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The Low Down Review – No. 26

12 Sep

Ken, Casting His Hand-tied Fly.

Promise Kept: Ken returned in the morning as promised. He patched a hole in his belly boat, pulled on his waders, and headed into the cool, early-light water. From our tent, we heard the slurp and snap of his fly line on the pond, and then the quiet anticipation of a well-placed cast. The July sun rose in a cloudless sky over the ridge to the east, and heat filled the still tent air. We stirred. The trout jumped.

He had left his gear with us the night before. A stranger when he approached our camp, but respectful and pleasant, we invited him to join us and watch an osprey dry itself at the tip of a pine tree. With an excited pitch to his voice, he asked if he could use our field glasses. An immediate friend. We offered him jerky, nuts, and the finest in dehydrated lasagna. He took nothing but water, and left us smiling. We agreed to watch over his gear so that he didn’t have to hike back up the mountain with the full load the following morning. That’s what friends do.

“You two want brekkie?” he called in Canadian slang from his pontoon lounge at the pond’s center. He was reeling in a brook trout, and sported a smile that left a shadow on the sun. We had been prepping for some freeze-dried eggs with green pepper and bacon bits, but with a quick glance, we dropped the sealed pouch by the bear can. Neither one of us had eaten trout this fresh. “You bet,” I hollered back across the water.

Cleaned Brook Trout

I met him at the pond edge on a large, smooth blanket of granite rock face. He inspected the trout in the sunlight, drawing attention to its speckeld beauty, the fins translucent and the colors of fire flicker, and, once cleaned, the pink and delicate flesh. He turned the fish over and opened the belly to show me the meat, a trout canoe. His hands shook slightly with delight and years.

Up at the campsite, Ken pulled out a cast-iron skillet and a quarter stick of butter from his day-pack. We were surprised, but Ken gave us a sly smile and asked for low heat on the butane stove. The butter crackled and bubbled up in the skillet, and Ken placed the fish in the center. A rapid sizzle sounded out, and Ken called for lower heat. The sizzle slowed and a savory scent wafted up, a confluence of butter and fresh trout. The fish curved and browned. Brekkie was served to our trio in the skillet with two forks.

Fresh Brekkie

We picked the trout clean, leaving only the head, tail, backbone, and ribs, a stripped canoe. Ken and I headed back down to the pond edge. He planned to return the carcass to the center of the pond to foil scavenging carnivores. Then he’d send the fly out again, just for the fun. I decided to chat him up while he slipped the waders on, and tied a Turle Knot around the turned-down eye of a fresh fly hook.

Ken’s Hand-tied Fly Case

Ken had been up the mountain and to the pond before, a few decades back, when he was a teacher in Canada. He had relished the quiet and solitude, and was surprised that no other folks had set up camp around the perimeter of the pond. After he caught a delicious trout for himself, he promised the pond that he would return when he could. A career, the birth of a daughter, white hair, and 30 years later, he was making good on his word. We were the only people camping on the pond now, and we had found the same spot of granite. We shook hands.

As Ken slowly peddled his way out to the center of the pond, I stood and watched him, enjoying the benefits of a promise kept.

Reading to the Author – photo by Daniel Curtis

Greatest Game: I grin every time I talk about it. My eyes widen when I stop to think about it. I wrote songs based on novels by the author who has inspired me most, and he showed up for the event. Hot damn! The man wins the Pulitzer Prize, casts Jack Nicholson to play the lead in the movie, commands the English language as easily as I breathe, builds a lifetime of accomplishments and a catalogue of work Jesus would be jealous of, and then shows up with his family to attend an event put on by us. After the performance, he sat behind a microphone, discussed the event, the songs and music, elaborated on how music influences his writing, and even read a related section from “Ironweed.” His daugther later told me that he hadn’t read from that story in a long while, and that the night we chose just happened to be the 30th anniversary of his first grandson’s birth, and his winning of the Pulitzer. William Kennedy embodies Class. And so do Sarah Clark, Deanna DiCarlo, Matt Durfee, Laurence Scudder, Roger Noyes, The Fattest Man, The Albany Public Library, and everyone that helped turn a gamble, and possibly inauspicious event into a great night, and one of the most memorable in my life. I believe that the night held a generous serving of the undeniable mystery of life that Kennedy writes so well into his stories. Thank you all.

You can watch my nerves peak, my core tremble, and the evening unfold on the Albany Public Library’s YouTube Channel. Stay tuned for further announcements on this project…

Chatting with the Author – photo by Daniel Curtis


From the Low Down: In the last LDR, I mentioned that I was dreaming of summer travel, and I mostly satisfied that desire. Sort of. Well… I was in Austin, TX, throughout the state of Alaska (More on that in the next LDR, I imagine), in the Adirondacks, roaming around New England, and I have a few more plans to travel this year. I am, I admit, dragging my legs along, but the home comforts of fall will rejuvenate. They usually do. Well, sort of.

Much has been going on behind the scenes, and I’ll shout a little now: I signed on to produce Danny Whitecotton‘s next EP, and you’ll hear some of the Rebel Darling fellas on that recording. We’ve got the scratch guitar and vocals down, so more on that in the coming months.

I’m honored to write that the good folks over at Red Line Roots in Somerville and Cambridge, MA selected yours truly to be a part of the second volume of “Locals Covering Locals.” I’m there so damn much, they’ve named me an honorary local. Good news for me, for certain. Read more on that project here… FYI, I’ll be back that way on Sunday, October 5, to record, and for a show at Toad with Red Line Roots honcho, Brian Carroll (I’m hearing that some special guests will be in attendance).

