Out & About: Carper Family delivers old-time country

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

Three traditional folk ensembles, representing geographically distant and culturally disparate traditions, will be playing north of Portland this coming week.

Hailing from Texas is the Carper Family, performing at the Chocolate Church in Bath on Saturday. This is a must-do event if you like old-fashioned country music written and performed beautifully.

Also on Saturday, Alhan Middle Eastern Ensemble is slated to give a cabaret-style performance in one of the region’s most intimate rural concert halls, the Denmark Arts Center.

From South Africa comes Ladysmith Black Mambazo, an eight-man vocal group that embodies traditional African music. They’ll be playing at Bates College in Lewiston July 2.

In South Portland, Lyric Music Theater is running “Deathtrap,” the company’s annual non-musical.

Carper Family

Old-fashioned American music that combines Appalachian twang and Western swing is the specialty of the Carper Family band. Comprising three women who hail from Austin, Texas, the band released its third CD last month and recently embarked on a summer-long tour in support.

Truth in entertainment disclosure: The trio isn’t really a family or related in any way; they just sound like they’ve been together forever. Plus all three come from a background of family bands. The driving force is Melissa Carper, who plays upright bass and writes much of the band’s material. She’s joined by fiddler Beth Chrisman and guitarist Jenn Miori.

Writing for Texas Music Magazine, Madison Searle said “the three are talented instrumentalists and vocalists who play bluegrass, old-time country and swing in a style that recalls the tight acoustic ensembles of the 1920s and ’30s but with exquisitely tight three-part vocals and original material. The result is a sound that’s both old and new, a fresh recasting of music that combines the emotional directness of their musical forebears with contemporary subjects.”

I love their new album, titled “Old-Fashioned Gal,” and I’ve listened repeatedly to its 15 songs since receiving my copy last week. I especially appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humor of two of Carper’s tunes: the title song and “My Old Chevy Van.” Both songs have lovely melodies and very clever lyrics. Another big winner is “Dollar Bill.” Penned by Chrisman, it’s redolent of lonely barrooms and lost love in a style so characteristic of country music.

I plan to be in the audience this Saturday, when the Carper Family appears at the Chocolate Church, 804 Washington Ave. in Bath. Performance time is 7:30 p.m. Call 442-8455.

Alhan Middle Eastern Music Ensemble

Traditional music of the Levant and Egypt is the shtick of a band appearing this Saturday at one of Maine’s most charming rural concert halls, a former Odd Fellows hall reconfigured and re-purposed as the Denmark Arts Center.

Alhan Middle Eastern Music Ensemble performs classical and popular Arabic and Turkish music. Their repertoire is drawn from some of the preeminent traditional and contemporary composers of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Turkey.

The founder and leader is Eric LaPerna, who lives in nearby Bridgton. He has been a drummer since 1987 and has studied with many of the globe’s master percussionists. LaPerna currently serves as adjunct professor of music at Bowdoin College and directs school’s Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. He also gives private lessons and teaches drum classes and workshops throughout New England.

The four-person ensemble plans to play music drawn from the 17th through 21st centuries, and demonstrate a song form developed in the 10th century and performed today throughout the Arab world.

Catch the Alhan Middle Eastern Music Ensemble at the Denmark Arts Center, 50 W. Main St. (Rte. 160) at 7:30 p.m. June 29. Call 452-2412.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

An iconic South African male singing ensemble that has crafted a musical magic that has reached a worldwide audience will be visiting Lewiston on July 2 in a concert presented by L/A Arts.

For four-plus decades, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has married the intricate rhythms and harmonies of indigenous South African cultural traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music. The result is a musical and spiritual alchemy that has been carried to every corner of the globe and every religious, cultural and ethnic landscape.

Created in the early 1960s by Joseph Shabalala – who still leads the group – the eight-man ensemble took its curious name from three elements. Ladysmith is the name of the founder’s hometown; Black is a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo is the Zulu word for axe, a symbol of the men’s ability to “chop down” any musical rival who might challenge them.

A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract, the beginning of an ambitious discography that currently includes more than 50 recordings. Their philosophy in the studio focuses on preserving musical heritage as well as entertaining. The group borrows heavily from a traditional music that developed in the mines of South Africa.

Three decades ago, Paul Simon introduced the ensemble’s rich mix of tenor and bass harmonies to the pop music world via his groundbreaking 1986 recording, “Graceland.” Ladysmith Black Mambazo has also worked with numerous other pop artists, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and Phil Collins.

Catch Ladysmith Black Mambazo in concert at 7:30 p.m. July 2 at the Bates Chapel, 275 College St. in Lewiston. Call L/A Arts at 782-7228.


Ira Levin’s murder mystery, “Deathtrap,” is Lyric Musical Theater’s annual non-musical offering. I know that it was a big hit on Broadway, but I really can’t see why.

The published script contains this (less-than-perfectly punctuated) promotional sentence: “”Levin has taken the basic components of thrillers and horror stories: murder, deceit, innocent dialogue with hidden sinister meanings, plot reversals, unexpected turns of events, etc., and twisted and rearranged the pieces again and again.”

The reassembled components are exceedingly clever – far too clever – and way too far-fetched for me to fathom. (And I normally like this sort of play.)

John U. Robinson directs a cast of five. Tops is Jaimie Schwartz, who portrays a washed up playwright who pens murder mysteries, and his independently wealthy wife, played by Rebecca Cole. Perfectly adequate performances are given by Kurt Boettcher, Lisa Smith and Don Miller. Perhaps if I’d been able to take this script more seriously, they would have made a better impression on me.

Lyric Music Theater, 76 Sawyer Road in South Portland, presents “Deathtrap” through June 30 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

Sidebar Elements

The Carper Family is based in Austin, Texas, and tours the U.S. this summer. The trio will visit the Chocolate Church in Bath this Saturday.