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March 2, 2007

Folksy rockers MV & EE pull up their roots

Matt Valentine and Erika Elder used to sing folk melodies on their Vermont porch with friends. However, on their latest album, Green Blues (Ecstatic Peace Records), the shaggy-haired duo of MV & EE no longer peacefully waits for seasons to change. They have instead traded their meandering lullabies for psychedelics and a trip through their own cosmic forest. Valentine has plugged into early Grateful Dead, blues, and ’60s British rock, harmonizing with Elder amid flutes, harmonicas, and a violin to create a sonic experiment that flows high and low. The album has been their most successful to date, selling out for weeks on their label’s website, and is strong enough to support a cross-country tour.

On Wednesday, February 28, MV & EE with the Bummer Road wandered into the Empty Bottle on their journey, playing to a large crowd of sonic believers. The music, despite its volume, is still mellow. With the track “Green Thighs,” the old folksy melodies can be felt through the distorted Vox chorus. Green Blues is a departure from the norm for a group that has spent a lot of time writing organic songs. By the second half of the album, they have hidden behind three-note guitar riffs and so much experimentation that the music no longer remembers where it’s been. The sound had me looking away from the stage and closing my eyes. It was contemplative with a hint of sing-along.

Valentine made reference to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd during “Canned Happiness,” which lasted over 10 minutes. Each song blended into the other as MV & EE progressed through their album, ultimately attempting to create a space where listeners can fiddle with their thoughts. Voices and modulated chords guide listeners through the music. The songs were much longer during the live show, going as long as 25 minutes in the case of “Solar Hill.” It was nice not to see a computer mixing sounds on stage. Using only instruments, an ambience explodes above the crowd and shimmers onto each person. Real rock music.

The songs are nostalgic, but there is enough experimentation present to say MV & EE have their own unique sound. If they get lucky, they could go on to play the summer festival circuit here and abroad. But as a band with a long history of reincarnation, their sound will continue to develop while they tour and work on another record. If they spent more time writing tunes like “East Mountain Joint,” with its rambling, catchy chorus that makes you want to shake your head, they could have a larger audience. I want to think, though, that mainstream success isn’t something they care about.

The beauty of MV & EE with the Bummer Road is their presentation and desire to create a particular moment for the listener. In every sense, these musicians feel through their songs. Nothing seems false. Erika Elder’s subtle smile is a testament to the joy they feel merely sharing the songs they love. Everything about the concert feels like a Midwestern field show, in which a band hooks to an outlet box, plays toward the sky, and lets the lightning bugs rise. My time with the band was over quickly, but they played just enough. Even though MV and EE with the Bummer Road have moved on, they have left a great album to take on a journey.