Selected Book Reviews
The Ballad of Louis Wagner and Other New England Stories in Verse
By John Perrault, photographs by Peter E. Randall
Reviewed by Rebecca Rule in the Concord Sunday Monitor , 12/21/03
First, a poem for the season from Portsmouth Poet Laureate John Perrault. It's called "The Piano":
A cottage left for winter can be rough--
cold scuffs the floor boards in the hall,
the walls creak and shiver with the wind
and closet doors tend to click, unclick,
as if trying to latch on to something
close at hand, but can't connect.
In the cupboard, thank god, the bottle
didn't freeze, icicles rattle
in my glass; I pass the salted windows
wrapping every room except the den--
dark as ever--yet, in the mirror
on the mantle, my children swim.
The upright in the corner wears a sheet
of white, the angels in the photograph--
wings. I pour another scotch, spread
my fingers out to find the key of C
for "Silent Night" and sing it flat--
no matter--nobody here but me.
Perrault's first book, The Ballad of Louis Wagner , is not a collection of poetry. It has some poems in it. Also songs. And quite a few examples the particular kind of traditional story-song called "ballad." John Perrault is a man of words and music, with an emotion-graveled voice just right for singing about, say, the infamous Isles of Shoals murders of 1873 ("Ballad of Louis Wagner"); the epic life and haunting death of "the sachem, last Abnaki chief to make war in New Hampshire," Chocorua; the tragedy of the submarine Squalus, built at the Portsmouth Yard, that sank on sea trial with fifty-nine men, echoing the tragedies of the Stickleback and the Thresher. Perrault offers these original ballads on the page--which is one experience; then he offers them again on CD, voiced and enhanced with guitar, harmonica, violin, flute, bass, piano, bouzouki, drums (not all at the same time)--which is another experience entirely. To see these stories on the page, then hear them transformed into music is fascinating, and moving.
As if that weren't enough, add dimension three: black-and-white photographs by Peter Randall, one of our state's best photographers and most dedicated publishers of books of substance and regional interest. Randall received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Hampshire Writers' Project in 1992, and the Granite State Award for contributions to the state of New Hampshire from UNH a year later. Like Perrault, he's one of our cultural treasures. His photograph of Anethe Matea Christensen's rose-engraved gravestone--"Born in Norway Oct. 11 1847, Died Mar. 6 1873"--adds poignancy to Perrault's bloody tale. Randall's portrait of the Gerald McLees--proud and clear-eyed, wearing eighty years on his skin, hair smoothed back, strong-jawed, firm mouthed--further humanizes the tragedy of the Squalus. McLees was on board when the submarine went down, Perrault tells us in his preface to the ballad. "We knew they'd come and get us," McLees told Perrault. And so they did. "After thirty-nine hours in the pitch-black sub" on the ocean's floor two hundred forty feet down, men were rescued by diving bell, a few at a time. Each rescue took two hours. Twenty-six men, caught on the wrong side of a hatch in the initial accident, didn't make it.
Read the details, look into the man's face as caught in Peter Randall's lens, read John Perrault's three-page ballad, then listen to the music of it on the CD: Extraordinary.
This is essential New Hampshire : our history, people, geography, and culture from Smuttynose to Umbagog, Chocorua, Newfields, Rye , Winnipesaukee, and Newfound.
Poet Celebrates Intimate Connection with the Lyric
Review of The Ballad of Louis Wagner and other New England Stories in Verse by Hannah Merker , Maine Sunday Telegram , June 13, 2004
The storyteller, N. Scott Momaday tells us, "begins at the place of infinite possibility." That place is very much present in John Perrault's renderings of events that scar and/or shape our emotional lives.
Perrault, a lawyer in Maine and New Hampshire , a teacher of lyric, poetry, literature and politics, is Portsmouth 's poet laureate and a folkore-singing musician performing in libraries, coffeehouses and other small venues.
