Matisyahu’s undercard

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By Timothy Gillis

Rustic Overtones opens for Matisyahu at the State Theatre on New Year’s Eve in an all-ages show. For Dave Gutter, the band’s frontman, it has been a year of collaboration and fruition for projects that highlight his wordsmithing for others and influence on their musical careers.

“A lot of stuff I’d been writing the last three years culminated this year,” Gutter said.

Aaron Neville released “Apache,” with lyrics Gutter co-wrote with Eric Krasno based on Neville’s poems.

Of the release, Krasno said, “Working on the Neville record has been a dream gig.” On it, he worked with Gutter, imagining Neville’s life through at least 50 poems he had sent them.

“The cool thing for me was laying down music and melodies, like painting a picture. We created the sketch and Aaron would add the color. He was very involved in the process, something he had not done on his records in a very long time,” Krasno said. “The excitement level between all of us was high.”

Gutter pushed Krasno, the songwriter, to move to the front of the stage and sing his own songs, which resulted in Krasno’s debut album, “Blood from a Stone.” Krasno credits Gutter and other Maine musicians with helping him make the jump, giving him the necessary confidence in his own voice.

Another high note, literally, for Gutter was his work on a single from GRiZ’s new album. In addition to the novel song, Grant Kwiecinski, who at 25 is already an electronic funk icon, also introduced GRiZ Kush, the artist’s own strain of weed that is sold legally in Denver, Co.

“With the writing thing, it’s been a busy year,” Gutter said, but added that the creative, collaborative process dates back even longer. “We started that four years ago. So sometimes after you write the songs, the bands tour and play them, record them. Now we’re at a place where it’s looping around and seems current.”

Over time, Gutter’s vocal range has moved from sandpaper scratchy rock anthems like Paranoid Social Club’s “We All Got Wasted” to hauntingly mellow love ballads like those off his new album “Armies,” a duo endeavor with Anna Lombard.

His songwriting may have been overlooked comparatively, but industry insiders know he can crank out catchy bumper sticker lyrics and social commentary with music’s best. In a year that saw Bob Dylan win a Nobel Prize for Literature, the establishment types are starting to appreciate songwriting as an art form.

For Gutter, a low note this year was the death of David Bowie. The Maine minstrel joined up with other local legends in a tribute to Ziggy Stardust held at the State Theatre right after news came down. He played “Sector Z” with Jeff Beam, Dominic Lavoie, and Mat Zaro.

A high point for Gutter, again literally, was when he and fiancée Kaitlyn Gradie had their engagement photographs taken on the side of a cliff in the White Mountains.

“We went to the top in the early morning dark,” he said. “They dropped us down with harnesses, and as the sun came up, they took the pictures.” Philbrick Photography provided the aerial hijinks on Cathedral Ledge. The couple plans to get married, perhaps in the new year, but they are waiting to announce a date, “waiting to throw a crazy party.”

More big news for the coming year: Rustic Overtones have begun work on a new album, one that will be a decidedly different product than in years past.

“It’s a collection of instrumentals I’m currently writing over,” Gutter said. “A world music vibe, heavily South American and Brazilian. I discovered some cool music from the late 60’s and 70’s, from Brazilian psychedelic rock bands. We love to make music like that, always trying to push forward.”

From the studio to the stage, the band continues to break barriers. “We resurrect all of our music when we play live,” he said of the upcoming State show, “and we’ll have fresh new versions with a different feel.”

Gutter has not played with Matisyahu before but knows several of the guys from his band, having met them through Krasno. “I’ve never even seen Matis live, so I’m looking forward to do my set and then just chill, hang out with the drunk guys who know every word to your songs.”

 

Details:

Matisyahu w/ Rustic Overtones & Alec Benjamin

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

$20 Early Bird / $30 Advance / $35 Day of Show

This event is ALL AGES

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Mallett Bros go back to Maine roots

By Timothy Gillis

Coming off a whirlwind tour of the United States this past year, playing as many as 190 shows, the Mallett Brothers say it will be “cool to cap it off at home,” on New Year’s Eve at the Portland House of Music and Events.

“In 2016, it turned into gigging harder than ever,” Luke Mallett said, “playing five days a week throughout the summer. We’ve gone to Texas twice, back and forth to Colorado.”

