Highlights: Singer-songwriters team up on songs inspired by paintings

  • Artist and musician Tom Pirozzoli, of Goshen, N.H., performs with his friend Willy Porter in New London on Feb. 5 and 6, 2020. His most recent recording features songs inspired by his paintings. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

  • Willy Porter has recorded and performed with Tom Pirozzoli since the 1990s. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/29/2020 6:37:45 PM
Modified: 1/31/2020 2:10:08 PM

Willy Porter started collecting paintings by fellow singer-guitarist Tom Pirozzoli not long after the two met at the Club Passim coffeehouse in Cambridge, Mass., in the early 1990s.

Then about 10 years ago, Porter noticed his musical mentor’s depictions of rural scenes — many from on and around Pirozzoli’s Goshen, N.H. homestead — turning in a more impressionistic direction, and started thinking about ways to give the pictures a soundtrack.

“The evolution of his artwork made me think, ‘Hey: We’ve got to combine the visual work and the musical work somehow,’ ” Porter said this week in a telephone conversation from his home in Milwaukee. “One day I asked him, ‘Do you have any tunes around for an album?’ He played me Reckon by the Light, a stunningly beautiful song. It was clear that he had the bones of a record in his pocket.”

For two concerts next week in New London — one at Colby-Sawyer College, one at Flying Goose Brew Pub and Grille — the collaborators will perform songs from the resulting album, also titled Reckon by the Light, that Pirozzoli recorded with Porter as producer in 2019. Each of the 10 songs goes by the name of a painting that inspired it — a concept that intrigued Pirozzoli in the abstract, and surprised him in the execution.

“I did write the songs, but this album is all Willy’s,” Pirozzoli said during a telephone interview on Monday, after an afternoon of painting at his Goshen studio. “A lot of it doesn’t sound like what I thought it was going to sound like, but that’s for the better. Willy had a very good perspective, an objective perspective, on the songs that I was smart enough to recognize.

“I’m always full of ideas, but a lot of them, well, Willy’s never a naysayer, but he’ll explain why something might not be the best thing in the world.”

Which is probably why they’ve worked together so well in co-writing for each other almost since the night Porter introduced himself to Pirozzoli in Cambridge, at the recommendation of mutual friend and musician L.J. Booth. Then in his mid-20s, Porter was just starting to make a name for himself as a rocking folk guitarist and storyteller who would go on to record and tour worldwide as a soloist, with his own band and with the likes of Tori Amos, Paul Simon and Jethro Tull. He saw Pirozzoli right away as someone to work with.

“He was really fully formed as a songwriter,” Porter recalled. “He had this world-wise view, a very intelligent, soft angle on the hard things we face.”

Pirozzoli, then in his early 40s, lent that outlook first to four songs on Porter’s first CD, 1994’s Dog Eared Dream, and the collaborations ran back and forth over the ensuing decades. Among Pirozzoli’s favorites was a track that ended up on Porter’s 2002 CD High Wire Live.

“We wrote parts of Jesus on the Grillewhile driving in my van,” Pirozzoli recalled with a chuckle. “We did a >italic<lot >res<of songwriting while we were driving.”

Around his mid-50s, Pirozzoli cut back his touring schedule from some 200 gigs a year a year to 35 to 45, plus some private engagements — the better to devote more time to painting. Soon he was displaying his paintings, along with the work of others he knows, at concerts.

During visits to Goshen between his own tours, Porter envies Pirozzoli the balance he’s enjoying under the new arrangement.

“One of the attractions of working with Tom is his commitment to a rural life, and the sensibility that attends it,” Porter said. “Time kind of stops out there. He has the calm lifestyle of not rushing through anything. You can’t write like he does without leaning into each line.”

The lifestyle also informs the brushstrokes of the painter, whose works in the Porter household include a painting of a barn, a portrait of Porter’s now-grown daughter as a child, and one of a red, 1953 pickup truck called Popeye.

“We used to ride it out to his woodlot,” Porter said. “The picture is a stunner.”

At both of next week’s Upper Valley gigs — next Thursday’s at the Flying Goose Brew Pub and Grille is sold out — Pirozzoli will bring several of the paintings associated with the songs, including Reckon by the Light, in which a man with his back to the viewer rows through thick fog.

“Willy calls it Van Gogh in the Boat,” Pirozzoli said..

