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Monica Grabin: Press

Monica Grabin, along with some of her very special friends, is celebrating the release of her CD, "Continental Village" Saturday night in Kennebunkport.

Grabin's repetoire is, to say the least, wide-ranging -- old-time, traditional, folk, ballads, blues, classic American popular song, Gilbert and Sullivan, country, bluegrass and historical songs.

"Continental Village" boasts 18 songs and blends originals with traditionals and covers from the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimmy Cox and Blind Blake. Blake's "Run, Come See Jerusalem," is about a 1929 hurricane in the Bahamas, and Grabin certainly blows some fresh, lively wind into it. "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," penned in 1923 by Jimmy Cox, is another traditional gem. "Once I lived the life of a millionaire, I spent all my money like I didn't care. I took all my friends out for a very good time. I bought 'em fancy liquor, lots of champagne and wine," croons Grabin in a song that hammers home something my grandmother, Nana Mary, used to say to me: "A fool and their money are quickly parted."

Grabin is also handy when it comes to writing originals. "Stuck in the Gears," was written by her in 1996, and she refers to it as a "fake calypso" song. It's a spirited little ditty in which Grabin playfully examines the differences in people's priorities and how in the end it's all just a big cosmic joke.

Grabin got into the folk-music scene during its 1960s revival and has been at it ever since. For more than 20 years she's also been a presenter of historical musical programs called "Singing History."

Monica Grabin CD release show, 7 p.m. Saturday, the Community House, Temple Street, Kennebunkport, $5 Admission.
The release concert for "Continental Village" will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Community House in Kennebunkport. Admission is $5.

KENNEBUNK — As a visiting artist, Monica Grabin teaches children around the state history through the songs of a particular era, stretching from Colonial times to present days. With the release of her new CD, "Continental Village," Grabin takes listeners on a tour through her own history, performing songs ranging from those she learned as a little girl growing up to those she's written after 25 years of living and performing in Maine.

"They were meant to be songs that I either lived with since I was a kid," Grabin said, "or else songs that became integral to me."
The first track, "Bad Dream," is a beautifully crafted piece she wrote in 1995, when her children, now 22 and 27, were little and would climb into her bed at night after having a bad dream.

"It was so intimate, so wonderful," Grabin said. "There's this intense love you feel for your children. And knowing you have the power to chase the bad dream away ...;"

Listeners expecting the rest of the CD to build upon "Bad Dream's" lilting style, though, will be surprised: What follows is an eclectic collection of tunes ranging from the traditional "Buffalo Skinners" which details the slaughter of buffalos after the Civil War, to the calypso tune "Stuck in the Gears" by Grabin herself. In between she tucks songs both with a '40s feel to those that evoke eras even further back.

"I worry that some people are not that open to different kinds of music, that people will think, 'I thought it was this kind of record,'" she said. "I would just get bored with the same thing. Hopefully there are people like me, who aren't just looking for 12 country songs in a row."

Instead, the title of Grabin's CD, "Continental Village," is both a reference to the town she grew up in in New York's Hudson Valley and a harbinger of the type of music one finds on the CD.

"These are songs from all over North America," she said. "Music from the continental village we all live in."

One such song is the traditional shape note hymn "Am I Born to Die?" A haunting three-part round, Grabin said she picked out the top line as the one to use throughout because she thought it captured the essence of what everyone thinks.

"That song is very special to me," she said, adding that its question is the one "reverberating in my soul."

Adding to the track's appeal is the wonderful three-part harmony, with all three parts recorded by Grabin herself, yet all sounding distinct and different.

"Continental Village" is Grabin's first solo CD; she recorded two prior albums as half of the duo Mom's Home Cookin' with Dale Robin Lockman. But despite having all of the recording equipment right in her own home, it took her more than a decade to put together her own CD.

"[A friend] inspired me, said, 'It's time to get off your butt and do it,'" she laughed. "After 10 years of threatening to make a CD, I finally did it, and a lot of nice people came and helped me out."

Grabin said most of those friends are fellow members of the Kennebunk Folk Club, a group she's belonged to for more than 20 years. While the Folk Club certainly serves as her musical family in Maine, Grabin's growing up years took place in her own musical family.

"We had a very musical household," she said. "My first love was Gilbert and Sullivan — I memorized six different operettas. I sung folk music with one brother, another did jazz. My poor mother was a-musical and she had it coming from different directions."

But if Grabin's mother had a tin ear, her father was exactly the opposite — inspiring in his daughter a life-long love of music. "Continental Village," in fact, is dedicated to Grabin's dad, who passed away in 2004.

"A lot of the '40s and Tin Pan Alley era songs I learned from my dad," she said. "I wish he'd lived long enough to hear this CD."

His touches, though, are felt throughout, especially in the 1938 song "Small Fry."

"He taught me that song when he caught me playing dress-up," Grabin said.

In her liner notes for the track, Grabin wrote, "Dad knew a million songs and my memories of him singing to me are very precious."

It's that kind of personal history, coupled with the songs that have meaning for Grabin, that makes a listener feel right at home in "Continental Village."