|The Scene: at Café Orleans Homemade Wine Begin
By Matthew Thomas Pugh
Wine has never been this intoxicating. "Homemade Wine," that is, as the all-lady's jam this past Monday at Café Orleans in Annapolis.
As part of the Annapolis Song Writers Series, Homemade Wine is the second of an occasional series showcasing the talent of women musicians.
Brewed up by Matt McConville, the name rises from Italian roots. "Italians used to make a lot of their own wine at home. It wasn't until I got older that I realized the wine we made, because of the time and love put into it, was always the best," said McConville. "Homemade wine is like homegrown music. It's the best."
From the local musical vine, McConville handpicked some of the best female artists in the area.
Gracing the cozy Cajun/Creole café stage were Angie Miller, Meg Murray, Mary Byrd Brown and Jen Smith. The four sat in a semicircle, each with an acoustic guitar, a mike and her own songs to play. With a quick "let's here it for the ladies" introduction, a musical round-robin began.
Miller led each revolution. There is something about Miller's slightly husky voice that is inviting, even irresistible. She sings like a seasoned siren, stirring up a spicy gumbo of songs she'd composed, some loosely based on stories her father had written. A natural guitarist, Miller strummed with ease through "Here I Go," a strong, inescapable number that she cleverly wove a Temptations "My Girl" tease into.
Next in line was Murray. The least experienced guitarist in the bunch, she announced that she was playing under "extreme duress." Murray made up for what she lacked in technique with what she has in soul, using creative chord progressions. Songs like the cool "Die Slowly" and the heart-wrenching "I Fall" resonated from her black ax like it was haunted. And can she ever sing. Murray has a voice that will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart. Not to mention she's got rhythm and solid percussive power.
A high-five spun into Brown. Brown epitomizes the folk singer. Her songs seem to begin with simple ideas and evolve into grand voyages. "Birthday 99" begins with a phone conversation that turns into an epiphany. Her playing style, too, is cathartic. Intense and involved, she barely opens her eyes while playing, all the while hammering her guitar, stomping her feet, twisting and contorting her face like a woman possessed. In between songs, she's soft spoken, flighty even. The crowd seemed taken.
Last, but certainly not least, in the rotation was Smith. A warm, soothing tone of voice made it easy to connect with Smith. Tunes like "When the Sun Shines Here" wrapped the audience in a dreamy world of "salty kisses," "walks in the high tide" and "swimming with the big fish." Smith was impressive on the guitar, she being the only one in the semi-circle woman enough to play leads.
After about an hour of pickin' and a grinnin', the four broke to mingle with a captivated crowd of 50 or more. There was a buzz about how it was a refreshing change to see all women in the spotlight.
Murray explains how jamming with men can sometimes feel like a competition. "The best thing about playing with all women is the sharing," she said. "Sometimes it's nice to have less testosterone and more estrogen on stage." A drink or two later, the relaxed bunch took the stage with a bonus.
Suzanna Mallow, from the Salisbury-based band Redletterday, sat in for Murray to play both guitar and mandolin for the entire second set.
Mallow was an immediate highlight. She rolled up the audience with a "thrash-grass" song that began with the lyrics "I get stoned with my mama every Saturday night."
The round-robin continued for another hour, offering songs that ranged from paradise, love, lost love and fear, to memories, weed and Salvador Dali. Each musician added flavor to each other's songs by strumming along, tapping a tambourine, shaking a shaker or humming. The quartet wrapped things up with a Kate Wolfe cover called "Give Yourself to Love," inviting the audience to join in.
The impromptu show went over with a bang. And the four, knowing it, exited the stage wearing smiles.
"The show was very cool," thought WRNR station general manager Judy Buddensick. "It's nice to see the ladies in this town get some recognition."
When will they return?
"As soon as possible," explained Brown. "We're talking about doing this again very soon, we just aren't sure where and when."
In the meantime, you can request most of these dazzling dames on WRNR 103.1 on your FM dial by calling 410/269-1031. Keep your ears open about up and coming shows at Café Orleans, 125 Hillsmere Dr., Annapolis.