Five Songs: from Maine folks

Here are Five Songs on Spotify by Maine artists I think you should hear. If you’re unfamiliar with the streaming music service Spotify, click HERE.

1. Quebecois, by Schooner Fare

Almost everyone who knows me, knows I grew up listening to Schooner Fare. Heck, it’s their appearance at my junior high school that inspired me to pick up my first banjo. I know all their songs, intimately. So, believe me when I tell you, this is one of their best. Ever.

It’s Tom Rowe’s eloquent and emotional anthem for Maine’s French-Canadian immigrants. Their labor built the brick mill towns that sprang up, straddled and prospered on Maine’s mighty rivers: Lewiston-Auburn on the Androscoggin, Saco-Biddeford on the Saco, Waterville-Winslow on the Kennebec, and many more. They spun wool into thread. They made shoes and blankets. They raised families and built beautiful churches. They sang and they danced. They’re folks to be proud of. I still have trouble singing along to this one in my truck without getting bleary-eyed. Buy the music and support the artist.

2. Splitting Wood in Flip-Flops, by Dave Rowe

This is my favorite DR instrumental. I’ve used it more than once as a backing track on a video, but it’s worth way more than that. It’s not quite bluegrass and not quite Celtic, but it’s an ear worm you’re unlikely to shake once you’ve heard it. Dave’s guitar is is ably assisted by Kevin Kevin O’Reilly on bass and Eric McDonald on mandolin. Buy the music and support the artist.

3. Clams, by The Wicked Good Band

The WGB has been tickling Maine funny bones since their start at Deering High School in Portland sometime in the 1960s. This is off their Maine Cooking album, which is the only one online, sadly. Their earlier stuff was only released on vinyl and cassette. If you see one of their records at a yard sale, buy it. You won’t be sorry. This song is dedicated to everyone’s favorite, low tide bivalve. Mmmm, mmmm, wicked good. Buy the music and support the artist.

4. Breakfast in Hell, by Slaid Cleaves

Mr. Cleaves, apart from having probably the coolest name a singer-songwriter could ask for, grew up in Maine. He’s been living in Texas for years now, outside of Austin. I like this song because it’s about lumbermen, of the kind we used to have here in Maine, climbing over logs on river drives. This ditty about a legendary driver who meets a heroic end is set in Canada, but it’s a familiar theme, common to traditional lumbering ballads across the northern United States and Canada. I think Cleaves handles the genre well and injects some fine new imagery. Buy the music and support the artist.

5. The North Pond Hermit (damn banjo mix) by the Half Moon Jug Band

I wrote this one, as you might know, about Maine’s suddenly famous recluse, the North Pond Hermit. I recorded it on an EP with my other band, the Half Moon Jug Band. We invited bluegrass duo Stan and Dan to record their hermit song as well. We put the CD out together. This version of the song is not on the CD. It’s a banjo-only version with Dave Rowe and Stace Guth singing with the HMJB. Here’s why we recorded a version this way:

I got wind, through some back channels, that the Hermit was aware of my song and had heard me play it, via an online video. In that original video, it’s just me an my banjo. When the Hermit was told about Stan and Dan and their song about him, he reportedly said, “I hope it’s not another damn banjo song.”

When we found we had a bit of time left over during the session, we recorded a banjo-only version, just for him. Buy the music and support the artist.

- TROY.

P.S. I just heard from Jake Pierson, who used to be Dave’s tour manager. He has a story to go with Splitting Wood in Flip-Flops:

We were staying with Sonny Ochs in upstate New York. She had a pile of cord length wood that she mentioned that she split herself every year. Eric said he would help out but I saw him having some difficulty swinging the axe and cleanly splitting.

So, I took my Yuengleng and my flip flopped feet and split some wood. Dave and Kevin watched from the window. No injury and plenty of wood was split by myself and Eric after he got the hang of it. As I recall, Dave had written that instrumental but hadn’t named it yet and they performed it that night or the night after.

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.