After several years as a tight, cohesive group, the band has been practicing overtime to fit in two new musicians – Adam Cogswell on drums who replaced Brian Higgins and Andrew Martelle, formerly of North of Nashville, on fiddle and mandolin.

“In seven years, we’ve gone through more than one lineup change,” Luke said. “When we lost Brian and started with Adam, it took some adjusting. With these two new additions, we now have even more renewed energy when we play live. Martelle is a great element to add. Having a fiddle brings things to life.”

The band is based around Luke and Will Mallett, on vocals and guitar. Along with the new additions, Wally plays guitar and dobro and adds vocals. Nick Leen plays bass guitar. Their release last year, “Life Along the River,” garnered widespread acclaim and raucous crowds.

What may surprise their loyal following is a secret work they’ve been honing for several years now. Expected to come out in February of 2017, “The Falling of the Pine” is a return to their musical roots with a typical added flourish. It is inspired in part by their time in the Maine woods while working on their last album and a book Will found on his parents’ bookshelf. “Falling of the Pine” offers up ten tunes based on lyrics discovered in that book, Minstrelsy of Maine, a 1927 collection of folk songs and logging lyrics written by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm of Brewer. The band met each day for a few hours, delving into some of this rich Maine history for the new material.

“We’ve been working on it long enough. It took us quite some time,” Luke says of the upcoming LP, for which they added the musical score to the words. “We picked at this in between (live shows and other studio work). We’ve got the record finished, the artwork back, and we’re feeling close.”

The band plans a Maine theater tour for the spring, playing in some opera houses as well in a fitting backdrop for the traditional tunes. Coveting the value of the stories behind the songs, Falling of the Pine” is the band’s first record for which they will release a booklet of lyrics. “We’ve been asked for years to do that, and finally thought – this is the one. It has the lyrics as well as quotes from the author,” Luke said.

The Mallett brothers come from a family with a strong folk tradition. Their father, Dave, has churned out Maine folk songs and ballads for four decades and featured on their last album. Their mother, Jayne Lello, worked with a University of Maine professor, Sandy Ives, back in the 1960’s, collecting and archiving traditional songs when she first learned of Minstrelsy. Although the researching duo created some vinyl versions of the songs, the Mallett Brothers were keen to keep away from their influence and, in the folk tradition, rework the music.

“They were singing some of these songs in the traditional Irish folk way. Our mother has a copy. We heard it and knew about it, but we tried to avoid it,” Luke said. “We had a pretty good idea anyway, but we started from scratch. We wanted to match the feeling of the lyrics to the instruments we are playing now and the general feel of the whole thing. It is different, definitely not a traditional record. We did traditional songs in a non-traditional way.”

Excitement brims for the new work with the old songs, but the singer took a moment to reflect on the hubbub of the outgoing year. He said a high note was playing at Floydfest in July.

“It sets the bar for festivals,” he said. “It’s smaller than some, tucked in the mountains in Floyd, V, in Blueridge. It’s a real scene – a collection of music lovers like I’ve never seen. The people are cool, and the bands they brought in offer a lot to up-and-coming bands.”

Turning their sights on the year-ending show, the band is thrilled to be billed with Samuel James and his full band. They see the “grit and gravel” performer as a perfect fit for their folksy, countrified sound. “We have been trying to put a show together with him for five years, and it just finally worked out.”

Ocean wakes

By Timothy Gillis

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I wake up early to check on the ocean.

After another night of teaching dreams,

I wake early to check on the shore,

make sure she is still there

after a year of removable news.

In my inbox is a poem from an old friend who

still persists in sending them to me,

even though I never reply in kind.

As with all the others, I’m moved to try but

this time I really do. Letters continue to fail me,

but I email him back anyway, to thank

him for the intentions.

 

I go outside, ahead of Wyatt to check for skunks,

then let the dog out to join me.

The moon is still up, a fingernail with clear sights

on the rest of her phases.

The sun is rising and gives me a dual perspective of

dark and light, night in its unceasing tussle

with day’s break.

 

Coffee and the day’s first cigarette do their usual business,

rousing in me some kind of buzz, some kind of human hum

against the machinery.

Wyatt sniffs last night’s proceedings,

carousing the ground at our new home, then

raises his snout to the moon

and whatever’s in the air that only a dog can know.

Looks to the ocean to ask if we’re going.

