One night in Belgium

Micah Blue Smaldone shows off his European flair
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  March 16, 2007
GLOBETROTTER: Micah Blue Smaldone.

Recently, a story’s been going around the baseball community about Matt White, a journeyman reliever with barely a cup of coffee on the big-league circuit. Seems he bought a piece of property in Cummington, Mass., off his Aunt Josephine so she could afford to enter a nursing home. Then, he went to build a house and discovered there was nothing but solid rock where he wanted to put a foundation. Too bad.

A geologist told him he’d discovered an enormous deposit of mica and the property, if mined, would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to people who want to build sidewalks and patios and that sort of thing.

It does, of course, require ripping up 50 acres of countryside.

Why doesn’t the baseball community instead discover Micah, or, more accurately, Portland’s Micah Blue Smaldone, and give him hundreds of millions of dollars? Lord knows he needs it more than a piss-poor reliever who makes a minimum salary of $390,000 should he break camp with the Dodgers.

Not that Smaldone needs anyone’s charity. He’s just returned from a tour of the east coast that saw him play eight dates in 10 days with Christopher Teret and sometimes the Big Huge. And his music has taken him across the pond, too, as evidenced by his latest release, a four-song EP called Live from Belgium, released on North East Indie Records.

It’s a tidy little tide-me-over for fans of Smaldone’s 2004 and 2005 releases, Some Sweet Day and Hither and Thither (the latter of which has been released by Tequila Sunrise in a limited edition 180-gram vinyl package, with an eight-page booklet “housed in a beautiful full-color old style/tip-on jacket”). Belgium was recorded by Daniel Duchamp at La Ferme du Biéreau in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, likely one of those quiet European cafes where they really dig American roots music. Smaldone scratches that itch, along the way imbuing his finger-picked resonator with an Old World aesthetic much like the cool indie pop coming out of Scandinavia played by the likes of Jose Gonzalez and Peter Bjorn and John.

Three of the four tunes are new, with “Coal Black Crepe” returning from Hither and Thither. The original is fairly methodical and dark, the instrumental fingerpicking giving way to low-register vocals with an almost-menacing lilt. The notes that pick out the melody pop with a simmering aggression. Live, he’s warmer, partly thanks to the slight muffle of the recording, and the vocals are higher up, more fragile, not as despairing. Half-way through, Smaldone gets a hair closer to the mic, improving the quality, and making the late song “doh-doh-doh” crooning sound playful in place of the recorded version’s mania.

The six-minute “Untitled,” which opens the disc, is lighter and folksier, still, with a high, poppy melody, supported by a thrumming rhythm on the bottom strings. At times he gets carnivalesque; other times he seems to be just holding ground while trying to figure out where to go next, and the wait gets a little bit narcotic. At the 2:00 mark, he starts in with surreal phrase pairs: “In this court a judge holds the gavel, for it is a gavel that holds the judge/And in the wings the riders are reriding, as derision fans its wretched wings.”

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