Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Plain Sight: Whiskey Ina Review

I'm still hiding.

I use a technique similar to this bunny.

From the Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 2005

The members of the new Northampton band, Whiskey Ina, from left, Jason Smith, Katy Schneider, Ina Iansiti and Frank Padellaro, perform at Bishop's Lounge Tuesday.

Local school of no-glam music turns out for some new disciples

I don't go to Elevens or Bishop's often enough.

That fact became clear quickly Sunday night, when I went to Elevens to hear Whiskey Ina, a new local band in the rich vein of scruffy Yankee-country music heavily mined by the Lonesome Brothers, Treefort, Steve Westfield and other groups.

I walk in the door, first person I see is Lonesome Brother Jim Armenti, who promptly waves off my wallet-opening move and buys my beer. I first wrote about Armenti in 1983, and this is the first beer he's ever bought me, so journalistic integrity is protected by the statute of limitations.

The bartender is Bruce Tull, one of the original Scud Mountain Boys, the Valley country-whatever group that could play even slower than the Cowboy Junkies and just as well. While playing with the Scuds, Bruce earned a Ph.D. in economics, but given the choice of going off to an academic job in the Heartland or remaining close to the Valley music scene, he conducted a swift cost-benefit analysis and decided to stay here.

Ray Mason, Armenti's Lonesome sibling, strolls in. One of the busiest performers in local music, Mason looks as though he has nothing better to do than just enjoy the scene, listen to a new band. Matt Hebert, who just presided over the farewell concerts by his Ware River Club, stands in one corner, chatting with friends.

The members of this fine local school of no-glam music are here to hear a couple of their newer disciples, songwriter/singer Ina Iansiti and pedal steel player Katy Schneider. Iansiti and Schneider are doing a quick sound check with the two other main members of Whiskey Ina, drummer Jason Smith, formerly of Fancy Trash, and bass player Frank Padellaro.

Padellaro is a full-time musician. His day job is working at Downtown Sounds, and for years he has been touring and recording as part of King Radio. Smith teaches social studies at Frontier Regional School. Schneider teaches painting and drawing at Smith College.

Iansiti runs a day-care center at her house. When Schneider was taking pedal steel lessons from the Valley master, Doug Beaumier, and was looking for someone who could play guitar and sing, she found Iansiti and they became Pedal Katy and Whiskey Ina.

Why 'Whiskey'?

'I needed something that sounded country,' Iansiti explained.

Sound adjustments accomplished, they open their set with one of Iansiti's excellent no-frills songs, '222-blue':

There's a very beautiful moon
Shinin' down into my room
As I stare at your picture on the wall

The theme, the musical form, the singing style are all as familiar as a plaid flannel shirt, or as Iansiti's cotton print dress.

'I know I'm mostly reinventing the wheel,' said Iansiti later. 'I write words, try to sing a melody and figure out what chords to play.'

Armenti has quietly taken the back corner of the stage, to add some fiddle accompaniment. Jim can play almost any instrument, although he once admitted that his musical friends ask him to draw the line at drums. The song continues:

Now your number's disconnected
That's really not what I expected
When I called to talk about the moon above.

Iansiti, who grew up in Southern California and went to college in New York, manages the songwriter's art of making up verses that almost resemble cliches but avoid actually being them. One of her songs is about how the singer dreams of perfection but finds that, after all, 'close enough is good enough for me.'

Another plays a good-humored word-game: 'I need a man at home so I can go out at night/And when I come home late he's got my babies sleepin' tight.'

In another, you can smell the sawdust on the floor even if someone just vacuumed it:

Whiskey takes me out of my mind
Makes what I want to say
Come out the right way
Wish I was drunk all the time.

Roadhouse trip, anyone?

They play Hebert's 'One Thing,' Gillian Welch's 'Annabelle,' and more originals by Iansiti. Smith is a deft, tidy drummer, while Padellaro's vocal harmony is as rich and easy as his enormously competent bass. Schneider leans over her instrument as pedal steel players always do: sitting almost dignified, head still, body hardly moving, fingers pulling silver out of the strings. Effortless beauty.

The best thing about the music, and the confirmation of its authenticity, is the community feel in the room. As Iansiti said after the show, 'A big part of what makes me want to make music is the idea of people being together to make that music. I hope my kids will do it too.'

Whiskey Ina travels around the corner to play a similar set at Bishop's Lounge in Northampton on Tuesday, starting at 9 p.m. Go and relax and take it in.

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