 

We will, I tell him, when mum’s awake

and can join us. I consider the double impact of

two competing celestial bodies, usually

unaware of each other but now occupying the same horizon.

 

I sip and smoke and say good morning to my dad,

tell him I have always believed in him, tell him that

I still do now, even years after I cannot see him anymore,

tell myself to believe in myself, believe in the possibility

that two conflicting emotions can coexist,

that it’s okay to doubt and still don the

morning cap of capable, the fingerless gloves that let me smoke and write

and still stay warm, find the letters that come together in this poem,

rusty and out-of-shape but still in key.

Tell myself that, for now, that’s more than enough.

A taste of home

By Timothy Gillis

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Somalis in the greater Portland area can get a taste of home at Mini Mogadishu, the new Forest Avenue restaurant that opened Saturday. It’s owned and operated by Nimo and Halimo Mohamud, spiritual sisters and pioneers in an ethnic fare usually served up by men.

Al Huda, Fez Mediterranean, and Asmara offer Somali and the somewhat similar Eritrean food, as do several other markets dotted in between, but the tendency is that some can turn into hang out spots for males, making it awkward for young African women to share the same space. Mini Mogadishu is not designed just for women of course, but the idea is to have it run by women making authentic homemade Somali food, with an enclosed space in the restaurant for women only where one can comfortably remove hijab.

Halimo Mohamud came to Portland in 1999. Nimo arrived a couple of years later. They met in 2002 through a mutual friend and discovered they were from the same Abgaal tribe. They talked about their new lives as immigrants, raising kids in a foreign community, and agreed that mealtime was a solidifying experience.

“Growing up in Somalia made you tough but empathetic. Surrounded by such uncertainty and hardship meant that sometimes the only good part of life was the time spent with family around the dinner table,” Nimo said. “I’ve watched a large group of kids grow. Some of them my own and some of them within my neighborhood and community. I remember them coming to my house with my children to have supper with us. It is a nice feeling knowing that however small, I did have a little impact on their maturity through a home cooked meal.”

Halimo and her cousin had operated a transportation company. Nimo drove for them, and plans began for the restaurant.

Operating all day, Mini Mogadishu will serve classic Somali breakfast fare including aanjeero crepes (a fermented pancake-like bread) with hilib (goat or beef) or chicken sugar. Lunchtime offerings include dalac bilash (a tomato soup), boor (fried dough), mushaari bowl (porridge), and fresh pita or jaapaati. Sip fruit smoothies, mango or guava juice.

“And many Italian foods,” says Abdul Yousef, Nimo’s son who painted the left side wall blue with å large white star to reflect the Somali flag. “Italians were settlers in Somalia and part of their culture was left behind. Lasagna, ziti, spaghetti – there are a lot of pasta dishes in our culture.” His sister Hanan and brother Abdi helped renovate the restaurant from its former days as Nur’s, Abdi Rahman’s Halaal Market. In addition to painting the walls, the family tackled the kitchen and bathroom, and tore up layers of tile floors. But they kept the brick oven to consider serving pizza.

“There’s a big difference for what you need in a kitchen between a restaurant and a market,” Yousef said. The changes were both necessary and an aim to put their mark on the building, but the look will keep evolving. Conformity is not so important in Somali culture, he says, so they’ll have a mix of rearrangeable booth and single seating, a café, and a more private section for women only. And with family style seating available, Mini Mogadishu can accommodate eight to ten people.

“We want to reflect how people do things in their own homes, and try to do our best to recreate that,” he said.

Get lit for the holidays

By Timothy Gillis

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Jack Wyatt knows what he likes at the new Print Bookstore. (photo by Caeli Shadis)

Just in time for the holidays, there’s a new shop in town. Print: A Bookstore has taken up residence in the former Angela Adams building on Congress Street, downstairs from the East End Lofts.

Print is a wide-open, well-lighted place, with wide aisles for strollers and a great children’s book section that will help keep the youngsters occupied while you’re browsing the bestsellers. A wall had to come down, and new lighting was installed, but other than that, the space was ready-made.

Co-owners Emily Russo and Josh Christie took the plunge two weeks ago, braving the competition and defying any notions of reading as a dying industry. They offer new books only, leaving the sales of well-worn tomes to Yes Books, Carlson & Turner Antiquarian Books and Bookbindery, and The Green Hand Bookshop. Longfellow Books sells both new and used books and has a loyal following, but the folks at Print are confident there will be enough booklovers to support their endeavor.

