Mason Porter Rides a New Skyway
Mason Porter’s latest offering, the excellent EP Key to the Skyway, is a leap forward in both confidence and sound for the band. New members, fiddler Sarah Larsen and drummer Kevin Killen bring a fullness to the former folk-grass trio’s sound that has transformed the unit into a roots-rock band to take notice of.
During Friday’s EP release show at the World Café Live, singer-songwriter Joe D’Amico and crew played four of the five new songs in a first set that showcased the new direction of the band. Backed by Paul Wilkinson’s stalwart guitar work and Tim Celfo’s driving upright bass, “A 2 B Machine” recalled some of the best moments of Railroad Earth. The rhythmic “Seeds of Summer,” a tune that in previous Mason Porter incarnations may have turned up as a sparse acoustic number, is a driving sing-along with a rising chorus. The set’s highlight was also the EP’s standout, “A Woman Like You,” a tune that should get some WXPN and satellite radio airplay. It featured D’Amico’s understated mandolin work that makes you wish he’d stretch out on some leads more often.
One early tune, the rollicking strummer “Up in the Hills,” from 2009’s Thunder in the Valley, featured Wilkinson attacking his guitar with such ferocity that he broke stings on not one but two guitars. Larsen’s subsequent impromptu fiddle fill was a telling indication of the band’s growth, and it was interesting to see D’Amico’s pitch perfect band-leader response.
Bracketed by two great covers, set two was more of a gift to the faithful who had been tearing up the dance floor in even the quieter moments all night. With Wilkinson’s Martin put away, Mason Porter tore through some of their older material and gave a glimpse to what festival-goers will see more of as the band hits the road this summer for some bigger stages. “Cumberland Blues kicked off the more electric portion of the night, and “Long Black Veil” closed it. By then, the most of the danced-out crowd had realized that wonderful dichotomy of a great show: a tight band breeds a sloppy, happy crowd.
Previous albums, like last year’s Home for the Harvest, were solid, if uneventful showcases for D’Amico’s talents as a prolific songwriter. But Key to the Highway brings a freshness and excitement that should draw in new fans. Larsen’s fiddle in particular brings a power and levity to the proceedings that gives the band the kick it didn’t know it needed. In fact, the EP is so engaging that it makes you wonder if the band shouldn’t have held out for a longer release. The road may be a factory for that continuing evolution. Regardless, D’Amico and Mason Porter are definitely on the right skyway.
photo credit: Lisa Schaffer