I haven’t yet told you that you can get your own Rebel Darling “Harvest the Heart” T-Shirt. They’ve been stolen by wives and significant others all over New England. They are that comfortable. Pardon the model, but here’s a look at the shirt:

Click Here to Get Your Own…

This weekend, I have a pair of festival shows. Saturday is my annual trek up to St. Regis Falls for Beanstock in the Northern Adirondacks. I’m looking forward to seeing you folks, for certain. It’s a family affair, and the family is good. On Sunday, I’ll be down in Katonah, NY for the first Tribes Hill Music Festival, which features the likes of Red Molly, Sloan Wainwright, and a whole host of other talented songwriters and performers. Here’s the facebook event page…

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.

– Mike

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The Low Down Review – No. 25

28 Feb


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 if you want to reserve a seat now.

Join us, won’t you?

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.

– Mike

I’m already dreaming of summer travel…

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The Low Down Review – No. 24

29 Oct

A Rebel Darling Configuration…
Photo by Kyle Plante

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.

Click here to listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan and
Albert King play “Blues at Sunrise.” SRV breaks a string at the end…

It’s worth the 15 minutes.

Fresh Ink, Raw Skin. Lots of Freckles…
Nick Reinert is TALENTED

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.

The Needle and Pen

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.

Seriously, it was fun…
Photo by Julia Zave

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:

LtR – Noah and Tony of The Womacks

You might have noticed that “Rebel Darling” is scattered throughout this email. I also changed my website’s URL over to 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 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.

– Mike

FYI – this place is better than ever…

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The Low Down Review – No. 23

16 Aug

Wild Mustang, Big Horn Basin, Wyoming

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.

From Afar, the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming

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.

Danny Whitecotton, in the Studio

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…

– Mike

Congratulations, many thanks, and lots of love to Matt & Kelly
for throwing a kick-ass party, and a hosting a beautiful ceremony
somewhere in the middle of Montana

Rebel Darling at Bellstock, photo by Roger Noyes

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The Low Down Review – No. 22

8 May

Maine Turnpike, Falmouth Spur
Photo by Laurence Scudder

Blinding Nemo: Remember February? I do… I woke up at dawn, cold in guitar maker, Andrew Olsen‘s basement. Drew and his family put Laurence Scudder and I up after our Friday night blizzard show in Portland, ME – we were on a quick four-day tour through the N.E., and it just so happened that it was during the Snowpocalypse or Snowmageddon, or however the hell the news described it. They named the storm, Nemo. Drew and Laurence go way back, are good friends, and I wanted to take the greatest care in accepting the generous hospitality. But I was getting frustrated with the chill, and while stuck in a bleary-eyed daze, I couldn’t understand just where in the hell it was coming from. The house was new construction, and seemed solid. As I pulled the comforter closer around me, I woke a bit and realized that I heard the wind blowing, clear and crisp. Curious, I rolled over and saw that I had left the basement door open. Shit.

I hopped up from the air mattress and ran over to shut the door, plunging a bare foot down into 6 inches of snow on the cork floor. I brushed off my foot, pulled on my boots, grabbed a dust pan and shoveled the drift back out into the whipping wind and shifting snow blanket. After about 10 more minutes, I had the door shut again. I crawled back under the comforter and heard the furnace, all fired up, working hard. It was the first of many shovelling experiences over the course of the next couple of days. Nemo found us over on the Eastern sea-board, tracked our movement, and buried us in snow.

Well, we better get working…

Lucky for me, Drew and his family are not only generous, but easy going and understanding. There was a “no harm, no foul” receipt of the news, and that took a weight off my conscience. Drew said something along the lines of, “Yeah, that door doesn’t quite stick. I should take a look at it.” We spent the night before in his workshop, picking out tunes, sharing our favorite albums, and having generous doses of bourbon and scotch; it was a blizzard, and a short walk from shop to home (albeit through thigh-deep snow)… I was relieved when that warm and welcome vibe carried through my morning news. It was one of those special, memorable nights, and I hated the thought of scratchng it out with an absent-minded key-stroke.

Andrew Olsen’s AO Guitar Shop

And I’m excited to head back Andrew’s way, with Laurence, and our buddy and songwriter, Ryan Fitzsimmons in just a couple of weeks. We’ll all share the stage at Blue, a fine listening room in Portland, ME with delicious food and tasty beer. Blue is a well-thought out spot. I’m betting that we’ll be back at Drew’s shop, throwing a few beverages back, and a bunch of tunes out into the Spring night. It’s a welcome weather change, and I’m hoping to set firm some new memories on the green grass. It’ll be another Rebel Darling night, folks. More on that later, if you’re not yet taking to the shape of it.

Terry Doyle – WIOX DJ

Terry Doyle: I thought I was going to have the chance to take a better photo of Terry, but I was wrong. Terry Doyle, WIOX DJ and host of the Crackle and Imprint radio shows, passed away in February, due to lingering complications from a heart attack.

The day before he died, we shot the shit on facebook, and it was clear that his spirits were high. I thought all was well, and that I would have seen him early in March for an interview, and about a dozen of his signature Snickerdoyle cookies. The next day, I found out he died, and it was like I had been drained of my energy, and certainly a bit of my spirit. The news was sudden, and I felt a loss quick. Terry was an excited and energetic supporter of music, and songwriters in particular. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of NY bands, particularly those around the Catskill Region.

