Turning from the misty woods through the gates of Chamard Vineyards, down a narrow road flanked by grape arbors, I understood why people impulsively buy France and devote their lives to viniculture. I was there, for my first visit, for the record release party of singer-songwriter Brian Jarvis, who’s been on my bucket list since before I moved to Connecticut last year.
My $20-ish ticket got me not just Jarvis and a glass of wine, but thirty minutes of one of the icons of the Connecticut music scene, wearing his musician hat.
Steve Rodgers and Friends
Connecticut music enthusiasts know Steve Rodgers as the long-time (now former) owner of the Space venues in Hamden, where he lured major touring acts to Connecticut and nurtured local talent. Says the Hartford Courant: ” The local live music landscape is now an almost unrecognizably rich terrain in large part because of Rodgers’ commitment and perseverance.”
Rodgers’ current sound is not the alt-rock of his Mighty Purple era, but roots music, with touching harmonies and sweet, earnest messages of healing. (As I wrote that, “Beautiful,” from 1995’s Black River Falls was playing on my Spotify — it’s eerie to hear the similarities in songwriting technique across different idioms.) On my first encounter with “There’s a Hard Time Coming,” I mistook it for a cover of some piece of 1930s folk/blues — which is meant as a compliment, that the song feels classic and timeless, both in its message and its instrumentation.
The washboard player with the lovely voice is Suzanne Vick, a substantial singer-songwriter in her own right (adds Suzanne Vick to list of artist I want to see again). The “and Friends” format puts together a band from musicians who have their own projects and also have fun together, so if you were thinking “gee, that sure looks like Seth Adam playing bass” — that’s because it’s Seth Adam playing bass. That’s Spencer Luckey on pedal steel, and Tony Parlapiano on keys.
There’s an entire album, Count it All Joy, which probably everybody in Connecticut already had except me, and now I have mine! Rodgers talked about the experiences that led to making the album, including his mission to Honduras to serve Children’s Rescue Mission (while there, he taught the youngsters to play guitar). I’ll get another chance to hear this music — with a more historically informed ear — when Steve Rodgers and Friends opens for 10,000 Maniacs on July 26, the final show of Hamden’s Free Summer Concert Series at Town Center Park.
Brian Jarvis has been among my favorites ever since a 2017 opening gig at Daryl’s House Club that I wasn’t actually present at because I was doing stupid things like living in Arizona. He writes insightful singer-songwriter pop, with Matt Nathanson-esque vocals and engaging story-telling.
Right around then, he’d been doing a lot of writing for other musicians, so his discography shows work with Stephen Kellogg (whom I discovered shortly after) and Bronze Radio Return (one of the first Connecticut bands I found on my own). Kellogg is the co-writer of this song here — “I’m Your Man” — and if you peek sideways at the drummer, that’s Rob Griffith of BRR, who also produced Anyone at All, the new Brian Jarvis EP that we’re here to celebrate. Along with Rob Griffith on drums and Tony Parlapiano on keys, Jarvis is supported by long-time performing colleague Lee Sylvestre on guitar and Jon Coates on bass.
The evening’s music was a mix of new, older, and very old songs — including a John Mayeresque reimagining of “On and On” from 2012’s Beautifully Broken, which you have to see him live if you want to see it yourself. Seriously, do this — it’s convincing and yet somehow really funny, in the way that music can be funny in its references.
Jarvis talked about how some of the songs on Anyone at All were started while he was playing gigs at Chamard — the kind of ambient-music gigs that are mostly covers, where you never know if the audience is going to talk over the whole thing — and figured “hey, nobody’s really paying attention, let’s try this out.” (Had I known he did things like that, I would have hauled myself to one of his bar gigs.) His stories are a hoot, not just because I’m a sucker for musicians talking about their process, but because he has a self-deprecating sense of humor that nails the ups and downs of making a living at music.
“The Spark” is one of the songs started at Chamard, and apparently the most difficult to finish — but its exploration of inspiration and the absence of inspiration hits home. With the fog over the vineyards turning to darkness, it was one of those perfect moments that live shows can dish up.
Jarvis’ next listed show is in Holyoke in August — with Steve Rodgers headlining — and, wait, Jarvis is not the reason I know about Alex2e, I found him through Grayson Ty — oh hell to the yeah, Holyoke sounds good.