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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005 08:18 am

Marina V revisited

Russian-born, Illinois-educated Marina Verenikina performs here on Friday

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Marina Verenikina
It was two years ago when we last checked in with Russian-born, Illinois College-educated singer/songwriter/keyboardist Marina Verenikina. At the time, Verenikina and her partner, Springfield native Nick Baker, were living in Los Angeles, hard at work trying to break into the music business. As big news goes, there’s not too much to report: No major-label signings, no career-altering concerts, no limos, no award ceremonies, no calls from Entertainment Tonight — but, in the bigger picture of living the good life, things couldn’t be better. Verenikina and Baker recorded and released a new CD (Simple Magic, Crazy Apples Worldwide, 2005), with two tracks produced by Jack Douglas (John Lennon, Aerosmith), that has been warmly received by the industry. They went to Moscow to visit family and ended up playing several well-attended concerts. Best of all to Verenikina, they played a lot of music. “There’s nothing like performing live,” she says. “We did 107 shows in 2004 and will have done 110 in 2005 by the end of the year.”
In February the duo will head to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. “We’re doing six concerts in seven days,” Verenikina says. “We’ve never done anything like it and are extremely happy.” That happiness has spilled over into the pair’s songwriting, especially in Verenikina’s lyrics, which generally are in touch with the dark side of life. On Simple Magic, songs such as “I’ll Be Alright” and “Underneath Your Sky” reflect a more upbeat and hopeful tone. “I made a conscious effort to be more positive, but it’s really easy to get cheesy with happy songs,” says the lyricist of lines such as “Tormented, overworried/Neurotic, always hurried/I try to swim with a coat of lead/And when I bleed my finger/My sharks are sure to linger/And I get buried in the red.”
Even the tormented character in “Ghost Wandering This Earth,” a haunting tribute to loneliness and despair, ends the song by making the choice to “do the best I can.”
That aspiration to betterment is at the core of the couple’s lives and is the essence of the message they convey to the world. “Sad songs are so much deeper,” Verenikina says. “They catch a glimpse of hope in this world.”
Marina Verenikina performs at Samuel Music (3730 Wabash Ave., 217-787-7788), 6:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23. After the performance she’ll be hanging around to visit with fans, friends, and folks. Visit Marina V on the Web at www.marinav.com.

Wow! Remember when the Sugar Hill Gang was all the rage and rap was something new? (I do.) That was so long ago that you can now attend a live concert of the old-timers to indulge those tender feelings of nostalgia knocking around your booty and your brain. The Old Skool Rap Jingle Bash Showdown at Club 217 (3075 Normandy Rd., 217-529-0196), starting at 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, is billed as an old-fashioned rappin’ contest. The artist list is a who’s-who of original rappers: Grandmaster Melle Mel, Whodini, the Furious Five, Scorpio, and the Sugar Hill Gang with Hen Hog. As I said, wow! Once again it’s time for Festivus, and again it’s in one of those Hilton ballrooms on the mezzanine (should be easy enough to find). You know where I’ll be, if only because my old gal pal Rosie Flores is headlining the show and may be in need of some 100-proof fermented pear juice. Nashville handyman and BR549 comrade Chris Scruggs will also be on hand to boogie-woogie the crowd into joyful holiday submission. Be there Friday, Dec. 23, sometime around 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or in advance at Recycled Records. The other billed entertainment, a mechanical surfboard, would have been more appropriate for last year’s surf sounds of Los Straitjackets, but hey, you got to take what you can get in this old world. Did I say mechanical surfboard? Again, wow! Looks as if the entertainment pickings are rather slim this weekend, once Friday has passed. Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday night, mucking up the bar-band business. Where is the abandon, the dash-it-all cavalier attitude, the to-hell-in-a-handbasket-in-a-hurry excuse for throwing all caution and responsibility to the wind? Is everyone staying in on the night before Christmas with sugar-plums dancing in their heads instead going out to dance with barflies on their arms? One thing is for sure — anybody who goes out won’t be seeing much in the way of live music. Next week is the big one anyway — New Year’s Eve falls on Saturday night as well. Once more, wow!
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