Best of the Web: Ten
Spiders Jams Philly and Beyond...
"Over a lifetime, you're likely to eat ten spiders in your
sleep," she prattles off, noodling away from behind a shiny Deering
banjo. It's a line that Maria Cahill has explained a thousand times
before, but her grin at the way people react to it never diminishes.
Her little tirade of facts continues, " &and it takes someone
seventeen times of hearing something before they recognize and
accept it &"
With Ten Spiders, it only took me once.
The husband-wife team at the core of the band, Maria and Steve
Cahill, begged me not to divulge the beginnings of this latest
incarnation of their music &but there's no denying their solid roots.
"We sucked," they admitted through a pair of knowing smiles. Hard to
believe, hearing them today. Steve began playing music in a youth
folk club, and has heavily influenced by the work of those like Phil
Lesh, and now has an unbreakably smooth groove, often wandering up
the neck of his Rickenbacker to add to the depth of the music. Maria
studied banjo technique under Tony Trischka, whose students include
alt-jazz icon Bèla Fleck and "New American Roots" 5-string guru Tony
Furtado. But to hear her talk, you'd never know it. An often-heard
refrain on the bandstand is, "Hey, you think you got it bad? I play
the banjo!" Self-deprecating humor aside, it is hard to convince
people that banjo players are useful outside West Virginia.
Especially in non-country crowds. "All I ever wanted to do was play
festivals. I never cared about radio play or a record deal. All this
is secondary to being able to play live &"
And live is where this ensemble shines, their jams ranging from
the interesting to the transcendent. Maria's powerful voice rarely
needs amplification, belting out her tunes with her soul bared to
the world (and her feet usually bare as well). These days, at the
center of many of Ten Spiders' live treatments (symbolically
speaking, of course &he stands in back) is a recent addition to the
onstage line-up, guest doumbek player Hoagy Wing. His background in
Middle Eastern percussion lends an even more unique sound to this
already diverse line-up of Banjo (Maria), Electric Bass (Steve),
Guitars (Mark Unruh) and drum kit (John Gannon). Particularly
interesting are the recent developments of a symbiotic groove that
seem to be appearing between John and Hoagy, percussion playing off
one another like some kind of drummer with two brains. (Hey, it's
hard enough to find percussionists with one brain &)
This tribe of five (sometimes four) is fresh out of the studio
with their second self-released album, Sun's Glow. More experimental
and open-styled than 1997's Midnight Snack, Glow showcases the
group's willingness to expand in new, interesting directions. One
notable guest is Pete Rhee, a fiddler who toured with the Page &
Plant tour. He lends an evocatively celtic feel to several of the
tracks. Another first with this newest release is the introduction
of Steve Cahill in a new role: lead vocalist. "Yeah," says Steve, a
wry and sheepish smile passing over his bearded face, "They've taken
a chance on letting me do my thing on 'Maya'." The result is a
finely-crafted, sometimes haunting tune that casts a lilting pall
over the end of a usually-upbeat album, tied together with a banjo
hook that draws you into the center of the tune, wrapping you in
layers of warm, resonating sound. Another standout is the lovely
(but somewhat cynical and sad, lyrically speaking) melody of "All
The group's well-constructed three-part harmonies and multi-part
syncopation are a hallmark of their professionalism and style. In
the studio, Ten Spiders has a solid groove and a lineup of
impressive guests. But live, they're truly something to behold. A
recent show at the Concord Café in Aston, PA showed the Spiders'
full range of talents. One of the highlights of that show was their
performance of "Needles Unseen", one of their older tunes, segueing
neatly through a percussion duel into a cover of Al Green's "Take Me
To The River."
Sun's Glow is slated to be released on their own label in August,
to coincide with their four-state mini-tour of the South (multiple
shows in Georgia, Florida, and both Carolinas). It's available at
any of their shows, or via their website at http://www.tenspiders.com/.