The cool breezes of Maine’s northlands have flowed through the songs of David Mallett for nearly four decades. In addition to being featured on his fourteen albums, Mallett’s pen has provided material for an eclectic list of artists that includes Pete Seeger, Alison Kraus, Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, John Denver and the Muppets. His tune, "The Garden Song," is one of America’s most popular folk songs, having been recorded more than 150 times and sung around the world. He has toured consistently in folk clubs, concert halls and festivals for more than 30 years.
His latest CD, "Greenin’ Up," features 12 of David Mallett’s classic songs that celebrate farming, the natural world and rural life. Included in the collection are several previously unreleased songs — Mallett’s first new material since 2009′s "Alright Now."
"Alright Now" marked the apex of a musical career that began when Mallett was 11 years old, playing in a country and folk duo with his 5-year-older brother, Neil. The Mallett Brothers hosted a weekly television show out of Bangor, Maine from 1967 to 1969 and released three regional 45s.
“We played everything from old songs like "‘till We Meet Again" to stuff on the radio like "I Walk the Line" or "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down." We did the whole folk thing, too – the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary. We had a real mixed bag.”
Discovering the music of singer-songwriters like Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan as an acting student at the University of Maine, Mallett began writing his own songs.
“Up until that point, I thought of myself as a singer,” he said. “In college, everybody that was singing also wrote. I realized that that was what I wanted to do. I was a theater major. I felt short-changed that I had to speak someone else’s words. I felt that, if I became a singer-songwriter, I could sing my own words.”
A turning point in Mallett’s career came in 1975, after he discovered that Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary, had moved to Blue Hill, Maine and was opening a recording studio. Within six months of their initial meeting, Mallett found a true mentor in Stookey. In addition to producing Mallett’s first three albums, Stookey helped to bring his songs to a national audience. Moving to Nashville in the early-1990s, Mallett continued to record and write new songs.
“I did a little bit of everything,” he said, “wrote a lot of tunes, made some good records, got to know a lot of singers and played with some wonderful musicians like Roy Huskey, probably the most respected acoustic bass player in America, and drummer Kenny Malone. All in all, I think I learned how to make records better.”
Since returning to Maine in 1997, Mallett has continued to tour nationally and has written and recorded seven CDs in 12 years. He also successfully explored the spoken word realm with his 2007 release "The Fable True," a collection of Henry David Thoreau's stories about his visits to Maine in the mid-1800s, with instrumental soundtrack.
David Mallett’s songs are filled with passion, evocative imagery, and a sense of the inevitable passage of time. The struggle of the common man and the loss of American towns and landscapes is the subject of many of his songs. Although it is rooted in place, Mallett’s music speaks to the essential things that move us all. If you grow up in a small rural town, as Mallett did, you can’t help but learn its stories. He knows the factory work, the field work, the memories of summer dances, the loves and losses, and the stunning incidents of courage and despair.
When he is not touring, the place where he makes his songs is in his writing room in an old farmhouse with a view across the field and a tintype of his great-great grandfather on the wall. “I like to keep reaching out to touch the past,” he says, “to connect it with what’s going on now. To me music is one of the few things that is timeless ... human emotion is one continual chain.”
In the millenium edition of The Bangor Daily News, in his home state, Mallett was named along with Marshall Dodge, Andrew Wyeth, E.B. White, Stephen King, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and others, one of the most memorable “Mainers” of the 20th century.
Here are some songs from Mallett's previous performance at the Rose Garden: