The holiday season will go full electric in sights and sounds with the appearance of the Wizards of Winter on Dec. 22 at the Akron Civic Theatre. For those unfamiliar, WoW is a progressive, symphonic, rock-infused collective that tours during the holiday season with a big show featuring lights, smoke and maybe some lasers.
Wait, you say, isn’t that band already called Trans-Siberian Orchestra? Well, outsize, holiday, pomp-rock bands aren’t Highlanders, so there can be more than one. And this one will be right in your backyard.
But don’t worry, loyal TSO lovers, we’ll have something about that band’s upcoming Quicken Loans Arena show next week.
Not coincidentally, beyond a love of adding searing distorted guitars to familiar holiday melodies, having more than 10 members and initials, WoW and TSO are also big on concepts for their shows and records.
The current WoW show uses music from its 2015 album "The Magic of Winter," along with a bunch of more recent original songs such as the 2017 medley “A Christmas Dream,” which mashes “My Favorite Things” and “Carol of the Bells” to turn the show into a full-on rock opera.
Founded by keyboardist/arranger Scott Kelly and lead singer/flautist Sharon Kelly to play a show for their local food pantry in 2009, WoW released its debut album, the rock opera "Tales Beneath a Northern Star," followed by another opera, “Wizards of Winter,” in 2014.
The band’s original tunes are awash in synth textures and some squeedly-dee guitar solos and melodies that are deftly written to be catchy and invoke Christmas and holiday songs, with Kelly’s contralto floating on top.
The 12-piece band features seasoned players you’ve probably never heard of with long resumes, including new drummer John O’Reilly who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Joe Walsh, Blue Oyster Cult and had a 25-year stint with TSO. There’s also lead vocalist Karl Scully, a former member of the Irish Tenors. I won’t give away any plot points, mostly because I have no idea what they are, but the show likely has a happy (holidays) ending.
Mustard Seed music
Lovers of roots music should consider spending some quality time (and by extension money) at one or both of the Mustard Seed Cafés this weekend.
On Saturday evening in Highland Square, there will be a nice melange of talented acoustic groups. Mo’ Mojo singer/songwriter/accordionist/guitarist Jen Mauer will be joined in a duo by fellow Mo’ Mojoer Anthony Papaleo, then smooth-and-groovy, gypsy jazz quartet Moustache Yourself will play a set. Then the evening will wrap up with a third set featuring all the musicians at once. It should be fun.
On Sunday morning at the Montrose Mustard Seed, local reggae stalwarts Umojah Nation will get your brunch rocking and skanking with a mix of originals and classic reggae tunes. (Free. mustardseedmarket.com.)
Speaking of Umojah Nation, the band’s lead singer, Tracy Nguma, is also part of a cool tribute show happening at Jilly’s Music Room on Friday evening in Akron. “Four Women: Interpretations of Nina Simone” will feature Nguma along with local singers Dorianne Denard (Sausalito), Ceco Salinas (Hue People) and writer/bassist Afi Scruggs, performing songs written by and associated with the late great High Priestess of Soul, who became a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in 2017. (111 N. Main St. Tickets: $15-$25. More info: www.jillysmusicroom.com.)
Van the Man
From the local boy still making good files comes the new Van Morrison album, “The Prophet Speaks,” the rock legend’s 40th studio album and the second to feature BLU Jazz+ and Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival headliner Joey DeFrancesco and his band, featuring local jazz guitarist Dan Wilson.
The album features covers of songs by Solomon Burke, John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke, as well as several new songs written by Van the Man. Interestingly, Morrison’s beloved 1968 album “Astral Weeks” turned 50 this year.
For many veteran artists, that milestone anniversary would prompt a “[Legendary Album Title] 50th Anniversary tour.” But as Morrison fans well know, the irascible Celtic soul man doesn't do what everybody else does. Instead of shaking the easy money tree, he’s been cranking out well-received albums such as “The Prophet Speaks,” which is his fourth album in the past year and a half. That’s quite the work ethic for a 73-year-old rock star.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.