Occasionally he is accompanied by other musicians, "but more often I do readings and presentations solo," with his guitar.
"When," I ask, "do you have time for law"?
It bespeaks confidence in me, a deaf woman, that the features editor of this newspaper sent Perrault's utterly delightful book and its enclosed CD to me to review.
I would need a set of ears to review this one, I mused upon seeing "Ballad" in my pink mail-box. Yes, I do have those cartilaginous flaps on either side of my head. They gather sound. It is the connection from inner ear to brain that is missing. Thus, for more than three decades, I have been an archaeologist digging for sound, for its origins, its wondrous manifestations both hidden and overt. For knowledge of what has sound attached to it (memory oft forgets), I borrow ears. My third set of trotting ears, my hearing guide dog, Smudge, translates much of our noisy world for me, but her linguistic skills are limited. I enlisted the expert ears of a colleague, Linda Bridges of Portland, to listen to Perrault's CD, attached to the back cover of his book.
This is Perrault's first book, a print edition of his ballads, poems he has written over the years, many recorded on albums. For this book he has reworked a few, "put a little order in their lives, given them a new lease on life." The ballads derive from the English/Scottish tradition, which concerns itself with the tellings of murders, hangings, broken-hearted lovers and the occasional ghost.
Several of these ballads have historical roots. Others, he writes, "are human compositions set in historical landscapes." He tells me he has been privileged to know and work with some of these composites, "moved to imagine their lives, their small joys and quiet sufferings. They are as real to me--and therefore matter--as much as any historical figure can ever be."
Perrault's intimate connection with lyric, with Maine and New England history, is evident in the brief prologues he offers the reader with each ballad. There is essential drama in narrative literature impelling intense concentration upon the listener, even with knowing that the characters are "poised for calamity right from the first stanza."
Peter Randall's vivid, often stark photographs preceding most of the pieces, lead us into the tragic, the nostalgic, creating mood. There is the photo of the gravestones of the two young women of the Isles of Shoals, killed on Smuttynose in 1873 by the ax of Louis Wagner, the ballad a graphic, bloody etching. Part of the mind-capturing of ballads is the refrain, a recurring heartbeat, placing us at the scene. In Perrault's colorful recall of a horrific event, he sings:
"Louis, Louis Wagner, the noose will fit you tight--
silver chain around your neck, silver in your eyes,
silver in your Judas soul that never never dies."
Later it will be, "Louis, Louis Wagner, rowing through the night," and again, near the end, "Louis, Louis Wagner, raging in the night!"
Linda Bridges, my ears, listening to the CD for me, comments: "He has a rough, gritty voice. He bears a resemblance to Bob Dylan in the music and lyrics, his voice a bit more like Tom Waits, who is known for his rasping voice. One of the joys of this CD is the familiarity of places named--street names, the Isles of Shoals, Perrault's tales are haunting. Some are sad, poignant, sometimes touched with humor."
"I've been a Thoreau groupie since high school," Perrault begins in his prologue to the "Ballad of Henry D." "Thoreau has been a thorn in the side of authority for over one hundred and fifty years." I smiled reading the refrain that begins, "David Henry, Henry D." It is infrequent to see Thoreau's real name, David Henry, which he reversed, favoring the name Henry. There are such neat references to Thoreau's avoidance of the parental business, making pencils: "work for them means pencils, and pencils--I just can't--my kind of work is out in nature's manufacturing plant."
Then there is the ballad about Sonny, back from Vietnam , a soul lost in uncertainty, returning and leaving home, returning again, until he finds at last that his wife has taken another lover.
From Linda: "In 'Sonny's Back' there is a flute in the background&and, too, a bass and light piano&this is my favorite song, so evocative of the familiar, Sonny's wife in the doorway, not knowing what to say to him at this latest appearance, his young son running off, un able to speak to the father never there for him."