I hadn’t known Terry for too long, but he had a quirky sensibility, a slightly spastic disposition, and a genuine appreciation for music. As the saying goes, to know him is to love him, and Terry was an easy guy to get to know. He was upfront and sincere, made no bones about who he knew, who he wanted on his show, what he liked, and who he was. I liked him and his frenetic approach instantly. We recorded an interview in the front seat of my car in a coffee house parking lot in the Catskills. That’s how I met the guy. That was fun… Last I spoke with him in person, he had some very kind words for me, and neither they, nor Terry, will be forgotten. I truly miss the guy. He was a good one.

Click here for “Harvest the Heart”
Also available on iTunes

From the Low Down: It’s been a long while since I’ve reached out to you folks in this format. The better part of half a year slipped away from me. Time started to break away in pieces, at the very moment when I thought I had a grasp on how she dances. Maybe I held on too hard. Or maybe the tune changed, and the band leader hopped over to an awkward time signature, perhaps 13/8, all the while yelling, “Dance boy!” He tapped out the tempo in a shuffle, but I’m betting that before I have time to spin back around, I’ll be in an all-out sprint towards the caesura, and who knows who or what awaits on the other side of that timeless gap?

It’s been a blur, and the safe money is on that to continue through May. Throw your dollars down on the summer too. I’m hoofing a bit (with the help of a rental car), and trying to make my way through Wyoming, and looking to secure a night in fabled San Fran. Mid-point in time is Montana for some dear friends’ wedding. I’m picking for the processional. Y’all know anyone around those parts willing to host a home show, or to share some info one what’s good, real, and low down? Click on reply, if so, or if you just feel a chat stirring.

There are a few moments of sharp clarity scattered througout the whirling blur. One that stands out at this moment is meeting and hanging back-stage with human juke-box Martin Sexton. Laurence Scudder asked if I wanted to head to the show over at the Berklee College of Music’s Performing Arts Center in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Sounded like a good time. I had no idea that Martin had asked Laurence to join him on stage, or that I’d have one of those all access passes stuck to my shirt, a first for me.

Laurence Scudder sawing on the viola
with Martin Sexton

Sexton is a warm, loving, and generous man. I am not kidding you when I say that his hugs are electrified. He’s also a dedicated professional, and an amazing talent. It’s clear that Boston is firmly planted in his heart, and he sure as hell shared it throughout his performance. The pre-show Thai was pretty tasty, but the show was powerful, sincere, and prepared and executed with precision as well as passion. In short, he owned the night.

It’s pretty damn clear that I have many, many reasons to be greatful. So, and as always, folks thanks for everything. Spread the word and share the song… I truly wouldn’t be able to do any of this without you.

– Mike

A great way to spend post-show time.
This was one of my favorite nights…

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The Low Down Review – No. 21

31 Dec

Boiling Gold: For a while, I was defintely in the low down, folks. I’m just now peeking through the most sick I’ve ever felt. I had the worst of what’s going around, a flu that wrapped a few other maladies into its careless cocktail of static illness. Dramatic? Not at all… Shit was intense, and the couch was the farthest I could reach from the bed for a week. I cancelled my last show of the year, and fell in and out of awareness to bad movies on Netflix.

Volcano, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche is probably the worst of the bunch, but watching Tommy Lee Jones react to a volcano erupting and forming in the middle of downtown Los Angeles proved to be a healthy dose of humor amidst a collection of crumpled tissues and empty tea cups. The man yells about as much as Samuel Jackson, and takes more charge than a fleet of car batteries.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, and just last night, I found Even the Rain (Tambien La Lluvia), a brilliant, layered movie that drew complicated parallels between the Spanish conquest of the Americas in search of gold in the 15th and 16th centuries and the fight in the Americas over water rights, using the Chochabamba protests in 2000 as a backdrop. The movie pushes the notion that though the details change, the story remains the same, but does so without falling neatly into the cliche. Substitute gold with water, and you’ll get the gist of where the movie takes the viewer. This does not stand to minimize the effectiveness of the cinematography, the dialogue and the captivating performances…

I’ll avoid a detailed recounting of the storyline (here’s the trailer), but I have to mention that the screenwriter, Paul Laverty has a masterful command of irony as an artistic and revelatory tool (we ain’t talking obscure albums and PBRs here…). He showed remarkable ability in weaving the conflicting stories of the indigenous fight for rights and the perceived rights of those in power into a coherent drama about a director and his producer. The characters (who endeavor to film a controversial movie about Christopher Columbus in the Americas) and their rich portrayal are the result of a very deep tool chest, and provide the viewer with an engaging story, as well as a detailed and colorful tapestry.

So, after the movie, and as I turn on the kettle for another cup of tea, I do so reminded that while I’ve been feeling down, I am, by and large, not held down. And while I ain’t yet paying gold for my water, I know it’s more precious than gold. Water, in my mind, is a gift of life from the planet, not a product for sale by humans.


Two if by Mail: I want to get the New Year off to a generous start, so I’m offering up a two-for-one sale on physical, mail-order Greenhorn sales for the month of January. It’s real simple, folks. Anyone who clicks the “Buy Now” link below or the identical link on my website to purchase through PayPal will receive an extra copy of Greenhorn for free. What should you do with this additional album? No rules against re-gifting around here; send it along to a friend you think will enjoy the tunes and spread the generous spirit. Happy New Year, folks!

