She Just Wants to Rock ‘n’ Roll

Sue Menhart is sassy. She’s sultry. And she’s sympathetic as the subject of a memoir that pulls no punches in detailing the trials and triumphs of a life led working a day job while founding and fronting a rock band.

Full disclaimer: I have shared the solo-acoustic corner of a pub or two in New London County, Conn., with this woman and joined her in the audience at occasional Sinners’ Circles where newcomers and veterans alike performed originals to a packed listening room. I also have seen her prance and project on stage with the Sue Menhart Band, ripping through some bluesy number with the energy and fury of her idol, Pat Benatar.

So too, have countless others, and when she belts out the tune, “Where’d You Come From,” her soulful presence rocks the room. But she is a singer/songwriter at heart, persisting in an unforgiving industry where streaming songs pay a fraction of a cent and competition is fierce.

They Made Me Play a Polka reads like a hybrid of stand-up comedy and a playful whodunnit: laugh-out-loud funny but fast-paced and driven by a mix of well-known and unnamed characters populating a world where Grammys are as elusive as (and not unlike) the lottery, and you keep waiting for an answer to the question: Why isn’t Menhart a star? A page-turner, the book invites you to uncover layer after layer of reasons for this stark reality — some her own doing and some the fault of a maniacal music industry that takes no prisoners.

Living through everything from Lyme disease to motherhood to husband/drummer Kevin’s life-threatening illnesses, Menhart has bigger wars to wage, mainly with her illusions about the viability of “making it” in the music world.

Maybe she should have stayed in California as a young wannabe instead of coming back East. Maybe she should have made an even more concerted effort than she did at self-promotion on Apple Music. Maybe she should have never accepted that gig at a local vineyard that didn’t exactly go as planned.

There is very little whining in this memoir, or regret. There is no glossing over struggles with alcohol or real human emotions of frustration, aggravation and the lust for lasting fame.

What there is is self-deprecating humor; a bold, scrappy commitment to her role as leader of a southeastern Connecticut band with rock ‘n’ roll roots; candid heart-to-hearts for those of us with dreams of fame or, at least, airplay on Sirius radio; and, in the middle of the book, a searing and well-researched assessment of exactly what it takes to produce and promote original band or solo material. The pitfalls, the behind-the-scenes manipulation and the sheer hard work.

She reaches several conclusions at the end, but — spoiler alert — one rings truest: “I like singing,” she writes. “And nobody’s gonna stop me.”

That conviction may have landed her her latest gig. Look for Menhart at the Maugle Sierra Vineyards in Ledyard, Conn., from 3-6 p.m. on Oct. 7. Then pick up this memoir and follow her on the Sue Menhart Band website. Why? Because she knows her why. She’s still at it, and thriving.



Worldly, Wise Rivergods


Wisdom tinged with hope does not come through thoughtfully-written lyrics by accident.

Nor is pop Americana that is catchy, rhythmic and yet somehow still contemplative particularly common.

To this deliberately uncommon place the EP “Never Grow Old,” released in January, beckons with wise words, memorable melodies, and a five-piece ensemble sound that makes listeners rock in their seats.


The Rivergods, if you don’t know them, are the ever-so-personable Dan Spano on keyboards; Mike Palazzolo on bass; Ben Parent, guitars/vocals/harmonica; Nancy Parent, guitar/pedal steel/vocals; and Trevor Chandonnait on drums.

Just when you want to pin cynicism on the losses recorded in the imagery-rich song, “When Times Were Good,” or on the “betrayal” in the raucous tune “The Curse,” you have to step back and acknowledge a lack of regret or or a a twinge of desire. Just when you think you understand from the title track that it won’t “be alright” or in “Rush Hour” that “what was lost along the way/ [was] Better off gone for good,” songwriter Ben Parent brings us full circle. His wish for us “climbing high,” to “never come down,” or to, when times aren’t so good, “learn to get along,” give his message a buoyancy and optimism that cannot be dragged down by circumstance.

Beguiling but hard-bitten, and deceptively easy to digest, Parent’s lyrics pack that hard-to-find combination of power and poeticism. Nancy Parent’s harmonies, as always, elevate the vocals and infuse them with a lightness that is just the right counterpoint to Ben’s gravelly voice.

Instrumentally, the band is as tight as ever.

If I had to pick one tune for my time capsule, it would be “Rush Hour.” From the lilting instrumental opening to the soft harmonies and subtle ironies, it’s a keeper.

Pick up your copy of “Never Grow Old” here. Treat yourself to a timely and yet timeless arrangement of music and words that, like their award-winning single, “Budda On the Road,” will never grow old.

Appetizing Black Friday Concert Benefits Shoreline Food Pantries

Music feeds the soul and in this case, people.

A short roster of dynamic performers, mostly singer/songwriters, takes the stage at The Kate in Old Saybrook, Conn., on Friday, Nov. 29.

That’s right — one day after we’ve all sat down at our plentiful tables to give thanks; the same day many of us find time to shop to satisfy the urgings of the holiday gift wish list; the same day still more of us have time off from work to lounge and indulge — these folks are coming out to put on a show. The seventh such show in as many years, the Black Friday Concert is, quite literally, a feast.


Venues that willingly host original acoustic performance (with a few covers thrown in) seem few and far between these days, and rare is the room that can comfortably house musicians and audience in a way that pleases both. But an acoustically comfy environment is only part of the reason to check out this concert. The others are the music and the money — yes: 100 percent of the money you pony up will go to the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries, which serve 11 towns in the lower Connecticut River Valley. A twenty dollar bill, or more if you’re inclined, might never have been so well spent.

This healthy offering is made possible by the artists themselves, donating all proceeds — as well as any money earned from sales of CDs and other merchandise. What’s more, the 100-percent match of the entire night’s receipts will be made by The Gowrie Group of Westbrook, an insurance agency that has spent the year raising funds for the soup kitchens through a “Gowrie Challenge.” Sponsors are and Wyeth Architects, LLC.

And what do you get for parting with a bit of cash and saving some of the energy from Black Friday shopping to drive to The Kate and relax in the company of fine musicians?

Fine music, of course, and a fine time.

Lauren Agnelli and Dave Rave, both Grammy-award nominees with more tentacles in the music industry than can be reflected here, will perform folk-pop-rock original material, using acoustic guitar and ukelele. Also on hand are Ebin-Rose, a husband and wife team who provide timeless etheral voicings and instrumentation; Moving Target, a jazz and pop band featuring cornet and saxophone; and two sibling duos that feature dueling guitars and delicious harmonies: the Lichter Brothers, who write and sing folk and country; and the Meadows Brothers, two young and talented roots musicians and vocalists.

The sampling of YouTube videos and links to mp3s here are just the appetizer.

“Dinner” is at 8. Don’t be late!