Maria Catherine Callahan


Maria Callahan is a seasoned veteran in the local music scene with a career stretching back to the early ‘90s, first as shredding guitarist with Insane Jane, then through the ‘90s as part of Doris Daze, and as a member of the “supergroup” Sophia Starlight in the early ‘00s. In that time she has distinguished herself as a solid singer and songwriter and a very talented multi-instrumentalist, though her specialty is guitar.

With this, her first music project in several years, we find Maria exploring a country-tinged style, sort of a folk-country approach, maybe reminiscent of Rosanne Cash, Alison Krause or Mary Chapin-Carpenter. Not shit-kickin’ country. Actually, what Maria plays could be called “Oregon country” music, a stylistic departure from the Nashville variety. No matter. For, whatever style of music Maria plays, the results sure to be top-notch.

Here, her talent on a variety of acoustic and electric guitars is everywhere to be found and, as always, very tasteful. Expert Telecaster twang and incendiary slide guitar work are impeccable in execution and precise in detail. Maria is a real pro. She is also gifted with a smooth understated vocal instrument—with the timbre of Patsy Cline, the tonal color of Emmylou Harris, the muscle of Linda Ronstadt and the sonorous vocal quality of Paula Cole (“Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”).

Joining Maria on this outing is Danny O’Hanlon who, besides engineering the venture, contributed drums, bass and more guitars. O’Hanlon, a member of the Irish folk group Cul an Ti, capably maintains an air of subtlety and tasteful discipline throughout the project. Seven or eight of the eleven songs presented receive sparse but effective support from a handful of local musicians.

“Looking For Love” kicks off the set. This is not the Johnny Lee country drudge from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack but a chunky, rock-flavored sauce peppered by Maria’s Tele twang, and the thick roux of her simmering slide guitar. The lyric and feel seem somewhat similar in texture to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” though her smart, knowing vocal delivery adds distinctive flair.

The bold beat behind “Girl You Used To Know” punctuates the jangle of Maria’s acoustic guitar as she launches into an “it’s not you, it’s me” narrative which resolves in a very nice hook hung around the title line. A good song. “Country Song” is worthy of Bonnie Raitt and right in her stylistic wheelhouse.

Behind O’Hanlon’s big beat, guest Cody Feuerborn adds a proper atmosphere with his smoky pedal steel guitar clouds hovering over “Don’t You Let Me Down.” Maria’s low-string fret thunder echoes across the intro and turnarounds, while a faint but succinct organ somberly sobs in the background. And her mournful vocal expertly captures the tumbleweed mood and lonesome prairie yearning of the ‘50s chestnut “The Wayward Wind.” Another sweet, soulful song.

Understated backing decorates the dreary story of “Emily”: a thump of drums, high-capoed guitarreplicating a mandolin. Accordion? Either an accordion or a keyboard to seem as such. A soft, stringy, shimmery sound supporting a wistful lyric and vocal.

O’Hanlon again bangs out solid drums on “Fool In Love,” a “Someday Soon” (Ian and Sylvia, Judy Collins, most recently covered by Suzy Bogguss) sort of rodeo song. Trace Wiren’s whirlwind harmonica kicks up little dust devils in the proceedings. This song ends too soon. It’s sometimes the case that a band will repeat an outro ad infinitum to the detriment of a song. The opposite is rarely the case. But it’s the case here. It all ends too abruptly. Another thirty seconds of send-up send-off would have been frosting on the cake.

“Laugh Someday” is another sturdy little song that briefly catches the melody of the Terry Jacks ‘70s gem “Seasons In The Sun” before releasing it back into the stream of all tune. There’s a hint of the Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes” circling around the hook as well. Maria demonstrates a deft facility for invoking historical musical touch points in her songs, grounding them in a tradition without stealing or copying anythingnuanced references blow through her songs and drift away, firing a fleeting flicker of familiarity in the dark cosmos of recollection.

The distaff perspective of the typical country cheatin’ song, “Nothing In It For Me” contemplates the consequences of a pending assignation in the cold light of hard experience. “You know I live alone when you’re just passing by pretending to be on my side of town/I thank you kindly for thinking of me, but I don’t need married men hanging around.” Further along, Maria says “And aside from confused I’m afraid/of making mistakes that I’ve already made.”

A certain strangled restraint pervades upon “Tornado,” imitating the gripping barometric pressure gradient just prior to a storm. Feuerborn returns with lightning flashes of brilliant pedal steel, while Maria’s resolute banjo plunks forlornly beneath the gathering dark of the musical sky. Soon a cyclone of drums and bass sweep the song into the dust-blown distance: “…find a solid beam under the kitchen floor you’re a tornado, you’re a tornado.”

