North of Nashville, a pair of road warriors embrace tradition

Jay Basiner wants nothing more than to be out performing, all the time. He and fiddle player Andrew Martelle are the two members of the Portland-based North of Nashville, a country-folk duo that for the past year has made playing together their main gig — which is the thing that’s satiated Basiner’s passion for performing.

“When you’re a duo, you can tour all you want and not have the constraints that a larger band might place on you,” said Basiner, who formerly was in the similarly-minded band This Way. “Plus, Andrew and I are really on the same page. We work incredibly well together. We both just love to get out there and play.”

northofnashvill;eNorth of Nashville has spent most of 2013 touring constantly, and releasing a steady stream of singles, recorded in one-off sessions, mostly with Jonathan Wyman at the Halo studio in Westbrook. The pair’s blend of contemporary bluegrass, traditional folk, a dash of acoustic blues and the sweet harmonies of old-fashioned country have earned them a number of fans, both in bars and venues all over Maine and in Boston and New York, where they play frequently.

Basiner has been writing and performing songs for years now — he’s been a fixture on the Portland scene since arriving there from Vermont, both as a performer of acoustic covers and as a songwriter. But it was the experience last year of recording with his father an album of traditional folk songs, work songs and country songs that made him decide to focus entirely on North of Nashville. That album, “Songs Of Our Fathers,” is available online at soundcloud.com/jaybasiner. Songs from Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Pete Seeger are just some of the numbers he and his Dad recorded.

“I grew up very heavily steeped in that music, between my grandfather and my father. I love all that classic country and folk, and that’s really what Andrew and I are paying homage to,” said Basiner. “Recording that album with my Dad really reignited all of that for me.”

For most of November, Basiner and Martelle have been recording their first official full length album, though the pair have released six singles since March and a live album last year, “Live at the Rack,” recorded at the bar in Carrabassett Valley, where they are regular favorites. The plan is to release the album in January, though those who attend North of Nashville’s show on New Year’s Eve at the Asylum in Portland can hear a sneak preview of the new songs.

“On the album, we have some pedal steel and bass, but live we’re just a two-man show. We make a lot of sound for just two guys,” said Basiner. “There are a lot of duos out there now, I think it’s partially because of the efficiency of it, and partially because it goes right to the heart of the music. You don’t always need much more than a guitar, a melody, a voice and some rhythm. It’s old school.”

North of Nashville will play with Tricky Britches 9:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, for the Empire in Portland’s Black Friday Jamboree; they are also set for a two-night stint at The Rack in Carrabassett Valley Dec. 28-29, and on Tuesday, Dec. 31 they will play with Ghost of Paul Revere and the Tricky Britches at the New Year’s Eve Ramblin Revival, set for the Asylum in Portland.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a UMaine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.