When all those American Idol contestants take a simple note and add all those extra frou-frou decorations, they somehow turn music into sport — a yawner contest to see who can add the most frou. When Daisy May does it, it enriches each song's story and deepens her art. When Daisy May does it, it catches the heart, midbeat, and you wait for her to do it again. With her sly, breaking, sliding voice — like a determined backwoods creek dodging rocks — she takes sounds and words into unexpected places that you actually want to go. Why is it different? I don't know. It just is.
Daisy May (May Erlewine) is a winsome little singer from up north. The daughter of a 1960s blues musician, steeped in music from babyhood, homeschooled, and never far from nature or her Martin guitar, she is a natural, precious talent that I stumbled upon only because my friend is her cousin and said I should go. A concert to celebrate the release of her second CD at the Ark a few months ago was pretty packed for a Thursday concert by a nonfamous person. I got there late, not knowing what to expect, and found myself in the middle of a genuine love-o-rama.
As we all know, a lot of twenty-somethings like to wallow and whine and wax righteous and political. It is a relief to note here that May writes happy, clever songs about love, travel, and two metal sculptures named Celia and Wendell. She performs these songs and many others with gently percussive guitar work and her clear, tensile, sometimes pleasantly loopy voice. And she often plays with Seth Bernard, another up-north-raised, seemingly hippie-parented, ecologically sound singer-songwriter. In fact, Seth Bernard and Daisy May appear to be something of a team these days, playing together far and wide, and Bernard's scruffy, friendly, laid-back presence at May's concert made for a fun balance. He got up by himself for a while and sang a rather amazing, surprisingly adorable tune about two violent little boys who beat up some chickens.
May, Bernard, and their backup band — including fiddler Jeremy Kittel — finished up the night with some audience participation on the Roger Miller song "You Can't Roller-Skate in a Buffalo Herd." Then May and Bernard, then the rest of the band, and finally the audience had a chance to write their own first lines, which the whole room picked up and sang, with abandon. I'm not much for sing-alongs, but I did my part. My favorite line? "You can't park your car within a mile of the Ark / But you can be happy if you've a mind to."
Daisy May and Seth Bernard will be playing the Ann Arbor Summer Festival Top of the Park on Thursday, July 7. Ask them to do the sing-along.