The Star-Democrat from Easton, Maryland on February 2, 2001 · Page 9
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The Star-Democrat from Easton, Maryland · Page 9

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Easton, Maryland
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Friday, February 2, 2001
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Page 9
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By STEVE SAULSBURY Music Critic Rob Buck’s death on Dec. 19 received little more than a small blurb in one of my music magazines. The 10,000 Maniacs’ cofounder and guitarist reportedly died of liver failure in Pittsburgh. The Maniacs, despite their name, were a groundbreaking, folksy pop group, who gained a large following with the release of the 1987 masterpiece In My Tribe . Buck was often overshadowed by eclectic vocalist Natalie Merchant, whose charisma was undeniably a major asset. However, Buck cowrote many of the Maniacs’ songs, and also played guitar, mandolin and pedal steel. In My Tribe is a beautifully packaged release, from the cover art (an old photo of an archery class) to the inclusion of a lyric sheet for this nearly seamless batch of songs. It was one of my earlier CD purchases, back in my tenant house days on a Pennsylvania farm. For those too young to remember, or for those who need reminding, the late 1980s were a particularly rich time for music. Some of my personal favorites of the period include, R.E.M.’s Document , U2’s The Joshua Tree , and The Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me . On “What’s The Matter Here?,” In My Tribe kicks off with strong drum work by Jerome Augustyniak. Like Suzanne Vega’s song “Luka,” also released in ‘87, “What’s The Matter” is an insightfully honest look at child abuse, disguised behind a buoyant pop beat: I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses, he’s your kid, do as you see fit, but get this through that I don’t approve of what you did to your own flesh and blood. “What’s the Matter” is a realistically gritty portrait, further illuminated by an interview Merchant gave in 1988. “I can be sitting in a friend’s apartment in Manhattan, and the minute I step outside the door I’m in a war zone,” she said. “Any pleasant mood can be interrupted momentarily, the potential for violence is always there, even with me.” Merchant’s voice is playful and rich, nearly deep, but without the bizarre guttural effect I always associate with Cher. Perhaps her voice could be described as a kinder, gentler version on Patti Smith (whom the Maniacs later covered by way of Bruce Springsteen on “Because the Night”). “Hey Jack Kerouac,” an ode to the Beat author of On The Road , is one of my favorite tracks. With stunning wordplay, Merchant evokes an intimacy often lacking in popular music: You chose your words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood. The hip flask-slinging madman, steaming café flirts, nights in Chinatown howling at night. One night in the late ‘80s, I sat down and gave In My Tribe an analytical listen. I was awestruck by the realization that a simple song like “Cherry Tree” is written from the point of an illiterate. Jumping ahead to “Don’t Talk,” I witnessed a tense confrontation between the narrator and an unreasonable partner. Even now, I find these insightful songs as powerful as a small-scale version of an Ann Tyler novel. “Don’t Talk,” cowritten with keyboardist Dennis Drew, is another strong band effort, despite the inescapable intensity of Merchant’s voice. 10,000 Maniacs received some flack for covering Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” on In My Tribe . This was during the time when Stevens converted to Islam, and some remarks he made were misconstrued. In any case, Peace Train is well-suited to the Maniacs’ musicianship, and is a good example of a cover that expands on the original without mangling it. Near the end of In My Tribe is “A Campfire Song,” featuring guest vocals by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. The lyrics are catchy yet mysterious, obscure like the lyrics of early R.E.M., that ultimately contributed to the appeal. As the Maniacs and R.E.M. shared a number of concert bills, Merchant and Stipe were, for a brief reign, the queen and king of the patchouli- scented crowd. Sadly, Natalie Merchant parted ways with 10,000 Maniacs in the mid-1990s, releasing several solo efforts, none of which had quite the appeal or impact of the band’s work. Prior to her departure, 10,000 Maniacs released two impressive follow-ups to In My Tribe, Blind Man’s Zoo and Our Time In Eden . More sadly, now with the death of Rob Buck, 10,000 Maniacs may become just another footnote in 20th-century music history. However, their music is, to this date, standing the test of time, and I would urge music lovers to give 10,000 Maniacs a listen, beginning with In My Tribe (Elektra/Asylum, 1987). And have a thought for Rob Buck and the Class of ‘87. • Andy’s, Chestertown: June Star Friday. The Silos Sat. Michael McDermott opens. • Annie’s Paramount Steak House, Kent Narrows: Karaoke Friday. • Bay Hundred Restaurant, Knapp’s Narrows: Glenn Burgess, 5:30-9:30 Sat. • Bottoms Up, Cambridge: Twelve 15 Friday. ESP Saturday. • The Breakaway Lounge, Smyrna, Del.: Phaze, 9-1 Saturday. • Carpenter Street Saloon, St. Michaels: 3 Penny Opera Saturday.Shelley Abbott, 9:00 Tuesday. • Choptank Tavern, Cambridge: DJ Reggie Powley, 9:00 Wednesday. • Corsica Lighthouse Pub, Centreville: Harts of Karaoke Friday. • D&B Tavern, Greensboro: Good Time Karaoke w/ Bruce & Barb, 8:30-12:30 Fri. • Dave’s Place, Ridgely: Good Time Karaoke w/ Bruce & Barb, 9-1 Saturday. Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, 8-12 Wed. • E.E. Streets VFW Post 5118, Easton: The Jones Boys Saturday. • Harbour Lights, St. Michaels: Doc Charlton on piano, 6:30-9:30 Thursday. • Harrison’s Chesapeake House, Tilghman Island: Dawn Williams Saturday. • Hillside Steak & Crab House, Centreville: Sudden Exposure Saturday. • Madison’s West End, St. Michaels: Glenn Burgess, 7:30 Friday. • Mike’s Tavern, East New Market: Mountain Blue Friday. DJ Chuckie Saturday. Benji Abbott Tuesday. Karaoke w/ Shelley Abbott Wednesday. • Pepper Jack’s, Easton Plaza: Willi Nilli Karaoke Saturday. Blues jam w/ Rick Forrest Tuesday. • Ram’s Head On Stage, Annapolis: Average White Band, 8:30 Friday: $22.50. Lowen & Navarro (Amy Correia opens), 7:30 Saturday & Sunday: $22.50. Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Fest, 8:30 Tuesday: $22.50. Shawn Mullins, 8:30 Wednesday: $17.50. Evan Dando, Ben Lee & Ben Kweller, 7:30 Thursday: $16.50. • Sam’s Sports Pub & Grill, Denton: ESP Friday. DJ Krazy Kue, 9:00 Saturday (Ladies’ Night). • Snappy’s, Denton Plaza: Karaoke with Bruce & Barb, 8:30 Thursday. • Suicide Bridge, Secretary: Steel Rain Saturday. • Tidewater Inn, Easton: Joan Dent at Sunday brunch in the Crystal Room. • Time Out Tap & Grill, Easton: DJ Chris Startt Friday. Spincycle Saturday. Karaoke w/ Shelley Abbott, 9 p.m. Thurs. • Village Tavern, Chestertown: DJ Tuff Wednesday. • Yesteryear’s, St. Michaels: Rick Forrest, 9-1 Friday. Layers, 9-1 Saturday. Page 10 It’s the Weekend! Friday, February 2, 2001 Buck’s death brings Maniacs to mind

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