Doom and Fate

Two separate conversations. Both on the same day. Each musician independently described their music as "blues based, but not blues".

Phil Marshall has helped shape Rochester's music since playing the perfect guitar foil for magical world of the Colorblind James Experience. Phil is intuitive and sensible, explosive and soft. His guitar can make any song, and songwriter, better understood.

Phil is a form of musical punctuation. Defining what is necessary.

Michael Tarbox put together the first version of The Tarbox Ramblers in the early nineties. (that would be the last century, 1991-92) He brought the current version of the band to Rochester on Tuesday, July 15, 2008.

His first cd, "The Tarbox Ramblers", has a catchy, jug band feel. Not light hearted, but purposeful and direct. The jug band feel is about the earth. It is organic. It comes from music that anyone can make, but not just anyone can make meaningful.

Michael Tarbox, consciously or not, has a vision. It takes you places most songs don't go. That morning on Open Tunings he spoke of his music in terms of "doom and fate". You won't find those forces at work in most pop music, especially in today's homogenized radio formats.

Go back a few years, listen to Johnny Cash wrestle with any number of songs. "Folsom Prison", an eternally haunting "Ring of Fire", "Boy Named Sue". Well, maybe not that one, but he could bring "doom and fate" to public consciousness, whether we knew it or not.

I'll bet you can think of other, better examples.

The Tarbox Ramblers second release, "A Fix Back East", gets deeper into Mr. Tarbox's counter-pop universe. Far from everyday radio, it is in the heart of everyday life. In it's sound, in it's honesty, and in it's vulnerable charge into the great unknown.

The Phil Marshall Trio, with fellow Colorblind voyagers Ken Frank, on bass, and Jimmy Mac, on drums, recorded for WXXI and WRUR's OnStage that night. It was a set that got deeper and richer with each song.

The Tarbox Ramblers, also a trio of guitar, bass, and drums, played at Abilenes that night. (Abilenes, Liberty Pole Way, across from the Harrow East, is fast becoming a center for Rochester music, featuring Rochester bands on the juke box, live on the deck, as well as select national touring acts like The Tarbox Ramblers.)

Back to the show...

The Ramblers come from a different place. Michael Tarbox is dealing with the simple, common forces in life. Love, death, hate, joy, spirit. Many songwriters and bands deal with the same basic things. Throw in fate and doom and it starts to get serious.

Both Phil and Michael talked about their music being "based in blues, but not blues" when I spoke with them independently that day. It was not really clear what that meant until I saw them both live that night.

The Tarbox Ramblers may be back in town sometime. Until then their cds are a good representation of their live show.

Phil Marshall Trio, aka the Horse Lovers, play regularly in Rochester. Their show will be broadcast as part of the fall 2008/09 OnStage series on WXXI tv Sundays at 7 pm, and WRUR, fm 88.5, or online at WRUR.ORG, Thursdays at 6 pm and Saturdays at 3 pm.

The OnStage schedule can be found at WXXI.ORG.