A classic photo of a survivor of the sinking of the submarine Squalus off Portsmouth , where it was built, shows an 80-year-old veteran Perrault interviews, his inspiration for the ballad:
"There's water up around our knees, before the bulkhead closes, twenty-six men on the other side, I can still hear their voices."
Yearnings, memories of historic events, of people and their joys, their sorrows, have been commemorated in song for centuries. Yet it was the 19 th century "English Romantic Poets who embraced an old form, the folk ballad, as a fundamental source of the poetic spirit." Perrault notes, collecting and preserving an entire body of literature for song, as relevant today an in any other time.
Perrault refers to Robert Frost, who argued that the ballad "calls out for its voice to rise and sing the story."
"The story," he writes, "continues to be a tragic one. Why? Perhaps for the same reason that we find ourselves, time and again, watching that rerun of ' Casablanca ' a story of a world where things don't always turn out well&death waits, smoking a cigarette."
Right now, Perrault's writing project (well, one of them) is trying to incorporate American historical figures into songs.
"So far my Jefferson is complete."
I think--although their lyric voices are so different--of a university colleague of mine in New York . A much published poet, Patti Tana, in the preface to one of her books, wrote: "The poem is a pause in the moving stream of experience. When I write a poem I try to cup the moment--fluid and fragile--in my hands."
They are on the same wave-length, Patti and John--and we need them, storytellers, perhaps more than at any other time in history, art epitomized, created out of the chaos of the larger, and our individual, worlds.
--Hannah Merker is a free-lance writer from Bristol .
Portsmouth Man Making Poetry Matter
Review of The Ballad of Louis Wagner and other New England Stories in Verse by Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds in Manchester 's City Paper, The Hippo , Feb. 26--March 3, 2004
Poet Dana Gioia asked the important and somewhat chilling question, "Can Poetry Matter?" in his now famous essay of 1991. John Perrault is a living "yes" to that question.
Perrault has made poetry matter enough to become the poet laureate of Portsmouth , the only New England city to have one, as far as I know. He is a public poet and a New Hampshire original.
Two things are necessary to make poetry more accessible and meaningful to a general audience: performance and narrative. Perform it, instead of analyzing it. Read it aloud. For poetry to connect with people it must connect with the great and common themes of human life. This means telling stories in one form or another: epic, ballad, song or poem.
Since our last great public poet, Robert Frost, we have lost the story-telling power of poetry, and thus its popularity.
In his new book, "The Ballad of Louis Wagner and Other New England Stories in Verse," Perrault writes in the great epic tradition of Longfellow, telling a recognizable story which is part of our own history. As a New Englander, Perrault writes poetry that makes us feel our roots sucking up nourishment from deep beneath the soil. He moves us from a bloody crime on Smuttynose to the noble death of Chocorua, from Thoreau's cabin in the Walden woods to the docks of Portsmouth . He covers the range of the human condition with tragedy and comedy, crime and punishment, war and peace, and all in our New England . Perrault introduces us to people and places we already know, but now we see them in a new and memorable light. These are the concerns of us all, not just the poets.
True poetry is also music to ear and heart. Ezra Pound said that "poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music." Perrault's poetry is conceived not first on paper but by ear, guitar in hand. One reason our generation is disconnected from poetry is that it thinks only of reading it silently, and is thus easily bored. We hear the words of radio, television and CD, but not firsthand. If poets give people something worth hearing live, they tap into one of the great needs of the human soul.
The folk tradition seems the perfect vehicle for Perrault's ballads and songs, sung to keep the oral memory alive. The CD that accompanies the book contains ten ballads and five songs. The book's remaining fifteen poems must be read aloud to show their own unique musicality. Perrault's music also makes poetry matter.
Live performance and storytelling power are needed to put poetry back in the heart of our culture. I do not know enough to say that this is happening in any broad way in our culture, but I do know that it is happening in Portsmouth , as I hope it will in Manchester .