“Any business is a challenge,” Christie said. “But the American Booksellers Association says that, since 2011, there have been more independent bookstores opening than closing.”

This is not a leap taken blindly. Russo worked as events coordinator at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Ma. and at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn before that. Christie started at the Sherman’s Books & Stationery in Freeport before he designed, opened, and managed their affiliate in Portland in 2014.

A job that combines the business and pleasure of leading people to great literature is worth the risk. Print plans to relieve the stress with some evening events, book-readings and author appearances. They say that within two years, they expect to be hosting as many as 200 shindigs a year.

Coming up in 2017, Jason Diamond will read from his non-fiction work Searching for John Hughes on Feb. 3, and Maine author Ron Currie will read from his new book, The One-Eyed Man on March 9.

Here are some of the booksellers’ picks for must-reads in the New Year, as well as overlooked books from the past:

Coming in January, Paul Auster checks in with a 980-page doorstopper called 4321. The main character rolls through four different trajectories of his past.

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo. Written in the P.G. Wodehouse style, the book follows an 18-century poet who, running low on money, meets the devil on the street and maybe a makes a deal with him.

The Mothers – Brit Bennett’s debut novel about a group of women from southern California who run a church. Things get complex when a young girl falls for the pastor’s son.

Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein. A short story collection reminiscent of TV’s “Black Mirror” and its surreal take on how technology affects people’s lives.

How to be a person in the world by Heather Havrilesky. A collection of writings by the syndicated advice columnist. Havrilesky is a modern-day Dr. Abby for millennial misanthropes.

Check out Print for your holiday shopping, and chase away the Bah Humbugs.

Dino dung on show in Portland

By Timothy Gillis

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A new dinosaur exhibit at the Portland Science Center combines childhood wonders with an art show for the grown-ups. Dinosaurs Unearthed has enough life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, skeletons, and fossils to keep busloads of kids entertained and enthralled for hours. And a decades-long painting project by artist Philip Carlo Paratore will keep the chaperones from getting restless.

Powered by customized mechanical technology and a dynamic jointing system, the dinosaurs, ranging from a Velociraptor to a Triceratops to a juvenile T-Rex come to virtual life in the exhibit, which places each creature in naturalistic indoor landscapes.

Thirteen of the dinosaurs are fully animatronic, and more recent research has led exhibitors to add feathers to several of the creatures.

A couple of short films help ease the introduction for timid youngsters and provide elementary content for teachers to consider adding to their lesson plans.

“We did a teacher preview and the response was phenomenal,” said Matt Stone, sales and marketing director at the PSC on Commercial Street. “Some of this curriculum has been dropped (in schools). The teachers were talking about how they can bring it back.”

The hour-long tour has parents and educators giving hands-on guidance, making sure the youngest of their entourage don’t get frightened by the sights.

“Some kids are a little bit scared to go in. Kids under six – I’d say about 25 percent of them are nervous. But going in, only 10 percent needed to be calmed down,” Stone said. “It’s noisy. There’s lots of growling.”

The PSC says their show challenges beliefs about how dinosaurs lived, looked, and sounded in pre-historic times. “In relatively recent years, paleontologists have come to believe that some dinosaurs are the ancestors of modern birds – leading to the hypothesis that some dinosaurs may have been feathered.”

They hope this new angle will add to the attraction for grade school students. They offer a guide to help educators make connections between the material presented in the tour and national curriculum standards for STEM (or science, technology, engineering, and math) goals.

Students (primarily K-8) can participate in activities, games, puzzles, and six different lessons plans including Mesozoic Math and Dinosaur Detectives, where junior paleontologists dig into a sand pit for skeletal remains at the “Kids Dig Table.”

They can also take in genuine fossils like the egg of an Oviraptor, which is Latin, ironically enough, for “egg stealer.” The most bird-like of the non-avian dinosaurs, its nesting position found in one specimen suggested the presence of feathered wings. The PSC’s exhibit also includes a feathered T-Rex.

Students can check out coprolite, or dung stone, a deceptively valuable item in the exhibit since animal excrement is easily fragmented or destroyed and whole fossilized remains are rare. In addition to the animatronic creatures, the exhibition will feature full-sized skeletons: a Yangchuanosaurus and a Tuojiangosaurus.

