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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: July 9, 2014

J.P. Harris rolls into Portland to play real-deal country music

The Nashville-based musician and his band bring their pure sound to Mayo Street Arts on Friday.

Written by: Aimsel Ponti
J.P. Harris & The Tough Choices play at Mayo Street Arts in Portland on Friday, with The Can Kickers opening.

J.P. Harris & The Tough Choices play at Mayo Street Arts in Portland on Friday, with The Can Kickers opening.

There’s no country music like the traditional stuff. So with that in mind, I give you Montgomery, Alabama-born J.P. Harris. He plays old-fashioned country music. It’s not Americana or roots or folk or any other spin-off. I respect that. Be what you are, right?

Upon listening to “I’ll Keep Calling” (on www.reverbnation.com/thetoughchoices) I found myself quite enamored of the sound Harris and his band produce. “I’ll keep calling you on the telephone/even though you’re not home/and waiting for the rings to hear you say, ‘Well thanks for calling but I ain’t home/and leave a message at the tone/and maybe I’ll call you back someday.’ ”

On my second listen, I was singing along. I stayed in a happy-go-forlorn sad country song head-space with “Just Your Memory.” When the sweet fiddle kicked in I wanted to waltz ’round the newsroom, but I stayed put. Next time, buddy, next time. And is it just me or is the pedal steel guitar one of the most perfect sounds out there?

Harris’ story is one I couldn’t possibly make up. He left home – on foot – when he was 14 and traveled by way of hitchhiking and freight trains. Harris then spent four years living out of a backpack and landed in the Northeast, where he worked as a farm laborer, equipment operator, lumberjack, luthier and carpenter.

Through the years he started writing songs and playing guitar with no formal instruction. The road provided plenty of fodder. In the summer of 2011, Harris ventured to southern Louisiana, assembled some friends in an old Cajun cook shack and banged out an album in three days. The album was released in May 2012 and by then Harris was calling Nashville home. The legendary city is where the latest record, “Home Is Where the Hurt Is,” was recorded and mixed, at Ronnie’s Place, once the personal studio of Ronnie Milsap.

I was tickled magenta to make the connection that J.P. Harris’ bass player is none other than Over a Cardboard Sea band leader and Mainer Tim Findlen. Findlen told me he can’t wait for his new band to play in Maine for the first time.

No need to put on your spurs and cowboy hats, just amble on over to Mayo Street Arts and get ready for a night of real-deal country music.

What’s more, opening the show is Connecticut-based The Can Kickers. Dan Thompson is on fiddle, Doug Schaefer plays drums and Daniel Spurr sings, plays guitar and banjo. Their website (www.cankickers.com) greeted me with the description: “old timey riot music for dancing.” When I listened to “Black Eyed Suzie,” I applauded whomever made the call to have this band open the show.

Effective immediately, I’m incorporating cowboy slang into my vocabulary. Don’t be beef-headed (stupid, dull as an ox) and miss this show. You can hear some daisy (good, excellent) music, bend an elbow (have a drink) and cut a caper (dance in a frolicsome manner). Chances are good that your night will be fine as cream gravy (very good, top notch).

J.P. Harris & The Tough Choices with The Can Kickers. 8 p.m. Friday. Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland. $10; mayostreetarts.org

TURN YOUR RADIO DIAL to 102.9 WBLM every Friday at 8:30 a.m. to hear Aimsel Ponti wax poetic about her top live music picks for the week with The Captain and Celeste.

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