Old Sloop Coffeehouse, Rockport, MA
For some reason I’m the only spectator who decides to sit in the first row. Most of the other rows are filled – maybe everyone else is far-sighted. House MC, Mark Woodbury greets the crowd and Celene Lyon lists previews of next season as this is their final show of the current season. It’s actually a rescheduled date due to the inclement weather that fell on January 7. She also reminds us to sign up for the giveaway of tickets to the Falcon Ridge Festival. Rev. Derek van Gulden offers a prayer of peace and we’re off and running as Putnam Smith gingerly hops on the stage. He radiates great friendly energy and shows it in “The Birds Would Understand” from his latest CD 99 Desires. Putnam loves gardening and the short growing season up in Maine is perfect to balance his busy touring schedule. As a musician I am amazed at his playing dynamics that fluctuate on almost every line, letting the listener easily hear everything he sings. It’s like his own call and response technique. He sings about his grandpa in “Gold Rush” then he brings up Connor Garvey to help out with “Gotta Go Where the Love Is.” He encourages the audience to sing along, mentioning how the urban hipsters of Portland, Oregon, thumb their nose at such an activity. Connor then reminds Putnam that he was once a resident of that city. All those from the right coast happily sing along – so does Connor. Putnam tells us that the curious title of his CD comes from him getting relationship consoling where he was told to instead of thinking of three important things he’d like in a mate, to think of 100 things. Putnam acknowledges his parents in the audience and plays a song inspired by his dad’s tales of the hurricane of 1938. It ends with some sizzling banjo pickin’. He switches over to the piano and does a mini-set there that starts with “The Artist Up on the Hill.” The song came by way of Putnam trading banjo lessons for website work. It’s seems that his web master had some amazing stories to tell, and those tales became lyrics in this song. Connor Garvey is invited up again for a finale that includes Putnam playing mandolin behind his head and swinging Pete Townsend windmills, all culminating in a synchronized leap that crashes in on the ending chord.
After the quick coffee and treat break Mark Woodbury and Celene Lyon announce the lucky raffle winner, then it’s time for Connor Garvey to shine. I can see that his intent is to keep his show in the present, deciding he should do some spring and summer songs… “Willow” is sad, yet inspiring. He admits that he has a hard time writing love songs, even when he thinks the content is obvious, it’s still somewhat hidden. He tells us about his life alignments of late – he got engaged on the winter solstice, his partner got pregnant on the next winter solstice, and on this summer solstice he is headed on a ship to Iceland as the songwriting crew member. He plays the sweet “Come Around.” It rolls through life and love… “sunrise in her eyes.” For some reason the awkward theme of bedwetting has permeated its way into the night – Connor uses it to prove that every show is fresh. He sings “Pendulum” to Valerie, avoiding eye contact with any one in the audience with the name Valerie – he “swings high and loaded” and Valerie is pissed – Connor says “bedwetting” making the connection in the moment. He uses two differently treated microphones to create the contrast in his couple of characters carrying on a dialog in “Break the Cage.” He also makes use of vocal loops so by the end of the song he’s got three-part harmony going while the creamy sounds start fading out. I really appreciate seeing/hearing folk artists using effects to raise the level of their entertainment. Putnam jumps up to aid Connor in the next one called “Faith Did Her Wrong.” Putnam sings a low rhythmic drone on the chorus that adds a cool quality. Connor has some video project going and asks us all so say “We are Connor Garvey” in unison as he records us on his phone. “The Bird” is a song seen through the eyes of a trapeze artists. Connor uses a partial capo with his left hand fingers jumping around it, doing a dance in itself – “Freedom flying for those who dare” and an action hit of harmonics ends the song. Putnam jumps back up again, this time to help create a Marvin Gaye feel to “Soul on the Line” with his mandolin. The boys end by stepping closer to the audience, bypassing the sound system, to get as intimate as possible, leaving us with a Dylan unplugged cover of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” And I miss them already… a very entertaining show by two brilliant folk artists. (T Max)
Mercy Tavern, Salem, MA
When you hear the proper name Salem do you think of crones in black conical hats traversing the night skies on brooms? Heck, who doesn’t? Well, this Noise correspondent is a lifelong Essex County denizen, thus cognizant that the North Shore seaport is steeped – no pun intended – in maritime history (particularly in the age of Yankee clippers); ergo, we begin our account of the June visit of alt-country, well, darlings The Darlings to Mercy Tavern on Derby Street – just down from Derby Wharf – with a couple of nautical references: Vocalist Kelly Knapp’s erstwhile bandmate Kim Ernst is here; her gorgeous visage could launch 1K ships; heck, her shapely nose alone is good for a flotilla…. Avast, and back to the musical performers: A rising tide lifts all boats, of course, and Billy Loosigian’s virtuosic guitarwork purveys the surge atop which his bandmates bob. That said, The Darlings are practically a supergroup by any measure: Simon Ritt and Kelly are established heroes of the local roots scene, with Ed Riemer and Norman Hartley not just taking up space. You’ve heard it here before: If you ever learn of a Darlings gig, make for the venue full steam ahead! (Dr. Swig McJigger)
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