BELLOWS FALLS -- Before Gillian Welch or Iris DeMent or Nanci Griffith, there was Mary McCaslin. Her rich, pure voice can fill a room, backed only by her open-D-tuned guitar. It’s a sound a generation of singer/songwriter fans will instantly recognize from her classic 1970s albums.
McCaslin will perform at the Windham Ballroom at Popolo Restauranton Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. Joining her on the bill is guitarist and songwriter Rick Shea, a member of Dave Alvin’s touring band, The Guilty Men.
McCaslin and Shea will each take a solo turn, then, together they’ll perform a number of classic songs from "The Bramble and the Rose," a duo recording McCaslin and the late Jim Ringer made in a barn in Vermont in the 1970s. The title song was written by Barbara Keith, best known now as the voice of Stone Coyotes. In 2011, Shea approached McCaslin about unearthing the McCaslin/Ringer duets and taking their show on the road.
"Rick knows our music and when he approached me about doing this I was very, very happy," McCaslin noted. "I liked singing these songs with Jim. I loved doing these songs and I’m so happy that Rick wanted to do them with me."
McCaslin was a pioneer of open tunings, using them long before they gained popularity. In addition to her flawless fingerpicking style on the guitar, she also plays a mean clawhammer banjo on such unlikely songs as "Blackbird" and "Pinball Wizard.
In the 1970s, when Shea was growing up in the old California railrod town of San Bernadino, dozens of honky-tonks and truck stop bars lined the outskirts, tough places where the remnants of California’s golden age of country music still drifted through like the hot winds. Shea started playing folk and coffeehouse gigs after high school and fell into the country music scene.
A deeply evocative singer and a guitarist, Shea’s songs are cinematic in their scope and embrace everything from Norteño and border rock to the more traditional folk and country music of the California of his upbringing.
Shea will also be performing solo at Pleasant Valley Brewing in Saxtons River on Friday, Dec. 7.
Popolo is located at 36 Village Square. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance, or $24 for best-in-house "Angel" seats. Tickets are on sale at Village Square Books and Popolo, Misty Valley Books in Chester, Turn it Up in Brattleboro and at brattleborotix.com.
The show is a joint presentation of Flying Under Radar, Kicking & Screaming and Vermont Festivals, with help from MMorgana. For more information, visit flyingunderradar.com or call Vermont Festivals at 802-463-9595.