From the Low Down: I wish I had more news on the recording front, but December is a difficult month to record, and a prolonged illness, John’s sprained ankle, holiday festivities, a vacation to Key West, and some other issues delayed the proceedings. We do, though, have quite a bit already recorded, including the vocal tracks for half of the album. So, there’s good news for certain. We have a lot to accomplish next month, though.

Also in the realm of good news and related to the album, I met with tattoo artist, designer and photographer Nick Reinert a couple of weeks ago to view some of his ideas for the cover art. It was an exciting meeting because the guy had some brilliant sketches, and I’ll show you one:

That image will be the thematic center-piece for all the album art, as well as for the collection of songs, and I’m glad to be working with Nick again after a long break between projects. Nick worked with me and Matt Durfee in 2007, snapping photos and helping with staging for the Palatypus CD Release show. Make sure you folks check out Nick’s work and portfolio at his website.

In other good news, the tickets to March’s CD release party are now available on Caffe Lena’s website. Here’s the direct link to the event page and ticket information, and here’s the info on the show – you’ll be reading and hearing a lot about this one:

    Harvest the Heart CD Release Show
    with opener Caitlin Canty
    Saturday, March 30 – Doors at 7:00 p.m.
    Caffe Lena
    47 Phila Street
    Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
    Ticket Info: Member – $12 / General – $14
    Purchase tickets here…

As always, folks thanks for everything. I’ve got a lot in the queue for the new year, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you all. Spread the word and share the song… I truly wouldn’t be able to do this without you.

– Mike

Ernest Hemingway’s Typewriter
Hemingway House, Key West, FL

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The Low Down Review – No. 20

15 Nov

The Evidence – Photo by Greg Klyma

Stairwell Inspiration: Sometimes songs are found after days of playing with a melody, or weeks of scrawling out the particulars of a life event. Other times songs are found in a stairwell.

Rust-belt vagabond, buddy, and Boston-based troubador Greg Klyma and I left a late-night showcase room while at NERFA and headed towards the stairwell. While trudging up the stairs, guitars in tow, I muttered the phrase, “she can make a man change his mind.” We went silent. Our footsteps, and the muffled chatter a few flights up, were the only sounds. I could feel our concentration bearing down on that phrase. After about five seconds, I said, “I’m holding onto that one.” We burst into a sly laugh, and our focus sharpened.

We headed right for Greg’s room, broke out a guitar and mandolin, passed a flask of whiskey between us, and flipped open the notebook. 40 minutes later (at 3:30 a.m.), with the instruments and an empty flask, we headed back out into the NERFA fray to shop the song around. By all accounts, we’ve a keeper.

It’s happened a few times before, and I’m still amazed by how a seemingly random phrase becomes the seed from which a song bears fruit. Greg and I knew, maybe instinctively, that the phrase was a chorus to an unwritten song. We also knew, without really discussing the objective, that it was our job to find out who said that phrase and capture that character in a few verses, choruses and a revelatory bridge. We just sat down and started plugging away with a disposable pen, some scribbles, our share of duds, and a few flourishes.

We walked out of Greg’s room with a solid country tune, and some ideas on how to bring it to y’all’s ears – more on that in the coming months. And, if you request “Make a Man Change His Mind,” I’ll play it at a show (I’m working on the bridge vocals; it’s a little higher than my normal range, but I’m getting there). For now, I’m sending gratitude across the Berkshires and over the Pioneer Valley – I’m glad we decided to take the stairs, Greg.

LtR – Bob Ristau, Mike Eck, Ryan Dunham, myself, Mat Kane
Photo by Josh DuJack

Turn Your iPod On: This just in, folks: you can purchase the Lost Radio Rounders’ latest CD, Heaven’s Radio on CD Baby as both a physical CD and as a digital download. That’s right, you can get that old-timey, spirit-lifting live sound right on your computer, or in your mailbox. Just look at them photos, folks. You know you want to hear how it sounds. Purchase individual songs, or the album as a whole. It’s wholesome music originally recorded by the Carter Family, and it’ll do your soul some good to listen in. Step right up…

Not a bad pitch, ehy? In all seriousness, you should check out this recording. It was recorded in a similar fashion to how the Carter Family would have done it years ago: straight live. The CD release party was a great time, and I thank Mike Eck and Tom Lindsay for asking me to be a part of the project – I hope we get to play again. It was also a pleasure to be part of such a stellar cast, including Kim Kilby, Ryan Dunham, Bob Ristau, and Mat Kane.

Click here to sample and/or purchase Heaven’s Radio

LtR – Ryan Dunham, Tom Lindsay, myself
Photo by Josh DuJack

From the Low Down: You might notice that my show schedule is shorter than usual. The reason is we’ve started recording and I have to set as much time as possible aside to make sure we finish on schedule. That’s right, there’s a schedule, and there’s already a deadline. Why is there already a deadline? Well, the guys (John Rice, Roger Noyes and Tommy Krebs) and I will release the next album on Saturday, March 30th at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY. I’m already excited, and we have a lot of work to do in order to make it happen.

Photo by John Rice

Joining us for the night will be Caitlin Canty, a wonderfully talented singer and songwriter, based out of NYC, but originally from Vermont. I happened upon Caitlin’s latest album, Golden Hour online and by chance. After a few songs, I clicked “Purchase” and wrote her a note informing her that I’d be stealing from her album. After meeting her this past weekend, and hearing each other perform, we sat down to share a few tunes. Turns out we have some similar musical interests and approaches, and I’m looking forward to introducing her sincere and thoughtful songs to y’all. Many thanks to the clairvoyant Sarah Craig at Lena’s for making it happen. Put this show in your calendars now. Advance tickets are recommended.

