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Reviews of "Dreamer or Believer" by Harvey Reid

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Boston Herald (Sept 15, 2002) by Dan Gewertz (read the full interview)

Harvey Reid's guitar gifts are so extraordinary, a description of the veteran New England folksinger and musician has to start with his mastery of every acoustic style from bluegrass to blues, reels to ragtime, Celtic hornpipes to J.S. Bach minuets. Add banjo, mandolin, autoharp, lap steel and bouzouki to the mix, and call Reid a truly rare string-wizard.
Yet Reid's role as music businessman is equally unusual. One of the first folk artists to produce a self-released, independent CD, Reid's own label, Woodpecker Records, has released 16 albums in 20 years, sold nearly 100,000 copies, and achieved a digital sound so fine that audio companies have used his product to demonstrate their speakers. He also helped design the Acoustic Blender amp system for Fishman Transducers, wrote a college textbook, "Modern Folk Guitar," that is still in print after 22 years, and invented a "partial" guitar capo technique that is slowly gaining popularity. 
Reid has not only avoided the corporate music industry for 28 years, he's also never held down a "real job."  "I was a lifeguard when I was 16, but for the last 28 years, music has been my life, starting when I was a street-musician, and then traveling, living in my van for five years," said Reid, who plays Club Passim on Friday. "It's pretty hard to understand where I got the energy to live in my car and struggle so hard for so long. But luckily, things got easier and better." Reid's formative music years were spent in the fertile bluegrass scene of Washington D.C. In 1979, at 25, he left a job teaching guitar at the University of Maryland, and, intent on playing for a living, moved to New Hampshire, to gig on New England's "blue collar folk circuit." "I spent many years playing five to six nights a week, learning my trade," he said. Now a resident of York, Maine, Reid has just released a retrospective double-CD, "Dreamer or Believer," that not only traces his 20 years as an independent recording artist, but has unearthed one song and one instrumental tune recorded in each of those years. With his deep knowledge of traditional genres, and his ability to write new music that sounds ancient, Reid's 155 minute CD-set defies musical trends and attains a timeless grace.
The disc of instrumentals can be so refined that the untrained voice and amused spontaneity of the vocal disc comes as a surprise. Many of the songs are culled from Reid's huge collection of tapes from solo gigs and radio shows. There are a three recent songs with Joyce Andersen, the fine fiddler/singer who now shares a musical and personal life with Reid. The guitarist does not regret the time he spends on the business side of music. "Since I never get enough time to play, I'm not worn out or bored with it when I get on stage. By making more money selling records, I can play fewer tour dates, have more of a life, and not get burned out. I'm in control of my life, I earn a good living, and I am not blaming anyone. That's something not many artists can say."
Reid's long history with independent recording began without a plan. Rejected by such labels as Rounder and Tacoma, he just decided to try one album on his own. "I have always seen myself as more like a potter or a crafts artisan than a star," he said. "I make hand-crafted stuff that is quite unlike what the big stores sell, and there are enough people that appreciate the difference that I can earn a living." The independent route has left Reid with a few frustrations and an obvious sense of achievement. "I can wonder why I've remained on the fringes. I can also be thankful that I have a faithful audience who've fed me for so long. And I haven't become jaded. When I'm old and on life support, I'll have fewer regrets than the guy in the next bed who didn't follow his dreams." (Harvey Reid at Club Passim, Cambridge, Fri. 8 p.m. $12.

Portsmouth Herald (Sept 19, 2002 ) by Chris Elliott (read the full interview)

