“When you build the songs from the drums up, it’s hard to perform them without the drums,” explains Joe D’Amico, singer and mandolin player of Mason Porter.
He should know. Not only has his folk / bluegrass outfit Mason Porter dabbled in different degrees of musical arrangement in the past, D’Amico himself has released solo records that were lush, expansive and kind of psychedelic – like last year’s A Short Time’s a Long Time.
“I spent a long time working on that last solo record,” he says. “Major amounts of time arranging the songs and recording them.”
Which goes a long way toward explaining the close, intimate and somewhat scaled down vibe of Mason Porter’s latest record, Home For the Harvest, which we’ve explored all week on Unlocked. Fleshed-out rockers like “Fill My Cup” notwithstanding, the record sounds like the trio of players, even when there are drums and other instruments present. The band says this was a very conscious decision.
“There is a tendency when you’re have different players coming in and out of a lineup where you end up shaping the band around who’s playing with you,” D’Amico says. “So more for this record, and the time period during which it was recorded, that year, we weren’t inviting people to play with us very often. We said ‘let’s get our own space here.’”
Bassist Tim Celfo and guitarist Paul Wilkinson nod in agreement. “Other musicians should add,” Celfo says. “But we don’t want to feel a big loss when they’re not there.”
So Home for the Harvest was written around Mason Porter in its simplest form – the core trio of Celfo, D’Amico and Wilkinson. The band characterizes the time spent writing as a slower time period for the band which was preceded by an extremely busy year and a half, which led to a relaxed sound, themes of home, and a generally personal and introspective lyrical approach as compared to previous Porter outings.
The three guys formed the band in 2008 when they connected by the West Chester bar / venue and house show circuit; their self-titled debut EP was released that year, followed in 2009 by Thunder in the Valley, a covers collection called Story of the Rifle in 2011 and Home for the Harvest this year. The band has been working on these songs for almost two years – many were performed at their Key Studio Session a year ago.
Over time, they’ve watched a homegrown scene evolve in West Chester. The Social Lounge has become their go-to music place, and the Brandywine Folk Collective has grown from a network of gigs into organizers of the Brandywine Folk Festival in recent years – where Mason Porter has been a featured performer.
So what keeps this crew together?
Celfo laughs. “Of everybody who we’ve played with, we’re the three who can stand one another.”
“We’re the three who were here at the beginning,” says Wilkinson.
And that brotherly closeness is what they’re looking to highlight.
“We don’t need to have 30 or 40 instruments,” says D’Amico. “You can always add some pedal steel guitar or whatever. What’s unique here is the simplicity.”
Home for the Harvest is the featured album in this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the featured song “Let Me In” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch a video of the band playing “Home For the Harvest” in Wednesday’s post. And catch the band tomorrow in their headlining show at Ardmore Music Hall; tickets and information at the XPN Concert Calendar.
Ardmore Music Hall, Mason Porter, Unlocked