In the immediate future, I’m also excited for this Friday’s show (Nov. 16) at Desolation Road Studios in Altamont, NY. You might remember that I mentioned Jim and his work in LDR No. 19. On Friday, Jim hosts Rosary Beard (Hunter Sagehorn & Matthew Loiacono) and I for a warm night of tunes to chill to. Here are the details:

Head on out and join us, request a song or two. It’s a comfortable room, and I plan to play a comfortable, relaxed set. And… Rosary Beard writes beautiful music, suitable for just about every situation. Their album, Halfmoon Fever is an outstanding addition to any catalogue. Hope to see you there.

As always, folks thanks for everything. Spread the word and share the song… I truly wouldn’t be able to do this without you.

– Mike

Maya de Vitry (The Stray Birds)
Bears Down on the Banjo at NERFA

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The Low Down Review – No. 19

4 Oct

LtR – John Rice, myself and Laurence Scudder. Photo by Courtney “Coco” Blackwell

Summer-ville, MA: I had a hell of a good time out in the Boston area this summer. I took quite a few trips out there and raised hell at Porchfest, an informal outdoor festival in Somerville, shook my nerves at the venerable Club Passim in Cambridge, enjoyed the warm and receptive Toad, also in Cambridge, and let it out at the jovial Burren Backroom in Somerville. I even sat for a bit in Harvard Square’s subway station belting out tunes to the stomp of foot-traffic and hiss of train brakes, sneaking sips of whiskey between songs. Courtney Blackwell, the sweet voice in the Blackwell Sinners and on Greenhorn, snapped the above photo at Toad – one of my favorite gigs, and I was very fortunate to sit between two of my favorite, and excellent musicians.

Throughout the vast majority of those Boston gigs, you could hear Laurence Scudder and his viola, laying down melodies that span the globe. He strode with form and grace from Arabic scales to Appalachain flourishes. He’s a tasteful, attentive player and his resume lists him as a steady side-man to not only the Boston area’s finest song-writers and bands, but national acts as well. Here’s a link to a video in which Laurence joins the one-man music machine, Martin Sexton on stage for a hard hitting version of Sexton’s “Gypsy Woman.” For a few years, he toured with the jazz-folk-funk outfit, The Ryan Montbleau Band, and he’s put together some wonderful work for the up-and-coming Brothers McCann.

After Porchfest, it was easier to take the
Tonka to Toad

It’s clear that Laurence is an accomplished and skilled musician, but what I’ve come to know is that he’s a down-to-earth guy and, like I mentioned earlier, a hell of a lot of fun to hang with. He’s been a huge help in expanding my gigging range, and the reason I’ve been able to return to Boston time and again. Both he and John Rice (my tunes would still just be sitting on paper without Mr. Rice, and if you’ve seen me play, you’ve likely heard John’s versatile and learned melodic vocabulary) have taught me, through their example, how to listen and share while playing, and, quite simply, patience. So I’ve got to bring the go-to sidemen to the forefront and say, “Thanks, guys. This shit’s fun, and it wouldn’t be right without ya.”

At the ready..

Not So Desolate a Road: Located right on State Route 146, at 182 Main Street, in Altamont, NY, you’ll find Jim Miller’s Desolation Road Studios, a relatively undiscovered room for regional art and music in the Albany area. The studio space is a perfect size for a warm, acoustic performance, and he knows it. He set up cafe tables in the middle of the shop for listeners.

Recently, Jim constructed a custom frame for a photograph I took and wanted to give to a good friend as a wedding gift; I was honored to be the Best Man, a description a few folks would likely take issue with… He suggested that I consider barn wood for the frame, with a double mat for both depth of perspective and complimentary tonality in color. His suggestion sounded spot-on to me, and as you can see for yourself in the photo below, he did a beautiful job. And… I can tell you that his reasonable custom framing prices would send Michael’s into a fit of confusion. Plus, he’s a small business owner, so he invests himself in each project with dedication to detail; he knows his name travels with each frame and photograph.

A sample of Jim Miller’s framing talents

Pack the car full of folks, and head on out to Altamont and visit Jim (you can catch a wood fired pizza next door at Mio Vino). While at the Studio, pick up some hand-made jewelry or pottery, chat him up for your next framing project, and bring some beer or wine to one of the many shows he hosts on his intimate stage: I’ll return to Desolation Road for a pre-Christmas show on December 22nd. Simply put, Jim’s a good guy, and works hard to make sure that his customers are comfortable and pleased. Give him a go, and say hello for me.

From the Low Down: Tonight (Oct. 4), I’ll be back in Cherry Valley, NY for a two-hour set at The Rose and Kettle. The R&K has one of, if not the best prepared menus in the Capital District. Matt is a serious chef, and a laid-back guy, a righteous combination. Rumor has it that The Black Fox River Project’s lead man, Brad Towle might show for a few beers and a few songs (Check out his new EP at the link). It all goes down at 8:00 p.m., and it’s worth the short drive.

