Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub Brings Us Back to 1936

On a trip a last week to Belize, we sat with a group of journalists from Mexico City. “You should come to our Valley,” said Paul Shoul, my photographer travel buddy.  The sophisticated Chilangoes were interested…because Paul is right.  For anyone who loves great music, great food, smart locals and sophisticated tastes, the Pioneer Valley is where they should come.

I thought about this tonight as we listened to Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub at the Parlor Room.  My case to be made as the best little arts town in New England. It’s easy to provide reasons why this is true. On any given night there are acts here who play New York City and Paris, acts passing through who are stellar performers and talented top notch songwriters who want to play one of the Valley’s venues.

Whether it’s the Arts Block, the Iron Horse, the Parlor Room or the Academy of Music, so many artists are playing Northampton on any given night, it’s an extraordinary state of affairs. In our Valley, we had Herbie Hancock, then Fountains of Wayne, then Elvis Costello, so many more.

I had never heard of Paul Burch until my friend Joe recommended I go. And likewise, my friend Bill, he signed up like me, blind. I kind of like that, going into a concert knowing nothing of the performer. One of my favorite movie experiences was when I went to see “The Lives of Others”  knowing nothing about the movie. What a surprise!

Paul played with two other musicians–a drummer and a stand-up bass player. Both, he said, have been playing with him for twenty years, and are part of a larger band he usually tours with. But he said he doesn’t tour as much as he’d like, this was a rare chance to see him in Massachusetts.  They just released an album called Fever.

The music was all his own–it had an old timey feel to it, with Paul alternating between a hollow body acoustic and a straight up electric guitar.  One song was about two railroad tracks, one that goes north and the other south, and like many of the songs, it considered the cosmic riddle in everyday life that continues to baffle everyone in this life. His playing was confident, like a man who had played many gigs and knew his material. Some times he would start a song by singing away from the microphone and then move in slowly.

After the show he told me that he was a website editor, for his day job. “I’d love to play up here more,” he said. Nashville is his current home, where he plays most frequently.