The arid calculations of modernity, with its mass-marketed commerce, have left us thirsty for the authentic experience of the lyrical and the transcendent. The privacy of print must now give way to the publicity of reading and song. Read a poem silently. Then read it aloud. The n listen to Perrault, with Dylan-like drama, sing. You'll be a convert. Of course, you must buy the book, with CD tucked in the cover, for the experiment. You will not be sorry.
--Dr. Reynolds is pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester and author of "The Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age."
Further Book Review Excerpts of Ballad of Louis Wagner
"For his book and accompanying CD of ballads, Mr. Perrault has taken some liberties with the form, allowing the musical line (for he has set all of these ballads, these poems, to music) to dictate the length of his lines, whereas the traditional ballad consisted of quatrains of alternating iambic tetrameter (four beats to the line) with iambic trimeter (three beats). But he has stayed true to the spirit of the form, especially in the chilling and horrifyingly riveting title ballad, "Louis Wagner." The story is a familiar one to ballads: one of betrayal and greed leading to murder, with overtones of the supernatural. There's even a nice borrowing from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's own take on the ballad, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," in that the ghost of the title character--after he has been caught and executed for murdering two women for what he believes will be a cache of hidden riches on a lonely Maine coastal island--feels compelled to confess his sordid tale to each new listener . Perrault was wise to make this poem the focus and introduction to his collection, for it immediately grabs our attention with its powerful, terrifying story that echoes Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment , and for its wonderfully evocative tune.
Another high point is "Ballad of the Squalus," a pre-World War II era submarine that sank in 1939 because "the main engine induction valve failed to close and the ocean rushed in." Out of a crew of 59, 33 men were saved. This is a ballad in the tradition of naval disasters, and it reminds me of the two great songs that Phil Ochs wrote about submarines that came to grief".
Of the songs that Perrault would not label ballads my favorite is the Frostian "Before You Go." Strangely, however, this is the most traditional ballad in this book, since it follows the quatrain form and metrical pattern perfectly and its narrative is subtly implied, as is the case of the classic ballad, which eschews character development for hints about the action. In this case, in a New England winter landscape two lovers (possibly a Romeo and Juliet situation) are saying good-bye, maybe for the last time, her car is waiting to take her away, and the narrator asks her to walk a little way with him, through the cold and snow, to put off her permanent departure, like something Woody Guthrie would have composed in a gentler, non-political mood.
--Bob Cooperman, in Hard Row to Hoe , spring, 2004
"In New Hampshire , the ballad torch has long been carried by folk singer/song-writer/poet/attorney John Perrault". The book is somewhat uncommon in that it allows Perrault's ballads and songs to stand for themselves as poems without music. They're so strong visually and emotionally that one could read this solely as a book of poetry. They are still songs". Some of Perrault's tragedies are emotional rather than physical, but the pain is no less real. "The whole notion of the way the Viet vets were treated," Perrault says, "has been something that's been sort of gnawing in my head and my heart for a long period of time." "Sonny's Back" reverses the usual heart break ballad story where someone leaves. Here, a soldier returning from Vietnam is rejected by the family he has neglected:
"Ma's been seeing Benny Woods on week-ends,
he bought me and Jesse each a twenty-two;
Jakata sits up on his lap, she likes him,
Christmas time, we never heard from you--
the Penobscot's running salmon just like you promised,
I've been waiting on you and them this year and last;
tonight you both show up, its' kind of senseless,
Benny said he'd go away if you came back."
--Kris Garnjost in Jam Music Magazine , February, 2004
Here Comes the Old Man Now, by John Perrault (Oyster River Press)
From Comstock Reveiw: Portsmouth (NH) Poet-Laureate John Perrault is the author of Here Comes the Old Man Now (Oyster River Press, 2005), one of 2005's best poetry collections, filled with wit, wonder, and written with a fine lyric gift. These wide-ranging, affirmative, heartfelt poems sing their truths, bring sheer delight. Highly recommended.
