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For Poor Old Shine, becoming band just evolved unexpectedly

Friday, November 22, 2013
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Poor Old Shine is set to perform tonight at The Linda in Albany.
Poor Old Shine is set to perform tonight at The Linda in Albany.

Most of the major events in Poor Old Shine’s two-year career have come about by chance.

Vocalist and banjo player Chris Freeman first began performing with banjo and mandolin player Antonio Alcorn at the University of Connecticut in 2011. The two were part of the college’s Folk Music Society, and soon hit it off at the weekly jam session, trading songs and writing a handful of originals.

“We were mistaken for a band, and afterwards we played a show at Toad’s Place in New Haven,” Freeman said recently from his home, still in Storrs, Conn.

“We didn’t have any idea what to play; we just kind of threw it together, playing old songs and things, and then we started writing our own.

“We were very much just playing a gig because it was fun and someone asked us to — we weren’t really trying to be a band. But I don’t know, we kept getting more and more.”

By the summer of 2012, Poor Old Shine — now featuring Freeman, Alcorn, bassist Harrison Goodale, guitarist and organist Max Shakun and percussionist Erik Hischmann — had enough momentum going from touring to consider itself a full-time band. Or, as Freeman put it: “Nobody really wanted to apply for a job.”

Poor Old Shine

WITH: C. C. Vagabonds

WHEN: 8 tonight

WHERE: The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central Ave., Albany

HOW MUCH: $15

MORE INFO: 465-5233 ext. 4, www.wamcarts.org

Also that summer, the band self-released its first album, the live recording “Live From Infinity Hall,” which was another fortunate accident.

“We didn’t even know we were recording a live album when we did it,” Freeman said. “We were just really happy with it. It displays what our sound was at the time.”

Focusing energy

By contrast, the band’s coming self-titled album, its first studio effort aside from two self-recorded EPs and first release for the Signature Sounds label, was no accident. Recorded with Josh Ritter producer Sam Kassirer at his Great North Sound Society studio in rural Maine, the album finds the band focusing its energy and attack over 10 songs.

“It was a full year of us playing together, playing these songs . . . before we decided, now it’s time to go into the studio,” Freeman said.

“I think it allowed us to think more precisely about arrangements. Since we did come out of more of a jam session, rather than ever deciding to be a real band, it was always very improvised. While we still love doing that, one of the things that we wanted to do was really tinker with the arrangements.”

The band has spent most of this year expanding out of its Northeast base on tour — in May the band headed to the South and Midwest for its Missouri to Maine tour, and in September it was on the West Coast for the second time, playing The Chapel in San Francisco. However, this month the band is staying close to home with just a handful of dates in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut, including its debut in Albany tonight at The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio.

“We’re having a blast right now,” Freeman said. “The shows are getting better and better. It’s taking off pretty well.”

Building on sound

The new album finds Poor Old Shine building off the raw, bluegrass and folk-influenced live sound that fans have come to know in the band’s short two-year existence, and first introduced to the wider world on “Live From Infinity Hall.”

It’s the band’s first album with drummer Hischmann, who joined after the live album’s release and also assistant engineered the self-titled record.

Some of the songs, such as the haunting “Ghost Next Door,” “Empty Rocking Chair” and rollicking closer “Tear Down the Stage,” were re-recorded from the live record. The studio setting allowed the band to play with new textural elements — in some places, distorted bass or electric guitar pop up in the band’s usually old-timey material.

“We didn’t have a ton of time to record the album — I think we did it in eight days,” Freeman said.

“We definitely did have to pick and choose what we wanted to record. With the songs we had already recorded before, we wanted to do something fresh with them. Some of them are pretty significantly different — it felt like we’d grown a lot as a band since the live album was recorded, and we felt like we needed to get those songs into the shop.”

Varied backgrounds

The modern edge of the new recordings makes sense, given the band members’ varied musical backgrounds. Their love of bluegrass and traditional music didn’t bloom until college, during those jam sessions at the University of Connecticut’s Folk Music Society.

“I think Antonio is probably the most — he runs the deepest in that sort of bluegrass, traditional music style,” Freeman said.

“But for the most part, . . . for me anyway, I kind of discovered it in college when I started really playing it. I think a lot of us were in other styles of bands in high school and things; we tried out a whole bunch of things. For me, this kind of always felt right. It came really from the songs that we learned in that folk music club, all teaching each other — Woody Guthrie songs or Pete Seeger songs or Avett Brothers songs, Neil Young, Bob Dylan.”

All these artists have had a major impact on the band’s own songwriting.

“When we’re writing, we’re kind of thinking, ‘What would Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger do in this situation?’ ” Freeman said.

 
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