It was with some degree of trepidation that I agreed to give a listen to a demo tape from an Atlanta-based folk music band called magnet (lack of capitalization the group's idea, not mine).
That's because I've been suckered in before on these kinds of things. The have been numerous time when someone has contacted me to say: "Bill, we'd love for you to have this complimentary tape of a local up-and-coming band so that you can review it in your wonderful column."
More often than not, the tape in question contained music that was passable at best, and many times, totally unlistenable. That would leave your friendly neighborhood entertainment scribe with the unenviable task of either writing an honest review of the music, or simply telling a little white lie.
"Uh, sorry, guys," I've been known to fib on a couple of occasions. "My tape player ate your demo tape."
With that history behind me, I was a little less than enthusiastic when Claire Cusick, the coordinator of these pages called "Steppin' Out," asked if I'd like to do a column about magnet, a musical group which will be playing this week at Saratoga's Cafe in Maggie Valley.
But, with a new baby on the way in our family, I saw a golden opportunity to get ahead of the game for a change, to get a column in the can before D-day (that's "D" as in delivery).
"Send it on, Claire," I said. "Folk music isn't exactly my thing, but I'll give it the old college try."
The next day, the tape had arrived, and I popped it into the nearest cassette deck. At the opening notes of "They Say That Love Makes the World Go 'Round," the first song on the three-tune demo, culled from magnet's album "Texas Saved Her Soul," my initial reaction was this: "Oh, no. here we go again." I though I could already hear the tummy rumblings of my tape deck.
Uh, Claire. Sorry to have to tell you this, but the tape deck ate that magnet tape."
But a few minutes later, I found myself tapping along to the soft, lazily swaying rhythms of the second tune, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" a cover of a forgotten Bob Dylan classic. By the final gnome-skipping-through-the-forest notes of the woodwind-heavy "Where Are You Going Today," I was rewinding the tape to give that first song another chance.
And while "They Say That Love Makes the World Go 'Round" remains my least favorite of the three songs on the demo, it's not bad.
What lifts magnet above the super-abundance of folk music bands making the coffeehouse circuit these days is the group's use of a wide variety of wind instruments — flute, saxophone, recorder, penny whistle — adding an earthy, mystical sound to the more traditional acoustic guitars and percussion.
Think Jethro Tull meets Peter, Paul and Mary — Unplugged. That's sort of what you get with magnet.
The best words to describe the band's music are "happy" and "upbeat." Maybe that's why on the first go-round in my tape deck, I didn't particularly like it; perhaps I've been jaded by the gloom-and-doom navel contemplation of contemporary alternative rock I've been listening to lately.
Magnet features Todd Mack on vocals, guitar and harmonica; Beth Heidelberg on sax, flute, recorder, penny whistle and vocals; Brad Deal on bass, trumpet and vocals; and Lee Schwartz on drums, percussion, slide guitar and vocals.
They combine elements of folk, country, rock and blues and utilize diverse instrumentation to create a unique, high-energy sound which is sweetly playful and innocent. If you can listen to several songs by magnet and not feel your spirits lifted at least a little bit, you may need to seek professional help.
In support of its album "Texas Saved Her Soul," magnet is traveling the eastern United States from Florida to Maine at a rate of 150 shows a year. That tour will bring the group to two venues in Western North Carolina, including this Friday's show at Saratoga's in Maggie Valley at 7:30 p.m.
The band also will play Barley's Brew Pub in Asheville at 9 p.m. Thursday
Catching magnet perform its eclectically sunny music might be just what you need to knock the chill off a cold December night.
But don't look for yours truly at the show. D-day has arrived, and, with the birth of Geneva Dian Studienc on Dec. 14, I'll have all the entertainment I can handle right here at home, at least for the next little while.