Sunday, February 21, 2010

Remember the Maine

Taber Maine
The Coffee Pot (San Marcos), 2/20

Taber Maine can sing a joke as well as some people can tell one with their speaking voices. When he's selling a line that's funny -- and mordant wit is a major feature of his songs -- his voice and his eyes give it away. Gallows humor is one of the elements of the folk tradition that gets lost when modern-day interpreters retrace the structures of the music rather than examining its soul, its guts. There's more than enough earnest acoustic slingers in Central Texas to fill all the coffeehouses between here and San Antonio every night. Very few of them have a spark like Taber Maine.

Although in terms of content and general sound Maine isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, he's one of the few solo songwriters I've yet seen in Texas who quite clearly is operating from his own creative space, not channeling someone else's. You can hear his influences plainly but he's the rare folksinger who can mount a revival of a Dylan tune ("Mama, You Been on My Mind") and actually put his own stamp on it. Maine fingerpicks exquisitely on a not-entirely-reliable nylon-string guitar. Because he develops his own distinct picking pattern for each song he writes and each one he covers, it's his own style rather than any other's that dominates his performances.

This originality, which is pretty easy to pick out if you listen to much if any solo-folk music, allows Maine to inhabit a character that's not a new one at all for a disheveled troubadour -- part Tom Waits, part Rimbaud -- and pull off the usual laments over whiskey and women. When Maine sings of distant cities, you feel as if he's been to them, not merely marking off names on a map like a Promise Ring song. Even when he's inventing, the emotions seem his own, and in music that's the only real truth.

He may need to get a band behind him to work up anything resembling a buzz in overpopulated Austin. I hope my enthusiasm for his music may help in some small way for him to do so. I don't know why all the good country singers around here are refugees from the former industrial midwest. Maybe some of our native Texas songwriters need to go spend a year in Detroit so they can really sing the blues.

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