John Miller’s electronic gear sent a drenching buzz through his amplifier. He flipped his console over to examine the circuit boards inside it. “I might have busted this,” he said with a half-laugh.
“The rest of it will work, right?” said guitarist and keyboardist Jeff Cedrone.
“Oh, yeah,” Miller said.
As the opening credits to F.W. Murnau’s silent-movie classic Nosferatu rolled, Cedrone began with a descending, half-note figure on the keyboard, creating a near-instant sense of dread. Tom Hogan responded with flourishes from his cymbals, metallic moans, a quietly frantic shaker, broadening the landscape of the sound. With some deft work from his machines, Miller made a rising arc of notes that suggested only more horror. As if someone were walking closer to you out of a dark mist, and as they draw near, you realize they’re there to do you harm.
“All A Shimmer,” the first song on the album of the same name by Cindertalk (a.k.a. New Haven-born Jonny Rodgers) starts with a flurry of ascending wine glasses, like a curtain being pulled back, before landing on an affirming chord from a piano.
“There it is, all a-shimmer,” Rodgers sings. “All a shimmering, the sea. / All a shimmer now for you. / All a shimmer now for me.” The melody is hymnlike, hopeful, looking upward. It’s a message about the kind of music Rodgers is putting out in the world and the way he hopes to connect with listeners.
And though the song was written and recorded before it happened, it could also be about Rodgers’s foray into starting a small record label, Off Atlas, which Rodgers — after weighing his options in a swiftly changing music industry — decided was the best way forward.
“Dial 411,” the opening track from pianist, producer, and composer Craig Hartley’s Books on Tape, Vol. 1, starts with two skips — ready, set — from the piano, drums, and bass, and then go: the piano is off like a shot, the rabbit in the track, the bass and drums two greyhounds neck and neck in hot pursuit. The trio — Hartley, Carlo De Rosa on bass, and Henry Cole on drums — explodes with musical ideas, converging for a split second at the end of the form, a muscular descending line that feels less like a hook than a curve in the racetrack. You’d think it was a sprint, at the pace they’re going, except that they keep that pace for five minutes.
I hadn’t thought much about Josh Ritter until late August, when I caught him on a bill with the stomping jazz-swing-retro-futuro quartet Lake Street Dive (check out their cover of Hall and Oates’s “Rich Girl”), up in Northampton, Mass. I was planning to read a magazine until Lake Street Dive came on, but the second I heard the sounds of Ritter, an Idaho-born, Oberlin-educated part-time novelist and new dad, I couldn’t stop listening to him. I haven’t stopped since.
And I wonder where I have been all these years, as he has become one of our country’s most innovative songwriters, leading tight, coherent bands in endless tours, amassing fans whom I now seem to meet everywhere. I’ll meet more of them when Ritter plays the College Street Music Hall this coming Saturday, Oct. 8, with opening act Jason Isbell.
I recently interviewed Ritter in advance of his New Haven show.
Sotorios Fedeli, the garrulous MC in Political Animals, was at a loss for words. The band was just taking the stage on Saturday night at Pacific Standard Tavern after three warm-up acts had preceded it, and he looked over the sea of faces in front of him.
“Thank you so much,” he said. “We sold this place out. I can’t even —”
He trailed off. It was the last time he wouldn’t finish a sentence for the rest of the night.
William Boughton nodded to members of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, raised his baton, and began to expand his wingspan. He sat up a little straighter in his chair. Cued the reeds with a gentle swish of his left hand. Brought the strings in, their sound immediately swelling around the stage.
And like clockwork, steady strains of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 drifted over the first empty rows of Woolsey Hall, and began to fill every corner of the space.