Willy Porter and Tom Pirozzoli perform on Wednesday night at 7 at Colby-Sawyer College’s Black Box Theater in New London. Admission is free, and seating is limited. Seats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and doors open at 6. The duo also performs on Feb. 7 at the Rex Theatre in Manchester, and Pirozzoli will play a solo set during the 9 p.m. session of the Anonymous Coffeehouse on Feb. 14, at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon.

Best bets

Rusted Chrome rocks the Newport Opera House during its annual pre-Super Bowl Big Game Warm-Up Party on Saturday night at 7:30. Tickets range from $20 for listening to the music to $45 for reserved seats at the barbecue buffet that starts at 6.

■Comedian Theresa Kloos (The How and the Why, Dry Powder) returns to Whitney Hall in Enfield next Thursday night to open Shaker Bridge Theatre’s production of the interactive one-woman show Every Brilliant Thing. For tickets ($16 to $35) and more information, visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

■Viol virtuoso Jordi Savall accompanies his Grammy-winning chorus La Capella Reial de Catalunya and the instrumentalists of his Hyperion XXI ensemble through a program of Iberian masterworks of the Baroque era next Thursday night at 7:30, at Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover. For tickets, $30 to $40, and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Theater/performance art

King Lear, performances of Northern Stage production through Feb. 9, at Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. Admission $17.75 to $57.75.


Lucy Kaplansky, folk singer-songwriter, Thursday night at 8 at Flying Goose Brew Pub and Grille in New London. Admission $20; reservations required.

■Unnamed Colors duo of singer-pianist Sierra Partland and guitarist Andrew Aghababian, rock, Friday night at 7 at Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse. Admission by donation.

■Anonymous Coffeehouse, folk/Americana/roots performances at First Congregational Church of Lebanon on Friday night: 7:30 by guitarist Peter Neri, 8:15 by roots-Americana band Turnip Truck and 9 by Americana singer-songwriter Susan Brison. Free.

■Fiddler Louise Bichan and mandolinist Ethan Setiawan, blend of Scottish, Appalachian, Scandinavian and Canadian folk, Saturday night at 7:30 at Chandler Center for the Arts’ Esther Mesh Room in Randolph. Admission by donation.

■ O’hAnleigh, Celtic roots, Saturday night at 7 at Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. Admission $20.

■Cellist Benjamin Kulp, works of Bach, Kodaly and contemporary composers Chinary Ung and Mark Summer, Sunday afternoon at 3 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover. Admission by donation, with proceeds benefiting scholarship fund at Lebanon’s Upper Valley Music Center.


Monthly Shindigs dance, with folk-Americana band Cold Chocolate, Saturday night at 7:30 at Tunbridge Town Hall. Admission $10.

Bar and club circuit

Mad Hazard Band, jazz, bossa nova and blues, Thursday night at 5:30 at the Quechee Club’s Davidson’s Restaurant.

■Cellist Phyllis Shea, bodhran player Robin Weisburger and singer-guitarist Joseph Stallsmith, roots/rock, Thursday night at 6 at Peyton Place restaurant in Orford.

■ Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner, Thursday night at 6 at Crown Point Country Club in Springfield, Vt.

■The Morning Dudes, Grateful Dead covers, Thursday night at 7 at Windsor Station; The Western Terrestrials, honky-tonk, Friday night at 9:30; Keyboard player JD Tolstoi, folk-rock, Tuesday night at 6.

■John Lackard Blues Duo, Friday night at 6 at Big Fatty’s BBQ in White River Junction.

■ Frydaddy, rock, Friday night at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

■Doug Lantz and Scott Stone, bluegrass and storytelling, Friday night at 8 at Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon.

■FROGZ, rock and country, Friday night at 9 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

■Singer-songwriter Jim Yeager, Monday night at 6:30 at 506 on the River in Woodstock.

Open mics, jam sessions

Jim Yeager’s twice-monthly open mic, Thursday night at 7 at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret. Free.

■Alec Currier’s weekly open-mic at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, Thursday night at 8.

■ Jakob Breitbach hosts an acoustic jam session of roots music on Tuesday nights at 7, at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

■Tom Masterson’s open mic, Tuesday night at 7 at Colatina Exit.

■Peter Meijer’s open mic, Wednesday nights at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com or 603-727-3304. Send entertainment news to highlights@vnews.com.


Tickets for a concert by Tom Pirozzoli and Willy Porter at Colby-Sawyer Coll ege's Black Box Theater on Wednesday, Feb. 5, are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. concert, and seating is limited. An earlier version of this column incorrectly described how the seating is being handled.

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