Taking a different track than I did this summer, I have a number of shows scattered around the Albany, NY area in the next few weeks – get complete details here… I’ll call attention to two shows listed, and they’re back-to-back. On Friday, October 19, help me celebrate months of hard work by the old-timey (but no where near old) guys in The Lost Radio Rounders at the Steamer No. 10 Theatre in Albany. You may recall that I’ve teamed up with these encyclopedic performers a couple of times and they’ve decided to release a selection of live recordings from those collaborations on a disc titled, Heaven’s Radio: Gospel Songs of the Carter Family. Here’s a note on the album release directly from their website:

“We’ve had this one professionally mastered, designed and printed; it looks spiffy and it sounds great. Please join us, along with special guests M.R. Poulopoulos and Kim Kilby (who are featured on the record along with harmonica man Ryan Dunham and bassist Cousin Clyde) for our CD Release Concert. This is going to be a wonderful evening in a real sit-down theater, and you’ll have an opportunity to get your own copy of the record. Please tell your friends. We’re very excited about this show.” Me too, guys… Check out all the details for the show here… Hope to see you there, and that you take a disc home.

The second show fits nicely into the new CD theme. I’ve begun pre-production work and practice on the next album (a collection of 10 new, original songs), and some fine players and I are filling out the tunes in order to develop a feel for how the album will sound. Join John Rice, Roger Noyes (Arch Stanton Quartet / Dan Johnson and The Expert Sidemen), Tommy Krebs (Alta Mira), and I on Saturday, October 20th at the recently re-opened More Bread & Jam Cafe in Cohoes, NY. We’re kicking that adventure off at 7:00 p.m., and you might want to bring some dancing shoes. A few of the tunes require them.

It needs to be said that I’m very excited about the songs on this next album, and that you should expect the above players as well as some additional musicians (including Scudder and his viola) to join on for the effort. I am constantly humbled and amazed by the talent that has been, and continues to be supportive of my music and efforts. These folks enrich not only the songs, but my life, and I’m hoping that I do the same for them.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a pen and notebook out to Northampton, MA and wrote a review of the Kelly Joe Phelps performance, and the good folks at Nippertown published the review. Read the review by clicking here…

I plan to be pretty busy over the next few months with recording, gigging, and the daily duties behind a towel and dish-soap, but I’m hoping that I can at least send out a few shorter updates on my whereabouts and to catch you up on how it’s all going (please share the same…). It may be a bit before I have the time to put together another LDR, but then again, that ain’t nothing new.

So, hopefully, I’ll see you out there, and as always, folks thanks for everything. Spread the word and share the song… I simply can’t do it without you.

– Mike

On the spot harmony to Dandelion Wine…

LtR – Jim Trick, Sierra West, Marinna Bell and myself at Club Passim.
Photo by Denise A. Maccaferri

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The Low Down Review – No. 18

25 Jul

Hospitality by the Unnamed, to Protect the Generous

In Hospitality: After playing to an empty room in Montour Falls and an unsuccessful attempt to find a spot to crash, I found myself stuck at a Comfort Inn in Corning, NY on a Friday night during the Finger Lakes Wine Festival (Read: artificially jacked-up prices; there were plenty of rooms left, despite the tour buses). I grabbed two handfuls of fruit out of the bowl by the door and decided to start Saturday fresh with some busking in Centerway Square. It was a beautiful morning, and while I hadn’t slept much for a week, I felt refreshed. In the square, some folks were setting up for a Farmers Market. I asked them if they had, or wanted any acoustic music to accompany the vendors. They looked at me with distrust, gave no answer and said that I should go talk to the guy inside. Okay. I carried my guitar case and a few CDs inside.

At first, he viewed me skeptically, saying something about not knowing if I could, or if he could allow it, etc. I passed a disc across the counter. He mentioned that I could play out on the stage in the Square if I wanted. “It’s a public space,” he said. He’d even turn off the background music for me. Nice. I set up shop on the stage steps, and started picking out some tunes. A few bucks here, a few bucks there, some folks gathering ’round to listen, a young kid who liked the tunes. He got a disc after he asked his sister for a dollar. “But I only gave you a dollar,” he said. A kind guy who looked like he underwent throat cancer surgery sat on a bench with an “In Search of God” book open in front of him. He read passively, tapping his foot, later telling me he was a drummer. He claimed his retriever, “Sammy” was his only true friend in the world. A teenager in a punk band, with no money sat for a while, nodding his head. It was a good turn into the noon hour and I was feeling all right. Corning’s Gaffer District had other plans, however, and they didn’t include me.

You can’t be here. It’s not allowed.” I was in the middle of “No Diamonds to Toss.” The voice seemingly came from nowhere, and I suddenly felt like I was a kid again cutting through Mel’s backyard. “We have a band here at 2:00 p.m.” It was just after 12:00. I killed the song on the spot as the rest of the Gaffer crew looked on from a table set off to the side. I took a breath. “Well, where can I be,” I asked. “120 feet from the Square.” So be it, and so I go. The folks listening looked confused.

Now, I’m not sharing this story to hate on Corning’s Gaffer District. Seriously, I’m not. That would be too easy, and I benefitted from the outcome; I ended up finding Corning Art & Frame, a great custom framing shop that sold hand-made cigar-box guitars and bass guitars, as well as music memorabilia and a few customized instruments. I made some decent money busking outside that shop in a little less than an hour. I also want to avoid eliciting sympathy. There is no need for any of us to feel bad here; I was more surprised and then confused by the exchange than anything.

I am sharing this story because it’s a vivid example of what I’ve been experiencing with greater regularity over the past few weeks. Namely, people employing an aggressive, arrogant and hostile attitude in an attempt to realize what’s seen in the mind’s eye and forcing a singular vision – I’ll call them “rulers” here. All this situation (and others) called for was a conversation. You guys getting the same out there, or are the planets aligning against me? Maybe it’s me that’s changed. Or maybe the reason is that I’m traveling and meeting more people. But frankly, I’m done with that shit. A message to the rulers: You can rule without meHat tip to the great guys at Record Archive in Rochester, NY for the suggestions and albums.

