Thursday October 18, 2012

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- What makes The Young@Heart Chorus so magical is its ability to simultaneously elicit joyful laughter and wistful tears from their listeners. Hearing folks in the 70s, 80s and, yes, 90s gamely belting out rock tunes is bound to make you smile, but eventually they will have reaching for the Kleenex.

Their funny/sad cover of Talking Heads' song "Heaven" is a perfect opening track for the senior ensemble's new CD, "Now." Back in 1979, when David Byrne first sang: "Everyone is trying to get to the bar/The name of the bar, the bar is called Heaven ... Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens," the tune has a comedic edge coming from a nerdy, 27-year-old rock star. But in no way, shape or form, did it bring you to tears. But the lyrics add several layers of pathos when sung by Y@H's sprightly Steve Martin, who was born in 1928, backed by a 30-member chorus who are all essentially knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door.

"Now" has many other delights, including a poignant cover of Neil Young's classic "Long May You Run," a smile-inducing version of "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by Tom Waits and their sweetly vulnerable take on the confessional "The Beast in Me," written by Nick Lowe and made famous by Johnny Cash's intensely raw version sung when he was in his 60s.

A particularly moving moment on the record is the final track, a bonus live performance from the Warner Theater in Washington last October.


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It is a rousing, gospel-inflected version of the J. Geils hit "Must of Got Lost (Somewhere Down The Line)," featuring bold lead vocals by Louise Canady and Fran Saed, who both passed on before the completion of the record.

The release of "Now" coincides with the Young&Heart's 30-year anniversary, which they will celebrate this weekend with a series of three concerts at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

After a fun-but-grueling year touring the globe, the band and its leader/originator Bob Cilman are happy to be home, performing at a venue where they began to make waves three decades ago, with members who are no longer with us.

"We kind of cut our teeth at the Academy," explained Cilman from his office at The Northampton Arts Council. "It was great then, and it's still great. Every time we get to play there it's fantastic."

Cilman reminisced about some of the more memorable ones. "There was 'Louie Lou I' that we did with No Theater (an experimental theater group). It was a real incredible artistic achievement about the French Revolution, using the songs of Frank Sinatra set in Las Vegas, that was a metaphor for the S&L crisis under Bush #1. There were over 100 people on stage. It was huge, and it was beautiful, loud, and the costumes were amazing."

When asked about what he and the Chorus have in the works beyond this weekend, Cilman took a deep breath and sighed. "I'm thinking about the sleep I'm going to be able get once November happens! It has been such an intense year. We went to Singapore. We went to Colorado. We went to Japan.

Then we had to come back and produce this album. It has just been nonstop."

The Chorus members will also have to catch up on some sleep, since 2013 is shaping up as another busy year.

"We will be going to Holland and Belgium and England. We will be going to Oslo, Norway, with the theater piece. It never stops, it keeps going for now. It's a weird animal. Every time you think it has run out of gas, it reinvents itself."

The Young&Heart Chorus performs at Academy of Music Theatre, 274 Main St., on Friday at 8 p.m., with special guest Trailer Park; on Saturday at 8 p.m., with special guest Heather Maloney; and Sunday at 2 p.m., with special guest Lonesome Brothers Purchase tickets online at www.academyofmusictheatre. com or call the box office 413-584-9032, ext. 105, Tuesday to Friday, 3 to 6 p.m.

Dave Madeloni writes a music column for Ovation. He can be reached at madeloni@aol.com.