Tag Archives: Books

The Low Down Review – No. 25

28 Feb




Kurt

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 info@rebeldarling.com 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…


If you would like to receive the Low Down Review via email, click here, or send an email to info@rebeldarling.com

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


If you would like to receive the Low Down Review via email, click here, or send an email to info@mrpoulopoulos.com