Carter & Tracy Grammer
is for music, too
while quaffing pints of our favorite beverage at the Blue Moon,
my pal Ben and I chatted about life, as we often do.
Perhaps that's why we have few friends; we're always talking about
our lives while doing little. Eventually (nearly 8 p.m.), I came
'round to what I always conclude: I really like music.
As a guy, I'm practiced at hiding my emotions -- or not having
any at all -- yet nothing sparks me like good music. Good music
elates me, makes me cry, gives me energy and forms the backdrop
of my life.
"You really light up when you talk about music," Ben
Carter died of a heart attack at age 49 in July 2002.
But sadly, it somehow seems that if you want to see live music
you need to start your night at 10. Because usually the act you're
after takes the stage around midnight -- and don't forget the attendant
drinking. Even cola is bad. Keeps you up 'til four.
I think maybe these things keep the uncool at bay. So us poor schmoes
who keep banker's hours are mostly screwed.
Anyway, Ben and I wanted to see if good live music ever happens
for the non-vampire crowd. And, finding ourselves in downtown Portland
on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July, we stopped in at Borders Books
and Music and got some free magic in the form of an in-store performance
by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer.
Now, folk music usually makes me cringe. But topping the charts
(the folk charts, that is) is Drum Hat Buddha, the duo's
new CD. And the magic show put the lump back in my throat.
Carter and Grammer's disarming blend of wistful and wise lyrics,
tremendous finger-work and charm should recommend them to anyone
who likes honest art. Their hour-long set consisted of new material,
with two or three oldies thrown in for the crowd of friends, well-wishers
and neophytes -- such as Ben and me.
This music isn't sappy, even though they sing of goddesses, lost
love and Oklahoma. That's right, Carter's from Oklahoma, by way
of Texas. Which is why I didn't freak out when these Portlanders
started singing about their various countrified New Age topics.
Carter's "Tillman Co." stood out among the excellent.
His nearly flawless fingerpicking and beautiful, fresh-sounding
melody complemented the lyrics -- his wheel of life sinking deeper
as it spun in the thick "bottomland" mud of Oklahoma during
his "30 bad summers" there.
Grammer and Carter harmonize beautifully -- clear and sweet --
something only years of work can accomplish. They could teach the
rockers a thing or two, as could Grammer with her skills on guitar
and mandolin. Her keening fiddle brought to mind the heat-drenched
hallucinatory fog of Hugo Largo. Heady stuff, yet never dour or
They also presented fun: chugging, upbeat tunes wherein the musicians
break from their lyrics to dart toward and hover around one another
while they play, like love-struck hummingbirds.
But the biggest treat was the candid nature of their set -- self-deprecating
jokes leading to requests for assistance on the mixing board from
friends in the audience. Carter forgot some lyrics to an earlier
song, expertly marking time on guitar, laughing and begging for
a moment of clarity.
Neither Ben nor I bought their catalog after the living room-style
set, but we're poor folk. Still, their optimism cast its spell;
I can now claim to know and enjoy at least one representative of
the folk music genre.
Hey, maybe seeing music when it's still light out is a great idea.
No matter, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer left us humming as we stepped
out blinking in the afternoon sunlight.