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Many thanks to the folks over at Troy Cloth and Paper for guiding me to a fine shirt, and setting up a precise print.
Many thanks to the folks over at Troy Cloth and Paper for guiding me to a fine shirt, and setting up a precise print.
As a performing musician, there are moments after I complete a song that I think to myself, “That felt great. I hope someone recorded it.” I had that thought immediately after Ryan Dunham, John Rice, and I played the last notes on my song “Comanche Moon,” a few weeks back at Caffe Lena for the Amanda’s Journey Foundation Benefit Concert. Lost Radio Rounder, benefit organizer, and all around generous guy, Tom Lindsay was there recording the afternoon’s show, and I’m grateful. This is one of my favorite performances of this song to date.
Be sure to check out Amanda’s Journey Foundation, and their work in supporting those with and the families of those with Mitochondrial Disease, a disease which compromises the body’s ability to create the energy needed for growth and support. Learn up, and give or lend what you can…
watch more video here… / subscribe to the Low Down Review to learn more about Comanche Moon and the story behind it. Just look to the top right of the page, and enter your email…
Just a few Sundays ago, I headed up to Saratoga Springs, NY to sit for a videotaped (digitally recorded) interview and performance. It was a last-minute affair, and turned into an afternoon and evening full of music and laughter. And… I came away with this produced video that runs about a half-hour and was broadcasted around Northern New York on LookTV’s TRAX program, which features musicians from the area. I was honored with Episode 1, a nice slot, despite what the New Testament says…
My favorite music shop here in New York’s Capital District, Parkway Music, sponsored the event and had sound wizard and electronics tech Frank Moscowitz from Black Dog Recording Studio sit as the audio engineer. One of Saratoga’s hopping night-spots, Gaffney’s hosted the show. A debt and much gratitude to all these folks. Hope you enjoy the video.
Best Medicine: A few months back, on a Wednesday night, buddy and songwriter Dan Johnson sent me a text message. I was sitting on the couch and settling in for the night in Schenectady, NY, watching a FRONTLINE on retirement. Dan was up in Richmond, VT and settling in to a night listening to a Stray Birds live performance. About half-way through each of our shows, my beer, and Dan’s coffee, he sent a prophetic update, “Oh, you’re gonna love this tune man – best medicine – have you heard it yet?” I hadn’t.
The next evening, my lady and I headed up to Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY to give a listen to the Birds ourselves. We, like many, never tire of hearing them perform. Before one of their last songs of the evening, Maya (fiddle, guitar, songwriting, banjo, vocals, harmony, holy shit these folks are talented…) starts to tell a story about some downtime before a gig I shared with them a couple of years back at The Moon and River in Schenectady.
The trio was killing time over on Jay Street, and wandered into The Re-Collector, a packed-full, used-record, and assorted collectibles store. The owner, Kurt (a king amongst characters) caught their interest, and they struck up a conversation with him. He hung on their minds, and they wrote a song about the man, and tapped into a serious and beautiful element of his (and our) humanity. They titled it, “Best Medicine.”
After the story, and a nod to my lady and I, they eased into the song, and when they finished that first chorus, I let out an audible breath that sounded something like, “Pffffwwow.” Oliver looked right at me from the stage and said, “Yeah…” The chills took me over, I closed my eyes, and felt my heart teeter over towards explosion. Beautiful, simple, pure, layered, sincere, soulful, melodic… Heartfelt. There are only adequate adjectives to conjure in the English language. I suspect that I’d have to dig back into ancient Greece or an aboriginal language in order to find a true description. Charlie, if you’re reading this, that was a special moment in my life. For real.
A while later, and long after Maya, Oliver, and Charlie packed up their gear and headed out for their next show to share their song, I headed to the Re-Collector in the gray Northeast winter drizzle. I introduced myself to Kurt, told him this story, and asked if I could take his picture. I can’t be sure of the last time he had smiled, it looked like it may have been some time, but the energy behind the smile that shot across his face would have blown apart any bulb Edison could have imagined. He took to the task with a seriousness that I’ll describe as reverent, and tender, holding a notebook with the statement, “Music is the Best Medicine” written on a page in black marker.
Because of that song, and despite the weather, we felt pretty damn good that day. That, my friends, is some strong medicine, the best medicine.
Re-Cycling: I’ve been reading and writing with a specific purpose this past month or so. I’ve been charged with the honorable duty of writing three songs, one for each of the first three novels in William Kennedy’s Albany Cycle, “Legs,” “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game,” and the Pulitzer Prize winning, “Ironweed.”