In 1978, Heart put out a song called “Dog and Butterfly” on the album of the same name. The song is very mellow for a Heart number. Quiet. Contemplative. Philosophical. Here, on “Little Bird,” Maria sounds just like Ann Wilson a full, rich voice, knowing and resigned to all that is known. A fine performance.

A full band and backing chorus join Maria for “He’s Your Problem Now,” a good-natured country-flavored G chord jangler, expressing a sentiment that is pretty much summed up in the title.

Maria Callahan may have come late to playing “country” music, but the transition has been a natural one. Her voice is comfortable in the milieu, reserved but not detached. Her tendency toward deadpan masks, in a way, the heartfelt context of many of the songs. If there is one failing, it is that Maria occasionally seems emotionally detached from some of her heavier lyrics.

But that shortcoming in no way diminishes the mastery she displays as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist. Maria is a skilled musical artisan, deserving of wider recognition than she has ever received. With Dry she stakes her claim on a barren stylistic landscape earning a hard-carved harvest. Here’s hoping she continues to thrive.


Buko Magazine Attends The Om-Hoffies

Greg Georgeson, of the band Sequel, displays his "Shardie". photo J Galarneau

You’re right. The “Ommies” or the “Hoffies,” maybe. There’s probably a better name for them. The awards themselves sort of look like the shards of a shattered windshield.  Maybe the Shardies.  There’s something vaguely mountainic about the objets. Like Mount Hood. Maybe the “Hoodies.”

They’re very nice awards, don’t get me wrong. But Oscars were awarded before they became known as Oscars—they were probably called “Academy Awards” or something pedestrian like that. Then, so the story goes (and it’s greatly disputed), Bette Davis named the award Oscar in honor of her then-husband (whose ass supposedly resembled that of the statue). And there you have it.

This is the sort of lore that is sure to eventually develop around the awards for the Oregon Music Hall of Fame: OMHOF. This year’s celebration of the fifth annual OMHOF awards ceremony took place at the Newmark Theater on Saturday, October 8th. And it was a festive, if casually paced, affair that because of its setting was availed of a certain air of formality that seemed somewhat out of place given the context of the event’s essence: sex, drugs and rocknroll, etc…

From our perspective the evening seemed off to a bleak start, when the very gracious OMHOF staff at the door were unable to find any sign of previously-affirmed comps for us, which creates one of those awkward situations one really hates to see arise. But, owing to the sheer immensity of the magnitude of my comportment when insisting upon the vastness of my standing within the Portland music community, I was able to bullshit my way into scoring us some great tickets. Totally dumb luck.

One of the women on the staff fortuitously decided to give us tickets belonging to someone she was pretty sure would not be attending the gig: lord knows whom, half-apologizing that they were located in the “pit.” I had horrific visions of having to stand around with a bunch of fifty-year old slam dancers or something.

So, anyway, she handed us a packet and our tickets, and we were in. When the usher showed us to our spots, holy shit oh dear, we were parked upfront, second-row, dead center. Whoever it was who probably wasn’t showing up must have been quite the dignitary, indeed. TV’s Brenda Braxton, off to our right, did not have a seat as high-profile as ours, nor did Tim Robbins in row one sitting just in front of her. Wow!

When I looked in the packet there were two VIP laminates and some other swaggy stuff. Jeez. We scored. Thank you OMHOF staff for going along with the charade. I have nothing but profound admiration for your incredible good-judgment.

By the time we finally got settled, Johnny and many Distractions were accepting a “Shardie” for something. I thought they already were inducted, so I’m not sure what the new award was for, but there it was. After a couple of rambling thank you speeches, performed by guys who are used to keeping up a line of innocuous chatter while simultaneously replacing and tuning a broken B string, the Distractions eventually embarked on a pretty hot set.

It took a while to figure out who everybody was, because I don’t know about you, but it’s been like thirty years since I last saw any of the guys play together—oddly enough, most of them have changed (in some cases drastically) in appearance.

Anyway, very early Distraction (when they were metamorphosing from the Wasted Rangers) Ron Stephens contributed hot guitar, partnered with guitarist Bill Feldman, drummer Kip Richardson and bassist Mark “Larue” Todd from the prime days and guest Evan Schlaes on Hammond B3. They all provided solid backup to lead vocalist Jon Koonce, who was in fine fettle.

His voice isn’t as Springsteen ragged and raw as in those beery olden days, but he still displays power with more of an eruptively smooth Van Morrison growl. His moment of silence for the death of the middle-class displayed solidarity with the Occupy Portland protesters camping in Chapman and Lownsdale squares just a few blocks away. A riveting moment.

