.” The group has garnered rave reviews for its performances at top jazz clubs including Boston’s Scullers and festivals including the Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at the Saratoga (N.Y.) Performing Arts Center.

Backstage bits

The Railway Café at St. John’s Parish Hall, 59 Summer St. in North Adams, kicks off its winter season on Saturday at 8 with a double-bill featuring folk trios We’re About 9 and Girlyman. The two groups were among those voted Most Wanted Showcase artists in the annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival poll, and they toured together last year as part of the Falcon Ridge preview tour.

Those attending Saturday night’s show by Kate Taylor at La Choza Cantina will get a sneak preview of Pittsfield’s newest nightspot. La Choza will officially reopen next month as the newly-renovated J.J.’s Basement, with a new musical focus that owner/operator Seth Gambino describes as “eclectic hippie meets camp,” oriented more towards serving the so-called Pittsfield arts renaissance.

Congratulations to Albert Cummings. The Williamstown contractor and the Berkshires’ answer to Stevie Ray Vaughn was signed recently to Blind Pig Records, one of the premiere blues labels in the world. Home to the likes of James Cotton, Magic Slim, the Gospel Hummingbirds, E.C. Scott, Otis Rush and Charlie Musselwhite, among others, Blind Pig is a boutique label that blues fans all over the world look to for authentic performers. Singer/guitarist Cummings also reports that Vaughn bassist Tommy Shannon has signed on to perform with Cummings at all his out-of-town gigs. Cummings performs tonight at Theodore’s in Springfield.

(La Choza, 448-6100; Theodore’s 413-736-6000; Railway Café, 413-664-6393; Club Helsinki, 528-3394; Mezze, 458-0123.)

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on January 9, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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