Harvey Reid founded Woodpecker Records and released his first recording in 1982 using Portsmouth as his base of operations. Twenty years and 16 album releases later, he maintains a primary affiliation with the New Hampshire Seacoast, and seems happy enough with his career and his environs to stick around a while longer. Reid's most recent release on Woodpecker Records is a double CD titled "Dreamer or Believer," a retrospective collection that features one instrumental and one song with vocals from each of his 20 years of making music. The most striking aspect of listening to this enchanting recording is the consistency of the sound and spirit of the discs throughout. Perhaps the fluency of the playing and the quality of the recording improve incrementally as the listener steps through the chronology, but the original vision of instrumental excellence, well-digested musical history, and good humor remains true throughout. This recording gets a "wow" from this desk, and even for the Reidophiles out there, it is a recording worth having in the rack, as half of the songs in this collection are either previously unreleased or long since out of print. The instrumental disc is nonpareil, especially if you can resist forwarding through the autoharp tunes. To a listener unaccustomed to the autoharp as an instrument of pleasure rather than one of torture, the first four bars of the autoharp numbers sound like a toy piano being thrown down a flight of stairs, but once a listener adjusts to the timbre, the mastery of the playing is breathtaking. After the primal recollections of your third-grade homeroom subside, this instrument, which is rarely played outside grammar-school introduction-to-music classes, becomes plaintive and soulful in the hands of this master musician. The vocal disc in this dual release reveals Reid's excellence in both performance and songwriting. His vocal accomplishment on the opening cut recorded live at The Puddledock Pub in Portsmouth in 1982, "I've Been Everywhere" is stunning. It is 6 1/2 minutes of singing and talking and playing worthy of Arlo Guthrie, David Bloomberg or any of music's greatest solo entertainers. The title track, "Dreamer or Believer" is an evocative portrait of the stoicism of the rural poor, as fine a rendering of that motif as almost anything you'll find in the bluegrass canon. And it's worth the price of admission to hear Reid sing his now 17-year old lyric "Those crazy years of youth / I thought they would never end / Gone now forever / Slipped through my hands." On Sunday, Sept. 22, Reid celebrates his career milestone with a performance at the Unitarian-Universalist Church, South Church, 292 State St., Portsmouth, at 7 p.m. The concert is the first in a series of CD releases scheduled to take place in Reid's many music markets. One can look at Harvey Reid as an accidental soothsayer of sorts. Both his business model and his sound have come into vogue in recent years. When he first embarked upon his musical and business journey, his sound was virtually unmarketable and his in-house approach to booking, recording and distribution relatively untested. "I became independent in the days when labels laughed at acoustic music," Reid says. "They were dropping Bonnie Raitt and John Prine when I made my first record. I did get rejected by the labels at the time, and I knew I needed a record, so I made my own." The other way to look at Reid's career is precisely opposite, and that seems to be the way Reid looks at it. According to Reid, the tradition of self-promotion is as old as Ralph Stanley. "I came from the bluegrass world, and people have always made their own records in that world, since it was never popular enough to warrant industry interest." Reid peddles his business acumen as the child of necessity, but the fact is he has a profound talent for organization, promotion and communications. It might be suggested that if he hadn't been cursed with such a love and talent for music and had applied himself to boardrooms instead of concert halls, he'd probably be a wealthy man by now. Reid maintains a detailed and informative newsletter and a Web site, promotes other musicians' events, interviews tirelessly, maintains gear and manages a mail-order sales vehicle. The fact that it doesn't impinge on the integrity of the writing, recording and performance is impressive. "I guess I'm like the frog in the saucepan who doesn't jump out when it gets too hot gradually. If you handed me a list of all the things I do and said, 'Do all this,' I would think you were nuts, but it has all evolved slowly. First it was a calendar, then a phone machine, and you gradually get in deeper." Having fired his guns in the time of the Sex Pistols, gone head to head with Duran Duran, played steel guitar in the face of heavy metal, and written thoughtful lyric as the oxymoron of rap music dominated the charts, Reid's survival seems a statistical improbability. Against all conventional wisdom on what the music business is, Reid is an American success story. He is as busy as he wants to be, financially independent, and has never had a job in the traditional sense of the word. All of this his been created and managed by Reid, and he looks forward to another 20 years of making music in the Seacoast area, across the country and all over the world.

Showcase Magazine (Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover NH (Sept 19, 2002 ) by Chuck Ginsberg

Showcase Magazine - Feature Story Thursday, September 19, 2002
A Harvey Reid retrospective: From vinyl to CD: Portsmouth concert planned for Sunday
By CHUCK GINSBERG Special to Showcase ginziret@greennet.net

Dreamer or Believer celebrates the 20th anniversary of Harvey Reid’s first LP release (1982). The York, Maine resident, a superb singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, chose his "best known song" as the title for his 16th album. He is ably abetted by a fine and varied cast of fellow acoustic musicians.
The retrospective will be unveiled locally at a Sept. 22, 7 p.m., concert at the Unitarian Universalist Church in downtown Portsmouth. The date is the second in a series of six CD release concerts in the tri-state area (New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts).
The working title had been "Slipped Through My Hand," a song that "has been reappearing in my life for all these years," Reid says. In the end, the "shorter and more positive" song won out. "Dreamer..." he says, "makes a comment about my whole career." Both, like many of the double CD’s cuts, are about "looking backwards." The tracks, one instrumental and one song each from his years of recording, showcase a diverse array of music, lasting more than two and one-half hours. Half of that music is currently out of print, making the release a bonanza for nouveau Reid fans. The weeding out process was difficult. Some years yielded a rich harvest of music, others, only "some cassettes of bar gigs." Reid also wanted to "cover all the bases of styles and instruments."
The discipline of sticking to the concept forced him to dig through his tape collection. In the course of digging, he rediscovered "a lot of things I didn’t know I had." Admitting "some of the live stuff is a little ragged," yet "real...fun and alive...it tells the story." He favors having the artist "undress a little in front of the camera, so to speak."
The instrumentals are a mixture of traditional tunes and Reid originals, with the final one a step Bach-ward for the "Minuet in G." To give a flavor of the album’s diversity, "Wildwood Flower" opens, an old country and western song. Reid then trips delicately through "The Mockingbird" and a haunting Hawaiian- tinged "Lorena" before the restrained lead-in to "Fiddle Tune Medley" turns more frolicsome. A tartly sweet "The Streets of Fyvio" ends the first segment of traditional melodies. The next four cuts are Reid’s own, relaxing and mysterious, briskly adventurous, mellow yet deep, and, finally airily appropriate in "Prelude to the Minstrel’s Dream." Reid’s own take on "Arkansas Traveler" is fun, fingers joyfully dancing over strings. Those same talented extremities come crashing to earth for the somber notes in his beautifully rendered "Unknown Soldier." He follows up with jaunty plucking that buoys the spirits as he is "Crossing the Badlands." Reid haunts again in his superb version of "Wayfaring Stranger," but changes pace with "Pieces of Eight," and the sprightly "Five Cent Cigar," both splendid originals. A traditional Celtic medley, next on the menu, pairs wistful and sporty. Reid’s "The Lucky Penny" strikes just the right light note of a penny’s worth, before a medley of traditional gospel tunes, alternately reverent and joyous. Leading up to the Bach finale, Reid salutes the mythical steed "Pegasus," a poignantly painted, penultimate piece that leaves the rapt listener with a vivid vision of the local string wizard bent over his instrument, oblivious to his surroundings.Harvey Reid is a master of all the strings he surveys. We sat mesmerized through three playings of the instrumentals before reluctantly moving on to the songs, another mixture of traditional melodies and Reid originals, with two covers interspersed. Again, Reid demonstrates his versatility, serving up a heavy dollop of storytelling folk, with and without humor, leavened by splashes of blues, and even a little bluegrass.

