Possum Trot Orchestra
It might help to start this review with a recap of my morning ritual for the last three years. It goes like this: I wake up, brush my teeth, shake the sleep out of my eyes, head downstairs. I get some Egg Beaters going on the stove and then sit on a kitchen stool with a mechanical pencil and a Sharpie, slowly drawing out a Possum Trot Orchestra logo on my forearm. Its usually gone by my second drink later that evening, but it feels good while its there. Listening to Life & Times, Going Back to Vicksburg or The Possum Trot Orchestra, I was happy with my little temporary tattoo. And then I heard Harbor Road.
Recorded with finesse and sensitivity (and bite) by Tom Tempel at Tempel Recording Studio, and produced by John Minton, Harbor features 13 new compositions by Minton and Susie Suraci, and a cover of Bad Luck Blues (made most famous by Blind Lemon Jefferson). The record is the fourth in as many years for IPFW professor Minton starting with 2003s Life & Times, followed in 2004 by Going Back to Vicksburg (which featured bountiful contributions by the nascent Possum Trot Orchestra), and including last years proper band debut, The Possum Trot Orchestra. And while each of those records are excellent, Harbor is their best yet, and stands tattered shoulder to tattered shoulder with recent Americana releases by the likes of John Prine, Shawn Colvin, Nanci Griffith and Neil Young.
Harbor opens with the title track, a rollicking lament ostensibly about child labor in the Boston bay area in the early 1900s, but relevant to the class divide and working conditions still evident in contemporary society. Thats where about half of Harbor finds its direction many of the songs deal literally or metaphorically with the state of the union, but never in a heavy-handed or awkward way. The songs on Harbor are short stories, often cinematic in scope, tackling weighty topics like disaster relief, veterans affairs, corporate takeover of radio airwaves, the rising cost of housing, Nashvilles star-making machinery and more. But like folk troubadours from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Billy Bragg, the Possums balance the matters of the world with politics of the heart and songs like Tennessee Unbound, Winterlight, Appetite and the gorgeous album-closer, Wonderful, deal with love and loss in a mature, daring way.
If youve seen the Possums perform live, youre likely familiar with their acoustic arrangement Minton and Susie Suraci on acoustic guitar, Susies husband Rob on bass and the talented Dave Kartholl on mandolin. The studio, however, allows the Possums to stretch out a bit. Full band arrangements often swirl around the multi-talented Rob Suraci who in addition to electric and stand-up bass, takes over drums, electric and acoustic guitar, odd percussion, harmonica and more, including handling lead vocals for the first time as a Possum on Bad Luck Blues. Minton adds five-string and tenor banjo, lap steel, acoustic and electric guitar and accordion, while Susie plays guitars, keyboard and organ. Kartholl contributes brilliant mandolin work.
And while the album is definitely a band album the driving intro to The Devil at the Card Party and the backward solo on The Content of Your News are especially exciting there are still John songs and Susie songs. As usual, Mintons songs are steeped in tradition and inspiration and yet wholly his own and as excellent as ever. And though weve known how good Susie is since her Flying Suraci days, and from her contributions to The Possum Trot Orchestra, with Harbor she truly establishes herself as one of the best songwriters in the area, if not the entire genre. Shes simply sublime on this album. Several of her songs on Harbor could be covered by artists in Nashville or Austin and be the best thing on the Americana/folk/alt-country airwaves (provided such airwaves exist). In particular, her song Ed deals with the tragedy of Katrina with an insight, humanity, defiance and sadness that strikes to the heart of the situation in a way that most other songwriters have missed. Its a gentle powerhouse.
All that, and the album cover is pretty nice.
So anyway, mid-way through my second spin of Harbor I called up Dusty Neal at the Studio 13 tattoo parlor. The Possum Trot Orchestra had stepped up to the microphone and delivered on all their promises, and now it was time I did the same.
Harbor Road is available now at Borders, Wooden Nickel on North Anthony and online at cdbaby.com. Check out their performance dates at www.possumtrotorchestra.com.
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Josh Johnson — Comedy at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads & Spirits, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., $10, (260) 456-7005
Vince Gill — Country at Embassy Theatre, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., $39.50-$79.50, 424-5665
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Community Orchestra — Mussorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Open Mic Night — Variety at Checkerz Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 489-0286
Scratch N Sniff 2.0 w/1/4 Kit Kurt — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8 p.m., no cover, 432-8966
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Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Three Rivers Karaoke w/Rob — at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
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41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3 , Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709