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MUTUAL — This could be the biggest thing to happen in Mutual since, well, uh, a little help here?
“It’s hard for me to find much history on Mutual, Ohio,” Daniel Dye said. “This is downtown right here.”
Dye, a 33-year-old folk singer who grew up a mile up the road, has been working to turn Mutual’s old town hall into a venue for Americana music in time for the inaugural Madden Road MusicFest on Saturday.
The daylong event will feature folk, bluegrass, gospel and even a little rock, with near-constant pickin’ on the porch out front.
Standing upstairs in the two-story, 19th-century building — that’s about as big as they come in Mutual — it’s easy to share Dye’s vision for the place.
“We just found something on the wall that says, ‘I was here for the show, 1901,’ ” Dye said.
Some guy named Lewis Rodman of Mutual left his mark on the wall 110 years ago, and now Dye wants to bring the shows back and put his own mark on the building.
The downstairs has long been home to his mom’s antiques store, one of just a couple of businesses in this Champaign County village.
“The upstairs? It’s been a home for pigeons for years,” Dye explained recently.
Dye and assorted family members are doing what they can — without much money — to reclaim the upstairs, which also unbelievably doubled as a gym at some point in the ancient past.
“It’s like a really nice barn,” Dye remarked.
But from the rear, a cornfield can be seen in the distance.
From the front, cars pass by on Ohio 29 in a hurry to get anywhere but here.
This is the exact kind of place that Dye’s own music conjures up.
It’s hard to listen to his self-produced debut album and not picture Mutual, Ohio, or somewhere like it.
He sings of losing a girl to a “city man with a $50 haircut and California tan,” and of riding the rails in a desperate search to find a place free of “the devil’s drink.”
Not a single one of Mutual’s 129 residents would presumably care to be identified with “Geraldine” — a grisly tune about a guy who only wishes he’d buried the body of his woman a little deeper in the sand — but the song still evokes Johnny Cash, anyway.
“I like the idea of songs that could’ve been sung 50 years ago,” Dye said, “or could be sung 50 years from today.”
Pete Seeger, who just happens to be another influence, would be mighty proud of a Dye original like “The Devil’s Drink.”
If you don’t find yourself wanting to sing along — “Train, train, train come and take me away!” — then you’re just too cool for school.
A graduate of a private Baptist high school in Urbana and Cedarville University who once sang in numerous churches with his family, the Dye Family Singers, Dye admittedly grew up in something of a bubble.
“I didn’t even hear of U2 until college,” he said. “It’s a little embarrassing to say that now.”
He took up guitar in college, teaching himself to play harmonica on the 45-minute drive each day from his parents’ house to Cedarville.
“I’d play guitar while driving,” he joked, “but that’s a little more dangerous.”
He still has faith, but he now has his doubts as well, he said.
Not everyone in his family gets this music of his, particularly a song like “Geraldine.”
“They’re tunes of being human. They’re not explicitly Christian,” said Dye, who teaches English as a second language at Ohio State University.
By his own admission, this first album is raw, but his 14 originals come through loud and clear, whether he’s backing himself with just an acoustic and a harmonica or getting his Mennonite niece and nephews to help out on violin, cello and backing vocals.
WYSO, for one, agrees.
The Yellow Springs NPR affiliate has been featuring a few tracks from the album, which is available from iTunes and CDBaby.
Dye wasn’t aware of just how big of a victory that was until he made his first visit to WYSO to perform on the air.
“I saw the stack of CDs there,” he said. “There were hundreds, if not thousands.”
You may have heard that you don’t need a record label anymore to make music.
That much is true.
You can record all the music you want — getting it played on the radio or reviewed by even a decent blog is something entirely different.
“I haven’t done it as successfully as I’d hoped,” Dye confessed. “I don’t even think the music industry is aware of my existence.
“I’d still like to get this album in the right hands.”
Doing it using Mutual’s town hall as a base of operations — a place with no water and no heat — would require something of a minor miracle.
But rural America is the place where Dye and his music seem to belong.
Funny enough, though, more than half of the songs on the album were actually written in 2007 during a 4½-month stay in one of the biggest cities in the world — Berlin.
His brother serves as the pastor of an international Baptist church there, and Dye met his wife, Yasmin, a native of Munich, among the congregants.
“For some reason,” he said, “I can write Americana songs better overseas.”
Living in Berlin, he found himself homesick for the country life.
“Going for weeks on end without seeing any trees or fields,” he explained, “it hurts you psychologically.”
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