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Temptation reviewed in the Saratogian

Dec 11 | Posted by: Don Wilcock

Caffè Lena: Spuyten Duyvil, coincidentally, on track at historic coffee house

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Spuyten Duyvil, the eight-piece folk band appearing at Caffè Lena Saturday night, takes its name from the town near the Bronx, where the tragic Dec. 1 train derailment occurred. Eight people died.

Coincidentally, the title cut of Spuyten Duyvil’s latest album, “Temptation,” contains the lines, “Watching you walk is like watching the last train leaving the station tonight/Switchman sleeping/Engineer’s been drinking/Trust the Lord/Turn out the light.”

Not since Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1970s southern rock peon “That Smell” eerily, and in some detail, described in advance the plane crash that killed several members of that band has a song so closely predicted such a catastrophe. “I don’t think I’ve ever been compared as a lyricist to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I’ll take it,” says Mark Miller, the band’s founder, songwriter and rhythm guitarist.

The comparison is not as crazy as it might seem. Yes, you have a Hudson Valley band that plays iconic folk venues like the Philadelphia Folk Festival or the Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival versus a ’70s rock band that followed the Allman Brothers in putting the Deep South on the rock and roll arena map. But Spuyten Duyvil’s energy has as much in common with rock as it does folk. “We want this show to wake people up and make them leave the venue feeling like they’ve been energized by the experience,” Miller says. “So I think the level of energy that we put out on stage incorporates enough traditional elements and instrumentation not to get written off as a rock band. We’re still a folk band, but we’re about the loudest, most energetic folk band that still hits within most people’s conception of what a folk band can be.”

Lyrically, the group is firmly in the folk idiom with songs that touch on history with an “authentic” feel about them. Instrumentally, Spuyten Duyvil crackles with spontaneity but never reduces its eight-piece fire power to a train wreck (if you’ll excuse the expression) of guitars, fiddles, harmonicas, bass and drums running all over each other. “We’re a band in more of the old-fashioned sense of the word,” Miller says. “We respect each other, and we feel that a lot of what people connect with in the music is the way that we relate to each other and the way that we interact.”

Spuyten Duyvil certainly approaches folk a little differently than you might expect. Miller once engaged in a 45-minute jam with iconic Piedmont blues guitarist John Cephas. “When he liked what you were doing, he would just turn his face up to you, look right in your face and go, ‘Aha, yeah.’ He would just walk right in on you like ‘I like that, Keep doing that.’ I stopped thinking about my fingers or chords. I just started hearing things in my head, and they just were just coming out of the instrument. It just got higher and higher. It kept elevating for 45 or 50 minutes. When those things happen, they remind you of what your role is, and you’re really just an instrument, and music comes through you.”

On “Temptation,” Spuyten Duyvil touches on Piedmont blues, old timey, jug band music and wood-smoke ballads. “We aren’t going to get up on stage and sing about our alcoholic dad for an hour. We’re going to get up, and we’re going to make some noise and stomp our feet a little bit. There’s a vibe about the way we are together, and it translates into people getting the distinct impression which happens to be correct that we’re having a lot of fun.”

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