Milton man's musical rollercoaster takes him in a different direction than his past

Milton’s Bryan Porter Hinkley will be performing some of his new solo acoustic work Wednesday, June 26, at the Middle East Corner in Cambridge’s Central Square.
Milton’s Bryan Porter Hinkley will be performing some of his new solo acoustic work Wednesday, June 26, at the Middle East Corner in Cambridge’s Central Square.

Milton’s Bryan Porter Hinkley has served his time on the punk-rock/hard rock rollercoaster, playing guitar and co-founding the hardcore punk-metal band Tree, founding the hard rock band Never Got Caught with his brother Bill, playing guitar in the hard rock group Clutch, and even stepping in to help Gang Green, when those Beantown punk rockers had a reunion.

Once he decided that exciting but often chaotic life was behind him, Hinkley established Gratitude Sound in Boston, creating music for TV programs, advertisements and films. The Westwood native, who grew up with a Patriot Ledger paper route, began enjoying using and discovering many other styles of music, and his business grew and prospered.

Hinkley got the musical performance bug again during the pandemic, writing and releasing an EP of original tunes, in a stripped-down format that might be considered folk/punk. Now, he’s taken it a couple steps further, with a new album released May 3, and a style that might surprise fans of his previous bands. Hinkley’s music on the new record, “99 Shots,” is rootsy, mainstream rock or just the sort of thing his previous bands seemed to be rebelling against.

Hinkley will be performing some of his new solo acoustic work Wednesday, June 26, at the Middle East Corner in Cambridge’s Central Square. (Hinkley’s performance is part of the monthly In Through the Locked Door songwriter series, hosted by Jim Healey, at the Middle East club, in the Bakery’s Corner stage. The Middle East is located at 480 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, and admission is free for the 7-10 p.m. event. For Hinkley’s new album, check his website: bryanporterhinkley.com).

Friend Jesse Ahern helped bring him back to music

One of the tipping points for Hinkley’s return to music came from his friendship with Squantum’s Jesse Ahern, whose own pointed rock and folk songs have brought Ahern around the world.

“Jesse asked me to open for him at the old Atwell’s Tavern in Cambridge,” Hinkley explained from his Milton studio. “I got my guitar out, and realized how much I missed it. I also started writing songs again, but definitely in a more acoustic-based format. My goal was to write songs that would work as much solo, as with a band. During the pandemic I was necessarily by myself, so I made that three-song EP with the drummer from Clutch (Jean-Paul Gaster), exchanging tracks by email.”

“Now, for this record, I was a big fan of his drumming and wanted to play with him around here, but it’s a little hard since they’re always touring. I ended up going down to Maryland (where Clutch is based) and putting together a little band in January. We became friends with the guys from Clutch when Tree was opening for them in the 1990s, a strong friendship with the band and their crew. I ended up recording down there at their Doom Saloon studio, with some musicians they knew. The record has Jay Turner on bass, Chris Brooks on keyboards, Jean-Paul on drums and myself on guitar and vocals.”

New album a decided departure from his past

The new record has some notable tunes, such as the title cut, a surreal tableau based on a dream he had that could be a slightly twisted side of Tom Petty, or the pulsating “Waitress” which might seem like a Rolling Stones out-take, or “Won’t Mean A Thing,” a melodic, folky song where the lyrics seem to embody the old adage, "this too shall pass." But how did Hinkley arrive at such a different musical destination from his own past?

“I’d say the new music is less riffy, and more based on chord progressions,” said Hinkley. “Rather than just working off a cool-sounding riff, I wanted to go in a different direction. I felt like I’d done riff-rock so long, it was time for a change. And the simple fact that people might pay attention to my singing and my lyrics kind of forced a change. I also realized if I wanted people to like it, I should pay more attention to my voice and what I was doing with it. I like to think I’m maturing as a songwriter. Using chord progressions, you can induce tension and release. Those seventh and ninth chords can play with your emotions. In Tree we just played power chords all the time. But with my acoustic guitar, I discovered I could understand the source of my songs, and they could be developed from there.”

Has his mindset changed along with his music?

Punk-rock vs. mainstream rock and pop: has Hinkley switched sides in this debate?

“I think I spent a lot of my life where I tried to avoid sounding like classic rock,” he admitted with a laugh. “But the truth is we all grew up on that. I loved Traffic, War and Steely Dan and all those kind of bands. When I went into recording with Gratitude Sound, I knew I could now NOT be ashamed to be into classic rock. Those songs appeal to young and old alike, and that’s what I wanted. That isn’t always the case with music from Tree or Clutch, which tend to appeal mainly to young guys. And creating music for TV ads or films here, we had to utilize all kinds of genres and styles, so my musical palette became wider.”

Although Hinkley is solo for this gig, he would love to get band together in this area. He’s got a few tentative shows later in the summer, and is slated to play at Milton Porchfest on Sept. 21.