Dinosaurs may seem like familiar fodder for museum exhibits, but this is the first time Dinosaurs Unearthed has made it to New England, and perhaps the biggest addition to the show is a powerful series of paintings by Philip Carlo Paratore. As a ten-year-old boy growing up in Manhattan, he loved drawing pictures of animals and taking trips to the American Museum of Natural History.

“I clearly remember that first visit,” he said from South Portland this week. “When I returned years later, I sought to turn it into a project as an adult.”

The resulting decades-long artistic venture is called The Dinosaur Portfolio, with more than 100 paintings rendered primarily in oil paints while some of the works were started in acrylic for the foundation. The exhibit has been shown at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Canada.

Paratore, who teaches art classes at the University of Southern Maine, said his personal work and public teaching allow him “ways to discuss several big ideas – extinction, evolution, even global warming.” His art and educational experiences have informed his research, leading to journeys to Stonehenge, the Paleolithic caves at Lascaux and Fonte de Gaume, and the Olduvai Gorge (in modern-day Tanzania).

The most recent and exciting aspect of The Dinosaur Portfolio, he says, occurred when he made the connection between landscape paintings inspired by satellite photographs of earth and his earlier work depicting fossilized dinosaur bones.

The images “strive to make a connection between science and art, but they are essentially metaphorical and poetic rather than explanatory. Each painting may be viewed as a visual experiment: an interplay of technical symbol, diagrammatic schema, naturalistic representation, and artistic metaphor,” said Paratore, who used to have occasional shows at Davidson and Daughters Contemporary Art Gallery, but has focused on teaching more lately. With huge prehistoric beasts and the fine, delicate lines of art, the Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit has exciting sights and lessons for all-aged students.

For information on the exhibition and to purchase tickets, visitportlandsciencecenter.com.

The Year the Music Died

By Timothy Gillis

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The passing year has been a tough one for music fans, kicking off the year with the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey in January. Then followed Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire; Beatles’ manager George Martin; Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; and Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest. The snow was just melting when we got news of Merle Haggard succumbing to double pneumonia, and then the Purple Reign came to an end with the death of Prince. The musical year crawled to its close with sad news for fans of folk singer Glenn Yarbrough, jazz singer Bobby Vee, Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings, and rock icon Leonard Cohen.

Muhammad Ali died in June, and although not technically a singer, his persona and clever couplets inspired songs as far-flung as Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Free No. 10” to LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”

One of the foundational components of music is inspiration and tribute, and often the death of a hero can push a musician or band to greater heights. It’s as if even little people can see further when standing on the shoulders of giants. To me, that’s what makes Tribe’s new album “We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service” so special. Recorded before Phife Dawg’s death in March, it’s the first studio album for the band in nearly 20 years. It’s got a great genre blend of hip-hop, jazz, rap, and Elton John! But the political power of its lyrics makes it the right album for these times. The hook from “We the People” sounds like all-too-real campaign slogans.

All you black folks, you must go

All you Mexicans, you must go

And all you poor folks, you must go

Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways

So all you bad folks, you must go

Let’s hope 2017 will ring in more great music, and fewer felled stars. What better way to keep these musicians alive than by stuffing stockings with their CD’s?

And here are a few more recommendations from the worlds of retail sales, dance, and public relations.

Juliana Todeschi of Calabro Music Media touts Holly Bowling’s upcoming record, “Better Left Unsung.” Released this week on Royal Potato Family records, it’s a collection of classical music interpretations of Grateful Dead tunes.

Emma Holder, dance instructor and host of WMPG’s radio show “Shaken and Stirred,” said “Gaadi of Truth” by Red Baraat, out of Brooklyn, is “fun. Very danceable and upbeat. So is the new release by Slavic Soul Party, called “Slavic Soul Party plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite.” It’s new meets vintage with a Balkan twist.

Ryan Howard, head clerk at Bull Moose Record Store in South Portland, says the New Year will bring a wide range of new releases. Brian Eno’s ambient album “Reflection,” eclectic alternative rock band The Flaming Lips with “Oczy Mlody,” and metal stars Sepultura’s “Machine Messiah” are all out in January 2107. And of course a gift card can help your recipient be first in line to snag the new cuts.