The O'Jays classic "Family Reunion" opens with the line, "It's so nice to see all the folks you love together," and that sentiment sums up my feelings as I entered the Poison Room on Dec. 9 for the CD release party for The Beau Alquizola Band's first disc Unbalanced. You see, I can take this comparison a bit further, too because as the song breaks down the roles of each family member, that night each of us — musicians and non — had a part to play.
In the dimly lit space, faces and relationships burned brightly and Alquizola was the filament that carried the current. As a point of full disclosure, I am a good friend of this singer/songwriter enjoying the local spotlight. Our ties go back about five years to a terribly brief period when we were members of the St. Agnes Church Choir. Although we joined at the same time, I didn't last a month. But Alquizola soon landed him a coveted spot as a solo cantor during weekly services.
I was always intrigued by the huge voice emanating from this compact man. Thunder and lightning seemingly stirred deep within his soul, causing his body to shake and shudder right before my eyes. It was only after we became friends that he confided in me that the shaking was a sign of nerves, a condition that still overtakes him every time he steps up to the mic, although he obviously uses this as motivation.
But we didn't become friends right away.
We circled each other, establishing connections through common friends and associates before establishing our own bond. And throughout that time, I listened to that voice and I began to imagine it in other settings outside of the church. I pride myself on catching the Fleetwood Mac vibes I would come to realize were some of his favorites, but I also detected a new-jacked Soul singer who was a little "Crazy" for Seal, much like Sealhenry cops to a jonesing for some Marvin Gaye.
His love of music knows no bounds and it is a treat to share lunch on a sunny afternoon (or a late night snack) with him in front of Wild Oats in Rookwood accompanied by a reshuffled 1980s mix. He knows every singer (Howard Jones) and group (Bell Biv Devoe) and every song ("Who's That Girl?") and has stories to go along with each and every one.
We have created a narrative of our own, the freelance writer and the singer/songwriter, based on a shared belief that words and stories can change the world. And we've found that Italian sodas and a few slices of spinach ricotta pie are the natural resources to sustain the drive. That discovery came a few years back, when he started partnering with guitarists for acoustic duo bookings around town and I rarely missed a set. Morning-after debriefing and coffeehouse musings led to reimaginings of songs like "Drowning" (from last year's solo release Leave The Light On) and the conception of others like "Labyrinth" (a featured track on Unbalanced).
Between his appearances at last year's MidPoint Music Fest and the release party for Light, he had established relationships with a core group of players who would eventually become The Beau Alquizola Band and extended members of his musical clan. Newbees' keyboardist and vocalist Sharon Udoh swings with Alquizola. Drummer J. Matt Retherford keeps time with the band Wojo, who happens to have a keyboardist named Luke Alquizola (Beau and Luke are brothers, not cousins). Each of the three featured guitarists in the band (Steven Gregory, Shaun Henry and Ben Schummer) also has a side band project or two.
Various players also became part of my extended family. I remember when Alquizola introduced me to Stephen Gregory, the percussive acoustic picker who does mean covers of Oasis and Paul Simon during gigs at Allyn's Cafe. His version of "The Only Living Boy in New York" has surpassed Everything But the Girl's as my all-time favorite, which is no small feat. In fact, as I was planning music for my wedding not so long ago — a tough job made more difficult due to the fact that I was marrying a singer, so the stakes were high indeed — I made a special request to have Alquizola and Gregory team up for a take on "Be Your Husband," Jeff Buckley's a cappella re-imagining of a Nina Simone tune. Unfortunately Gregory had to back out, thwarting one sonic dream, yet Alquizola's tapping of djembe player Patrick Gilligan as a last-minute replacement added another family member into the fold.
Gilligan was one of the first musicians I crossed paths with at the release. Smiles, congratulations and hugs ensued and then, like a receiving line, I found myself among old and current co-workers of Alquizola's and friends from his karaoke days — and even a few church folk calling and responding to the latest verses of our lives. And, of course, musicians ... well, they were everywhere. You could throw a guitar pick in the crowd and the odds are good that it would touch someone able to fill in a chord or three.
Ryan Adcock, The Newbees and Wojo (the actual closers that night) laid out sets for the faithful with rock-solid timing and rousing moments, but everyone deferred to the evening's host and master of ceremonies. The Alquizola crew took the stage in revolving smaller units with various guitarists and background vocalists being called up for a moment before they rejoined the audience family, our tight-knit universal family waiting to be taken higher. Beau must be our Sly, and we are the stone foundation of his pop-rocking groove.
Amen, Brother, until the next time.
For more on THE BEAU ALQUIZOLA BAND, including upcoming show dates, check beaumusic.com.