A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mike Plumbley
This 18-track CD brings together a diverse range of Portland, Maine artists who @ggressive Folk founder Michael Danahys describes as ". . . trashing the boundaries between genres. @ggressive Folk's sixteen-page newspaper, The Refrigerator Post, reports: "The performers are raising money to make a movie about making music in Portland, Maine, and celebrating the release of the soundtrack, This Is @ggressive Folk."
This CD doesn't "trash boundaries", rather it is a collective of artists performing songs in various rock, folk-rock, rockabilly, and coffeehouse folk settings. What it does present, however, is a spirited attempt by these artists to raise public perception within their own community.
@ggressive Folk works for me as an open-mic of both live and studio sessions. Overall the recording and the commitment are excellent. The highpoints outnumber the lowpoints.
Michael Danahy's In A Burning Time rails against intolerance from medieval times to the present day. This song has a slam-in-your-face riff propelled by an electric band. Danahy's voice sounds not unlike Mike Scott aka Waterboys in his Dream Harder period. Sleep With Me is a back-bar country-tinged rocker to kick your feet to.
The Toboggan and Lynne Perry pairing catches the spark of a live session. The harmonies are etched by dulcimer, guitar and violin. The fiddle playing on Flight From Colorado drifts both on- and off-mic, like campfire smoke around Perry's clean-as-a-mountain-spring vocal.
Cars' track Anyways sounds like it was recorded in a bad fog. The attempt at jumping between the psychedelic mist and a wall of sound has been done many times before and this song has all the clarity of being beaten on the head with a brick. Luckily the CD is immediately rescued by Joe Brien. Brien takes Barry McGuire's old Haight Street chestnut and breathes fire into it again.
The Memphis Mafia's slap-bass rockabilly is infectiously spread across a brace of tunes. Each is full of time-honoured innuendo and beer-shifting rhythms. Can you dance to it? You bet.
Lisa Gallant-Seal has been blessed with an assured set of vocal cords, which she uncorks for her two songs. Breathy and dynamic, the high point for me was Gallant-Seal's command of the stop-go shifts on her strident The Story.
Steve Gerlach's Terrified has his plaintive, strummed acoustic shadowed by Danahy's electric, as the songster deals with his fear of 'settling down'. Paperclay, however, becomes a pastiche of styles. It is a stab of acoustic folk, a brush of surreal rock---strange, yet alluring like an offbeat soundtrack to a French movie.
The atmosphere from The Outlook, Bethel, ME, literally seeps from Julia Anderson's songs. Her vocal is taught as a wire. Scuttling guitars beat time on Anderson's heavy heart, which agonises over the trauma of abortion and intolerance in Filial Piety. "If our love were a baby it would be surely be taken away," she chills on her second song. The song ends with an abrupt knock on the guitar's soundboard, as if the performer just pulled the door shut on the relationship.
Joshua Russell performs solo and with a band on Entrails. He scratches guitar through Morning Lullaby, reflecting on that time-honoured coffeehouse theme of love lost and the morning after. Unaccompanied, he works best. "Entrails" tends to meander rather than hit the button for this listener.
Between Dreams' The Quote Song is an upbeat tune meshing images of Degas with Elvis. Everything goes into the blender: percussion, acoustic, strong vocals, harmonica. A simple but effective country guitar hook holds it all together.
Dear Liza's Stoned" might be described as the throwaway 'fun' track. Three female vocals plus drums and bass were "recorded on a boombox in Bill's haunted house." This song is kinda Woodstock raindance meets cheerleader harmonies over salt shaker rhythms. Rather reminiscent of something Frank Zappa might have conceived for the GTO's. Hmmm.
As samplers go, "This Is @ggressive Folk" may not transcend anything. But it does achieve what it set out to do and that is to promote a community of musicians from Portland, Maine. I hope they managed to make that movie.
|Michael Danahy (In A Burning Time, Sleep With Me) |
Tobbogan with Lynne Perry (Flight From Colorado, Boxcars)
Joe Brien (Eve of Destruction)
Memphis Mafia (Shadow My Baby, She Hit Me With A Whip)
Lisa Gallant-Seal & Brotherhood Dogs (Crazy Voices, The Story)
Steve Gerlach (Terrified, Paperclay)
Julia Anderson (Filial Piety, If Our Love Were A Baby)
Joshua Russell (Morning Lullaby, Entrails)
Between Dreams (The Quote Song)
Dear Liza (Stoned)
Edited by David Schultz