by Stephanie Kadel-Taras
Let's just say Mike Boyd's goal is not precision. As a friend commented when Boyd was playing, "He mumbles when he sings, but it suits him." He mumbles with his guitar too, playing muddy tones and wrapping his voice around the notes. Add his fuzzy bearded face and occasional blurry harmonica riffs, and, well, you get the hazy picture.
But it works. The blues and country originals he writes are enhanced by his "I'm just all worn out" performance style. This is especially evident on his 2000 self-produced solo CD The Mean Old Stoner Blues and Other Tales. Boyd now performs live with his band, the Genesee Ramblers, adding drums, upright bass, and pedal steel guitar to his sound. But the CD is just Boyd's throaty whisper, soft guitar, and lines like "It always gets worse before it gets ugly" and "If you got faith and a good oven, you can always keep the Lord a-simmerin'."
Boyd's mumbled singing, especially onstage, is a bit of a shame, since his original lyrics are worth hearing. I enjoyed picking up some of the wittier lines, like "We're all asleep at the wheel of fortune." One talky folk song with a fast-strumming guitar ends with "Love, I love you, I need you, but this is the biggest televised game of the year."
The title track on the CD, a backwoods blues original, epitomizes Boyd's style; it sounds smoky, wet, and dark, maybe even a little creepy. Clearly inspired by the most traditional representatives of his chosen genres, his melodies borrow liberally from refrains like the chorus of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" or Robert Johnson tunes. When he switches to folk, the influence of the early Bob Dylan is obvious, but Boyd's talent and passion raise him above a mere imitator. His work feels like a successful effort to carry on valuable traditions.
Onstage, with the high energy of fellow musicians and cheering fans, Boyd's compositions take on a
totally different life. Blues songs pick up speed, folk songs become more countryfied and danceable, and Boyd's loose, fuzzy structure lets band members improvise as the spirit moves them. John Latini's pedal steel is especially helpful in filling out Boyd's musical vision, and Pat Knight's warm, wide bass tones are a perfect complement. After a few years of practicing since he made the CD, Boyd's harmonica work is much improved. And with Jim Carey on drums, he also seems comfortable branching out into crowd-pleasing covers the Rolling Stones' "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows?" or Carl Perkins's "Honey, Don't" that are as hip and happening as anything on the local dance-band scene. A new CD is well overdue, and, happily, it's on the way.
Mike Boyd and the Genesee Ramblers are at the Old Town on Sunday, February 8, and at the Blind Pig on Saturday, February 28.
[Originally published in February, 2004.]