The opening cover of Geoffrey Mack’s "I’ve Been Everywhere," was not a favorite and the traditional "Matchbox Blues" lacked the angst we sought in a blues song. Perhaps, it was a letdown from the near perfection of the previous CD. From that point on, the song portion picked up momentum. We loved Reid’s "The Flower of Loudoun County," a genuine folk tune about "mis-caste" ("he’s not our kind") love in the rural Carolinas. It has all the trappings of a Southern tragedy d’amour, including doleful melody. It lacks only a murder/suicide. "Slipped Through My Hand" is a thoughtful mood-enhancing lament on the passage of time and opportunities we let slip by. The muted clapping at the end of a live performance seemed the perfect touch. "Barbara Allen" was, as always, a treat, but "Feelin’ Lowdown," washboard blues from the ‘40s, is a real change of pace and wake-up call. Back to the atmospheric, Reid’s "Candlelight" filters life through flickering flames in the darkness. Our only complaint was the brevity of the song, barely over two minutes.
Somebody put the banjo on fast forward for "Lonesome As Can Be," a trip through the "high lonesome" sound. Reid was playing bluegrass when it was a black sheep for most music fans. It shows. "Dreamer or Believer," sums up the career of the nonpareil multi-instrumentalist, a believer who realized his dream, making a comfortable living through his first love. His theme needs few alterations to fit the York resident like the proverbial glove. The next three cuts are Reid originals. "Missing A Train" likens love’s misadventures to coming late to the station, and "Circles" is a meditation on the paths of life, the never ending, omnipresent circles surrounding one’s existence. "The Lights of Love" sparkles, describing the shining of love’s magic in the eyes of man long used to existing in a well of loneliness. "Sunny Banks of Sweet Deliverance" is a traditional tune, contemplating what awaits us in the next life. The song is absolutely gorgeous. Lynn Rothermich, who provides harmony vocals on several cuts, also shines here. J.J. Cale’s "Call Me the Breeze," a second cover, is a rollicking bluesy number with Rick Watson prominent on the keyboard. "It’s a Banjo Playing" starts off the last quintet of songs, all Reid originals from 1997 to 2001, celebrating the mundane sounds of our every day existence. Beneath its upbeat tempo beats a heart attuned to the rhythms of life. "This Old Heart of Mine" is a wistful yet loving reminiscence of years gone by. "Sing Me a Lullaby" when it comes my time is the narrator’s final request as he meditates on what will happen when the time comes to get on that boat for the other shore. "To the Western Wind" is a roving sailor’s ode to the wild and cold western wind that will call him home on his final voyage; the wind is his lover and wherever she goes is home. Joyce Andersen accompanies him on vocals. "Will You Go to the Sea," from the 2001 album, The Great Sad River, is part of a trilogy of songs about local maritime history. The song is a reminder of the sea’s fickleness and how it separates lovers, perhaps for eternity. Andersen also vocalizes on this cut.
Reid describes his work as "getting richer," his rhythms as "getting steadier," and his compositions as "more complex," with the passage of time. But, he points out accurately, his output has been "remarkably consistent," without "huge differences over the years." The "durability" of his "long ago" work gives Reid a "pretty satisfying feeling." If you are a Reid fan, you will have to have the album. If you haven’t been a Reid fan, you will be when you hear Dreamer or Believer. The retrospective combines impeccable performance, high quality sound, and the legendarily single minded Reid’s attention to detail, burnished over the years.

FACE Magazine (Maine) (Oct 3, 2002 ) by Dale Robin Lockman (read the interview)

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