A u g u s t   2 0 0 1

Aural Report

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer
Daytime is for music, too
by Kurt Dahlke

ecently, while quaffing pints of our favorite beverage at the Blue Moon, my pal Ben and I chatted about life, as we often do.

Perhaps that's why we have few friends; we're always talking about our lives while doing little. Eventually (nearly 8 p.m.), I came 'round to what I always conclude: I really like music.

As a guy, I'm practiced at hiding my emotions -- or not having any at all -- yet nothing sparks me like good music. Good music elates me, makes me cry, gives me energy and forms the backdrop of my life.

"You really light up when you talk about music," Ben tells me.

Dave Carter died of a heart attack at age 49 in July 2002.

But sadly, it somehow seems that if you want to see live music you need to start your night at 10. Because usually the act you're after takes the stage around midnight -- and don't forget the attendant drinking. Even cola is bad. Keeps you up 'til four.

I think maybe these things keep the uncool at bay. So us poor schmoes who keep banker's hours are mostly screwed.

Anyway, Ben and I wanted to see if good live music ever happens for the non-vampire crowd. And, finding ourselves in downtown Portland on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July, we stopped in at Borders Books and Music and got some free magic in the form of an in-store performance by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer.

Now, folk music usually makes me cringe. But topping the charts (the folk charts, that is) is Drum Hat Buddha, the duo's new CD. And the magic show put the lump back in my throat.

Carter and Grammer's disarming blend of wistful and wise lyrics, tremendous finger-work and charm should recommend them to anyone who likes honest art. Their hour-long set consisted of new material, with two or three oldies thrown in for the crowd of friends, well-wishers and neophytes -- such as Ben and me.

This music isn't sappy, even though they sing of goddesses, lost love and Oklahoma. That's right, Carter's from Oklahoma, by way of Texas. Which is why I didn't freak out when these Portlanders started singing about their various countrified New Age topics.

Carter's "Tillman Co." stood out among the excellent. His nearly flawless fingerpicking and beautiful, fresh-sounding melody complemented the lyrics -- his wheel of life sinking deeper as it spun in the thick "bottomland" mud of Oklahoma during his "30 bad summers" there.

Grammer and Carter harmonize beautifully -- clear and sweet -- something only years of work can accomplish. They could teach the rockers a thing or two, as could Grammer with her skills on guitar and mandolin. Her keening fiddle brought to mind the heat-drenched hallucinatory fog of Hugo Largo. Heady stuff, yet never dour or too self-serious.

They also presented fun: chugging, upbeat tunes wherein the musicians break from their lyrics to dart toward and hover around one another while they play, like love-struck hummingbirds.

But the biggest treat was the candid nature of their set -- self-deprecating jokes leading to requests for assistance on the mixing board from friends in the audience. Carter forgot some lyrics to an earlier song, expertly marking time on guitar, laughing and begging for a moment of clarity.

Neither Ben nor I bought their catalog after the living room-style set, but we're poor folk. Still, their optimism cast its spell; I can now claim to know and enjoy at least one representative of the folk music genre.

Hey, maybe seeing music when it's still light out is a great idea. No matter, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer left us humming as we stepped out blinking in the afternoon sunlight.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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