- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Maine brothers Chuck and Steve Romanoff have a long-standing relationship with the Washington area. As part of the trio Schooner Fare, they first performed in the area in 1984 at Ireland’s Four Provinces on Connecticut Avenue in the District.

With bass player, vocalist and songwriter Tom Rowe, who died of cancer Jan. 17, 2004, Schooner Fare’s harmony-laced mix of maritime, New England and traditional themes won a big following in the Washington folk music crowd.

At the old Birchmere in Alexandria, fans lined up on the sidewalk hours before the doors opened to get choice seats. Some compare the atmosphere to tailgating before a Redskins game — albeit on a smaller scale.

“We made a lot of friends there, many who have stayed with us,” says Chuck Romanoff, 60, who plays guitar and tenor banjo, forging ahead with brother Steve, 58, as the duo Schooner Fare.

The brothers play the Rams Head in Annapolis tomorrow and the Birchmere Saturday. They’ll return to the area Dec. 1 to play the Barns at Wolf Trap and then Jan. 28 perform at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center in Alexandria, to take part in a World Folk Music Association tribute to Tom Rowe.

The Romanoffs have produced a new CD, “And Both Shall Row,” released in late August.

“Even the implication that we’re replacing Tom — that he’s replaceable — it would be too much. We utterly reject that idea,” Chuck Romanoff says. The trio performed together for 29 years.

“I think Steve put it well — we’d rather deal with the comparison of being a duo rather than a trio, than deal with the comparison of someone who is trying to replace Tom.”

The new disc’s 12 songs include four originals, including the new Steve Romanoff composition, “The Lady Elgin,” concerning an 1860 Great Lakes maritime disaster, and a remake of the trio’s 1981 recording, “We’re Here to Drink the Whiskey,” a song written by Chuck Romanoff.

The balance of the record is mostly traditional and the title is taken from the chorus of “The Water is Wide,” a sad folk ballad that deals with the universal themes of loss and love.

“People who come to our shows have a lot more in common with each other than simply our music,” Chuck Romanoff says. “But some don’t bump into each other anywhere else but our concerts. It’s a very sociable thing, and that’s one of the great things about folk music.”

***

Singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves says his first road trip took place down Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, when his parents brought him home from the hospital 41 years ago. His father was a graduate student in psychology at George Washington University.

The family moved to Maine in 1970, and Mr. Cleaves graduated from Tufts University with a degree in philosophy. He gravitated to the music scene in Austin in the early 1990s. He won the Kerrville New Folk competition in Texas in 1992 and was signed to Rounder Records in 1996. The following year, he released his first national disc, “No Angel Knows,” which rose to No. 2 on the Gavin Americana radio chart.

His 2000 CD “Broke Down” and his latest CD, “Wishbones,” released in 2004, earned more critical acclaim and widened his fan base.

Mr. Cleaves is in the midst of what he calls “a big, two-month crazy tour” of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, and is heading to Europe next month to tour with his producer, guitarist Gurf Morlix. He will perform with guitarist Michael O’Connor tonight at the Rams Head in Annapolis.

“It’s been two years since I’ve knuckled down and written the songs for the ‘Wishbones’ record,” says Mr. Cleaves, who admits to being somewhat “obsessed with the current political situation.” For a writer whose songs deal with the details and ironies of ordinary people’s lives, politics can be a distraction.

“It’s not good for songwriting,” he says. “Writing political songs is really a land mine, trying not to take sides or get preachy.”

Mr. Cleaves lists Bruce Springsteen and Hank Williams among his songwriting heroes.

“It’s in his economy,” Mr. Cleaves says of Mr. Williams’ songs. “He can call forth so much feeling in so few words.”

That approximates what Mr. Cleaves himself aims for.

“I’m always trying to pack as much imagery, story and drama into as few lines as possible,” he says.


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