Thankfully, for every ruler I met recently, I found at least 10 on the conversational side, and I’m grateful for the time they shared with me. I didn’t even agree with half of them, but understanding meant more than agreement with these folks. That’s some good news, and as James, who drove me to the Kansas City, MO airport on Sunday, told me, “I’ve met many more good people, Mike. Many more.”

Speaking of conversational folks, I arrived at the Black-Eyed Susan Acoustic Cafe in Angelica, NY for a Saturday night performance – folks familiar with the LDR might remember this location from the LDR 14, and those of you who are new, check the link out. The folks there again provided me with a memorable evening full of laughter, stories, delicious food, music and general joy. If you need one reason to visit Angelica, NY, the Black-Eyed Susan is a great one. Don, Karen, Jim, Caedren, and Matt, Thank you… Your hospitality is graceful and natural, and your friendship is a true delight. I hope to see you folks again in the near future.

Nipper Found a Place in Corning

Take the Parkway: If you’re a musician or sound engineer in NY’s Capital District, you’ve likely visited Parkway Music. If you’re a musician or sound engineer around here and you haven’t visited Parkway, you better get yourself over there. The folks behind the counter are consummate professionals, are easy to talk to and willing to share not only their knowledge but a few stories to place that knowledge within a digestable context. Even if you’re just a beginner looking for your or your kid’s first instrument, the folks at Parkway will help make sense of the array of options and pair you up with the best fit.

And while I’m on the topic of good fits (you had to know that I’ve been leading you into some news), the Parkway guys recently put me together with the latest member of my instrument family, a Martin D-18 1937 Authentic. This guitar, while newly made, came from Martin’s Custom Shop, which means that it’s hand-crafted by one person, a truly individual guitar. The guitar was built according to the 1937 specifications, hence the date attached to its name. The specs include a solid Adirondack Spruce top, solid mahogany sides, back and neck, solid Brazilian Rosewood purfling and headplate, and a solid black ebony fingerboard and bridge, just to name a few features. In common language, it’s a beautiful, booming instrument with clear, crisp, and even tone. I’m still shocked, and consider myself lucky that I can play it every day. I owe Matt, Madison, Charlie and the guys up at Parkway a great deal of gratitude. Here are some photos from home:

From the Low Down: On Sept. 1, I’ll participate in a campfire of an unusual sort and in an unusual location: right in the bustling center of Cambridge, MA where open fires invite the PD and FD to break up your party. This campfire is sanctioned, however. I’ve been invited to play Club Passim’s “campfire.” Labor Day music festival, and I’m very excited. The folks at Passim scheduled me in for a Saturday songs in-the-round with Sierra West, Jim Trick, and Marianna Bell.


A few musicians I know and shared stages with are also slotted to send their tunes out to the Cambridge crowd: you’ll find the sweet harmonies of the Brothers McCann, the driven soul of Ryan Fitzsimmons, and incendiary and soothing sounds of The Stray Birds (Catch The Stray Birds’ new video for “Railroad Man” here…). I’m truly honored to share the bill with so many established and up-and-coming talents at the historic Club Passim.

Tonight (Wednesday, July 25), catch me teaming up with the Lost Radio Rounders and Cousin Clyde from a slew of good acts, including his latest collaboration, Kim and Clyde. We’re meeting at the Voorheesville Public Library (NY) at 6:30 p.m. for a show titled, “Wildwood Flower: Songs of the Original Carter Family”.

On Friday, I’ll be in Rensselaerville, NY for an 8:30 p.m. performance as a member of Big Thunder and the Anti-Rent Ramblers. The show is part of the library’s annual fundraiser, the Festival of Writers. I wrote about our part in the Festival in LDR 17. Check it out and arouse your curiosity…

And as always, folks thanks for everything. Spread the word and share the song… I simply can’t do it without you.

– Mike

P.S. Here’s a photo I wanted to share from a recent backpacking trip in the ADKs (it’s been a good summer):

Sunrise, Crane Mountain, NY

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The Low Down Review – No. 17

10 May

Outdoor Orchestra: Once the warmer weather moved its way over to my doorstep, I started spending some time each morning out on the porch. Leaning on the rail, cup of coffee in hand, I listened to the robins sing out, the crows caw their way from tree line to tree line, the woodpeckers knock away the bark and bore down, and the house sparrows chirp and tweet. I listened through the din of the cars because the birds quieted down when they passed through. Many simply flew off.

With that as a day’s start, I found myself chatting with a buddy of mine about the messages one can find in nature’s sounds. That is, messages of warning from the birds, if the “peepers” suddenly go silent, if the crickets quit their fiddling, etc. I told the story about the time I turned around on a Yellowstone trail when the birds hushed, and the magpies tracked my every step. Armed with only a bowie knife and a bottle of water, I wasn’t about to explore that nervous tension.

Within minutes of the chat, I checked my email and found a review of Bernie Krause’s, “The Great Animal Orchestra,” (Little, Brown & Company) a book that calls on us to pay better attention to nature’s sound and music. Serendipity. After reading the review and sharing the coincidence with my buddy, I headed out to buy the book. Here’s the review – Jeremy Denk provides a descriptive, compelling and concise summary. Krause provides a compelling narrative as well, and I finished the book in under a work week.

There is quite a bit of what may be considered activism in the book. Specifically, a call to preserve what’s left of the planet’s wild spaces. To Krause, a healthy habitat exhibits rich and diverse sounds, and these sounds are fading. Some will undoubtedly hold his activism against him, but I can’t blame the man, and I certainly don’t hold it against him. Through the course of his four decade career, he’s experienced, first-hand, the deterioration of 50% of the habitat he used to visit to record. The man has been to just about every continent, as detailed in the book, so it’s not as though someone developed half of his backyard.

In fact, I share Krause’s concern with the disappearance of wild space (I touched on it briefly in LDR 12), but I hadn’t yet thought of it in detailed terms of soundscape. This past weekend, while hiking the Plotterkill Preserve in Rotterdam, NY, I decided to take a very close listen to my surroundings and what I experienced was dissonance between the visual and the aural. Take a look at the below picture. I snapped it while resting:

It’s a beautiful scene, right? A peaceful locale to sit and enjoy nature… Well, as Krause states in the book, a picture tells only part of the story. Here’s what you may not imagine when staring at the cascade: the pitched rumble of high-altitude jets, the thrum of the low-flying propeller planes, the popping compression of tractor-trailer air-brakes on the NYS Thruway, the gargle throat pipes of motorcycle “mufflers,” and the distant buzz of lawnmowers. When man-made noise peaked across the soundscape, it seemed that the birds simply gave up. Thinking back, I had always heard this, but I hadn’t actively experienced the dissonance. If the sounds fade, what messages are we missing? Krause answers the question with detail, acumen and a vibrant story-line.

Krause’s book gave language to thoughts that were brewing in my mind, and I thank him not only for the book, but also for all his work in recording nature’s symphony, or “biophony,” as he termed it. His experience with the Nez Perce origin of music story is a beautiful account of humility and awe; it floored me. Nature made the music first, and as Krause argues, we could do better by ourselves to open our ears and start listening to the song.

Remaining Bookish: I’m in the middle of refining a new tune. I’ve titled it “Comanche Moon” and found the lyrical content in two books: Larry McMurtry’s epic Western novel, “Lonesome Dove,” and the tremendous non-fictional account of the settlement of Texas and the forty-year battle with the Comanches, “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S. C. Gwynne – watch and listen to Gywnne describe his book here… If you haven’t read either of these books, I think the lyrics to “Comanche Moon” may provide you with a general feel. I’m hoping to bring this tune to a live performance in the next week or two. Read the lyrics to “Comanche Moon.”

Still working between the bookends, this summer, I’ll team up with buddy and longtime Palatypus collaborator, Matt Durfee, and some of the folks from Black Mountain Symphony, including Charles Burgess for a night of tunes from the Anti-Rent War. That’s right, the Anti-Rent War, a period of New York State history in which farmers revolted against the Van Rensselaer family, and feudalism by another name, the incomplete sale. We’re calling ourselves, “Big Thunder and the Anti-Rent Ramblers.” The research for this show has been a delight, and certainly an informative experience.

For the project, which is part of the Rensselaerville Festival of Writers, we’re using a book titled, “Tin Horns and Calico” written by Henry Christman. We’re using the lyrics found in the back of the book, and putting music to them – the heavy lifting done by Matt and Charlie. I’m working on an original tune for the show, assembling bits of the sweeping arc of the story together, and taking lead on a tune called, “The Landlord’s Lament,” a tongue-in-cheek, if not outright mocking tune told from a landlord’s perceived perspective.

Catch “Big Thunder and the Anti-Rent Ramblers” at the Palmer House Cafe, in Rensselaerville, NY on Friday, July 27th at 7:00 p.m. for a bit of NYS history, and a few beers.

SNEAKY NOTE: Matt Durfee is leaking new tracks from his upcoming solo album, “Little World.” Get yourself a listen…

From the Low Down: I’m happy to announce that the teasing I did in earlier LDRs was for good reason. I’ll be teaming up with folk phenoms, The Stray Birds for a show at the Moon and River Cafe on Monday, June 4, starting at 8:00 p.m. They debuted in the top 20 on the Folk Charts. Get there early; the seats will fill fast.

As you can see from the below schedule, I have quite a few shows on the near and distant stretches of the horizon. I’m excited about these shows too (I can’t tell you how honored I am that these folks have taken a chance on my tunes, or are welcoming me back); this Friday, I’m playing a show at a luthier’s co-op, a place which services and builds guitars, sells vintage instruments and serves beer. Such a great place to sing out a set… So it leads me to a question: do you folks want more information on individual shows listed here in the LDR? I take pride in sharing where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to with you folks, but I’m starting to think that it’s at the expense of what the future holds. Holler back at me, and let me know if y’all prefer more info on the up-and-coming.

I have more good news about the folks over at WEXT. They produce a great program where listeners can sign up to be the D.J. for an hour to share their own favorite tunes. A few weeks back, I was fortunate enough to head into the studio to record a segment and spin tunes by songwriters and musicians that have influenced and continue to inspire me. They titled the program “My Exit,” and you can listen in to my hour on Monday, May 28th at 8:00 p.m. as well as on Sunday, June 3rd at 10:00 a.m. For those of you outside of range, stream the station on the web here… I posted a quick note on my chosen set on the website and you can view that and the set-list here…

So, I think that’s it for now. Be sure to write back with suggestions on the LDR; I’m looking forward to chatting with you about it. And as always, folks thanks for everything. Spread the word and share the song… I simply can’t do it without you.

– Mike

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