On August 23, 2003, I sat down at the counter of Becky’s Diner for breakfast. It was a Thursday morning and I bought a copy of the Portland Press Herald to read over eggs and coffee, and pulled out an earlier rendition of the paper’s weekly entertainment magazine, back then called Go. I was flipping casually through it when what to my wondering eyes should appear but my own byline along with the announcement that I was the new music columnist for the paper. This is, for real, how I found out I had gotten the gig.
A couple of weeks before that, a mutual friend had quickly introduced me to the features editor at the time while I was in the Press Herald building for an unrelated meeting. My friend told this editor that I wrote about music, and the editor suggested I send her some samples, which I did a few days later. A couple of emails and phone calls later, I was asked to submit what I thought was a sample column previewing a couple of upcoming shows in Maine. I’m not sure if wires got crossed or what exactly happened, but what I can tell you is that exactly 15 years later, I’m still writing Face the Music (formerly known as The Night is Young) and have never missed a week.
Back at the diner, I sat there with a mile-wide smile and read my own previews of shows from Ember Swift, Melissa Etheridge and The Essex Green. Here’s what I said about Essex Green: “The best way to describe their sound is to say that this would be the house band if Austin Powers were to co-host a beach party with Frankie and Annette.” I haven’t thought about or listened to this band in many years. Facebook wasn’t a thing back in 2003, and I straight up lost track of them. Since I first wrote about The Essex Green, it has released two records; “Cannibal Sea” in 2006 and “Hardly Electronic” earlier this year. Plus, I’ve stumbled upon a bunch of other singles and earlier stuff that’s surfaced since 2003. Here’s the good news: I still love it! Songs like “This Isn’t Farmlife,” “Snakes in the Grass,” “Sloane Ranger” and “Don’t Leave It in our Hands” are groove-a-licious and have found a comfortable home in my summer listening repertoire.
Ten years ago, in August of 2008, I mentioned how great the free Brandi Carlile show was at L.L. Bean. Back then, I was a new Carlile fan, and she had two albums out. Earlier this year, she released her sixth one called “By The Way, I Forgive You,” and she’s one of my absolute favorite artists. I’ve since interviewed her three times, and this year alone, I’ve seen her live six times: twice in Boston, in Portland at Thompson’s Point, at the Newport Folk Festival, at a private fan club show in Boulder, Colorado, and at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. I predict several Grammy nominations for “By The Way, I Forgive You.”
In 2008, I also raved about singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez and am feeling all nostalgic about having sent readers to her MySpace page. Back then, I was all about her album “She Ain’t Me.” I gave the album a quick spin the other day just to make sure the love for it was still there, and indeed it is. “Her voice will reveal secrets, her songs, stirring insight” is what I said back then and, boy ,do I have to play catch up as she’s since released three live albums and three studio ones, including 2016’s “Lola.”
Five years ago, in the summer of 2013, I was falling over myself with adoration for local singer Anna Lombard’s album “Head Full of Bells.” “Lombard’s voice has never sounded better and she’s backed by a slew of talent including guitarist Adam Agati who wrote the songs on Head Full,” I said in my column. I also wrote that I couldn’t wait for the album release show happening later that week. I did indeed go to that show, and it goes down in the books as one of the best local shows I’ve ever seen, especially when Lombard and the band played my favorite song on the album, “All For You.” With backup singers Sara Hallie Richardson and Lyle Divinsky, cellist Darcy Doniger and violinist Carolyn Mix, the live version of “All For You” was downright legendary, especially since it came right after a venue clearing fire alarm caused by the business next door that resulted in a 30-minute evacuation. The refrain – “Your heart’s a machine don’t leave me now” – all but took the roof of the building, such is the power of Lombard’s vocals. Her current endeavor is as part of Armies with Dave Gutter. They’ll be releasing their second album in a couple of weeks. (More on that in next week’s column.)
Here’s “All For You” from that memorable night at Port City Music Hall on 8/16/13
Fifteen years later, I’m still so thankful to be able to write about all sorts of music, from local acts to nationally known ones. Thanks for sticking with me all these years and for sharing in my enthusiasm for music. My goal remains the same: to turn you onto artists you might not know about and to share insight on ones you do through writing about their songs and interviewing them.
I’ll end with a Shawn Colvin lyric from the song “I Don’t Know Why” that will be my next tattoo, because it sums up what music means to me better than anything else: “But if there were no music, then I would not get through.”