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As both a music writer and host of a local music radio show in Maine, I get a ton of music sent to me. Remember that scene in the first “Harry Potter” movie when Harry gets inundated by Hogwarts letters? It’s like that.

But I mean it in the best way possible because my excitement about hearing new music is similar to Harry’s when he finally learns the contents of that letter. Despite my best efforts, I will never be completely “up” on all of the fantastic Maine music that is being made, but I’ll always keep trying. What I can do is tell you about four acts that I’m currently excited about.

 

Kidhimself courtesy of the artist

Kidhimself
Back in March a lo-fi pop artist who calls himself Kidhimself sent me a song called “Sorry.”  I threw on my headphones and became a fan about five seconds in, thanks to the chill sounds of keys and drums drifting through my ears, pulling me out of whatever else I was doing and right into the song.

Then the vocals kicked in. Kidhimself’s voice has an understated, halcyon quality to it, as he apologizes profusely for overstepping a boundary, something I suspect we can all relate to.

“Sorry” is hands down my favorite local song of the year. Kidhimself followed it up with “Dumb Motto” and it too is fantastic.

“Might live to be 102, wouldn’t have made it past 20 without you/I could live to be 105, still be chasing this high my whole life.”

Kidhimself grew up in Belfast and lives in Portland. He started playing piano before he could reach the pedals. When he was 10 his uncle gave him one of his electric guitars and he “played that thing into the ground.”

As for the name, he told me that he wanted to use a pseudonym that told a story.

“I was creating a character who I could write these songs through. I didn’t want to use my name because it wasn’t going to be me. I wanted to write like I did when I was 15: free from self-doubt, self-criticism and self-consciousness.”

Kidhimself also told me he’s been writing “bedroom pop” and lo-fi music for years, I just never knew that to call it.”

As for influences, he cites the like of Rihanna, John Prine and Bad Brains, depending on the day.

 

Jeanette Villanueva Photo by Sara Devoy

Jeanette
In early July, Windham-based singer-songwriter Jeanette Villanueva, who performs under her first name, reached out with the song “Summer of 1985” and a handful of others have followed.

The five-song EP “Girls Like Us” has an official release date of Sept. 28. It was recorded at Frog Hollow Studios in Brunswick, owned and operated by singer-songwriter Jud Caswell.

“Summer of 1985” is a sweet and sometimes wistful slow to mid-tempo tune about holding onto the good parts of a seasonal romance. “When I Was Yours” is a sorrowful yet lovely (complete with cello!) portrait of a failed relationship and its aftermath.

“Small town conversations, the friends and people we knew/Still asking questions about you/I do my best to be strong/Laughing at our memories before things went wrong.”

Ouch. But the sting is eased by Jeanette’s gorgeous vocals and the song’s exquisite arrangement.

Jeanette grew up in Gorham and learned guitar when she was 10. Songwriting started four years later, followed by learning harmonica and piano at 17. Jeanette told me that the radio was always on at her house and she’s long been drawn to several genres of music. As for her biggest influences, Jeanette listed The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin.

 

Tom DiMenna cover art for “You Know Me, My Devil Says” Photo and design by Lauren Berg

Tom DiMenna
One of the most recent artists that I’ve become aware of is Portland-based singer-songwriter Tom DiMenna. DiMenna tours throughout New England and was an artist-in-residence at the SoHo Playhouse and a featured performer at Joe’s Pub, both in New York City.

DiMenna told me that although he’s been playing music since college, he only recently felt enough conviction to record and perform. In high school DiMenna was obsessed with Cat Stevens, then graduated to Nick Drake while at college. He also said that his brother turned him on to British artists John Redbourn and Bert Jansch. DiMenna’s instrument of choice is an old classic guitar from Guitar Grave.

“It’s a Gianna; an Italian expat in Brazil made it and it has a nice romantic quality that I think speaks to living in Portland,” he said.

Lyrically, DiMenna is inspired by musicians like Chris Smither, who sings about consciousness in a straightfoward, folk-country-blues way. His new four-song EP, “You Know Me, The Devil Says,” features poetic offerings with a late-60s/early-70s folk feel. His voices rises like an October leaf caught in a gust of wind.

“I know you but you don’t know me/I am a great big mystery/You know me, my devil says,” sings DiMenna on the title track.

All four songs are just him and his guitar and that’s all that’s needed.

You can see DiMenna at The Apohadion in Portland on Sept. 21. He’ll open for Richard Shindell at One Longfellow Square, also in Portland, on Oct. 2 , the Cadenza in Freeport on Nov. 1 and Lenny’s in Westbrook on Nov. 8.

Renée Coolbrith and Michael Koharian of Dearing. Photo courtesy of the artist

Dearing
Dearing is the duo of Renée Coolbrith (vocals) and Michael Koharian (keys, beats and production). They often collaborate with Andrew Mead (vocal engineering, mixing) and Darryl Collins (guitar). Coolbrith and Koharian told me that Dearing has been in the works since 2017 as a side project to various other endeavors, including the bands Pretty Sad, Johnny Cremains and Armies along with their solo projects.

They chose the name Dearing as a reference and tribute to the Deering neighborhood of Portland, which is significant to both of them.

“You could say Deering Center is dear to us.” On the band’s Facebook page they describe their sound as “love songs for your enemies.” They explain what this means:

“It’s a thinly veiled reference to a beloved city that is currently being gutted and sold to the highest bidder. We see our little city by the sea bursting with allure from our art scene that is ironically being pushed out by supposed fans of our home.”

Coolbrith had more to say about working with Koharian.

“This is a big, bold move being partners and living together and releasing music together. We grew up on the other side of the graveyard, went to the same school and we’re both into music and have many mutual friends.” But they never properly crossed paths until a couple of years ago when the embers of Dearing started to ignite.

“It’s wildly honest and dark and moody and loaded with the uncomfortable truths about being violently in and out of love simultaneously,” said Coolbrith. Dearing currently has three songs out: “Wasted Wasted,“Walk With Me” and “Once Loved,” and at least another six almost done, so we can expect a full-length album in the coming months.

They told me that their songs generally start out as instrumentals by Koharian and are expanded on lyrically and vocally by Coolbrith.

“Each one tends to apply to a certain feeling or mood. We just try to stay in the moment when writing and try to capture a specific and honest head space,” said the duo.

But does it work? Is the music good? In a word: Absolutely! Coolbrith has one of the strongest voices in the state, and layered on top of a bed of hypnotic beats and superbly chosen instrumentation, her vocals turn the song “Wasted Wasted” into the bomb. Ditto for “Walk With Me” and double ditto for “Once Loved,” which has an added snaptacular, airy pop thing going on.

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