Mama Tried

World of Beer

By Tony Beers


Charlottesville VA’s rock band is in good company


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The small, unassuming town of Charlottesville VA has produced some big music over the years. Charlottesville’s own Dave Mathews and The Skip Castro Band, both hail from little C-ville, where great talent abounds. Now four Local musicians, who’ve played in many area bands over the years, have come together in Mama Tried.  And when I say come together, I mean, together there is a gelling that has occurred in this ensemble more than deserving of mention.


After listening to and writing about a lot of rock music, in a multitude of genres, when I arrive where live music is being played, my ear usually notices exceptional talent within the first few seconds. Such was the case one evening recently when I was in Charlottesville a day early for a ‘5Rhythms’ dance workshop and a friend suggested I check out Mama Tried at World of Beer, a local pub.


Arriving after the band had begun their first set, I certainly was interested right away, although the crowd barely seemed to notice the unassuming group performing a no-holds barred, all business rock set on the club’s small stage tucked too far back in the corner next to the restrooms. After assessing that the crowd would rather talk and drink beer than listen and probably were not going to realize the gifted musicians gracing the place, I pulled a chair halfway into the walkway between tables in order to watch more closely. The server gave me an eye, but left me alone.


First, long time Skip Castro bassist Charlie Pastorfield’s (lead) guitar work, on any one of several Telecasters in his arsenal, is impossible not to notice and by notice, I mean, this guy plays with such command of his instrument, it was a true pleasure to watch him. To hear the demonstrative licks effortlessly conveyed from his ax, as an admitted instant fan, it was easy to see that the smile on his face, when he’d step back from the mic and close his eyes, emanated from the heart of a true journeymen in love with his craft.


Pastorfield’s chops were amazing, but smooth, integrally complimenting his bandmates. Being a bassist himself, in addition to lead, it was easy to see why bassist Stuart Holme and Charlie share such a seamless musical relationship. It was hard to know which guy to look at, because even when Charlie’s fingers were catching every note he wanted at extraordinary speed, Holme, with fingers at least as fast as any lead guitar should be, spanned his fret board, not needing to look up to follow the changes. He filled every possible bass note in and around Pastorfield’s with such dexterity it too appeared effortless. Rarely have I seen a lead guitarist and the bassist with their eyes closed at the same time, with the same expression of creative freedom only an artist who’s reached a pinnacle in their career gets to enjoy–where they can both listen as an observer to the other musicians and contribute at the group level, while letting their individual train go outside the box.


While Mr Pastorfield also is very competent at lead vocals, his long-time friend and band mate, Susan Munson, from Alligator, another of Charlottesville’s musical gifts, shines. With her expressive lead vocals and harmonies, she sings passionately, grounding the band in the sweet “americana” roots that make up much of their catalog. Munson also contributes the clean rhythm guitar work that all lead guitarists rely on so heavily, providing a platform of cord work in over which to play.


Lastly and certainly far from the least of this ensemble’s highlights, is the rhythm, timing, nuance, and ear of one of the most delightfully talented drummers I have seen in a long time. Kent Rain, humbly held court on a kit which I couldn’t see or hear get one wrong stroke. My eyes, several times that evening, were absolutely glued to this guy. He, like all his bandmates, was a delight to watch. I don’t believe it is a stretch to say that Rain could hang with many of the innovative jazz drummers of our time, or at least sit in and hold his own. Watching Rain, one drummer particularly comes to mind and who is sure to be an influence in Rain’s sense of timing and style, is Steve Gadd, who’s jazz/fusion versatility has allowed him to perform with rock’s Paul Simon, Eric Clapton and Steely Dan, but played just as well with the likes of Mingus, Baker, and most notably Chick Corea.


So far, in an effort not to pigeon hole Mama Tried, more to highlight its varied talents than anything else, I have not put them in a particular category of rock music, definitions which can be limiting. Mama Tried–their name taken from Merle Haggard’s tune–lean towards covering songs from bands of a genre invented by none other than San Fransisco’s iconic, Grateful Dead. This style, what I call “improvisational electric jazz “, rather than, in my opinion, the less sophisticated, “jam band”, usually features an unrehearsed group “expression”, a jam, in the middle of a tune with the beginning and ending verses as bookends. The trick being able to go out far enough, improvisationally, remain cohesive, and get back smoothly to the original song and make it look good. This makes even a cover an original tune, really.


On any given night, of course, that expression can sound genius or less so, as any deadhead might admit. Suffice it to say, Mama Tried held their own. With that said, though, I feel certain that if I had called out a request the other night for a improvised jazz standard, Mama Tried could easily comply. At the same time, if asked for a straight driving rock and roll tune that George Thorogood (and his Delaware Destroyers) might cover, such as John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”, I’m confident Pastorfield, and Mama Tried would tear it to pieces, leaving even that small tame crowd at World of Beer on their feet and wanting more.


Members in Mama Tried perform in other local bands, notably, Alligator, and the Skip Castro Band. Check these guys out in any one of these fine Charlottesville groups. These seasoned musicians will not disappoint!


To Submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

Check out the Live Music News and Facebook page for updates and announcements.