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The Scoldees: New York band, Colorado sound

Stewart Oksenhorn

To read the national music press, one gets the picture of New York at the moment as a place where aggressive guitar rock bands, throwbacks to the late ’70s, have muscled out all other sounds. The White Stripes battle it out with the Strokes for supremacy, leading a scene that exalts flamboyance and rock-star presence.The Scoldees fit in with the current New York crowd in at least two ways: their name and their address. But in most every other department, the Scoldees exist outside of the Manhattan rock scene. On their latest album, last year’s “Nightcap World,” the sound is charmingly mellow, beginning with the comforting voice of singer Nancy Sirianni and running through the layers of strummed acoustic guitars and gentle electric-guitar leads.”It’s more like Colorado music,” says Sirianni, who formed the Scoldees with her longtime musical partner, Jack Hoffmann, and John Collins in 1997.The Scoldees play primarily in downtown Manhattan: They are the quasi-house band at the Manhattan Theatre Source, a multiuse Greenwich Village venue where Sirianni also frequently appears as an actor, and they play often at the long-standing nightclub The Bitter End. But the band members all live several miles outside the city, on the North Shore of Long Island, Sirianni’s native environment. Growing up in Oyster Bay, with views of the Long Island Sound, Sirianni gravitated toward the peaceful sounds of Joni Mitchell, CSN and James Taylor, and was instilled with a calm perspective. That trait is clear on “Nightcap World.””There’s a certain serenity that I always shoot for in my life,” said Sirianni,who would not reveal her age, but allows that her formative years were the ’80s. “And when you sit down to write a song, your essence comes through.” Sirianni adds that mellow does not fully describe her: “I’m one of the most frenetic serene people you could know. When I’m not sitting down, I’m a tornado.”The connection to Colorado runs deeper than the Scoldees’ sound. When the band set out to make its first record, they were insistent on using a seasoned producer. Sirianni and Hoffmann had bad memories of doing a half-assed, semiprofessional job with the self-titled album released by their previous group, Big Orange Marble. When their friend Richie Cannata, Billy Joel’s main saxophonist, heard of their desire, he offered up the name of John Michel, the drummer-singer then with Aspen band Little Blue, and now part of Take the Wheel. “I was looking for a drummer and a producer. They were separate thoughts,” said Sirianni. “But Richie said, ‘I’ve got the guy who’s both a drummer and a producer. He’s the one you want.'”Michel produced and played drums on the Scoldees’ 2000 debut, “My Pathetic Life,” and a New York/Colorado alliance was formed. The Scoldees, consisting of three singer-guitarists, have occasionally been rounded out with members of Take the Wheel; Michel regularly joins the group on bigger festival dates around the country. When the Scoldees perform in the valley this week – at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale on Saturday, July 24, and at Carbondale Mountain Fair on Sunday, July 25 – they will expand to a six-piece, supplemented by Michel and his bandmates, bassist Michael Jude and lead guitarist Damian Smith. Peter Adams, a former keyboardist with Little Blue, appears on “My Pathetic Life”; Little Blue frontman Steve Postell and his frequent collaborator, guitarist Jeff Pevar, contribute to “Nightcap World.”

