Wayne Poehlman is a singer/guitarist that I recently discovered on You Tube. To me, he’s the kind of performer who you listen to when you tire of the glitz and the posing and the pitch-correction of what is today called music. Of course, this goes along with my recent submersion into music of the past such as Geeshie Wiley and Mississippi John Hurt (the “Mississippi” to distinguish him from the guy who has the creature burst through his chest in Alien). Poehlman calls his online solo act “Pow Wow Theater.”
I first discovered him performing a minor song off the first Jules and the Polar Bears album: Following Every Finger. The tune stands out for a number of reasons. First, he changes the chords to make them more traditional (Shear can get a little weird) and he sings the song in a more melodic manner that works better and allows the listener to understand all of the words. I highly recommend listening to it.
He performs a number of other notable songs. In particular, he performs Michael Peter Smith’s The Dutchman. If you aren’t familiar with this song, it seems to be about an old man with dementia and his wife who takes care of him. The chorus is:
Let us go to the banks of the ocean
Where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee
Long ago I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me
Poehlman manages to interpret the song just perfectly—like he really understands what this man and woman are going through. He also performs Them Dance Hall Girls by Allan Fraser (although I think it might be based upon a traditional tune) that is very good. His All Time Woman is not as good as John Stewart’s—plus there is some distortion when he belts out the chorus; but it’s still good. There is a nice cover of Del Amitri’s Driving with the Brakes on; Poehlman has a rather similar voice to Amitri’s, so it isn’t surprising. The cover of Good Old War’s Coney Island is probably the weakest of what Poehlman has to offer. The Amazing Rhythm Ace’s song 3rd Rate Romance is covered in an unusual manner with a drum machine; on it, he sounds like he is channeling Jules Shear at times. Finally, there is another drum machine tune: Red Ball Texas Flyer by Jerry Riopelle. It is good enough; I’m not that fond of the original song.
At 59 years-old, Wayne Poehlman (or “Pow Wow” as he goes by) is what you might call a “late bloomer.” He tells me that it was less than 15 years ago that he finally learned how to write a proper song. Although he plays professionally at bars and events where he is expected to perform a lot of covers, he sees himself primarily as a songwriter. And a fine one he is too.
I have two free MP3 files of his original songs. The first is Looking for Juliet. Of this song, he writes “One night, I saw Juliette Binoche in [Krzysztof] Kieslowski‘s Bleu and I was reminded of an artist-friend, Julie who loved Paul Klee. Beyond the similarity in their names, I think I made a connection between both women being artists and my unrequited love for both that prompted me to reference some of the Romeo and Juliet imagery. And of course, if you use either of those two names it’s going to come up, like it or not.”
The second is Desperate People. This song is a little more produced than Juliet and a little more “pop.” As with anything that Pow Wow does, his take on it is intelligent and knowledgeable.
He says it is “[c]omedy with poignancy. [It is d]etermination evidenced by surreal behavior in an effort to fulfill ones destiny.”
In the end, what I most like about Poehlman is that he creates simple music that is intelligent (often witty) and beautiful. Check him out.