I’ve been a fan of Kennedy’s ever since I decided to read “The Ink Truck” in one sitting, while researching for a graduate class paper the night before that paper was to be handed over. Coffee kept my body awake, but Kennedy kept my soul alive that night. I rebelled, was threatened with failure, and came out even on the other side with a stride. I then read every work available in chronological order, and I haven’t been the same since. I imitated the man’s written style as much as I could, though my vocabulary wants for expansion when placed next to his intonational trove. I shaved with a straight razor, placed a fedora atop my head, and explored Albany with the prejudicial, “home town” cataracts sliced away. Few match him, in my world. So to be asked to write three songs is an honor indeed, and flush luck in the deal.
Why was I asked? Well, the Albany Public Library hosts a music oriented book club, lead by the rocking and oh-so-groovy Charmboy bassist Sarah Clark. She caught the word from senior songwriting correspondent, Matt Durfee that I’m a Kennedy fan, with an inclination towards fanatacism. Together, the two of them cooked up a series which pairs songwriters and the authors they love with the book club and the authors they love. Discussion, songs, and interpretations stirred into a unique night over at the library. The Kennedy night is Wednesday, April 16, in Albany, NY, and you can read up and attend for the all-welcome fee of free.
From the Library, “The Reading Music Group departs from its usual discussion of musical nonfiction to host Albany singer-songwriter M.R. Poulopoulos. Poulopoulos has been writing songs inspired by William Kennedy’s Albany novels “Ironweed,” “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game,” and “Legs.” Part book discussion, part music performance, this is a one-of-a-kind event, and the first of a new discussion series featuring works of literature that have inspired works of song. This event will take place in Albany Public Library’s Pruyn Room.”
Here are the details via the rudimentary facebook page…
From the Low Down: In other show news, I’m headed down to Hastings on Hudson, Peekskill, and then onto Manhattan this weekend. I’ll be rolling strong in the first two shows with my musical compatriots, and good-time buddies in South County. I had sworn off the City for years, but am slowly making my way down there. If you know some folks down in NYC, send ‘em on out to Rockwood Music Hall at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. I’m bringing the good stuff.
I’m also jumping into the house concert scene as a host. So, in addition to playing shows for y’all, I’ll be hosting them here in the cozy environs of my living space. First up for the series, which I’ve named, “Rebel Darling Presents,” is Ian Fitzgerald, a first-rate songwriter based out of the Boston, MA area. When I first heard him play a handful of his tunes in a hotel room in November, I sat struck by the depth and brilliance of his songwriting. Here’s a video of Ian’s “Melinda Down the Line,” which was featured in the the New York Times article on “The Old Guitar.” Seats are very limited for this Friday, May 23 show in Schenectady. BYOB, pot-luck dinner, and $15 suggested donation. Y’all are the first to know about this, so send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to reserve a seat now.
As always, folks thank you for everything. Spread the word and share the song… Forward this email along to others you think would be interested. Definitely share the music, and head on out to catch an upcoming show, be it Rebel Darling with the boys, or a solo show… Your support keeps the wheels rolling. Thank you. See you out there.
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Hey there, folks.
This here is mostly a note for all of you in the Northeast. I’ve been thinking over the next LDR, and have it mapped out, for the most part, in my head. But I owe it to you to give the writing the time it deserves before I hit send. I want to tell you a story that draws together a beautifully written song by a friend, a small record shop in Schenectady, and a photograph. Stay tuned. I try to.
But here we are. I want to let you know that I’m playing a room this Friday in which brick walls absorb and share the secrets of spirits aplenty. The worn wooden floors press back decades of inspiration. If sincerity were a scent to be bottled, the perfumers would head to the stage, and kneel down to guage how it should reach the nose. And when the lights go low, currents of music course through the room. Some close their eyes. Others stare with a fixed gaze. Everyone leaves with a story. It’s no lie to say that some rooms stir the soul, churn the imagination, comfort the body, and humbly command reverence with a wink and quick smile. It’s rare to find one. Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY is such a room, and simply put, I am lucky and so very pleased that I have the opportunity to play and sing for you on that stage.
Friend, and talented songwriter Caitlin Canty will join John Rice (slide guitar), Ryan Dunham (harmonica) and I. A fitting return. And you’ll hear a full set of Caitlin’s songs, a true treat, and you’ll also hear a bit from all of us together. Conjuction junction… Quick interjection: Caitlin’s next album is being produced by one of my favorite literate and contemporary songwriters, Jeffrey Foucault. I’m betting she’ll share a few tunes from that baby. The boys and I? Well, we’ve got a few cards to pull out from our sleeves as well. Firm bets on a good night, and the Jack of Diamonds.
