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Uncommonly Joyous and Sweet Night with Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem

Venue: One Longfellow Square, Portland ME ~ April 20, 2012 ~

Apr 30, 2012
Kimmy Sophia Brown

You know, it’s been seven days since my hubcap and I went to see Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem*, and I am still flying on the fragrance left in their trail! I had never heard or seen them before attending this concert. Just when I think I know what music is, I get an earful of a group like this, overflowing with excellence, and I'm floored again. They are so dang fun. They have the beautiful energy of people who have played long and well together but are clearly dedicated to making every song fresh and exciting. Their voices blended as one with subtlety and strength as they performed traditional tunes such as “East Virginia”, hymns such as “Travelin’ Shoes” and “I’ll Fly Away”, their own original compositions, and covers like “Reason to Believe”, by Bruce Springsteen.

We were sitting in the front row and the cymbal was right in front of the face of the drummer, Scott Kessel. We couldn’t see him at all, but we were amused by what might possibly be the world’s foremost, recycled drum set – dubbed on their website, “Drumship Enterprise”.  It was comprised of boxes (seemingly both wooden and cardboard), cat food and soup cans, a suitcase, caulk tubes, and a shaker made of plastic bottle caps strung together. It illustrates that if you really want to play drums nothing has to stop you. I didn’t notice any difference in the quality of the percussion compared to a traditional drum set. At one point Scott held a variegated soup can and played it with a brush. He had a worn out old tambourine repaired with clear packing tape and demonstrated tonal changes by taping and retaping the surface tension. Way cool! In one song he rubbed together what looked like two corn tortillas but were actually sheets of round sand paper. In addition, he sang, played a Jew's harp, and had a manly shaved head and a beautiful smile. Besides that, he’s married to Rani Arbo!

Rani ArboAnand Nayak was directly in front of us. He played at least three different guitars. His proficiency was positively dazzling and versatile. I don’t know how many thousands of hours he must have invested learning different tunings, and playing styles, but he was fascinating to watch. He possessed a most wonderfully deep, resonant speaking voice – kind of like Gregory Peck's – that transformed into a fantastic singing voice. He also had lots of thick, curly dark hair flying around, and a virile five o’clock shadow. We met him between sets and I was impressed with his direct eye contact and warm smile. In just a few seconds I felt a true heart to heart presence, which was really nice because in that hectic setting of meeting the audience after a performance, things can get superficial. I did not feel that at all from Anand.

Rani Arbo is a woman of poise, warmth and definitiveness. She is a great storyteller, with an expressive alto singing voice, and she is a fine fiddle player. One of her compositions was about an elderly gentleman who modeled for a life drawing class but once danced on cruise ships with his wife. Another was about the devastation that Hurricane Irene wrought on Vermont. My favorite tune of the evening was “Crossing the Bar”. The lyrics were from a Tennyson poem that Rani set to music. It was such a lovely and haunting hymn, majestic in its simplicity. I found myself singing it throughout the week – while driving, while working, while going to bed. It stayed with me, almost like the voice of a guardian angel whispering comfort at my shoulder.  Here’s a bit of the poem:

“Twilight and evening bell and after that the dark
May there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark
For though from out our bourn of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
when I have crost the bar.”

This is now an official song selection for my funeral – I have to make arrangements so I can be sure to hear it then!

Andrew Kinsey played standup bass, banjo, ukulele, and had a clear, tenor voice. He wrote one of the tenderest tunes played that evening, “Fire in the Sky”, about the ruin of a family farmstead, destroyed by arson and robbery. Just stunning. His tenor voice had sweet, arching power and feeling, as if he was born to sing gospel songs like “Hear Jerusalem Moan” and “I’ll Fly Away”. He is a strong man who conveyed passion and feeling throughout the evening. I felt his joy as he flew on the wings of his wonderful voice.

They also did a bang up version of “You Aint Hurryin’ Me” – kind of a Belefonte “Day-O” Caribbean tune, with impeccable harmony – originally performed by the Dicey Doh Singers.

They finished with a spirit filled version of “Travelin Shoes”. I had never heard this arrangement, being familiar with the version that Maria Muldaur did on her solo album back in the seventies. But Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem made it their own, and their version makes one almost look forward to death!  As long as we have them travelin’ shoes to buckle into, everythin’ is gonna be all right. I would highly recommend seeing them if they come to your town – they are unforgettable!

* As a final note, I wondered who "daisy mayhem" was, but "she" is the name of the band (meant to be in lower case), just like Alice in Chains or Twisted Sister, only different! Rani's name is pronounced like "Ronnie".

The evening was a CD release party for their newest CD, Some Bright Morning. Check out their website at www.raniarbo.com. There’s lots of information there about their music, upcoming shows and personal biographies. 

press photo, chattman-photography, copyright 2010

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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