After Dark: The Mighty High and Dry
05:00 AM, Oct 24, 2013
If you go
What: The High and Mighty Dry Wednesday Night Ramble.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, and every other Wednesday, until further notice.
Where: Abilene Bar & Lounge, 153 Liberty Pole Way.
Admission: $2 for ages 21 and older; $5 for ages 20 and younger.
Last week, while sampling a handful of CDs and MP3s by acts coming to Rochester, weighing which might be worthy of my attention, I realized I had reached the punk-pop tipping point. I can understand the need for another start-up rock band to sound like Green Day: It offers people a chance to hear something like Green Day, yet not be forced to pay Green Day prices of $75 to sit in Green Day venues 100 yards from the stage.
And while listening to The Mighty High and Dry at Abilene Bar & Lounge more on that fine band four paragraphs from now it kind of dawned on me that my usual week of live music revolves around not what national band is passing through, but what the local bands are up to. And last week was pretty typical of my rounds. Watkins & the Rapiers at the Little, the aggressive horn-fueled bluegrass of The Prickers at Abilene, the local singer-songwriter supergroup The Crandalls at Tango Café, and Connie Deming at a house concert. (She finished in time for a handful of us to drift into the family room, turn on the TV and see Shane Victorino hit the grand slam that put the Red Sox in the World Series.)
Also, the sinuous, seductive, improvisational jazz of Margaret Explosion at the Little, where one of the local scene denizens came up to me and asked, “Is there another band around here that sounds like this?”
“No,” I said, “there isn’t.”
It’s not that The Mighty High and Dry doesn’t sound like anything else. It’s more like … they sound like everything.
Chris Teal on drums and percussion, Kyle Vock on bass, Mike Frederick on guitar and songwriter Alan Murphy on guitar and keyboards. A typical Rochester band. All four guys have pedigrees with past and present bands.
“I went through a gestation period, trying to figure what it was that I wanted to sound like,” Murphy says. “I was still writing, but the material I was writing was a little bit scattered, I guess, stylistically. I just knew the time wasn’t right. It wasn’t time to strike and force the issue.”
The time finally came three years ago, when the guys who would become The Mighty High and Dry began meeting every Sunday for private, open-ended jams. “We didn’t have an agenda, necessarily,” Murphy says. “We did Door songs, jazz, country music.”
A band with no agenda is the perfect pick to run a bi-weekly event such as The Mighty High and Dry Wednesday Ramble.
“I wanted my band to have some sort of residency at Abilene,” Murphy says. “It’s a perfect place for us, as far as the type of material we do, and the type of place it is.”
It was Vock who suggested they model the evening off Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. The late Helm, legendary drummer with The Band, played host to the event in a barn on his property near Woodstock, with a new guest at each ramble. That’s The Mighty High and Dry’s game plan as well.
The band’s self-titled debut album was recorded at GFI Studios in Ontario, Wayne County, by Tony Gross, who has a way of making lyrics come out like the songwriting is something that’s supposed to be heard, not hidden. As such, the album’s a pretty good measure of the band’s interests. “You Ain’t Ready” is Sting-ready R&B pop. “Trust Me Brother” opens as bongo soul and takes off on a bed of keyboards. “War It Is” quotes Edwin Starr’s “War,” re-posing its immortal question, “What is it good for?” “Here’s to the King” feels like Mike Doughty, given a lush arrangement.
“Songs” name-checks a wide range of band influences. Sheryl Crow and Ani DiFranco were in earlier drafts, but didn’t make the cut, Murphy says. But in it he does note that Neil Young “didn’t burn out or fade away,” before exclaiming, “I wanna be a songwriter.”
“The palette we’re working from,” Murphy says, “it’s not that hard to connect the dots from stompy rock tune to minor blues thing that’s got a rock beat.”
None of this suggests that The Mighty High in Dry isn’t original, can’t think on its own. To the contrary, it shows a group of musicians whose ears are wide open. Music moves forward not when it apes Green Day, but when it concedes that the wheel needn’t be reinvented. Everyone has influences.
Even if you were just a year old when that influential record was released. I suggest to the 43-year-old Murphy that the bluesy “Snake” immediately brings to mind The Doors covering John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake.”
“Exactly,” Murphy confesses.