“I go back and forth about how to do this solo show, because I have used looping a lot in my studio work,” said Hinkley. “But I get torn, and want something that is more a true performance. If I want to sound like a band, I should get a band. I try to compensate for the lack of a band when I’m solo, and I’m looking forward to a real chill atmosphere when I perform these new tunes, just letting them be.”

Now for some quick history on his past, especially a comment on his old band, since Tree is out campaigning again, with a show scheduled for June 29 at Brighton Music Hall.

What happened with his band Tree

“What happened with Tree was we had no official breakup, the fun versus work thing became too hard,” said Hinkley. “We were not making a ton of money (after four albums) when we ended (2001), and while there were some reunion shows, that was it for the original lineup. We are all still friends, and my only gripe is that I wish it was more clear that this version of Tree is (lead singer) Dave (Tree) with three new people. In the first Tree, my brother Bill was the drummer, and ‘Jake’ was the bassist. Jake now builds houses on the Cape. My brother joined me in Never Got Caught, heavy rock where I first began singing more melodically. Then I worked a stage manager for Clutch, and worked my way onstage, and ended up touring with them for six or seven years. When I left all that behind, I started my Gratitude Music firm for TV ads and so on, in 2020, and it’s been good.”

Low Cut Connie sizzles at Spire Center

Philadelphia’s rock sextet Low Cut Connie performed at the Spire Center in Plymouth on Saturday night.
Philadelphia’s rock sextet Low Cut Connie performed at the Spire Center in Plymouth on Saturday night.

Saturday night was the first-ever performance in Plymouth for Philadelphia’s rock sextet Low Cut Connie, and with a show that started out raucous and rowdy and got wilder from there, the band delivered a one hour, 45-minute blast of rock and soul that had the 175 fans at the Spire Center roaring in delight. The evening’s fiery performance had around 26 songs, and we are estimating a bit, since some songs rolled naturally into others, with an energy level so consistently high you began to admire the musicians’ stamina as much as their talent.

Low Cut Connie is the vehicle for the music of singer/pianist Adam Weiner – apparently, back around 2010, when Weiner decided he needed more than his solo shows could provide, they couldn’t decide whether to call their new combo The Connies, or the Low Cuts, so they mashed them together and created a mythical New Jersey diner waitress as their mascot. When Weiner and the sextet kicked off Saturday’s show with a blazing charge through “Private Lives,” their broad-based appeal was obvious, even before the singer’s enthusiasm had him climbing atop his piano in mid-song. There’s rock and soul, some Billy Joel, that Jersey/Philly R&B formula that Southside Johnny loves, and even a bit of Bruce Springsteen anthemic power. This year, Low Cut Connie released both the album “Art Dealers,” and a film depicting its creation, while Weiner also hosts The Connie Club radio show every Saturday at 5 p.m. on Philly’s WXPN (XPN.org online).

It comes as no surprise that this band regularly plays the legendary Stone Pony club in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and most of those musical icons mentioned are Low Cut Connie fans. (The band got perhaps its biggest boost when one of their tunes popped up on then-President Barack Obama’s Spotifylist of favorites in 2015). Bottom line: It’s an infectious, insistently dance-happy blend of rock and soul and 1950’s-like music, with a healthy dose of Broadway showmanship, and Weiner’s effusive puppy-dog desire to please the audience (or at least slap high-fives, hug, or meet every single audience member with his frequent forays into the crowd, up the aisles, etc.).

Some highlights from the exhaustive set included a gritty take on the Rolling Stones’ “Sway,” followed by a thumping run through Weiner’s own “Dirty Water.” Lead guitarist Will Donnelly is the longest serving Low Cut Connie member, besides Weiner, and his economical leads were a major feature all night. And second guitarist Abigail Dempsey played potent violin on a couple songs, including the uplifting soul-rock ballad “Full of Joy.”

The joyful march “Take Me to the Place” was a moment when the throng in the Spire Center was fully converted to the "church of Connie." The giddy gallop “Shake It Little Tina” was mostly a duet with vocalist "Rocky," whose own voice was a superb foil for Weiner all night. A brief solo segment displayed Weiner’s ability to hold the audience enthralled with tunes like the shimmering ballad, “Are You Gonna Run?” Rocky sang lead on a sizzling cover of Z.Z. Top’s “Legs,” sprawling across the piano when not gleefully twerking and dancing.

The night ended in an extended romp through the bonfire of “Whips and Chains,” with both Rocky and Dempsey dancing and cavorting all over the stage, as Weiner led the whole venue in a magnificent bacchanal that suggested David Bowie turned up at the Stone Pony. Any casual Plymouth music fans who stopped in out of curiosity no doubt greeted the conclusion of that show with a simple ‘wow,’ and it is safe to say Low Cut Connie will be back.

This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: New music of Milton's Hinkley is what previous bands rebelled against

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