We’re going to keep it loose, fun and heartfelt. We’ve been looking forward to sharing the night with you for a while.
Here are the details:
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The calendar I mentioned in my prior post is now available. All the proceeds go to WEXT 97.7 FM to support their programming. All of the songwriters involved donated their time, though I can say that my shoot and tattoo session was a fun, somewhat painful, way to spend a day. The woman behind the lens is the woman behind it all. She pioneered this project, donating not only time, but equipment and talent too. That woman is Julia Zave at Julia Zave Photography. Thank you, Julia, even though you tried to persuade me into a much, much larger tattoo.
Here’s the photo from our shoot:
So pick up a calendar now, support the station (which you can stream here…), and hang some beautiful photography on your wall, all year long.
As noted in the last Low Down Review, No. 24, I sat for a tattoo at Ms. Dixie’s Tattoo & Pin Up Parlour. What I didn’t mention was that the session doubled as a photo shoot for WEXT 97.7 FM‘s upcoming Local 518 Calendar, which will benefit the station and help cover operational costs – a worthy cause.
During the shoot, Monkfish Media Group‘s Kiki Vassilakis captured video footage of both the tattoo and the shoot in progress. Pair that footage up with a few sample still shots from Julia Zave Photography, mix it in with footage and shots from all the other calendar shoots, and you have a behind the scenes video. Presto:
Hey Joe: A few weeks ago, in Saratoga Springs, NY, I was leaning back against the fence rail that separated the Keller Williams (thank you, Sam) concert-goers from those shuffling their way to some other party. I was taking in some air, beer in hand, during the set break between the opener and Keller’s set. A man walked up to me, pulled out a cigarette, and as he lit it, he said, “there’s something to be said about keeping your back to the wall.” He looked at me with a hint of suspicion. “I suppose there is,” I replied, and as he began to blow me off, I added, “I guess I’m cautious.” “Nothing wrong with that,” he said, and joined me on the rail.
We introduced ourselves, dug a bit into each other’s backgrounds, sipped our beers, and began trading music stories. This was his:
“STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN!? Man… I saw him in ’85, down at The Palace in Albany. It was the first time I’d seen or heard him. My buddy told me, ‘you gotta see this guy,’ and I’m up for just about anything, so I figured, why the hell not, you know?
“After the opener – who was pretty good, I forget who they were – Stevie Ray walks on stage wearing something like a frilly blouse, some kind of pink or purple scarf, and a big hat with silver medallions on it. I thought to myself, ‘What the hell is this? Who in the fuck is this guy?’ I looked at my buddy, and he didn’t say anything.
“Well, he didn’t waste any time talking or anything, he just tore right into this dirty, nasty, sweet, and I don’t know what tune, right off the bat. It’s like he hit the groove the second he stepped on to the stage. You could tell right away that this guy was all fire, man. He dug into this solo, burning it up, notes bending, singing, flying out like there was nothing between what his heart wanted to hear and what his fingers played. I just stood there, staring, listening, feeling that shit, and right at the top of it all, POP! The high-E string BREAKS! OH, MAN! You could see it swinging around in the stage lights, shining like a lightning bolt.
“Stevie Ray didn’t even pause, just kept right on with the groove and stomped over to the side of the stage. He yelled something back there – playing the whole time – and then strutted back to the center of stage and stood pat playing. Then some guy comes out from backstage with a stool. He set the stool right down in front of Stevie, sits on it, and… get this… Stevie flips his left hand up over the neck like this… and played it piano style while the tech RESTRUNG THE FUCKING GUITAR! Bwwowwww, bwwwieowww, bwwieeeyow, you could hear the string tuning up while Stevie’s mind and soul are still off somewhere laying it down, picking and bending the other five strings up-side-down. The tech picks up the stool, walks off stage like nothing’s happened, and Stevie digs in to kill the rest of this solo, ripping on the high-E. Then, he brings it down real soft and slow, leans into the microphone, and says, ‘My name is Stevie Ray Vaughan.’ Boom.”
Hey, Joe. Great story, man.
Tattoo Me: I thought I’d never get a tattoo. I thought it wasn’t my style, and I didn’t understand the desire. That changed as we carried “Harvest the Heart” through recording and into post-production. The image of the heart and the scythes, as Nick Reinert drew them, had a deep and lasting impact on my psyche when I first saw it, and I knew it was a special piece of art for me.
That sense grew stronger when finishing the record became both a personal and emotional struggle. Like most projects, what you didn’t imagine can become the greatest delight, or a burdensome obstacle. Nick’s art, and the boys’ playing were the delights. Wrapping the process up before deadline became the struggle as unimagined obstacles presented themselves.
