VA: Portland Stories
Sonic Pieces

I'll confess to being extremely charmed by Portland Stories—how could one not be when the curator, Heath Woods Broderick, compiled the release by literally biking to the homes of eight Portland-based musicians and, armed with a 4-track recorder, pressing record whether it happened to be on the individual's front porch or living room? What motivated the recording was Broderick's (Peter's sister, she's a member of the Efterklang live band and, having recently released From the Ground on Preservation, a solo artist in her own right) desire to document in modest manner one robust corner of the music scene in her Portland, Oregon hometown.

Listening to the nine songs, I'm reminded of Jessica Bailiff, Steve Earle, Grouper—even Springsteen's Nebraska in a couple of places. There's a gothic murder ballad or two— Nicholas Archibald Marshall's cryptic “Into the Night,” for example, (“I will destroy you / If you don't get to me first”) creeps into one's head like macabre thoughts disrupting one's nocturnal slumber—and selections are nicely split between male and female contributors. Broderick's own haunted setting was laid down in her bedroom (“Behind Doors”), while Kele Goodwin's wistful jaunt “Kite Strings” was written after a failed attempt to fly a pterodactyl-shaped kite on a windy spring evening (“To the sea we can go / The sun's rise and bloom in tow”). Michael Elias contributes a sampling of classic campfire folk in “Halfway There” (“Got a broken spoke on the wagon wheel / Horses looking real bad / Two men robbed my camp last night / They took all the money I had”), whereas Rauelsson's (Raúl Pastor Medall) “Liebre” adds a touch of Spanish-tinged flavour to the album. To these ears, the standouts are MayMay's (Laurel Simmons) “The Fall,” which entrances with a lovely melodic arc, and Sarah Winchester's incantatory “Northeast Kingdom,” which merges a sometimes tough electric guitar attack with her entrancing, multi-tracked voice.

Though the recording is a mere thirty-two minutes in length, it still makes a strong impression, and the laid-back vibe is endearing, so much so that the false start with which Town Rill's folk-blues setting “My Park Bench” begins ends up only adding to the recording's charming rather than detracting from it.

January 2010