Take me to a land that’s free and honest
Hand me a flag I can burn
—from “Lightly Honest,” by Joe Maynard
Maynard and the Musties are a local band, and by local I mean the members all live here in Brooklyn, except for Dikko, the trombone player, who lives across the river in mad Manhattan. It is named in part for Joe Maynard (obviously), the group’s lead singer. The “Musties” part of the name was suggested by lead guitarist Mo Jepson because Maynard is also a rare book dealer trading in musty old books. Jepson, along with fiddle player Na Koshie Mills and the late Drew Glackin, was part of the original nucleus of the band. They have been meeting, jamming, rehearsing, adding new members, and growing stronger since the mid-1990s. I met Joe a few years before that, when he published me in his classic zines Beet and Pink Pages.
However, I’m not writing this because Joe is my longtime friend; I’m writing this because Maynard and the Musties make great, original, toe-tapping music that deserves to be listened to. I’m writing this because, as the lyrics of their song “Marfa”reflect, no one can say for sure what goes on every night, but you can see it just outside of town, past the reach of streetlights.
What makes the Musties so special is the combination of Joe’s thoughtful, metaphorically rich lyrics and the Musties’ unique instrumental sound. Their music is mellow, honky-tonky, like a lazy river that cradles you while it carries you along, except for when it goes round the bend and knocks your socks off. Joe describes the Musties as a “Southern” band because most of its members originally came from below the Mason-Dixon line; he himself was raised in Nashville. Nonetheless, he says the band is not quite country, or rock, or even straight-up country-rock. “Americana” is the term he feels most comfortable with to describe their sound. I like to describe it as molasses with a sweet whiskey kick. This is music that celebrates, elevates, and sends out messages of clemency to hopeless sinners like me. Light up, Light up, your cheap cigar, even if you only smoke it in your car.
Maynard sees his songs in part as reflections of his religious upbringing: His parents were Seventh-Day Adventists. He says he writes what he feels. He describes his lyrics as reflections and projections of “God’s itchy finger,” which he cites as the spirit force beneath the world. Among the musical influences he credits are Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, John Lee Hooker, and Bob Dylan. Of his literary influences he names Richard Brautigan, Andrei Codrescu, and Flannery O’Conner.
I heard the Musties several times at the late, lamented Lakeside Lounge, where members of the audience often got up and danced. I very much enjoyed them twice this summer at Cowgirl Seahorse, a bar-restaurant that is as charming and eccentric as its name, located at the edge of the South Street Seaport under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Every time I hear them, the Musties get better. Their first album, So Many Funerals,is very good, but their second album, Cheap Cigar, which came out last spring, is over the top, up in the stratosphere. Political as well as spiritual, it is a must-have for any music lover. It was produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who was co-owner of the Lakeside Lounge and has worked with a loooong list of musical artists including Mojo Nixon, Syd Straw, Joan Jett, and Nils Lofgren. I am happy to tell you that the band now plays regular gigs at the Rodeo Bar and Cowgirl Seahorse.
I hope by now you are curious enough to find out what I am talking about when I say Maynard and the Musties are the best thing to hit New York City in many years. You can hear them next at Rodeo Bar on October 29.
The members of Maynard and the Musties who have not already been named are Gordon Hartin (pedal steel), Eric Ambel (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Chet Hartin (bass), Kelly Looney (bass), John McQueeny (drums), Keith Christopher (bass), Pierre Scoffoni, and on a rotating basis, Michael Randall (guitar).