The work of the Valentine Bandit on the State Theatre box office on Feb. 14, 2021. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Since Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, I thought it would be, ahem, heartening for you to hear some love songs by Maine musicians. I projected a red, heart-shaped Bat signal over the state, and several artists saw it and responded with songs – one that came with a story about how it essentially resurrected a relationship.

Last August, Xander Nelson released the pop-punk gem “In Time” with the lines “With every passing season I keep burying my feelings/Wondering how I ever let you down/Your quirky charm is fatal still/As witty as Miss Maisel/But I haven’t laughed as much without you around.”

Nelson told me that he and his girlfriend, Alyson Peabody, had dated several years ago, but the timing wasn’t right, and they broke up and started seeing other people. But it wasn’t really over for Nelson, who said he still thought about Peabody often.

Cover art for the single “In Time” by Xander Nelson. Design by Brandy Martin

“Feeling as though the time for the two of us had passed, I wrote the song mostly to deal with unresolved emotions, but almost as if to will a second chance into existence.” It worked! The two had stayed friends and then Peabody heard Nelson play the song live at a show. “Turns out she felt the same way, and we’ve been together ever since,” exulted Nelson. Love story mic drop moment right there.

Synth-pop duo Forget, Forget released “Staying In” on YouTube in April of 2020. This was the early days of lockdown and the song is indeed about the simple pleasures of a romantic evening with a movie, though it was written before we all had no choice but to stay home. The tune bounces along as Patia Maule (synths, programming) and Tyler DeVos (guitar) trade vocals and sometimes sing together.

In 2020, singer-songwriter Jeff Christmas released the album “Little Universe,” home to the breezy, dreamy tune “More of You.”

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“I never met anyone like you before/Exactly what it is about you I can’t say/It could be the freckles, the hair, the nasty way you swear/Hey I don’t care, I wanna see more of you someday,” sings Christmas in a song tailor-made for Valentine’s Day that features the trumpet-playing of Jamie Fink. Christmas said it’s about his longtime spouse, Meredith, and what Christmas describes as her crass sense of humor, “rad” curly hair and love for a nip of bourbon.

Last year, singer-songwriter Sara Trunzo released the EP “Cabin Fever Dream,” with two Valentine’s contenders on it: “Kind Bone” and “Liberty Tool.” I was especially struck by the latter, perhaps because I made a trip to the quirky Waldo County shop it refers to in 2020. The song is twangy and honeyed as Trunzo sings about how she hopes to find someone as wonderful as the you-have-to-experience-it-to-believe-it spot: “We can’t turn me into a homesteading wife/Tracing tradition, I’d like to carve something new/Trying to find my Liberty Tool.”

Singer Brit Martin explores the darker side of relationships with her slow jam “Love Pains.” Martin doesn’t mince words: “So I’m all alone/And I’m wondering when/I get the kind of love/That’s never ever gonna end.” The tempo and mood is brightened significantly on the other track she sent me called “Sweet On You,” which is about a fella all up in her head, making her feel brand new, against a funky backdrop.

I’m also gonna mention what I consider to be a Maine hall-of-fame-level love song that ends on a surprisingly bitter note. “Arrive,” by singer-songwriter Sara Cox, was released way back in 2003. Cox sings about her partner being away and the experience of missing him. It’s set at an airport.

“When you’re walking off the airplane in the suit that you left in/And I know that everybody will see the love we’re in/Arrive/Don’t go,” Cox sings to open the song. But as the song progresses, she starts to question, well, everything. And when that chap gets off that plane everything has changed. “Now I’m waiting by the exit and the people trickle in/And I don’t care if they see the car that I get back in/Surprise/I’m gone/Surprise/I’m gone.” Ouch. But how do I love this song? Let me count the ways …

You can find these songs and more on my Spotify playlist, Love Songs in the Key of Maine. Along with both happy and embittered tracks are a few covers like Kgfreeze’s take on Taylor Swift’s “Lover,” the OHX with Loretta Allen version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and Jennifer Porter singing the standard “The Way You Look Tonight.”

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Peter and Kara Dugan Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff

Now then, should you want to take your valentine, or even just yourself out for some live music on actual Valentine’s Day, which falls this year on a Monday, Portland Chamber Music Festival has just the show.

“Love Stories” features pianist Peter Dugan, host of National Public Radio’s “From the Top,” with his wife, mezzo soprano Kara Dugan. The program reaches far and wide, from Schubert to Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Dorsey and George Gershwin. You’ll also hear a piece by Florence Price, the first Black American woman to have an orchestral piece played by a major American orchestra. Additionally, Grammy-nominated violinist Melissa Reardon will accompany the Dugans on Brahms’ Zwei Gesänge (“Two Songs”) for voice, viola and piano.

Not only that, every attendee will leave with a free “Sweet Heat” drink infusion kit from Vena’s Fizz House.

Portland Chamber Music Festival: Love Stories
6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 14. Mechanic’s Hall Ballroom, 519 Congress St., Portland, $75 reserved seating, $45 general admission, $25 for first time PCMF concert-goers (limited availability). pcmf.org


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