Because of John Rice‘s efforts, selfless dedication, and professionalism, we wrapped up the post-production in time, and when I held that finalized CD in my hands, then listened to the tunes in the car, I knew that this experience would become a permanent part of my character and my being; a great deal changed over those few months. The image and the title drew the album and the effort together in one rugged, durable, and beautiful idea. And then, it came to me suddenly, and embedded itself amongst other recurring thoughts and daydreams – I wanted to express this feeling, this experience, through a tattoo. It’s as permanent as it can get for a body. Nick was the only choice as tattoo artist.
I wear Nick’s art and that image as a badge, as a medal, and as a reminder. I’m honored and lucky enough to have been with all the right people, at the right time, working together to complete a project that I love. All of that is wrapped into that image, and the phrase, harvest the heart.
NOTE: If you are looking for a tattoo, and live around New York’s Capital District, I can recommend (and strongly urge you to visit) Nick and Jessica over at Ms. Dixie’s. Not only are they imaginative artists with steady hands, they are consummate professionals. They left no detail untouched on both the art and the process. I was amazed at how much fun I had because they made me feel at ease and comfortable.
From the Low Down: Those Womacks are a special group of people. They are full of so much life, love, positive energy, support, and musical talent. If you missed their show a few weeks ago, consider it an opportunity to see and hear them for the first time when they swing through again. If you caught the show, you know… A word to the wise, though – never leave them alone with your camera:
You might have noticed that “Rebel Darling” is scattered throughout this email. I also changed my website’s URL over to www.rebeldarling.com. The reason is simple: the phrase rebel darling has become (perhaps always has been) a good description of the sound I’m trying to create, and the lyrics I write. I’ve been told this many times since I introduced the name on stage. It’s also a damn good name.
I provided a little background information on Rebel Darling over at the newly created facebook page, found here… It all started while sitting on stage with Ryan Dunham from the Red Haired Strangers, when I blurted out, “I think I’d like to call this Rebel Darling.” The whole room quieted down, and many of the folks in the room turned their heads towards the stage. That was a little over a year ago, and folks are still digging the name. Gotta go with what’s right and good.
The idea is to name the sound when I share the stage with any and/or all of the fine musicians I’ve come to know over the past few years. We all share a desire to constantly reimagine and reinterpret the tunes, playing them just how we feel. We’ve been rebelling from the rehearsed, and the result has been sweet. I’m not changing what is, I’m just giving it a name. On the technical side, all mrpoulopoulos.com info will just redirect over to the new URL, so it’s easy on the user. At some point soon, I’ll change the website header and the one here on the LDR as well. Further evolution may occur…
As always, folks thank you for everything. Spread the word and share the song… Forward this email along to others you think would be interested. Definitely share the music, and head on out to catch an upcoming show, be it Rebel Darling with the boys, or a solo show… There’s no way I could do any of this without you. Thank you. See you out there.
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Hey there, folks. Just a few quick notes here…
It’s a busy September, and I wanted to share the show dates with you folks. The dates are spread out across the local map, with a couple of jaunts beyond the median perimeter. Tomorrow, I’ll head to Freeport, ME to meet up with buddies Andrew Olsen, and Laurence Scudder for tunes, brews, and BBQs. Nice… Remember Andrew from The Low Down Review – No. 22? He’s hosting the first (annual?) OlsenFest at his guitar shop… If you’re in the Freeport, ME area, send me an email for details. It’s a low-key affair.
Next week, Friday, September 13, I’ll team up with a couple of lads from the Emerald Isle for a night of songs and stories (I’m sure…) at the Linda Norris Auditorium in Albany, NY. The lads call themselves “The Guggenheim Grotto,” and have been making the rounds on this side of the Atlantic to critical acclaim. I’m playing a meat and potatoes opening set, and will push hard for a facial hair competition. Details:
Hope to see you folks there, and/or at some of the other shows listed to the right…
Earlier this summer, songwriter friend o’mine Caitlin Canty reached out to me to ask if I’d like to contribute a song to her Summer 2013 Mix Tape. Easy questions get quick and easy answers. Mine was “yes.” It’s a joyful honor to be placed among some power-house and top-tier songwriters. And… All proceeds from the download go to the Miles of Music Camp, which fosters us lovable fools dedicating ourselves to the songwriting craft. Take a listen, and don’t wait on the download; Caitlin’s pulling the mix tape down next week. Fall is closer than I care to believe.
