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    Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem
    Folk Music Society of Huntington, NY
    December 2, 2000

When I heard that Salamander Crossing was breaking up I felt particularly sad because it seemed like the wonderful chemistry of the band and eclectic blend of music that they played would be gone forever. I had heard that Rani Arbo would be fronting Daisy Mayhem, and it was a comforting to know that she would still be making music. Arbo is a true student of music, delving into the traditional roots of today’s popular music forms. Her articles on music and musicians have appeared in many popular trade publications. This knowledgeable musical sensibility guides her consistently to music that is not only genuine, but deeply satisfying on an emotional level. Her skills as a musician match her love for the music. She is one of those rare singers whose voice could give you goosebumps singing phonebook listings. And when she sings swing she does so from the soles of her shoes. Her fiddling (despite her tendency to be critical of it) is always tastefully centered on the mood of the tune, with just the right tug on the heartstrings.

I approached this concert with the anticipation of hearing one of my very favorite singers, but yet worried that I would miss the creative spark that always was a part of a Salamander Crossing performance. I needn’t have worried—as I stepped into the vestibule of the church were the concert was to be held, I spotted Andrew Kinsey. Kinsey and Arbo always seemed to be axis around which Salamander swung. Kinsey’s impish stage presence and energetic playing were the perfect foil and compliment respectively to Arbo. Their harmonies seemed to delight each other as much as they were enjoyed by the audience. Kinsey is surely busy these days, with a full-time job as a carpenter and two small children, but he is a full-time member of Daisy Mayhem.

Right from the beginning, Daisy Mayhem showed its stuff on "Baby Took A Limo to Memphis," a Guy Clark tune. The presence of drummer Scott Kessel, was a departure (Salamander Crossing did not tour with a drummer). His playing is mostly brushwork, not to overpower the acoustic sound, but his playful approach and smiling demeanor make him a welcome addition to the group. The sound is rounded out by Anand Nayak, a young guitarist who brings a nimble playing style and pleasant tenor voice to the mix. The next tune served as a clear comparison for fans of Arbo’s former band, as they played "Paul and Peter Walked" at a brisk pace with less of a bluegrass and more of a contemporary feel. This band was cooking with the ease of people who know what they are doing and like to have fun when they play. Arbo is clearly the focus of the band, yet there is an obvious rapport among the members of the band that lets each of them have space to create. By this time I was still waiting for Arbo to do a ballad and she did, to the usual affect, sort of a stunned pause before delirious applause.

The concert was well paced, flowing from swing, to traditional, from Appalachian instrumentals to slow ballads. There were plenty of fun moments. Kessel and Arbo danced a stomping dance as they collaborated on a fiddle-sticks tune. Kinsey always gets a laugh when he lays down his dory sized stand-up bass and picks up a ukulele (not that his playing was laughable). They ably tackled a couple of Celtic tunes, one of which showcased Kessel playing the heck out of a wooden box.

Kessel’s drumkit is almost a metaphor for the band and its material. It is a collection of found objects, various cans, a cardboard box, a cookie tin, keys, plastic bottle caps, a small suitcase for a kick drum and a wooden box that he plays with the range of a bodhran and doubles as his stool. They dub it the Drumship Enterprise. It’s made of genuine articles, arranged uniquely, played expertly and turns out to be more than the sum of its parts.

The evening of music had it all. The band was loose and in a groove and the audience was right there with them. They were clearly aware that they were in on the beginning of something special. One concert-goer, tearful from the encore, an absolutely gorgeous rendition of "Crossing The Bar" based on the Tennyson poem, said that this was the best thing he had ever seen at the Folk Music Society of Huntington. That was typical of the reaction all around, a collective "Wow!"

The concert was preceded by an open mike. The Folk Music Society did themselves proud not only with the quality of the performances, but the quality of the audience. An early performer struggled mightily with stage fright as he began his song, but the audience helpfully joined in on the chorus, and he ended up finishing strong. The other performers ranged from local favorites to talented newcomers. The last song was a recently penned Christmas tune entitled "Woolen Blanket" that left me yearning for another listen.

This was an unbeatable evening of music, one more reason to check out what’s doing at your local folk society…especially if you live on Long Island!—Mike Devlin

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