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Wepecket Island Rolling Roots Revue - Delightful Traditional Music by Modern Masters

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

May 7, 2010
Kimmy Sophia Brown

Iwas honored to be in the midst of great musicians last night. Four masters of their genres, Ragtime Jack Radcliffe; folk song hunter Dale Robin Goodman; bluesman Sherman Lee Dillon; and “sea chanty man” Jim McGrath, from the Wepecket Island record label, were in Portland sharing their talents. When I see musicians of this caliber I’m struck by their skill, love of music and the fun and goodwill that they share with listeners.

WepecketIsland is a small island off the coast of Massachusetts where three kinds of endangered species of birds live. The record label is using the name of the island because it seeks to protect the possibly endangered species of traditional music.

Wepecket IslandJackRadcliffe started off with two tunes by James P. Johnson, including one with lyrics by Harlem poet, Langston Hughes, entitled “Hungry Blues”. Then he sang the silly and clever “A Porter’s Love Song to a Chamber Maid”, with music by Fats Waller, and lyrics by Andy Razaf. In fact, Ragtime Jack told us that Andy Razaf was the lyric genius behind Fats Waller’s other big hits, “Aint Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose”. Hearing that made me feel a pang for Andy Razaf and all the other creative people who have been eclipsed by more famous people.

Jackwas the kind of guy you wish was in your family. There you are, you and your twenty-nine relatives gathering for an occasion like a birthday party and Cousin Jack arrives and sits down at the piano. Instantly he creates an atmosphere of fun! He has a really elastic, bluesy voice and a flourishing, light touch on the piano keys.

DaleRobin Goodman came out, and strapped on her dulcimer, strumming it with aplomb. She had a great voice, powerful and melodious, doing a traditional tune with her own words.

Herwarmth and humor also came through on the 1800’s song, “Where’d ya get that hat?” She donned an ostentatious straw hat in the tradition of Minnie Pearl, (without the price tag) atop her long, dark hair. It had so many flowers on it that it looked more like she was wearing a frosted layer cake. This song required audience participation. We sang on cue, “Where’d ya get that hat?” as she sang of her adventures wearing it all over creation. It was the kind of old song you could imagine being sung at a county fair with families present, having a good-old, wholesome time.

Thenshe invited up a third performer, Sherman Lee Dillon, an adorable white-haired gentleman from Mississippi, with a white mustache, newsboy cap, dobro and harmonica. He started pickin’ while Dale belted out a delta blues song called, “Come Away With Me, My Little Delta Boy”.

ShermanLee then settled down with his dobro and made that thang sing, the metallic reverberation taking us down into the bayou. He got all “Leadbelly” on us and howled the blues on his harmonica, doing a Willie Dixon tune called, “Spoonful”. He mentioned that he plays music with his children in a band called the Dillonaires. Since his children were not with him, he invited up Jack and Dale to join him on “The Catfish Song”, which featured some powerful three-part harmony as they entreated mama to grease up the skillet.

Whenthey finished, they invited up Jim McGrath, who looked like he might have come from Viking stock. He had a commanding presence and when he opened his mouth he filled the room with a powerful baritone voice. He started out with “Wild Mountain Thyme” and it was so beautiful I cried. I wasn’t prepared for such a robust and elegant voice. I don’t know if he ever did musical theater but I could imagine him on stage wearing the regalia of King Arthur or Don Quixote. He performed some of his own tunes including, “Brown Bagger’s Paradise”, in the tradition of Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Theothers rejoined Jim on stage and finished with powerful renditions of “Passin’ Through” and “I Never Cried Til My Baby Got On That Train”. They told lots of anecdotal stories and seemed to be truly sorry when it was all over. It was over too soon and I regret to say that there were not enough people in the audience. I wish there was a way to spread the word faster before people like this come to town. They deserve to be heard. Not only that, but whoever hears them will go home enriched and uplifted.

Checkthem out at http://www.myspace.com/wepecketislandrecords and http://www.wepecket.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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