Micah Blue Smaldone Hither and Thither

[North East Indie; 2005]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: ragtime/blues, singer-songwriter, old timey music
Others: Two Gallants, Devendra Banhart, Jackson C. Frank

If you know about Micah Blue Smaldone, you might know that he's a veteran of the Maine punk, garage, and hardcore scene. But that won't tell you anything about his career as a solo musician. Now that Smaldone's toured with the likes of Bonnie "Prince" Billy, however, it's fair to suppose that fans of Oldham's creepy whisperings and wailings might appreciate Hither and Thither, a very simple but very well-made record. Smaldone goes it all alone with his guitar, which sounds so much like a banjo that I've got to guess that it's the same sort of steel-bodied model he used on his first album. Both his guitar playing and mannered mode of singing recall pre-WWII balladeers, and his lyrics are stilted and, like Oldham's, generally dark. "Summerbelle surely had eyes of fall," he sings on "Summerbelle, Winterbelle," "Kept her arms folded in an ochre shawl / And I wished for to beg her pardon for every little glance that I stole."

Because the music is so simple and the songs generally so similar, it's impossible to say all that much about Hither and Thither, which is, if nothing else, a self-contained artifact. Smaldone tips his hat a bit when covering Jelly Roll Morton's "New Orleans Bump," but his guitar rendering fits so perfectly that it's hard to believe Smaldone's a contemporary musician, let alone a 27-year old punk rocker. But Micah's fingerpicking chops and spooky tenor are perfect for a creepy tale like "A Winter's Truce" and the album closer "A Little at a Time," which sounds something like Devendra Banhart before he got all "studio band" on our asses. In the end, Hither and Thither isn't really anything but a competent documentation of a genre little heard these days, but Smaldone won't disappoint anyone interested in his style of choice. Recommended for nights spent drinking alone and reading some Poe or Falkner

1. Swamp of the Swan
2. Coal Black Crepe
3. More than I Can Bear
4. Sporting Sorrow Blues
5. Grim
6. Summerbelle Winterbelle
7. Tatterdemalion Stomp
8. A Winter's Truce
9. Funny Farm
10. All Shut of You
11. New Orleans Bump
12. A Little at a Time

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