Micha Blue Smaldone
Hither and Thither
(North West Indie)
Out of the wild North of Kennebunkport, Maine, playground of the Bush dynasty, emerges Micah Blue Smaldone, whose out-of-time warble and daydream guitar rattle offer a spiritual balm to the reputation that lazy seaside town has in the public conciousness. One of the less precious and pretentious reluctant members of the New American Weirdness, his odd voice (a lovechild of Robbie Basho's unabashed songbird arias and the singing frog from the Warner Brothers cartons) is at once off-putting and completely engaging, fluttering like a drunken butterfly minstrel over the heavy twang and blunk of his cosmic-troubadour Dobro work. He uses the Dobro as much as a percussive instrument as melodic one, forgoing the usual slide techniques applied to it in favor of taking advantage of the cutting, banjo-like force of its strings when fingerpicked.
His latest album Hither and Thither, from its watercolor digipack, to its etching filled booklet to the ghostly charm of his music, is a delight that takes you out of phase with the current moment. "Swamp of the Swan" motifs and echoes (Smaldone uses the echo of the Dobro as an accompaniment, much like My Morning Jacket uses reverb) in your conciousness like it is sprouting there, weed-like and thick with thistles and barbs. The charm in his vocals and mastery of the minstrel form displayed old-timey tracks like "More Than I Can Bear" and his take on Jelly Roll Morton's "New Orleans Bump" (the tune on the album Smaldone didn't write) are impressive and engaging.
The real meat on this weird bird is to be found in his cyclic finger picked tunes like "A Winter's Truce," where his wavering vocals ring like church bells through his guitar ramble of thickets, bringing to mind the obligatory Fahey comparisons that crop anytime this music is discussed, especially on "Summerbelle, Winterbelle" which could be a bonus track off Fahey's "America" were it not for the vocals. Smaldone is not trying to dazzle you with his fretwork though. Rather, he gets at the beating heart of ragtime, cutting away the saccharine corniness to draw you in with its, and his, guileless charm.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com