Be in touch guys, and as always, thanks for everything…
What’s Left Remains: About a mile off to the north of the Greybull Highway, a herd of wild mustangs kicked up dust, and grazed in the sage brush. We doubled back and headed for the gate of a dirt road near to where the horses milled about. The sign at the gate of the McCullough Peaks Road read “It is unlawful to approach wild horses.” Keeping to the dirt road, we rolled the car along wondering just what in the hell “approach” meant, and tried to reason a definition that would suit our purpose to get a closer look at the herd.
As we debated, we came up to the top of a hill and saw something of an unusual color for the terrain in the distance. After staring from behind the windshield for a while, we headed down to where it lay. At first, we thought it might be a canvas tarp held down by rocks, but as we walked closer, our imaginations settled down, and we realized what we were looking at, the remains of a palomino mustang.
The wind was soft, the sun high above the approaching storm clouds, and the body still – the vultures, coyotes, and ravens having long ago taken what life Death offered. The hooves appeared soft, their edges curved over, more like fingernails than horse hoof. The left, hind leg’s metatarsus, or cannon bone was broken and poked through the hide, which we took to be the cause of the death. Unable to walk, the horse likely bedded itself down in the low growth chaparral, and waited. Out of some unspoken respect, I didn’t touch what remained of the body. I thought we stumbled upon a scene more rare and sacred than the herd itself.
Dazed and quiet, we walked to the car and drove back towards the entrance of McCullough Peaks Road. The herd hadn’t moved much, and a pair took turns rearing up, and chasing each other. It looked like play. The dust floated up into a small cloud before the light breeze spread it thin. It was at that moment, as I took a right onto the highway towards Cody, that I realized that for both the living and the dead, what’s left remains.
Metrolanded: For those of you who know me well, my name garnering honorable mention in the Metroland, Albany NY’s Alternative Newsweekly, may be a bit of a surprise. It certainly was to me; I was notified of two separate honors this past month by text message… But upon the recommendation of local promoter, Greg Bell of Guthrie Bell Productions, and Ian White of music collective Swordpaw (I apologize for the lack of a link; the email wouldn’t send with it embedded or typed), and band Bear Grass, I read up on the writings of Josh Potter, and found him to be a sincere writer, not at all snarky in his reviews and commentary. Reading his articles refreshed me, and his insight and perspective interested me. I sent him an email, and soon thereafter, I mailed out Greenhorn and Harvest the Heart.
A few weeks later, a review of Harvest the Heart popped up. My favorite line from the review is, “…the thematic essence of what he writes is consistent with the genre’s pioneers.” That’s a satisfying sentence, judging from where I sit and write to you. It’s also quite an honor to set on the digital mantle.
And a week after that, I received a text message while in Wyoming congratulating me on my recognition as “Best Folk 2013″ by the Metroland Staff. I had no idea it was a category. Another honor for the digital mantle. You can read all the the staff picks for the best of music here… I dig this quote: “His straight-from-the-gut songwriting and sterling guitar work are best heard up close and personal in a small listening room, of which M.R. makes a steady round.” I must give a very big thank you to Josh Potter, and the others over at the Metroland that took my name (and the boys’ inspired work…) into consideration.
From the Low Down: I’ve been working in the studio a little bit, on other songwriters’ projects. One day, I found myself in James Kinne’s Bennington, VT based SoundMIND Studio pushing my way onto Danny Whitecotton‘s latest album, Love, War, and Other Mistakes. Give a listen, and you’ll catch my vocals, and slide guitar on a couple of tunes, in addition to Danny’s well-written songs. I’m honored by my inclusion on his album. The guy is a multi-talented, hard-working, and steady gigging musician, so check out his schedule and head on out and enjoy.
And… Mr. fingerpicking and songwritin’ hisself, as well as long-time friend and collaborator, Matt Durfee just launched a Kickstarter! campaign for his debut solo album, Little World. All I can say about Matt’s work ethic and talent can be summarized in a clear statement: you are going to want this album. Donate and listen in. I’m also honored that Matt asked me to be on this project (vocals and electric guitar). It’s been a long time coming, buddy, and it sounds great…
I’m starting to book out the Fall months, yeah, they’re just about here. The summer was great, and mostly relaxing, which I am very grateful for. It was the first in a very long while, and I felt as though I needed it. But I’m now looking forward to setting up on the stage and playing and singing for you folks. Most of the current shows are in NY’s Capital District, but I’m starting to schedule out more MA, VT, NH, ME dates, with some others on the table. Check out the full schedule here, and, of course, let me know if you want me to look into heading your way. The short list is below…
As always, folks thank you for everything. Spread the word and share the song… Forward this email along to others you think would be interested, and definitely share the music and head on out to catch a show. I truly wouldn’t be able to do any of this without you. We’ve got some exciting events on the horizon. Thank you…
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