They breezed through a strong set of Johnny and the Ds favorites, eliciting a warm response from the crowd—especially from some very vocal guy who seemed to have been in a thirty-year timewarp since the band hung up their musical cleats. Apparently, for him it seemed, they had never left.

From there, the event proceeded pretty much as anticipated. A few presenters unaccustomed to standing at a podium without the cover of a musical instrument, stumbled awkwardly through their introductions of some truly deserving musicians in the lineup.

The Dharma Bums looked great accepting their award, announced by Mike Quinn. Jeremy Wilson kept his remarks thankfully brief. The late Jeffrey Frederick and the Clamtones, Sequel, bassist Phil Baker and radio legend Bob “the Big BA” Ancheta were honored as well.

There were plenty of highlights. After a sweet introduction by Marv and Rindy Ross from Quarterflash, Wheatfield took the dais to accept their OMHOF award. And once they all got onstage, they practically outnumbered the spectators. After guitarist Don Ross (no relation to Marv) told his lengthy life story to an anxious audience, about half the group broke into one of their current staples, a spirited acappella doo-wop version of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang,” which was very well-received by a grateful throng— perhaps thankful that no one else in the band had anything more to say.

Godparents of the Portland punk scene Fred and Toody Cole endearingly introduced drummer Sam Henry, whose pedigree in the local music scene is about as stellar as it gets—if just for the fact that over the years he has backed, the Coles, Greg Sage and Chris Newman in various bands—and they’re all in the Hall, so Sam rightfully belongs there too. He was humble and shy, of course. And charming.

Honoring another recipient, Fred and Toody also introduced Satyricon founder, the celebrated George Touhouliotis who, in the evening’s biggest disappointment, was unable to attend the party: ostensibly touring in Greece—but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that one. Whatever the case, he wasn’t there and that was a little disheartening. I was really looking forward to seeing him.

Artist of the Year, Esperanza Spaulding also phoned it in, but she is a busy young musician with her star still in sharp ascent, so it’s entirely possible she had a gig somewhere. But, hey, it’s not like you’re inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame everyday either. C’mon!

Guitarist Norman Sylvester’s selection to the Hall was followed by a short concert performance in which he was joined by Lenny Rancher. Lenny more than held his own with the resident blues legend, matching the master riff for riff. Later in the evening Lenny returned to add blazing guitar to the Crazy 8s’ energetic star-studded set.

Todd Duncan doesn’t appear to be young anymore, bepaunched and a bit red-faced, but he still radiates a lot of energy and conviction. The horn section of Danny Schauffler, Tim Tubb and Lewis Livermore shone brilliantly. Punchy, with a hard edge. Guitarist Mark Wanaka reeled off several fiery solos, sharing the space with Jon Koonce, Nu Shoozer John Smith and Lenny.

Lenny Rancher is an amazing guitar player. He’s always been good. Underrated in this city. But he has become a superlative player. Not only did he throw down incredibly concise tone-clenching leads with the 8s, his rhythm guitar work on several songs was absolutely out of this world. Look for a new album from Lenny Rancher later in the year. It’s going to be great.

The guitar auction in the middle of the show during the intermission, hosted by a quite enchanting cross-dressed man, really sucked the energy out of the presentation. It dragged on (so to speak) far too long and it would seem that few in the audience had enough disposable personal income to bid more than six hundred bucks for a nice looking Gibson SG signed by the band Montrose, or a pretty Strat signed by the members of My Morning Jacket. Hell, the guitars alone were worth more than that.

While the money garnered from the auction goes for a good cause (Music Education programs in the schools), there must be a better way to present the instruments in order to receive higher bids. If the OMHOF benefit were a contest on Donald Trump’s Apprentice, somebody would be “fired.”

At the same time, mention also must be made of Tony Starlight’s witty, understated performance as master of ceremonies. His irreverent, off-the-cuff sarcasm hits just the right note for the solemn sincerity often voiced by the award winners. Lighten up, you guys!

Still, it was only the fifth year of an event that will hopefully continue on into perpetuity. It’s still in its infancy. And each year the program improves and smoothes out, so there is every reason to expect that to continue. The move from the Roseland to the Newmark Theater certainly lends the ceremony a welcome touch of class. However, the Newmark is in no way prepared to deal with a crowd of rowdy music-loving imbibers. The lines for beer were interminable. Worse than at the Schnitz. Someone ought to inform the Newmark Theater administration that they could make a ton of money just by wheeling a couple of kegs out onto the concourse and pumping the beer out to the masses as fast as humanly possible.

And maybe it’s time for participants in the affair to upgrade their choice of attire. Jeans and work boots seems a tad too proletariat. A little dress up wouldn’t hurt some of the acts. There’s a first time for everything. Take a cue from Norman Sylvester, people. That’s the way to dress for a function such as the Shardies.