Live Music on the Patio at Allegash Brewery, 12/21

Pocket Full of Mumbles returns to Portland’s Allagash Brewery on Saturday night, Dec. 21, and fear not — the boys will come prepared to celebrate the season. 

Oh sure, starting at 5 p.m., patrons can expect only the finest collection of Simon & Garfunkel homage (including a new medley of tunes from the Sound of Silence LP), not to mention several originals and selections from Jackson Browne, alt-country darlings Son Volt, Tom Petty, Neil Young and Stephen Stills. 

But Pocket Full of Mumbles will show up on Riverside — four days before Christmas — withan eclectic set of Christmas songs in tow, some of them requiring no instrumentation whatsoever. These a cappella selections include:

  • While Shepherds Watched their Flocks, a venerable English hymn (dating to the 16thcentury) that describes the “Annunciation to the Shepherds” who, having watched the angels gatheron high (and the wise men roll in from the East), rightly wondered what exactly was going down in their sleepy little town (of Bethlehem). Some folks may recognize this song but even they may not realize just how popular this carol used to be. In fact, it was the only Christmas-specific hymn authorized to be sung by the Anglican Church prior to 1700, along with the Psalms of David.
  • Away in a Manger, another standby (but not quite so old) that boasts a curiously international backstory. Legend routinely ascribed the lyrics to Protestant reformer Martin Luther; many went so far as to call it “Luther’s Cradle Song” or “Luther’s Cradle Hymn”, arguing that its English lyrics had been translated from Luther’s German. It is in fact wholly American in origin, the work of two late 19th century hymnsmiths, William Kirkpatrick and James Ramsey Murray. For whatever reason, it remains extraordinarily popular in England, where a 1996 Gallup poll ranked it joint second among all Christmas carols. 
  • Comfort and Joy, Simon & Garfunkel’s spare but compelling take on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlementhat appeared on the 1997 anthology, Old Friends. It was recorded in 1967. 

Mike and Hal are keeping their options open prior to the Allagash gig; there may well be more seasonal additions to the set list. 

But one thing’s for certain: On Dec. 21, the duo will perform Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me, a tune written by Aaron Schroeder and Claude Demetrius but made famous by the one and only Elvis Presley. This song first appeared in 1957, as part of an RCA Victor 45 EP, Elvis’ Christmas Album, along with Santa Claus is Back in Town, Blue Christmas, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Not surprisingly, the album would eventually reach#1 on the Billboard EP chart.

PFOM at The Blue 8/10

Just as Paul Simon’s career is winding down down, Pocket Full of Mumbles (PFOM) — having debuted July 5 at Andy’s Old Port Pub in Portland, with a follow-up appearance Friday, Aug. 10 at The Blue Coffee House in Kennebunk (5:30-7:30 p.m.) — is just getting started. As the ironies and serendipities pile up, we find them difficult to ignore.

Granted, at this point Big Data in general may be more familiar with New Gloucester-based PFOM’s intentions than the band’s would-be adoring public. PFOM principals Mike Conant and Hal Phillips have been Googling Simon & Garfunkel lyrics and chords for the past year, preparing for this moment. And so they have also been bombarded with data-driven news re. Simon’s farewell tour, now passing through Europe before concluding in Queens Sept. 22. The diminutive one will release his new album, In the Blue Light, on Sept. 7, to coincide with the final leg of “Homeward Bound — The Farewell Tour”.

This glut of Simon news, retrospective and otherwise, is not mere happenstance. It has further informed and solidified the PFOM project. To be clear: Pocket Full of Mumbles was formed when Conant sent Phillips a text in the spring of 2017. It said, more or less, “What do you think about burnishing a bunch of Simon & Garfunkel songs to a fine glow, recording them, then taking them on the road?” From the start, they envisioned an acoustic-duo set, followed by a fully “orchestrated” set with a full band behind them. The recording portion of that grand plan will take place this winter. For now, PFOM are content to further burnish while taking the music to directly to the people, live and in person.

Conant and Phillips didn’t know Paul Simon would be saying farewell in 2018. But the fact that he IS calling it quits has, by virtue of the massive media coverage, further buttressed the Pocket Full of Mumbles mission.

To cite just one example, Conant and Phillips love the way a song like Sounds of Silence stands as an iconic example of the coffee-house folk song, with its poignant and poetic lyrics delivered by a couple sensitive guys in black turtlenecks. This is the version that appeared on S&G’s debut album, Wednesday Morning 3 a.m.

Yet PFOM also adores the same song, the title track from the duo’s second LP, the fully orchestrated/rocked-up version.

This is exactly the dynamic PFOM aims eventually to achieve.

But there’s way more to the story, and we wouldn’t know it were the Internet not churning out Paul Simon retrospectives (and lining the margins of our browser sessions) with such diligence this summer.

