Republican Journal Review

David Mallett Keeps Songwriting Alive

Seeing David Mallett perform at the Rockport Opera House was to witness the vanishing art of songwriting, at work and going strong. In the two-hour performance, there wasn’t a weak tune in the bunch.

Mallett rises above his counterparts in the post 60s folk music scene as a songwriter of superior caliber, both lyrically and musically. He doesn’t settle for the easy phrase or sentiment, but instead explores his subject with a thoughtful, honest eye and ear.

This was evident Sunday night, if only in the sheer number of finely crafted tunes Mallett served up. He sang of love, without getting sappy, of peace without getting preachy, and of his youth without getting piously nostalgic.

The show was kind of a home-coming for Mallett, who hails from Sebec. When the full house audience repeatedly gave the singer warm applause, he jokingly dismissed the praise, saying that half the crowd were relatives.

Mallett has lived in Nashville for the last year or so, and the influence of country music’s capital has begun to show on his style. Probably best known as a folk singer, Mallett’s songs are beginning to evolve country – and not the commercialized kind. He joked that the only difference between country and folk was that “country songs have less words, and more bass.”

In following Mallett’s recording career, it’s clear that he values his arrangements and musicianship very highly. The same standards were evident in his performance. Instead of settling for self-accompaniment on strummed guitar, Mallett was joined by Chris Neville, a conservatory trained pianist, and Doreen Convoy, a sometime accompanist to Mallett on fiddle, mandolin and backing vocals.

Neville’s melodic fills on electric piano provided a nice counterpoint to Mallett’s sturdy, but sensitive voice. Convoy sat out more tunes than she played, because, as Mallett explained, she was less familiar with the newer material.

Mallett favors punchy, active rhythms, rather than the static and somewhat wimpy strumming of some of his peers, which kept the show upbeat, as did his endearing stage presence and stories, which enlivened some of the older tunes.

Though these days he spends most of his time writing songs that he hopes to sell to the likes of Kenny Rogers, Emmylou Harris and the Everly Brothers, Mallett’s work can clearly stand on its own – it’s personal and engaging, but avoids the trappings of syrupy, confessional folk music.

In “Sportin Days” Mallett sings, reminiscing about his wild youth: “I don’t need to go back down that road, to take a second look / but one of these days I just might write a book about me and my sportin days.”

Whether he writes it or not, the book would be superfluous – Mallett gives it all to us in his wonderful songs.

- Tom Groening, The Republican Journal