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The Hum by Bob Doran

May 13, 2004

Photo and headline Hanneke Cassel

[ photo at left] DECIDED EARLY ON THAT SHE'S NOT a violinist; she's a fiddler. Raised in Port Orford, Ore., "right over the California border," as she puts it, she started studying violin when she was 8, then switched to Texas-style fiddle, playing at contests like Weiser. When her fiddle teacher's interest shifted to Scottish-style, she followed suit, reluctantly at first. "It was definitely different," said Cassel when I called her at her Boston home. "The Scottish and Celtic style has more ornamentation, but it's also much more danceable. The [Texas] contest music is all about playing a steady stream of complicated versions, playing very smooth. With the Celtic music, the tunes are made for dancing, more rhythmic and percussive." In short, she had to learn to swing -- and she did.

In 1996 she left Oregon, moving to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music, chosen because it's one of the few colleges in the country where they do not emphasize classical music. "Berklee still doesn't have any kind of Scottish fiddle program, but they're a jazz school so they're open to any kind of contemporary music. It was a place to go to become a better musician," she explained.

Working with a wide range of musicians, she has since developed her own style, which she describes as "mostly based in Scottish and Cape Breton traditions," although it doesn't sound like it to me. Her explanation is that she works with bluegrass musicians too, but the music on her latest, Some Melodious Sonnets, doesn't sound like bluegrass either. There are hints of new grass, and something that I suggested might be a new take on chamber music. "But that makes it sound like it's somehow classical -- and it isn't," she said in response, adding, "There's a movement that's influenced by what's going on in Boston where people are fusing a bunch of styles together to come up with something new. I listen to a lot of pop and rock music so that's in there too."

Her ethereal, and positively sublime, take on a Bono song, "Mothers of the Disappeared" merged with her own original composition, finds her accompanied by cellist Rushad Eggleston and guitarist Christopher Lewis, both of whom are coming west with her for a tour in support of the new album. The trio stops in Blue Lake Monday, May 17, for a Humboldt Folklife Society show at the Red Radish with the fine Gypsy jazzers Cuckoo's Nest opening. Incidentally Cuckoo's Nest can also be heard on "The Back Porch" on KHUM, Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m. and again on Wednesday, May 19, when they play for acoustic night at Humboldt Brews.

It's graduation time at Humboldt State (congrats to all the grads out there) and since there's a college crowd exodus in store, some music venues like Muddy Waters will be cutting back their hours. The Mud does have plenty of music this weekend, however, starting with the hot old timey band Wrangletown on Thursday, May 13.

That same night at Placebo, the Building Press, Goodbye Blue Monday and Stereoprimer offer variations on what comes after rock.

Things stay relatively mellow Friday evening at the Placebo with bouncy indie pop by Breezy Porticos, a trio from Colorado with literate lyrics and three-part harmonies that make them sound as breezy as their name. Todd Vandenberg, aka Heller Mason, is here from Wisconsin with his guitar and some sad songs about breaking up; local songwriter Mike Conway offers something along the same lines. Friday is graduation eve, an important factor for folk pop darlings the Ian Fays since two of the four members are about to move on (the twins are staying and will marshal on). This is also the Humboldt swan song for the seriously in-love duo known as Cemetery Love Club who are about to venture north to explore Portland's graveyards.

Placebo is dark Saturday (congrats graduating board members) but returns with experimental rock Monday night by Cerberus Shoal, who cite the Flaming Lips, the Residents and Thomas Mapfumo among their influences. Opening the show, Arcata's neo-rock mavens Datura Blues (who are by no means a blues band).

What could be more appropriate than Humboldt's top AfroCuban salsa band playing a benefit for an organization offering a helping hand to our neighbors in Cuba? Friday, May 14, Ponche! headlines a benefit for the Cuba Friendship Committee at the Old School, across the way from the Grange Hall in Bayside, with vocalist Caroline Hecht opening. Proceeds benefit the Pastors for Peace U.S./Cuba Caravan, who somehow circumvent the anti-Cuba travel ban to bring medical supplies to the isolated island country. Friends of Cuba may also want to check out the talk by Santa Cruz activist Carol Cross on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) at the Redwood Peace and Justice Center. Cross is part of a Santa Cruzian group that set up a Sister City relationship between that city and Santiago, Cuba.

It's reggae time Friday night at Six Rivers McKinleyville with locals Massagana plus Jamaican reggae vet Garth Dennis, a founding member of Black Uhuru who left that band to join the Wailing Souls.

Mazzotti's has the funk Friday with Old Man Clemins on their own for a change -- and celebrating their third anniversary as a hard-rockin' funk band. Saturday it's a DJ assortment with DJ Red, High Grade Sounds, and D.C Adam. Come early and you get a free copy of a new vid by Manifest.

My guess was the e-mail from Six Rivers McKinleyville describing the Electric Mudd as a "Delta bluegrass" band was way off the mark. It might have been influenced by the fact that besides their Sunday night gig in McKinleyville they're playing Saturday night at the Bayside Grange with the Compost Mountain Boys, who definitely do play bluegrass. I found Electric Mudd guitarist Brian Ware at home in Cleveland, Miss., deep in the heart of Mississippi delta country. What's Cleveland like? "Pretty boring," he said, his thick drawl followed by a laugh. "Not much around here but fields and the Mississippi. We've got some mud.

"We took the name from an album by Muddy Waters," he noted. "He was a big influence on all of us. Growing up around here you can't help being influenced by the blues; by osmosis if nothing else."

But the music they play is a far cry from Muddy's blues. "The term we came up with to try to describe it is `delta swamp boogie,'" he explained. "Basically we take all of our influences and combine 'em. We're not trying to come up with anything too unique, or stray too far from what we grew up on, but we push it a little further into different areas." The band will actually be in Humboldt three nights: Friday at Six Rivers Old Town, Saturday at the Grange, Sunday at Six Rivers McKinleyville.

Looking for more boogie blues? Don't forget John Lee Hooker Jr. is at Riverwood Inn Friday and Saturday nights. (I'd advise calling Loreen at 923-3333 to see if tickets are still available.) You can also boogie with the Karen Dumont Electric Blues Band, playing at the Red Lion Friday and Saturday. And of course there's the big John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers show next Thursday, May 20, at the Eureka Theater. More on that one next week.


Bob Doran



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