Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mike Strauss Trio's new album stirs memories

There are many things I’d like to share with my father, who died 10 years ago this month - most importantly my two little boys Every now and then an album crosses my desk that I wish I could share with him. In the swirl of memory loss, depression and a dizzying number of health problems his love for music waned in the last couple years of his life, but for most of my life he was a music lover in the deepest sense. 

He spent most weekends listening to his friends pick the same 25 bluegrass songs. His house was full of vinyl records, hand-labeled cassettes, and cds. He listened to music from his Lazy Boy, absorbing every lyric and poring over liner notes like a teenager. He quoted Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Tom Waits to the point where I knew lyrics to songs growing up that I’d never actually heard. I think his most prized possession was his stereo.

My father would have dug Charlotte singer-songwriter Mike Strauss’ new album. The prolific Strauss - who would’ve won points with my dad for being a fellow West Virginian in the first place - usually records with his seven piece band. But “Volume I” is a collection of acoustic songs recorded with the trio of Strauss (pictured solo above), Randolph Lewis, and Jon Schigoda. There’s something special about this quiet trio setting. Strauss’ words, distinctive phrasing and voice - a deep, husky baritone that’s reminiscent of Tom Waits and Mark Knopfler - easily cut through the delicate guitar and upright bass lines which add texture and color and sometimes zip off on their own impressive runs.

My first thought was Guy Clark’s records - a connection I hadn’t previously drawn from Strauss’ big band records. The seven song EP is a subtle record. It reminds me of when we used to sit around listening to albums on vinyl in the quiet of our secluded house with the screen door open and crickets chirping and bugs buzzing outside.

Strauss started out as a blues guitarist and that undercurrent is always there, but old time country and folk are significant anchors here as well. "Volume I" is currently in limited release and is not yet available through his website, but you can pick up a copy at one of his many shows.

Strauss plays Snug Harbor tonight, April 10, with his full band - a lively, hopped up affair often with horn, fiddle, and pedal steel (which work well with his compositions). The Trio performs Friday at Summit Coffee and Saturday at The Common Chord Songwriter Showcase in Salisbury, but there’s always an opportunity to check him out. He’s back with the full band April 20 at Comet Grill and often plays Cotswold’s Pizza Peel. You can check out his full schedule here.  

(Photo by Sarah Gates courtesy of