One of the things I’ve been meaning to do is dedicate more blog posts to reviewing local music. Last night I had the opportunity to see Acheson Gown at The Blue Mermaid in Portsmouth. Most of the songs they performed I already recognized from guitarist/singer Elissa Margolin’s repertoire, so there wasn’t much new in terms of content. Yet with a band that focused more (although not exclusively) on acoustic instruments as opposed to Margolin’s other band Fine Line Forming, the new arrangements gave the music another perspective. The musicians in the area constantly play for one another, giving an extra dimension to each other’s work; Acheson Gown formalized it.
On top of Margolin’s guitar providing the overall structure of the songs, the other guitarist Tom Acheson Brown would often improvise blues-type licks on top with the occasional harmony work as well. At first Brown’s improvisation could occasionally distract from Margolin’s vocals. He played well, but I had to wonder if his parts weren’t maybe subdued enough. As the show went on his guitar work fit into the arrangement quite nicely–either he was just warming up earlier or I became more accustomed to the sound. Either way, it worked. I always liked hearing him sing before; when it was his time to sing in Acheson Gown, his rough, deep vocals offered a effective contrast to Margolin’s smooth delivery.
Rounding out the group is percussionist Sam Harding and bassists Joe Harding and Nate Therrien (both bassists absent for this performance). Sam Harding can often be seen in the area playing drums and percussion for several local musicians. In Acheson Gown he kept the percussion to a minimal set up of two bongos and two congas, providing a constant grove throughout. The effect when mixed with the rest of the group was almost seductive in a way.
Guitarist Chuck Wentzel of the band Rhythm Method also joined the group to play electric guitar on a few songs. His technical skill is amazing, especially as he evidently was playing along with songs he was unfamiliar with.
Acheson Gown performed two sets, with local singer/songwriter Chris Guzikowski performing a short set in between. His performance is spot on every time I see him. His music was much more straightforward folk, but with a bit more technical aspect to the guitar parts than I’m used to. This makes for songs that are more listenable for non-folk music fans while keeping to its roots. He mentioned an upcoming CD of his coming out in the fall; I’ll be sure to review it as soon as I hear it. Harding also played with Guzikowski, and they were joined by Brown before the set was finished.
I have reviews planned in the future of Margolin’s releases on CD (a bit late, but better than never), so I won’t go into great detail of her music here. I will say that the fact that her songs can be performed well in different arrangements so easily attests to her strength as a songwriter. Her songwriting is both creative and simplistic, causing it to be enjoyable and adaptable. One wonders what direction she’ll take next. For now, Acheson Gown appears to be a stable, new group that hopefully we’ll get to see more of in the future.