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Lucky breaks
Dylan hires Stu Kimball, Eugene Mirman hits Comedy Central, John Horton heads to ‘toon town,’ and the Boston Blues Challenge goes on

Boston music fans have had plenty of chances to see Stu Kimball over the past few years. The veteran guitarist, songwriter, and producer whose history in the scene goes back to the ’80s pop outfit Face to Face has been performing with Twinemen and is a member of Peter Wolf’s current band, the Sleepless Travelers. But last month, Kimball got a new gig: guitarist with Bob Dylan. And he was recently seen on stage in London jamming with Dylan and the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood.

Although Kimball has been on tour with Dylan in Europe since June 4 and couldn’t be reached, friends say his recruitment went something like this: an audition on a day’s notice, Dylan’s approval, two rehearsals, and then Europe for his debut with the band. Dylan’s fans seem to have accepted the guitarist without much of a ripple, to judge by Internet chat-room postings. With his knack for terse, melodic, bluesy solos — there’s a corker on Twinemen’s recording of "Ronnie Johnson" — Kimball is a fine replacement for guitarist Freddie Koella. He’s also had some experience with Dylan’s music before, having played on "Tight Connection to My Heart," "Never Gonna See the Sun Again," and "When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky" on the rock-and-roll poet’s Empire Burlesque (Columbia).

Dylan fans who want to catch up with Kimball’s work should look for his self-released solo disc One Last Wish. He also co-produced Wolf’s excellent Long Line (Reprise) and co-wrote two tunes for that CD, including the title track. He recorded with members of Dylan’s band on Sleepless (Artemis), the latest album by Wolf, who is a long-time Dylan associate. And he’s played on sessions for Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon, Deborah Harry, and Nona Hendrix. Kimball will appear with Dylan on Sunday August 8 at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton on a bill that also includes Willie Nelson and the Hot Club of Cowtown. Tickets for the 6:30 p.m. concert are available at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling (617) 931-2000.

EUGENE MIRMAN’S INDIE COMEDY. It’s a long-standing adage among comedians that opening for rock bands requires a special breed of masochist — and the courage to face insults or whatever else might be hurled by fans impatient for the music to start. But Eugene Mirman, who broke out of Cambridge’s Comedy Studio club to appear on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, and other TV shows, is defying that truism. In recent months, he’s been making the trek from New York City, where he relocated three and a half years ago, to open or headline bills with rock bands at the Middle East. He’s also toured with Modest Mouse and Helio Sequence. And so far, his limbs and his surreal humor have remained intact.

"Rock clubs in general are more fun than comedy clubs," Mirman explains by cell phone as he strolls around Manhattan, where he’s got a Wednesday-night residency at Cinema Classics in the East Village. "I go to rock clubs all the time, but I don’t go to comedy clubs that often. Most of my friends do the same. In New York, doing comedy in a rock club might not seem as odd as it does in Boston. Here, there’s a real connection between indie music and comedy and other kids of art. Conor [Oberst] from Bright Eyes just played a show with me a couple of weeks ago. That kind of thing happens here all the time."

Mirman doesn’t perform any music on stage, but at his Web site, www.eugenemirman.com, there’s a creepy singing baby photo of Eugene that offers a menu of tunes including Led Zeppelin’s "Black Dog" and a Who medley. He says he doesn’t alter his rock-club sets much from the wickedly smart performances he gives in comedy venues. "I may use more of my videos, because that’s something the rock audience has been educated to, but otherwise, I think there’s a shared sensibility between intelligent, contemporary comedy and intelligent indie rock. The audience for both is young and well informed and has a pretty wide world view."

Those who missed Mirman’s gig at the Middle East last Thursday with the Pee Wee Fist, Like Moving Insects, and Joy can check his Web site for future dates and visit www.thecomedystudio.com, since he still appears there several times a month. In October, he’ll release his debut album, which was recorded at the Middle East and at Pianos in New York, on the Seattle-based indie label Suicide Squeeze.

SAYONARA JOHNNY. Thanks to Ozzie Osbourne, Kiss, Slipknot, and a passel of other metal bands, the connection between rock and roll and cartoon characters is obvious. But John Horton, the music entrepreneur who took Letters to Cleo to fame and launched the careers of Tree, Quintaine Americana, and other outfits with his Boston-based Cherrydisc label, is starting a new imprint aimed at furthering that connection.

Horton’s Moontunes label will have its first release this September with the debut by the Pop Top Kidz, Super Huge Very Big Hits. At first, the album will be available via TV ads on Nickelodeon; then in October, at least 30,000 copies will be shipped to stores. But the Kidz don’t actually exist. They’re cartoon characters whom Horton has invented and is bringing to animated life with the help of artist Chip Kelley. He’s hoping to develop them as a TV series, but meanwhile he’s recruited a team of Boston stage and studio pros and Cambridge schoolchildren to bring his raggedly little attitude-filled charges to aural life.

Last month Horton’s team was hard at work in the studio, recording cover versions of "Love Shack," "Walking on Sunshine," "Jump," "Kids in America" and other ’80s radio classics with the real kids singing vocals. And the tracks sound damn good. "There’s a huge market for children’s music, and it’s not driven by radio or touring or any of the other unpredictable factors you have to deal with in the pop world," Horton explains over a couple of pints at the Overdraught pub in Cambridge. "The parents who have children in the right age group will know these songs by heart, and since kids play records they love over and over again, the adults will be able to listen to this music too without going crazy." Unless you’ve been tortured by dozens of back-to-back spins of Raffi’s "Baby Beluga," you might not get what Horton’s alluding to, but kids’-music overplay will someday be clinically proved to kill cells in adult brains.

"A lot of parents are also interested in introducing their kids to rock and roll," Horton continues, "and they don’t feel like they can depend on commercial radio to do it. So this way, they can get their kids interested in songs that were originally recorded by Van Halen or the B-52’s and maybe introduce them to the real thing in a few more years."

Horton and his investors seem to be on a good path, as anybody with a piece of the profits from CD sales related to Barney, Bob the Builder, or Strawberry Shortcake can attest. Moontunes marketing, distribution, and retail will be handled by Koch, one of the world’s largest indie operations. At some point, Moontunes will develop original music, and more Pop Top Kidz–related projects are on the agenda. This month, however, Horton is taking a short break from leading his new label to pack boxes. He’s moving his home and his office from East Cambridge to Wilmington, North Carolina, where his girlfriend, Sharon Locher, is pursuing a graduate degree. Horton adds that, after his 13-year run in Boston, he’ll also be pursuing a tan on the local beaches.

THE BLUES CHALLENGE CONTINUES. The five duo and solo acts who performed at Johnny D’s a week ago Wednesday were a prelude to the full-band finale of the Boston Blues Challenge that’ll be held tonight, July 22, at Harpers Ferry in Allston. Although the veteran status and the varied stage experiences of Forty-Four, the duo of guitarist Peter Parcek and drummer Steve Scully who won the well-attended Johnny D’s event, gave them an edge, the results of tonight’s contest — where D & the Heavyweights, Ryan Hartt & the Blue Hearts, the J Place Band, the Adam Connelly Band, and Mr. Nick’s Blues Mafia will compete — are less easy to predict. The winner of each Boston Challenge event — the solo/duo category and the full-band category — will have the opportunity to represent Boston at the 2005 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. For Parcek, this will be his second trip to the final; he won the band category of the Boston contest with his trio in 2002. Harpers is at 158 Brighton Avenue in Allston; call (617) 254-9743.

Issue Date: July 23 - 29, 2004
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