Perhaps the best argument that Acoustic Coffee is a good thing is the simple fact that an undeniable and unique community of musicians has claimed it as their own. Anyplace that gets musicians together, performing for one another and collaborating, has at least that going for it.
Bullyclub’s Doug Cowan earlier this year sang its praises as a testing ground for new material. Dead End Armory, which counts as members AC owner Mike O’Connor and AC manager Chris Dibiasio, is a direct result of the coffee shop/listening room’s sheer existence. The only place you have a good chance of catching the wonderful and Downeast-based Tree By Leaf is on its makeshift stage.
Finally, as if to document Acoustic Coffee’s role in the musical universe, there has sprung up Cat & Mouse Records. It was founded by songwriter John Wesley Hartley, soon after he arrived here from Texas in the summer of 2005, along with fellow solo act Steven Williams. The pair then brought O’Connor, Dibiasio, and AC regulars Steven Bacon and Daniel Jacobs into the fold.
Soon, feeding off the energy of the Thursday night Maine Songwriters Association open mics and the deep well of singer/songwriters that collect at Acoustic Coffee, Cat & Mouse started hosting a Monday night open mic and cultivating like-minded artists to play along. Of course, as a “label” it’s mostly just a way for friends and musicians to share resources toward a common goal of getting their sound out there to find out if anyone likes it. They’ve worked out some recording agreements with people like Pete Nenortas and his Satronen Sound live recording and now-label-member Frank Hopkins and his Sweet Dreams studio. They’ve got some merch and an easily navigable Web site.
And now, as a way of announcing their presence and promoting their artists, there is Cat & Mouse Records 2006 Artist Compilation, a collection of 14 tunes by nine artists (two of which are kind of the same person, Hopkins, who also has a band called Line of Force). It’s notable, first and foremost, as the only local label compilation in recent memory. Seriously, think of another. Why is that? It’s a great promotional tool for a number of musicians and it’s the type of thing that any fan of local music should at least take a flyer on.
For Cat & Mouse, it announces a label that emphasizes the earnest, acoustic-guitar centered songwriting and delivery that has come to be associated with the singer/songwriter movement. Further, it - at least in Katrina Abramo - announces a striking new female vocalist, just 19 and full of all the angst and self-inspection that might suggest. Her “Days Go By” features a fair amount of falsetto, with great self-backing to feature her top-notch voice, a mixture of breathy and solid timbre. She has gobs of range, a little bit of Kate Bush in her, and a good feel for finishing a song at the right time. On both of her songs, she’s backed by Hopkins, among others, on a very appropriate and subtle piano.