The late Christmas gift of the season is “Greetings from Area Code 207, Vol. 9.” It’s the kind of gift you can feel good about, maybe even good enough to erase the guilt of sending this present after the holiday.
All proceeds from the CDs’ sale benefit the St. Lawrence Arts Center, a nonprofit performance space inside a historic church hall atop Munjoy Hill. And it’s as local as can be — all the performers either live in Maine now or made a name for themselves here before leaving to pursue national stardom (e.g., Michael “O.” Odokara-Okigbo, the Waynflete grad whose Dartmouth Aires wowed the judges on a network-television singing competition, and who now lives in the other L.A.).
The compilation series reflects the discerning taste of producer and compiler Charlie Gaylord, who hosts the “Greetings” radio show on WBLM Sunday mornings, and played a mean lead guitar for many years in the honky-tonk band Diesel Doug and the Long Haul Truckers. Alt-country and roots music predominate, but indie rock bands like Phantom Buffalo and Spouse often made the cut in past volumes, and lately Gaylord’s been letting some hip-hop seep into the mix.
My favorite track from Vol. 8, a double-disc released three years ago, was a collaboration between Paranoid Social Club and Thommy Kane (a rapper formerly known as Poverty) called “White Trash.” On Vol. 9, PSC backs Spose on “Automatic,” the rapper’s comic tale of being “trashed like a house on ‘Hoarders’” and trying to convince a young lady to give him a ride home. It’s a pretty good song, but the band from which PSC sprouted, Rustic Overtones, has the best track on Vol. 9, a collaboration with singer Anna Lombard called “The Stranger.” Dave Gutter and Lombard deliver an exquisite duet over a lounge-jazz shuffle with Beach Boys harmonies floating around. The previously unreleased song is all the stronger for being unexpected, though Rustic’s latest album, “Let’s Start a Cult, Part 2,” also exhibits the band’s more sophisticated, less rock-oriented direction.
Phantom Buffalo contributes “Horse Named Reginald,” a galloping psych-pop nugget from their late 2012 masterpiece, “Tadaloora.” Bangor rock duo When Particles Collide contribute “Ego,” the killer title track from its excellent EP of last September. And Gaylord got indie-rockers Theodore Treehouse to pitch in “Friendship Bracelet,” the catchy opener of their eponymous 2012 EP.
Among the rootsy offerings on Vol. 9, The Mallett Brothers Band’s “Farmers Tan” proves why these gritty country-rockers are poised to leap onto the national stage. The eclectic indie-folk outfit Old Soul scores with “Vaughn Island,” an old-timey number from their highly anticipated sophomore release, as does Post Provost, whose “Didn’t Mean To Love Her” is catchier than this winter’s flu.
Aly Spralto (aka Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) joins The Milkman’s Union for an art-damaged country waltz called “Texas Hold Me,” leaving the listener once again to wonder how a voice so world-wise and powerful got packed inside this diminutive young woman from Brunswick. Sara Cox, a GFAC regular both solo and with her old band, The Coming Grass, delivers “Glory” with a similar combination of strength and wisdom.
“Virginia,” by singer-songwriter Charlie Schmidt, backed by The Joint Chiefs, sounds like a Civil War song sandwiched between a chorus the Stones could have recorded during the “Exile on Main Street” sessions. Incongruous as that sounds, it works wonders. Dominic Lavoie lends “Bookshelf,” a song from the first album by his new project, ShaShaSha, to Vol. 9. As endearing ditties about trusty furniture go, nobody’s ever gonna top Harry Nilsson’s “Good Old Desk,” but Lavoie gives it a good try.
Not everything on this two-disc volume will strike your fancy, but that’s to be expected on a collection this diverse. I’m hesitant to criticize the weaker material here — after all, it’s a charitable project; doing so is like calling out the slow runners at a Komen Race for the Cure — but I must say I believe I’ve heard enough Slaid Cleaves in this lifetime. The tune he contributed, “Whim of Iron,” may be about the St. Lawrence’s tireless champion, Deirdre Nice, but if so, this wimpy composition fails to live up to its subject.
A year ago, Nice and her board unveiled plans to build a 400-seat auditorium next to the parish hall that houses the center’s 110-seat performance space. The eight previous GFAC volumes have netted more than $100,000 for the St. Lawrence, but they’re trying to raise a lot more than that to make this now two-decade-long dream a reality. You can do yourself and the arts a favor by picking up Vol. 9.