Click to hear: “Jetfighters” (by Dead End Armory)
Back in January, in my 2005 roundup, I mentioned Cat & Mouse Records as yet another example of Portland musicians joining forces in a spirit of artistic and business collaboration for the greater good. To give you some background, Cat & Mouse is a new label run by its musicians – a co-op. It started when recent arrival John Wesley Hartley convinced other players he met in Portland to give it a shot. With help from Acoustic Coffee, the label became a reality, and is now home to 12 local acts.
The folks at Cat & Mouse have been busy this year, revamping their Web site and releasing a compilation CD. Both are superb.
I’ve been planning to review the compilation CD for about a month now. My computer has been in the shop, but the upside of the delay has been the extra weeks I’ve had to live with this album. And that’s really the best praise I can heap on a CD: it’s music you can live with for weeks at a time.
Featuring nine of the label’s acts, the generically titled Cat & Mouse Records 2006 Artist Compilation is packed with folk and roots goodness. The first time I listened to it, I was repeatedly nodding along to the music and grabbing the jewel case to see which artist was getting my toes a-tapping. The exercise soon became laughable when I found myself reaching for the liner notes during every song.
This is a strong collection. Beginning with Katrina Abramo’s beautiful “Days Go By,” the compilation continues to satisfy as layer after layer of this musical onion is revealed. There’s something here for every fan of acoustic and roots-based music: the conventional folk of Abramo and Daniel Jacobs; the loops and other experimentation by Steven Williams; the countrified Dead End Armory; the smart, folky pop of Steven Bacon; Frank Hopkins’ Tom Waits-esque snarl; the jammy Skydiver; the bluesy Moses Atwood.
Like any compilation, this one has its highlights. The songs that speak to the world we’re living in today, like Hopkins’ “The Day Ignorance Won,” are themselves worth the price of the whole CD. A reflection on the presidential election of 2004, Hopkins’ song gives the collection a sense of timeliness. Daniel Jacobs’ “Closest Thing to Home” – a song about the incongruity of a nation where a sleeping folksinger gets rousted by Park Rangers in our national parks, but can sleep undisturbed in Wal-Mart parking lots – has the feel of a song Woody Guthrie might sing if he were traveling the folky path in 2006. Dead End Armory’s “Jetfighters” is, stylistically, right up my alley. It’s like an early Uncle Tupelo number with better musicianship and mature lyrics.
If you aren’t a regular at Acoustic Coffee or Blue, you may not have heard of many, or any, of these performers before. We all know Portland’s music scene is strong, and we have several volumes of Greetings from Area Code 207 to prove it, but this collection proves there’s enough great music in town to fill at least two annual compilation CDs.
— Tom Flynn
Cat & Mouse Records 2006 Artist Compilation is available at Acoustic Coffee, 32 Danforth St., Portland. The label’s second CD release party, featuring Line of Force (with Frank Hopkins), Sparrowtalk (with Steven Bacon) and The Katrina Abramo Band, takes place at Acoustic Coffee on Fri., April 21, at 7 p.m. 774-0404.