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April 11, 2013

Blues duo branch out in new directions

Kennebec Journal Staff

The husband-and-wife duo of Paul Rishell and Annie Raines have been making music together for more than 20 years now and have six albums to their credit (one of which, "Moving To The Country," won the W.C. Handy Award for Acoustic Blues Album of the Year when it was released) and have opened for the likes of Ray Charles, Asleep at the Wheel, Susan Tedeschi, Leon Russell, Little Feat and Dr. John. Rishell is a gifted guitarist and singer (he just released a solo CD--"Talking Guitar") while Raines is one of the best harmonica players on the planet (and is a fine singer, as well) and together they serve up an award-winning brand of the blues that has been pleasing audiences around the world. They will perform Friday, April 19, at Maple Hill Farm Inn and to that end a phoner was arranged from their Massachusetts' home.

Q: Your latest release, "A Night In Woodstock," is a duo, correct?

Richell: That was the last one to date, yeah.

Q: Are you working on something new?

Richell: We are, actually.

Raines: Yeah, we're at the very early stages of putting the next thing together. We have a few different projects we want to try out; one is an album of songs that I've written -- I've been kind of a closet singer/songwriter over the last 20 years and I have a lot of little blues songs that I'd really like to put out on a record and a couple of other styles of song. And Paul wants to do another "Talking Guitar, Volume 2" -- more solo country blues -- and we're also talking about doing possibly just a straight-ahead blues album at some point with some friends of ours.

Q: I noticed, Paul, on the "Talking Guitar" that it was all acoustic guitar, correct?

Richell: Yeah.

Q: And on the "Woodstock" CD there were several tracks with electric guitar. Is there a preference on your part or does the song itself dictate what's used?

Richell: Well, they're kind of two different things. When I started playing music out with people I played electric music -- rock 'n' roll music -- and I played what people would hire me to play ... but I really, secretly preferred playing acoustic blues. You see, when I was up there with a band I had the feeling that anybody could be doing what I was doing -- that may or may not be true but it always feels that way to me and I don't feel that way at all when I'm sitting down and playing that old country blues. It's much more satisfying to me to play the song and sing the song rather than to just play the guitar.

Q: When you hit the Maple Hill Farm Inn, what kind of show will it be? Will it be just the two of you or will you have your band?

Richell: I think it will be the duo with some electric stuff in there, but we also have another secret side to ourselves -- a straight-ahead country side. I've been playing the pedal steel guitar for about 10 years and Annie has written some country songs -- some of those songs she alluded to -- she plays guitar and sings and I play pedal steel behind her. That's something we've been doing and we've done it on gigs with our blues band. They can all just play country music. We call that show The Mojo Rodeo which is the name of our record company. We really like both kinds of music -- straight country and the blues -- I think we have more of an affinity for blues because we've been studying it longer, but we've been studying country music pretty much together in recent years.

Q: Now Annie, this setting down the harmonica for a guitar and singing country songs? Huh?!

Raines: Sure, and actually it's just coming around to getting to know the whole family of roots music -- the blues and country music are really like first cousins to each other and they grew up together -- in a way -- in America. The other thing about singing country music that I find interesting is that it's really helped me as a singer. I've always really struggled to sing blues authentically as a five-foot-tall Caucasian. I mean, I can't sing, "I'm a big fat mama with the meat shaking on my bones!" but when I encountered Kitty Wells' music and Loretta Lynn and some of the female country singers, I found characters that were a little more adaptable to who I am. And playing guitar is also helping my sense of rhythm and the sense of the structures in music, too, so it only helps to add instruments, you know? What, Paul?! Oh, Paul's doing a little tap dance to remind me that I've been studying tap dance -- we've actually been incorporating that into our shows, too.

Q: It sounds like the performance will be a very diverse one.

Richell: It's almost too diverse. In fact, we're a little bit confused as to how to put it together -- to make it work that way -- it's a little bit out of left field because it is so totally different.

Raines: I think the blues is pretty intense music -- especially for a non-Southern audience to take in at one time -- and I've noticed that when we do the country stuff at our shows is that it supplies some musical contrast and it actually makes you appreciate the blues' rhythms that much more because they are so strong and powerful.

Q: Is there anything you two would like to pass on to the readers of this article?

Richell: Well, we want them to know that we're going to try and play stuff that represents our whole array of interests in music -- there's going to be mostly country blues, acoustic blues, but there's going to be a lot of...

Raines: You could say that it's kind of an Americana extravaganza, in a way.

Richell: But that doesn't really quite define it. I have difficulty describing it, in all honesty. You see, country blues has nothing to do with country music.

Raines: But we are going to play country music.

Richell: Yeah, that's the confusing part!

Raines: I've got it! We're going up to Maine with a mission: to laugh and have fun and do what we do best, and do what we love ... it's such a great gift to be able to do that. (www.paulandannie.com)

Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at luckyc@megalink.net if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.





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