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Po'Girl and Jt Nero Shine Brightly on a Portland Winter Night

Venue: One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME ~ Mar 3, 2010

Apr 22, 2010
Kimmy Sophia Brown

Whenever I hear music I’ve never heard before, I feel like I’m visiting a new planet and learning a new language. This was my experience entering the joyous realm ofPo’Girl, with opening act Jt Nero.

Jt Nero, (of Chicago’s Jt and the Clouds), is a tall, lanky, confident young manwith curly hair like Bob Dylan and charming lines in his cheeks like Lyle Lovett. With a very deadpan sense of humor, he said that he was originally hired as Po’ Girls’ life coach. As an aside, they later shared that Jt teaches them Bikram Yoga, which is taught in a room at a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Holy hot singing pretzels!

Jt began his set playing guitar and singing, featuring backup on dobro from Po’Girl member, Benny Sidelinger. Benny wore a fedora and has a sweet face that is kind of a cross between Dana Carvey and Giovanni Ribisi. Later, they were joined on stage by the quiet looking Mikey “Lightning” August, on keyboard and drums.

Po'GirlAsJt played, I found myself getting more and more spellbound. His songs were sort of Dylanesque - little stories with musical hooks. He told a story about the fact that Alli (Po’Girl’s lead singer) likes the tiny, electric, glowing seahorses that one sees at large sea aquariums. He took up the challenge to include them in a song, which he performed, that contains the line;

“…there are mountains, there are forests, there are tiny electric seahorses…”

One of his best songs was “Who Shot Sam Cooke?”, which featured Alli (Allison)Russell and Awna Teixeira, the Canadian female contingent of Po’Girl, on backup vocals. Jt quipped that he had managed to get all the headliners up on the stage with him at that point, which was really cool. As my daughter, Grace, pointed out (who attended the show with me), it was interesting seeing both bands synthesize in and out of each other. It made the whole evening feel like the music came from the same gene pool.

After Jt’s set, Po’Girl came out and performed a large number of songs written byAlli and Awna. Po’Girl is one of those genre-free Canadian bands composed of exceptional musicians and song interpreters. They teeter a bit on the edge of folk music, with a touch of bluegrass but launch into almost an Eastern European or Klezmer sound with songs like “Gandy Dancer”. They have a very original sound.

Diminutive Awna, (who was said to be the tallest in her family), was extremely animatedplaying what they called the “Gut-Bucket” bass, (nice mental image – gut bucket!) – which is a metal overturned washtub with a very long wooden pole and a string made of – hmmm – not sure – gut? Besides that, she played electric bass, keyboards, banjo and accordion. Both women sing gorgeous harmonies and both have unique lead voices. Awna moved her body to and fro, in time with each song, had a droll smile on her face much of the time and sang with her big, blue eyes closed. (I saw them when they were open!) She had a playful spirit and her voice was earthy and expressive.

Alli Russell is one of those women whose body language speaks music from head totoe. She was mesmerizing to watch, with the beautiful face of a praying Madonna, head tipped back and her sublime voice flowing between heaven and earth. She was so fluid and glowing that I thought that the reason she wore heavy boots might be to keep from floating up to the ceiling.

They carried a huge stockpile of instruments - the usual stuff like drums, guitarand keyboards, but then most of the songs had the added color of Benny’s gorgeous dobro playing. In addition, we were introduced to Alli’s clarinet named Yolanda, a glockenspiel named Gilda, a sixty-four- year-old handmade accordion from Italy named Miss Sophie, Sadie the banjo, and finally, the gut bucket bass, whose name I missed. The only downside to the concert was that I had a hard time clearly hearing some of the lyrics and song titles, but that might be because of my fifty-five- year-old ears.

One more significant thing that they announced is that they’re calling this the “NoShame Tour.” Here’s an explanation about that from their website:

“Po’Girl will be raising money to benefit the National Children’s Alliance (http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org)in the USA and Little Warriors (http://www.littlewarriors.ca)in Canada. Partial proceeds of all Po’Girl merchandise sales from their shows will be donated to these groups. Allison Russell of Po’Girlwill also be fund raising by collecting donations in support of her runningthe Athens, Ohio marathon on April 11, 2010 at the conclusion of the“No Shame Tour”. One hundred percent of these donations will go to benefit the two child abuse prevention organizations. It’s all a part of following their bliss….

Russell is the survivor of tenyears of sexual abuse at the hands of her adopted father. She wrote the song “No Shame” in 2006 when she found out that he had been released from prison. Po’Girl recorded “No Shame” on their critically acclaimed album Deer in theNight in 2009. “No Shame” was featured on the radio program The VinylCafe in May 2009. Host Stuart Mclean wrote a beautiful piece about thesong and Alli’s history; the reception from listeners was overwhelming.” (excerpted from pogirl.net)

Alli’s rendition of her song, “No Shame” was quite heart wrenching, as well as the prayer song she wrote for her mother, “Cathy”. I want to add that it isincredible to me that a survivor of such abhorrent parental behavior could shine with such love, depth and wholeness. It is a testimony to the power of music, honesty and healing in her life.

Jt Nero rejoined them at the end of the evening for several songs including hisstunning composition, “Til it’s Gone”. I loved it. Some of the lyrics are:

Thank God for the kind of happiness you can'texplain
Thank God for the kind of happiness you can't explain
By every right, late last night should've
Bled into another bad day
So thank God for the kind of happiness you can't explain

They also did a gorgeous version of Julie Miller’s, “All my tears”. I want them to come and sing that at my funeral.

Po’Girl and Jt Nero earned two standing ovations. Their performance was full of joy andheart. What a wonderful band. God bless ‘em and come back to Portland soon!

Check them out at www.myspace.com/pogirls and www.pogirl.net and jtandtheclouds.com.

For music lovers visiting Portland, Maine, I highly recommend
One Longfellow Square ~ "Portland's Premier Arts Venue"
Check them out at onelongfellowsquare.com.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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