From Poet Betsy Sholl, author of Don't Explain (U. of Wisconsin Press), and Coastal Bop (Oyster River Press):
John Perrault has an eye for the way daily life can become suddenly luminous, and an ear--an unerring ear--for vivid and precise language, for the nuances that shift such language into song. He is equally adept at free and formal verse, converting his rich insights into delicate lyrics of desire, regret and awe. Whether he's talking about family or his New England coastal landscape, matters of physical health or travels to distant lands, we can trust that this poet is willing to "tread in the dark between waves, waiting for whatever it is" that will "open to us underneath our lives and speak."
From The Midwest Book Review: ...all in all a great work reflecting our journey through life....A work to be shared and a work to be cherished.
From Elizabeth Antalek in The Wire (6/01/05): ...The book is divided into four parts introduced by epigraphs. The first, from a French troubadour, serves its purpose admirably, setting the tone for what follows. "It is worthless to write a line/if the song proceed not from the heart," goes the translation, and Perrault clearly heeds this counsel in the 14 poems about his family that comprise the first section. In poems about his parents, such as "Here Comes the Old Man Now" and "Airing Out the Upstairs," the theme is not just of their passage into old age and death, but of the poet recognizing his advancement into their vacated roles and spaces: "...I swear/it's his smell on this neck. His sweat running down these arms."
From Darryl Cauchon in Foster's Sunday Citizen (6/05/05): ..a strong follow-up to The Ballad of Louis Wagner and other New England Stories in Verse...(t)here seems to be something for everyone in Here Comes the Old Man Now. This book is better when read slowly, taking time to ponder the true or hidden meanings stashed away in each (poem).
From Rebecca Rule in the Herald Sunday (6/19/05): ...John Perrault--just finishing up his term as Portsmouth poet laureate--offers the earthy (and by that I mean connected to the earth, conscious of life cycles and, particularly, mortality) Here Comes the Old Man Now.
From Josh Bodwell in the York County Coast Star (7/14/05): ...It's evident from Here Comes the Old Man Now that whether John Perrault is up a ladder painting his farmhouse, out in a rowboat with the ghost of his father, or in an old oak chair in the courtroom, he has the heart and vision of a poet--open to receive the many blessings of the everyday.
From Steve Sherman in The Keene Sentinel (8/21/05): John Perrault begins his book of poetry Here Comes the Old Man Now with the haunting title poem that confronts deep human interiors. Perrault writes the powerful line, "He doesn't look so old now that he is dead." The first six heart-wrenching poems alternate focus between father and mother....In the last section...Perrault puts together the 14-line "Trip," so big in scope and ambiance, so compact in deliberate, evocative words, that the appetite for satisfaction and wanting more share each other.
From Dana Wilde in the Bangor Daily News (10/17/05): ...Perrault's poems also seem authentic in their treatment of intensely personal material....His lyrics are shaped from standard postwar forms that owe their irregular lines and speech-like rhythms--as well as their sometimes standalone imagery--largely to William Carlos Williams....(T)here's no mistaking the down-to-earth thought or feeling he intends to convey.
From John Michael Albert in Animus, #16: ....Each poem rests so lightly on the page, the reader falls into it almost effortlessly....But the greatest gift Perrault possesses is his gift to make a serious point through gentle, often self-effacing, humor...
From Claire Hersom in Off the Coast, Jan. 2006: Perrault's work is a clear and precise, well-organized, thought-out book of poetry that twists and wraps the reader into its intimacy through image and language. Its energy, its folklore tone; its deliberate construction is so well hidden in an apparently non-deliberate effort, he achieves the most delightful ruse; hiding exquisite depth behind sparse word.
Excerpts from Reviews of John's Recordings
Rough Cuts :
It's amazing how much comfort you find in the expression "Some things get better with age" as you age. As many good things as John Perrault has given us in the past, Rough Cuts is better.
