Amy Allison and the MaudlinsPosted: May 23, 2012
New York City, from 1987 or so, off and on for a few years
Amy Allison – vocals, melodica
Rob Meador – acoustic guitar
Simon Heathcote – nylon-string guitar, melodica
At some point, they added
Mark Donato – drums
Mark Lerner – bass
Which didn’t stick long. Then they added
Charlie Shaw – drums
Mark Amft – bass
Stephen Lewis – lap steel
And various other folks trickled in and out. I know Artie Baguer played bass for a while, I subbed on bass now and then, as did Reuben Radding and John Frierson.
The early Maudlins
Amy Allison is, in a low-key, still-needs-a-day-job sort of way, well-known. She’s made quite a few records, had songs covered by other artists, been praised by critics, duetted with Dave Alvin and Elvis Costello (a big fan), and generally enjoyed a lot of respect for her songwriting and her evocative voice.
But when I first met Amy, she was (as a performer) pretty weird. It was 1987. I was living on East 8th Street between Avenues B and C with my roommate and frequent bandmate Bill Fink. I was working at my first job out of college, as an assistant to a horrible boss at a literary agency. I struck up a friendship with another lowly assistant named Frank Randall. He said he played guitar; we both liked Robyn Hitchcock. We made plans to get together and play music. Frank lived on 11th between B and C. Three blocks way, but much nastier. My block was mostly burnt out and abandoned, but strangely safe. His was actively filled with crack dealers.
Frank took me along one day to see a band called the Maudlins, whose lead singer was close friends with one of his roommates, Winifred. I don’t remember where the show was, maybe the original Dixon Place, at 1st and 1st; maybe a club called Chameleon on East 6th. The songs were mostly country laments, usually very funny, and delivered by a strange ensemble: Rob Meador played a steady and tasteful rhythm guitar, with careful alternating bass. Simon Heathcote played fills and odd solos with mandolin-like trills on an amped nylon-string guitar. Amy, wearing a different thrift-store prom dress for each show, sang in one of the most deeply nasal voices I’d ever encountered.
Simon didn’t seem to know how to play any chords on the guitar, only single-note lines. And Amy, who wrote most of the songs by herself, didn’t play an instrument. She would just sing them to Rob and Simon, who would try to guess what the chord changes were that she was implying. The whole effect was unlike any other group. Careful, arty, and strange. There was definitely some shtick to the act, but with really solid songwriting underneath it all.
The Maudlins weren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Amy’s voice seemed to split audiences in two, and her Long Island accent and non-country roots (she’s the daughter of jazz pianist, singer, and songwriter Mose Allison, also not an easy musician to pigeonhole) were an affront to some listeners’ cherished notions of authenticity. But they had a devoted audience. I tried not to miss a show.
I sign on
After Frank and Bill and I formed the doomed Cream of Nowhere (about whom more in a future post), I got busy with the Oswalds, who shared quite a few bills with the Maudlins.
Amy was eager to try adding bass and drums to the band, and asked me and then-Oswald drummer Mark Donato to play. I’ve asked Amy, Mark, and Rob Meador, and none of us can remember exactly when this happened or how many shows we did together (maybe just one?). But we all agree that somehow Mark D and I were the first rhythm section to play with the Maudlins, though it was short-lived. One random detail I’ve retained about the experience was borrowing a Meters record from Amy and not giving it back for a long time.
As the Oswalds split up in 1989, Amy took on two more of us as bandmates: Stephen Lewis on lap steel and Charlie Shaw on drums. Mark Amft, from the amazing and odd duo Drink Me, played bass. An early show of this Maudlins lineup is detailed in my earlier post about John Linnell and the Statesmen.
The band became less of a performance art oddity and more of a musical unit. I was an occasional substitute bassist during this time, and I ended up in the studio with the band to record two songs, “You’re Out in the Open” and “Blueberry Pie.” Neither recording saw the light of day. Amy tells me she may have a tape buried somewhere in a box.
Amy has gone on to make a lot of really beautiful records (oh, and she learned to play guitar). By all means, visit her website. Her latest, a duet record with David Scott called Turn Like the World Does, is particularly great. An EP from the same sessions includes a new version of the ill-fated “Blueberry Pie,” which I enjoyed hearing more than 20 years after recording it with the Maudlins. The full-band Maudlin days are captured pretty well on a collection called The Maudlin Years, which marked the transition to Amy’s solo career. I played one more show with her a bit later when she was performing under her own name (with Mark Spencer on guitar and Will Rigby on drums) but haven’t had the opportunity to play with her (or see her perform) for many years.
Happily, that is about to change. In an evening seemingly custom-made for readers of this blog, I’ll be joining Frank Randall, Chris Erikson, and Amy Allison at a one-off show at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City on June 4.
Late breaking news!
Rob Meador has managed to dig up recorded evidence of the original of Blueberry Pie, with me on bass. Enjoy.