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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the WCHS TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: December 5, 2017

A Talking Heads tribute and holiday songs you can get behind

Written by: Aimsel Ponti
The Talking Heads tribute act Start Making Sense comes to Port City Music Hall in Portland on Friday. Photo courtesy of Start Making Sense

The Talking Heads tribute act Start Making Sense comes to Port City Music Hall in Portland on Friday. Photo courtesy of Start Making Sense

To everyone who is sad they didn’t get tickets to Bon Iver’s Friday night State Theatre show, I’m here to tell you that life will go on — same as it ever was. In fact, it’s going on right down the street from the State at Port City Music Hall with Start Making Sense and their absolutely incredible tribute to Talking Heads.

The last album Talking Heads released was 1988’s “Naked.” Now, I’m no math whiz, but that’s just shy of 30 years ago. As in three decades. As in, where does the time go? They broke up before I ever got a chance to see them live, but I sure do love Jonathan Demme’s 1984 concert film “Stop Making Sense.” In fact, I went to a patio screening of it at Bayside Bowl last summer, and they were turning people away at the door it was so packed, and there was even a guy dressed in a David Byrne-esque “big suit.” Because that how much people love Talking Heads.

Here’s a clip of Start Making Sense:

Of course, David Byrne has gone on to have an incredible solo career, and I’m fortunate to have seen his early 2000s show at the State Theatre and his one about five years ago with St. Vincent when they made “Love This Giant” together. But wow, it sure would have been sweet to have seen Talking Heads circa 1982. But since time machines haven’t been invented yet, we can more than make do by seeing the next best thing: Start Making Sense, which has been at it since 2009. They’re a Talking Heads tribute band out of Philadelphia, and when I saw them at Port City Music Hall a couple of years ago, they knocked the socks clear off my feet and all the way to Commercial Street, where they are likely still stuck in a gutter.

Start Making Sense is fronted by lead vocalist and guitarist Jon Braun, and, boy, does he have David Byrne down. Braun channels Byrne with spot-on moves, mannerisms and vocals, and it’s a joy to watch this guy do his thing song after song. The other seven members of the band most certainly would make Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison proud. Braun told me that he remembers seeing the videos for “Burning Down the House” and “Once in a Lifetime” on MTV as a child in the ’80s. “The striking visual aspects of those videos were so unique (never mind the music!) that it immediately drew me in, and after that I slowly began to dig into their catalog.” When asked why he thinks Talking Heads still have such a cult following, Braun’s response was succinct. “I think Talking Heads fill a gap in the musical landscape for a lot of people. There are no other acts I can think of that have accomplished what they have. While still maintaining their artistic sensibilities and credibility, they were able to become hugely successful in the mainstream pop world.”

Braun said the first Talking Heads album he bought was “Fear of Music,” when he was 14 years old, and the record changed his view of music. “With the single word song titles, thick Brian Eno production and unique subject matter, it is definitely one of the stranger Talking Heads albums. But because it was the first full Talking Heads album, I was able to sit with and digest it. It holds a very special place in my heart.”

Start Making Sense, 9 p.m. Friday. Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland, $15 in advance, $20 day of show, $30 preferred seating, 18-plus. portcitymusichall.com

Carol Noonan has original songs as well as classics on "This Time Next Year" and her other album of holiday music, "Carol Noonan Christmas" Photo courtesy of Carol Noonan

Carol Noonan has original songs as well as classics on “This Time Next Year” and her other album of holiday music, “Carol Noonan Christmas” Photo courtesy of Carol Noonan

NOW THEN, it’s that time of year, friends. And while I realize some of you can’t stand holiday music, I want to let it be known that there are some outstanding tunes by Maine artists that just might change how you feel about the genre. Here’s a list of my favorites along with where you can get them.

ARTIST: Alejandra O’Leary

SONG(S): “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Merry Christmas Baby”

WHERE TO HEAR/BUY: alejandraoleary.bandcamp.com/music

WHY I LOVE THEM: Darlene Love’s classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” was one I had grown tired of, mostly because of U2’s version on the 1990 compilation “Red Hot + Blue.” Then I went to Washington, D.C., two Decembers ago and heard Love herself perform it live and finally felt proper love for the tune. O’Leary’s take is vibrant and bouncy and is my new favorite version. Her vocals are spiked just enough to give the song some extra punch, and the electric guitar adds a restrained ferocity. Her take on “Merry Christmas Baby” starts slow, then kicks in with some foot-stomping drums, and the song, somehow, has a sexy edge to it.

ARTIST: Builder of the House featuring Robyn Adele Anderson

SONG: “Blue Christmas”

WHERE TO HEAR/BUY: builderofthehouse.bandcamp.com/track/blue-christmas-feat-robyn-adele-anderson

WHY I LOVE IT: Rob Cimitile’s breathy vocals atop a bed of bells and chill percussion are terrific, and then halfway through the tune, Robyn Adele Anderson’s vocals come in, adding another string of twinkling lights to the song. Lyrically, this is a sad Christmas song, but this version manages to be uplifting.

ARTIST: The Fogcutters

SONG: “Jingle These Bells” EP

WHERE TO HEAR/BUY: thefogcutters.com/listen

WHY I LOVE IT: Portland’s 19-piece horn-heavy big band The Fogcutters released the five-song Christmas EP “Jingle These Bells” five years ago, and it’s become a staple of my holiday music diet. On it, you’ll hear “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Silent Night,” “Oh, Christmas Tree,” “The First Noel” and “Jingle Bells.” Listening to these songs, some instrumental and some with Chas Lester and Megan Jo Wilson on vocals, will make you wish you were sipping eggnog with Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra back in the ’50s.

ARTIST: Don Campbell

SONG: “Same Old Lang Syne”

WHERE TO HEAR/BUY: doncampbellmusic.com/cds

WHY I LOVE IT: If you were to tell me that you don’t love Dan Fogelberg’s 1980 unofficial Christmas song “Same Old Lang Syne,” I wouldn’t believe you. This is one of the most poignant stories ever told in a song. It’s set on Christmas Eve, and a man runs into his ex, and they have a moment, well, several actually, and the song is both devastating and beautiful, and I am 100 percent sticking by this statement. Don Campbell does right by it with his wonderful, clear voice accompanied only by a piano. I listened to it just before writing this and got a bit teary at my desk, and if that’s not the hallmark of a timeless song, I don’t know what is.

ARTIST: Carol Noonan

SONG: Two albums – “This Time Next Year” and “Carol Noonan Christmas”

WHERE TO HEAR/BUY: stonemountainartscenter.com/order.html

WHY I LOVE THEM: Carol Noonan is one of my favorite all-time singers. On two different holiday albums she covers some of the classics, but my favorites are her originals. She’s an incredible songwriter, and tunes like the melancholy “This Time Next Year,” the full-of-longing “Two Hours to Maine” and the nostalgic “Christmas of ’64” are near and dear to my heart. Also, Noonan’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” made me cry when I heard her sing it live a few years back. She also does “There’s Always Tomorrow” from “Rudolph,” and it kills me. Merry Christmas!

 

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