It’s the split-second of hesitation, that beat of uncertainty, when two musicians must wordlessly communicate where a melody is leading, and how one harmony will flow seamlessly into the next, that has singer-songwriter Molly Maher hooked on the art of the duet. Starting tomorrow, Jan. 8, she will host a weekly series where musical pairs take to the stage on Tuesdays in January (and two weeks in February) at Vieux Carre in St. Paul.
Each evening, Maher will open with a partner of her choosing, followed by a series of regionally-based acts – some instrumental, some vocal, and some of whom are first-time collaborators. It is easy to anticipate what a performance will entail when one artist headlines, but collaborations are magical in an unexpected way, Maher explains. She’s excited to “see what they do when they put their energies together.”
Minnesota duo Dusty Heart served as key inspiration for the series. The pair seamlessly blend together, she explains. “They’re just this one note, if you will, as two people.” A collaboration between drummer JT Bates and Pieta Brown (who will appear together again on Feb. 12) also struck a chord with Maher, and she sought to build on the groundwork that collaboration laid.
Maher began developing the series by tapping a number of musicians she admired, and they in turn appointed companions. She says, “Most of the artists I’ve reached out to have chosen to reach out to people they don’t normally play with to push themselves and really get into the spirit of this experiment.”
While many musicians have chosen partners within their respective genres, most featured players have the capacity to move fluidly throughout different circles. Bryan Nichols can stunt on the classical piano, then transition to the fully Americana sound of Dead Man Winter; JT Bates is at home with a range of artists from Bon Iver to the jazzier Hiss Golden Messenger; Diane Miller is a talented rapper, but her duet with Haley Rydell (Jan. 22) will veer towards folk.
“That’s one of the things I love about this musical community that’s maybe different than other towns,” Maher confesses. “We are very supportive of each other, and are open to collaborating outside of our day jobs, if you will.”
Maher herself plans to forge ahead into new musical territory with the help of chef JD Fratzke, who approached the Americana artist with a series of essays he envisioned set to music. On Jan. 22, the pair will debut a performance that crosses mediums.
“I want to push myself – I’m about to release a record, and since I’ve taken a bit of a step back from playing as much as I used to, I’m exploring a lot of my older songs and revamping them; so it’s an opportunity for me to connect with people, connect with my music, and to just explore these conversations that we all have as humans and as musicians,” Maher says.
Tomorrow night, Cody McKinney and Richard Medek take to the stage after percolating a collaboration for some quite some time. Similarly, Barbara Jean and Mike Lewis have played together in the privacy of their homes, and Jan. 15 will see their first shared public performance. These performances could be the first steps in a series of frequent collaborations for the pairs.
As temperatures drop below freezing in the coming weeks, Maher and others seek the warmth of musical conversation in the company of a wider audience. “I am pushing myself to reach out to people during a period where it’s really easy to not leave your house,” she laughs. If all goes well, the series may continue next year or in the months to come.
Lydia Moran is a music and arts writer in Minneapolis.