Palate pleasers 

Real flavors, real music, and real good

Live at the Black Dog Café, various artists

For several years now, the Black Dog Café in Missoula has been serving up healthy, local eats. Until recently, owner and fungal guru Larry Evans has limited himself to cooking up saucy cuisine, using locally-farmed (or gathered) mushrooms, veggies and meats, satisfying the tastes of those who like their food regional, organic and healthy.

Now, the Black Dog is expanding its offerings to include feasts for the ears with a compilation of a 16-track CD recorded this fall during evening music sessions. Live at the Black Dog Cafe is a smorgasbord of music by local favorites such as Andrea Harsell, Zoe Wood, the Northside Gringo All-Stars, and a dozen other closet and open mic musicians.

Although a few Missoula’s folk staples are notably absent, Live at the Black Dog Cafe samples a distinguished section of the Garden City’s acoustic voices and guitars. Chances are if you frequent the bars from time to time you’ll recognize at least a couple of the names and voices on this album.

The album is chock-full of original local talent, and many of the tunes were written to address social and environmental problems plaguing Montanans. While admittedly, the album is dedicated to the folk genre, it comfortably stretches its boundaries with Latin influences, spoken word, and even an accordion piece.

One of my favorites, “The Most Beautiful Place,” is a duet by Mary Anne Peine and Than Hitt. This wide-open crooning envisions an end to our state’s legacy of being ripped off and ripped up by out-of-state, fly-by-night mining interests. “Well, you’ll put a price on every piece of the most beautiful place in the world/ and we’ll watch our future float down the river/ standing on the red carpet we rolled out for you.”

Not all the tunes are so overtly political or grave. Numerous instrumentals dot the album, including a super jammy, percussion/wood flute number entitled “Garrabato,” whose roots are traditional Colombian. Another hidden gem will play well to those folks who remember the short-lived (but long-loved) Nine-Pound Hammer. That band’s lead vocalist and long-time local bad girl Andrea Harsell plays a stirring solo version of “Fate of Time.”

The recording quality of Live at the Black Dog Cafe is surprisingly skillful and bright, and avoids the sterile cookie-cutter flavor of a big studio productions. The disc sounds exactly as it should: clean, honest and homegrown, no different than the nourishment served up by a café renowned for its reliance on local edibles. Multi-tasker John Paul Longenecker recorded the performances, spending long nights at the café, serving customers, taping musicians, and creating an aural portrait of Missoula folk life.

Rounding out the homespun Feng Shui of the disc is the fact that all proceeds from its sale go to the grassroots environmental and human rights group, Cold Mountains, Cold Rivers. Purchase this disc and you’ll not only get a high-caliber earful of Missoula folksies, but you’ll also lend a hand to the people fighting to save the buffalo, and the lynx, and the grizzly bear.

Just in time for holiday gift-giving, this limited-edition CD is available at the Black Dog Café, Rockin’ Rudy’s, Access Music, Bernice’s Bakery, Shakespeare & Co., Ear Candy, the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, and Brown Bear. Traversata, David Grisman

So, you’re having guests over for a feast. Friends are simmering in an indoor inversion of sizzling garlic, pasta steam and fresh bread, and the conversation and wine are flowing freely. All that’s missing is some good music. Fortunately, David Grisman has compiled a collection of historic Italian treasures that warm the spirit during the dreary season of snow.

Although Traversata would easily pass any mall’s requirements for low-key, ambient fare, anyone familiar with The David Grisman Quintet expects a lot more than just easy listening. Grisman has put together an authentic trio that resurrects Italian immigrant music as it came to America en masse a century ago, when more than 4 million Italians made the Atlantic crossing, or traversata, as it was known in their native tongue.

This unique style of music has evolved into others, and only a handful of scholars consider it its own genre. If a couple of Italian musician/historians hadn’t talked their way backstage at a Grisman show last year to play for Grisman himself, the music likely would have remained off the radar. But the Italian duo saw a window with Grisman’s homegrown label, “Acoustic Disc,” and guitarist Beppe Gambetta and mandolinist Carlo Aonzo so stunned Grisman that he offered them a recording contract straight away. Grisman joined them on the album, creating a record that harmonizes perfectly with a fine Sienna cabernet and the freshest olive oil.

For Grisman, who has produced more than 200 albums in the last 30 years, this album is an opportunity to work with musicians from the birthplace of his showcase instrument, the mandolin. Ironically, Grisman’s first gig was playing mandolin at an Italian wedding a half-century ago, and anyone familiar with his music will easily identify his trademark picking. Even when the tempo slows, he finds breaks to pluck and strum at his customary lightning pace.

The other musicians on Traversata are no slouches either. For the last decade, Aonzo and Gambetta have been studying traditional music and winning picking competitions on both sides of the Atlantic. Working together as musicians and historians, they have dedicated years of research to reproduce the tunes on Traversata.

Together, the trio put together an instrumental album that is ideal dinner music, a delicious menu that will match any mood and inspire the question, “Who are we listening to?”—all for the price of a bottle of wine.

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