The wait is over. On Tuesday, Charlie Gaylord recommenced his philanthropic chronicling of the rootsier (though not exclusively) side of the Portland music scene, after two and a half years, with Volume 7 of his Greetings from Area Code 207 series of local compilations. Begun with a bang in 2000, the series grew into a local show on WCLZ, which has now moved to WBLM (spinning off a competing admirer, Music from 207, on the under-new-ownership ’CLZ), and even spun off a greatest-hits album of sorts with the Maine Tracks disc that Bangor Savings Bank sponsored last year.
With such success, why did a franchise that reliably released a new installment every November for six years take such an extended hiatus? Well, you try releasing a disc full of some 20-odd local songs every year with every penny going to the St. Lawrence Arts Center, and none of it in your pocket. You might want a break, too.
But now that GFAC is back, it seems like it never left, possibly because the 21 tracks here constitute an interesting look back on the series as a whole. Volume 1 came out in the fall of 2000, featuring the Coming Grass, Sara Cox, Sean Mencher, and Say ZuZu (including Jon Nolan); Volume 2 had Rustic Overtones, Frankenstein (which eventually became As Fast As) paired with Darien Brahms, and the Frotus Caper (featuring the Lomax’s Dave Ragsdale and Chris White); Steve Jones (the Boneheads) shows up on Volume 3, as do Spouse, Bullyclub, and Phantom Buffalo (then the Ponys); Volume 4 gave us Ray Charles LaMontagne (that’d be just Ray, now), and Seekonk. All of those bands and musicians can be found on Volume 7.
|Greetings from Area Code 207, Volume 7 | Released by Cornmeal Records|
Further, it’s frankly amazing that Jason Spooner is now making his first appearance on a GFAC disc, while Dominic and the Lucid and Subject Bias largely came to light as successful bands in the series’s absence. Husband-and-wife team Lauren Sullivan and Adam Gardner (Guster) make a debut, too, but can’t be called new to the scene. Then there’s the pop-punk Varsity Drag, whom I know Gaylord agonized over including, as none of the members now resides in Maine, and they’ve never really played here much.
The only new-new band here, really, are Daro, a project that introduced Sean Morin as one of the voices to listen for in 2008 with a truly great disc. Their “ITYHM” is included late on Volume 7, with a tremendous bounce and pop that’s “so hard to explain/When the heart beats up on the brain.”
So, what’s missing? While the thing’s not meant to be an omnibus, I wonder if there could have been a few other newer voices. How about Dead End Armory, who I think would sound great on a 207 disc, or maybe something from the Cult Maze/Diamond Sharp/Satellite Lot set? The Pubcrawlers, Roy Davis, Vanessa Torres, Emilia Dahlin, Samuel James, Moses Atwood? The list of possibilities is long and I don’t envy Gaylord his job of curator and tastemaker.
What Gaylord has above all else is an ear for the single, the radio track that harkens back to when the radio mattered. Tracks like Sean Mencher’s swamp-blues “Bayou Beauty,” or the Boneheads’ “Another Fine Mess” (with an organ vamp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), or the Lomax’s “Lewiston Kids” (tongue-in-cheek, but still likely to piss a few people off) might sound hokey in the earbuds, but would sound classically cool from a boombox on the beach.
Of the songs even a hard-core local fan has never heard before, Portland’s (well, Windham’s) first couple of alt-country certainly acquit themselves well. Nate Schrock fronting the Coming Grass is gritty with dirt under his fingernails, world-weary and hardened on “One More Gig in Paradise;” his wife Sara Cox is sweet and melancholy, with a voice to match the dobro that plays behind her as she sings home-front couplets like, “I hear you breathing down the hall/And I catch each breath before it falls.”
Seekonk, per usual, lay themselves bare from the breathy count-off to the multi-layered atmospheric vocals on “Waking,” a track from a follow-up album to 2006’s Pinkwood that’s been “on the way” since it was recorded in late 2006. No one does just-plain-pretty better than Seekonk. And Darien Brahms returns with a new track that has an “appetite for destruction” and a strutting guitar line in the bridge that matches Brahms’s stomach-punch of a voice.
Maybe the best track was something of an accident. The other couple, Sullivan and Gardner, recorded a demo of “Lovesick” so Gardner could shop it around — and wound up with Sullivan’s natural brilliance fronting a simple acoustic guitar with a great vocal hook: “Lovesick/Oh keep a photograph of you in my empty hotel room/What I wouldn’t do to come back home to you.”