Colorado is among the places that have been far kinder to the Scoldees than New York. Carbondale’s KDNK has been supportive of the band, as have small stations throughout middle America. Sirianni says the pockets of support have more to do with the nature of the radio business than regional tastes.”The fact is we don’t get any airplay in New York,” said Sirianni, whose 16-year marriage to Howard Stern sidekick Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling is coming to an end. “The places we get airplay are in the middle of the country. We’re not accepted by the big urban masses.”But I think that has more to do with the politics of radio. Big-city radio is really dependent on the politics that go on between big record labels and music directors. It’s very hard for an independent band to get on big-city radio. My impression when I started was that a record broke in big cities. But that’s not true at all. Big-city radio stations look to smaller cities to see what’s hot. Because smaller market cities can play what they really like.”Sirianni has learned a lot about the music business – and about herself – since she began singing in her high school choir and playing in high school bands.Part of what she learned was about her tastes in music. Growing up in the ’80s, she wasn’t all that turned on by the popular music of the day.”The ’80s were a terrible time for music. I was influenced by a lot of older stuff,” she said. “I’m a huge Neil Young fan, Joni Mitchell, Lyle Lovett. And that’s stuff that can’t fit into a decade. It transcends time.”The other half of what she learned was how to make herself happy in her profession and her art. She and Hoffmann formed All Folked Up in the early ’90s; then abandoned that in favor of Big Orange Marble, a trio that turned into a full rock band. But after one disappointing album, Sirianni grew unhappy, and was determined to find a better situation for herself and Hoffmann.”From that project, we learned we needed to be in a band where we all got along,” she said. “After the demise of Big Orange Marble, we said, OK, we need to get in the band that will last the rest of our lives, that we really love.”With a third album in the works, and the expansion to a quartet with the addition of bassist Glen Saunders, the Scoldees appear to be that band.

It’s one of those times around here where the number and range of musical options is sort of staggering. Aspen may not have a nightclub, but for the moment at least, the hills are vibrant with the strains of sonic activity.Carbondale’s Mountain Fair itself has more than a fair bit of music. The Fair opens on Friday, July 23, with a honky-tonk theme. Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams, a Colorado act specializing in the sounds of old-style Western swing, kicks off the Fair. Capping Friday night are the Gourds, a slightly twisted, highly eclectic, alt-country band from alt-country land, Austin, Texas.Saturday’s lineup begins with local folk singer Ellen Stapenhorst, and also includes the Last Minute String Band, led by locals Don and April Payne; Colorado folk-rockers the Wild Blooms; Houston jam-rock band Moses Guest; and Boulder-based world groove band Jyemo. Headlining the day is Crested Butte jam-groove group Mama’s Cookin.’Sunday brings to the stage Tracy McLain’s Guitar Kids; the Roaring Fork Earthbeat Choir; gospel group the Colorado Ambassadors; the Scoldees; the Mt. Sopris Jam Band; jazz-funk band the Motet; and theatrical Latin lounge group Cabaret Diosa.

Taking second place to Carbondale for musical activity in the valley this week is Snowmass Village. It starts Thursday, July 22, on Fanny Hill, where Kermit Ruffins, a New Orleans singer-trumpeter roughly in the mold of Louis Armstrong, will perform in the Snowmass Free Summer of Music series. After the sun sets on Ruffins, the music moves indoors: Moses Guest will play a CD Release Party to celebrate its latest, “Guest Motel,” at the Mountain Dragon, while Take the Wheel rocks at the Cirque. Local blues-rock band Steve Lizard & the Rumors Are True play the Blue Door.On Friday, July 23, the Jazz Masters from Jazz Aspen’s JAS Academy Summer Sessions assemble for a jam at the Silvertree Hotel’s Cabaret Room. The session features some of jazz’s top players, including bassist Christian McBride, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Benny Green. Also on Friday, the Wild Blooms appear at the Blue Door.The JAS Academy concert series concludes with Latin jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri on Wednesday, July 28, at the Blue Door.Aspen Highlands doesn’t get left out of the party. Jazz Aspen’s benefit event JASummerNights Swing is set for Iguana’s, at the base of Highlands, on Saturday, July 24. The musical portion of the evening includes all five of the bands participating in the JAS Academy – from Latin and New Orleans to a piano trio and vocalists – and a headlining set by new-swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The night also features an open bar, gourmet food, a silent auction and more.Even little old Aspen gets in the groove. Club Chelsea comes alive with live music Sunday, July 25, with Southern rock band the Park Bench Trio; and Tuesday and Wednesday, July 2728, by Whitestarr, a band featuring the sons of Dickey Betts and Roy Orbison.And on top of old Ajax, local pickers the Flying Dog Bluegrass Band play the Bluegrass Sundays series Sunday afternoon, July 25.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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