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Cruel intentions

This fall, it's time to get heavy
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  September 12, 2014

Variety is the spice of your record collection, so please tell me you don’t just pick a Pandora station and stick with it for weeks at a time. That’s the six-disc changer in the car of the modern era.

Challenge yourself, for chrissakes.

This fall will give you every opportunity to do something a little uncomfortable.

>> Sept 12 Maybe you want to stomp all those bearded, overalled, hippy types with 15 people in their band and some dude that doesn’t do anything but hit a triangle. So go see Max Garcia Conover tonight at Mayo Street Arts. He releases an able follow-up to last year’s first full-length Burrow with Ellery, very much the same kind of ultra-earthy folk treatises. Except the production and instrumentation from Ben Cosgrove is electric, tautly spare and multilayered, built on top of Conover’s finger-style acoustic.

It’s hard not to recall the work that Joe Boyd did with Nick Drake, alongside string arranger Robert Kirby. Especially when you hear the brass on “Amapolas, Part One,” which is reminiscent of Kirby’s work on Bryter Later. Where Drake’s stuff was so all-encompassing, like being amidst a sauna of notes, Cosgrove lets Conover pull the reins way back and recall the feeling of a wide open dome of sky, of driving in the American West. Here, the “la-da-da” chorus is so subconsciously familiar it’s in your head instantaneously; you’re humming it on the way to get a can of beer from the fridge as soon as you hear it.

On “Wildfires Outside Laramie, WY,” wife Sophie Nelson’s backing vocals are crazy tasteful, airy and a crisp contrast to Conover’s rumbling low end. There is a deep sincerity in what they’re doing, the quiet, awed tone of people who aren’t nearly done figuring out the world yet and ain’t in a big hurry to get there.

It’s this kind of sentiment from “The Start of Fables”: “Bring it all back and be kind / And be easy baby / I know I don’t finish most things.”


EXPOSED CEILING Max Garcia Conover’s lush, earthy folk songs are easy to love. (photo by Greta Rybus)

>> Sept 13 Perhaps you find all that a bit twee, anyway. Just like the types who might frequent this first annual Portland Greenfest, what with the soft color palette and little stick figures riding bikes and recycling for pleasure. Better head down to see the Jason Spooner Band headline the thing, in support of the brand-new chemical, a fully midcareer and finely polished work by a singer-songwriter who knows what he’s doing.

He doesn’t even sing on “T’ump,” and the jam isn’t far from Medeski, Martin, & Wood, with bassist Adam Frederick particularly destroying his part. And Warren Mcpherson’s addition on various keyboards is definitely new and different, bringing in a heavy jazz influence (or maybe just letting Spooner particularly indulge in a direction he was going anyway).

In “Shrouded,” though, he’s still the thoughtful songwriter that first caught your attention, with a simple strum accompanied by three- and four-note walks from the piano: “And I watch you from afar / And I feel you slip away / When you wished upon a sky full of stars / you never dreamed it’d end this way.”

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 See all articles by: SAM PFEIFLE

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