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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: December 24, 2014

Rustic Overtones celebrates 20th anniversary with four-CD box set and New Year’s Eve Show at State Theatre in Portland

Written by: Ray Routhier

101226_235618-RUSTIC.BIG_Dave Gutter turned 40 this year and decided to get organized.

He began by organizing 20 years worth of music he’s recorded as lead singer for Rustic Overtones, arguably Maine’s best-known rock band.

“When we made records, we were all over the place. We’d have a punk song followed by a ballad, or a jazz song followed by something really heavy. I think it was like a way for us to really show off our songwriting,” said Gutter. “When I listen to some of the records now I wish they were more cohesive. I wish we just sounded like a regular band, and not all over the place.”

So what Gutter has done is to organize 20 years of Rustic Overtones into a more cohesive form. The result is a new four-disc set, “The Mood Box,” which will be officially released when the band plays the State Theatre in Portland on New Year’s Eve, Wednesday, with nationally known soul/jazz trio Soulive.

101226_235618-Early-RusticThe box set is neatly divided into softer songs on one disc, harder songs on another, pop songs on another, and finally, demos and bootlegs and strange stuff on the fourth disc. The set is available at Bull Moose stores and was listed on the chain’s website in December as selling for a pre-order price of $29.97.

“It’s a little strange we’ve been together long enough to have this many songs, to put out a four-disc set,” said Gutter. “I think it’s because we’re all part of this close-knit group of musician friends.”

Rustic Overtones began playing around Maine in the early 1990s, when many of the members were in high school. While many teen bands have four pieces, Rustic was usually a seven- or eight-piece group, with keyboards and a horn section besides the usual guitar, bass and drums.

The band’s soulful, R&B-tinged sound made them a fan favorite and got them record label attention. They signed a recording deal with Arista in 1998 and then another one with Tommy Boy a few years later. But they never really had national success.

Soulive

Soulive

At one point, after Arista had re-recorded some of the band’s songs using synthesizer instead of vintage keyboards and added a drum machine track, band members videotaped themselves setting the re-mix on fire. Then they sent the video to the record label.

“That was our response to what they had done,” said Gutter.

The band broke up around 2002, but several of the members re-formed the band in 2007, and have been playing ever since. The current band includes Dave Gutter, Jon Roods, Dave Noyes, Jason Ward, Ryan Zoidis, Mike Taylor and Gary Gemetti.

Rustic Overtones will play many of the songs on the new box set during its set on Wednesday. At some point during the night, Rustic Overtones and Soulive will play together, as Gutter and Soulive front man Eric Krasno are frequent collaborators.

Though Rustic Overtones began with Gutter and Jon Roods playing together in the early 1990s, the box set goes back only as far as the album “Long Division” in 1995.

Rustic’s “Mood Box” set has more than 70 songs. The “Soft” box is a mix of ballads and smoother songs from the band’s nine albums together, while the “Fire” box is harder- edged rockers, including several that include mentions of fire and explosions.

Then there’s the “Pop” box with crowd favorites and songs that got radio airplay. And finally, there’s a “Fan” box with live bootlegs, recordings of TV and radio appearances, and some unreleased demos.

That disc has some unusual covers, too, including a very recent version of the Miley Cyrus song “Wrecking Ball.”

Gutter says before deciding to “curate” a box set of Rustic Overtones’ career, he had been hesitant to listen to recordings of the band’s shows because he didn’t want to hear “where I messed up.” But he found it fun to listen to those recordings now, years later.

Still, he sometimes wishes the band had put out albums that were a little more themed, like the box set is. A lot of fans liked the fact that the band’s style was impossible to define from record to record, but it made them hard to market, Gutter said.

Speaking of the business side of music, Gutter and Soulive’s Krasno have been working together for a while now, writing for other artists and recording on other people’s recordings too.

And Gutter recently spent time with soul and pop singer Aaron Neville, writing lyrics for Neville’s forthcoming album.

“I found these poems, like 300 poems he wrote to his wife, and I thought we should just use them to make a the record around,” said Gutter. “It was amazing to spend time with him and ask him stuff you’d usually never dare ask someone like him.”

Soulive and Rustic Overtones will play 9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31 at State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland. Tickets are $30 in advance; $35 day of the show. For more information visit statetheatreportland.com.

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