As this Guardian piece ably relates, Wednesday Morning 3 a.m. was something of a flop. Simon, despondent, decamped for England to pursue a more pure and solo folkie career (he was also chasing a girl, Kathy Chitty, later the subject of a famous folk ballad). While away, the first album’s producer, Tom Wilson — inspired by the Byrds’ folk-rock hit Mr. Tambourine Man — overdubbed the original version of Sounds of Silence with guitars, drums and bass in the simple, slightly shambolic, but clearly electric style that another core folkie, Bob Dylan, had just introduced. One side of Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing it All Back Home hinted at this new folk-rock direction(Subterranean Homesick Blues, Maggie’s Farm) and his hit single later that year, Like a Rolling Stone, drove the point home. All of that work was produced by Tom Wilson.

Even more fun: Wilson’s retrofitting of Sounds of Silence took place without the knowledge of Simon or Garfunkel.

In January 1966, this rocked-up version of Sounds of Silence reached #1 on the Billboard chart, whereupon Simon scurried home from England in order that he, Art and Tom Wilson could set about rocking up another raft of existing Simon-penned folks songs in the same manner, songs we now know as part of the Sounds of Silence album: I Am a Rock, We Got a Groovy Thing Going Baby, Richard Corey, Blessed, etc.

There are plenty of unreconstructed folk ballads on this second album: Leaves That Are Green, April Come She Will, the inimitable and aforementioned Kathy’s Song. But it was Wilson who first discovered and demonstrated the flexibility, the rocked-up capabilities of these songs. Nearly 50 years on, with Paul Simon bowing out, PFOM will drive the point home.

Portland Debut

PORTLAND — Pocket Full of Mumbles (PFOM) will make its Portland debut the night of July 5, here at Andy’s Old Port Pub, starting at 8 p.m. A collaborative project from Mike Conant and Hal Phillips, New Gloucester-based PFOM will serve up a daring mix of acoustic covers and originals, with further collaboration from a variety of special guests.

Perhaps you’ve already sampled the wide variety of music on tap at Andy’s (, inside its cozy confines or through its signature picture windows. If the latter, be advised that the food, craft beer selection and sound here are superb. Bring a friend July 5, and a hearty appetite.

The mission of PFOM ( is to luxuriate the audience in fine song-writing — a path that starts in the Simon & Garfunkel songbook and leads through those of Tom Petty, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Jay Farrar, Rich Danko and Conant/Phillips themselves.

The acoustic nature of the July 5 Andy’s date (fiddle and guitar supporting ornate harmonies) further aims to demonstrate that great songs tend to rest upon great bones, the durable chord structures and lyrics that hit the mark regardless of orchestration. Future PFOM dates will build out said orchestration, but you’ll want experience this development from the ground up.

Here’s hoping you can attend the evening of July 5. If that’s not possible, do visit and agree to the notifications option, so you’ll be kept abreast of future PFOM shows, news and web postings.

After changes we are more or less the same…

Simon and Garfunkel were no Lennon and McCartney. Unlike the lead Beatles songwriters, who co-signed their collaborations regardless of who’d done the heavy lifting, their pop-folk contemporaries were more meticulous in assigning credit. Paul Simon wrote nearly every recognizable song from S&G’s five studio albums and official credits indicate as much.

The Boxer, the lead single issued from the last of those studio albums, Bridge Over Trouble Waters, stands as perhaps the most notable exception. It was co-signed by both Art Garfunkel and Simon, confirming a level of collaboration unusual to their long and fruitful partnership.

Pocket Full of Mumbles
covers The Boxer as part of its mission to revel in some of the late 20th Century’s finest song-writing — a path that starts in the S&G songbook and leads us =to less-celebrated but still-stellar folks like Tom Petty, Neil Young, Ed Crawford (fIREhOSE), Jay Farrar (Son Volt) and ourselves. We’re in preposterously good company, in both respects.

The Boxer, for example, has been covered by hundreds of artists across several spectra of musical genres, which brings us to another PFOM mission: To demonstrate that great songs tend to have great bones. They deserve to be reinterpreted so variedly because they CAN be reinterpreted so variedly. Ornate harmonies tend to typify S&G’s work (and dominate our perceptions of it), but further exploration reveals truly durable chord structures and lyrics that work regardless of singer, style, or level of orchestration.

The version of The Boxer that appears on the LP and lead single (B Side: the rollicking Baby Driver) includes the five verses we all know so well. But the song was originally written with six. See here the lost verse, which S&G performed in November 1969 (before release of the album/single) and reprised several times through the years, including, most famously, for their 1981 Concert in Central Park recording:

Now the years are rolling by me—
They are rockin’ evenly.
I am older than I once was,
And younger than I’ll be.
That’s not unusual;
No, it isn’t strange:
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same;
After changes we are more or less the same.

During a New York City concert in October 2010, Simon stopped singing midway through this song to relate the story of a woman who stopped him on the street to tell him that she edits when singing to her young child. Apparently she elides reference to “whores” and instead goes with “just a come-on from toy stores on Seventh Avenue.” Simon admits this is “a better line.”

On June 3, 2016, in Berkeley, California, Simon again stopped singing partway through The Boxer — to announce in one sentence (before resuming the song) some breaking news: “I’m sorry to tell you this in this way, but Muhammad Ali passed away.”