Click to hear: “Potters Dam” (by Dave Conley)
Imagine you went to one of the weekly acoustic open mic nights at a local bar, expecting to hear the usual assortment of amateur troubadours practice their craft, and in walked Bob Dylan, dutifully adding his name to the list, then stepping up when his turn arrived to blow the room away.
That’s basically what happens on Murder, Death, and Prison, the new comp put out by local label Rotten Eggs Records in association with Lude Boy Records, a California-based label with a roster heavy on Boston bands. There are a few good songs among the 16 tracks here, a couple more that are OK, and a bunch of duds.
Then there’s Dave Conley’s “Potters Dam.” After listening to a series of young guys try to sound weathered and wise, it’s jarring to reach track seven and suddenly hear the real deal.
Conley’s been gigging in small clubs and cheap restaurants around Portland since the early ’90s, maybe longer. Talented as hell but humble almost to a fault, he’d rather play for tips and shots of Wild Turkey than deal with the music industry. (Kudos to Adam Earley and Lewis “The Swan” Rossignol of Rotten Eggs for including him on this collection, and thanks in advance for planning to record an album’s worth of Conley’s originals for future release.)
“Potters Dam” is a folk ballad about a young man’s ill-fated mission to bring his uncle home from a rough-and-tumble mining town. It has the sound and feel of a old-time song about the late 1800s, but it turns out the ’89 referenced in the song is 1989. Conley’s penned a masterful story-in-lyrics to complement a sad and beautiful melody — a tale remarkable both for the details he reveals and those he leaves out. Then he outdoes himself again by adding a virtuosic bluegrass coda. It’s astounding.
Among the handful of lesser highlights is “Two Robbers,” a catchy, Irish-inflected country number by the up-and-coming Boston band Lenny and the Piss Poor Boys. Jeff Crane, a veteran punk rocker playing these days with Beantown’s Classic Ruins, turns in a notable up-tempo ballad, “Rumour in the Town,” and the San Francisco-based Ol’ Cheeky Bastards rework and reword Faces’ “Borstal Boys” to kick things off in style.
There are more misses than hits on this loosely themed collection, but it’s worth picking up for the diamonds in the rough. Pluck the gems out for your iPod and ramble on, but for God’s sake, stay out of trouble.
— Chris Busby
A CD release show for Murder, Death, and Prison takes place Sat., Oct. 11, at Slainte, 24 Preble St., Portland, at 8 p.m. Free (21+). Performers include Dave Conley, Jeff Crane, Ron Pubcrawler, Adam Earley, Elijah Ocean, Lewis The Swan and others. For more, visit myspace.com/rotteneggsrecords.