As is his custom, Perrault has enlisted the best musicians on the seacoast to assist him: David Surette, Harvey Reid, Ellie May Shufro, Susie Burke, Jim MacDougall, Barbara London, Rick Watson, Cormac McCarthy. His prime helper, though, is harmonica wizard Mike Rogers.
Rough Cuts opens with "Lucky Jim," and you immediately think it can't get any better than this.
Okay, maybe it doesn't get better, but to maintain this level of quality through 13 songs is an enormous feat. Perrault and Rogers do though . With the simplest of images, Perrault creates a feeling of loneliness so palpable in "Twelfth Night" you'll reach for a phone just to talk to someone you know."Road to California" is so perfect an evocation of youth passed by that even a younger person might understand from listening to it what he or she is in danger of letting slip away.
Each and every song will touch some deep feeling in almost everyone.
-- Face Magazine , February 3-16, 1999.
"In reviews of his early albums, many of the critics have called Perrault a poet. I would call him a painter whose working medium is words . The pictures he creates are wonderful. The image of the old street singer in "Lucky Jim" is vivid and the winter night described in "Before You Go" almost makes you shiver. If I had to pick my favorite of his songs, it would have to be the introspective artistry of "Six Steps" and the inspiring coming-of-age story of "Guy Next Door."
Excellent renditions of four folk classics round out the album: "Another Man Done Gone," "Cripple Creek," "The Cuckoo," and Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi" touch that sing-a-long reflex that's hiding in all of us. The harmony singing on " Cripple Creek " is especially contagious.
--Kris Garnjost in Jam Music Magazine , May, 1999.
John Perrault is a true country poet . His gruff, storyteller's voice imbues the songs on Rough Cuts with an engaging, road-weary realism. Blessed with an unwavering ear for melody, and a weathered grace Perrault delivers a collection of vivid, melancholy, gritty, folk/country tales that transcend the genre. A fine, fine album that cuts across all boundaries.
-- Northeast Performer , April 1999.
Before You Go :
Before You Go is such an immensely beautiful collection of music, that it's hard to break down . John Perrault, Barbara London and Jim MacDougall have teamed up to create a haunting work of art.
...there truly is one song that is far superior to the rest, which makes me long for more as powerful and emotional as it. " Wounded Knee ," one of Perrault's rerecorded compositions, has a wonderful flair and historical value that is a quintessential folk song. This particular recording includes an absolutely mesmerizing flute part, which doubles as the vocal harmony to Perrault. London 's soprano also accompanies with a similar quality to her flute's....
--William A. Huffman in Jam Music Magazine , March, 1997
Country Matters :
I don't know how old John Perrault is, but I would guess he's somewhere in his fifth decade. So maybe it will seem funny to accuse him of maturity at this point, but what I'm talking about is maturity as a songwriter. It's easier to know what that sounds like than it is to describe what it is, but basically it's this : the songs themselves make you listen. The swords fit the music, and the package strikes the listener about halfway between the eardrum and the cerebral cortex. You don't dispose of this stuff, you install it like a new appliance. It's something to be lived with.
Country Matters is flat out the best record to come from the northeast in at least two years. The songs and poems (there are three of the latter) all are written by Perrault and are superb (though a couple are even better than that), and the studio help is flawless. (Mike Rogers on harp, Susie Burke on vocals and Jim MacDougall on piano and bass stand out, while Ellie May Shufro, Barbara London and Rick Watson make key contributions.)
On top of the heap is "The Ballad of Billy Ockham (There Goes Billy Down the Wrong Track)." In light of recent events in Biddeford (coincidentally, the fictional Billy's point of origin), it's particularly biting indictment of institutions' inability to handle juvenile maladjustment becomes extra poignant. It's romping tempo belies its serious matter, and you know that somewhere Phil Ochs is smiling.
The other master stroke is "Blue Tail Jay" in which Perrault traces members of a food chain and wonders why they aren't more wary of their pursuers: the blue jay of the cat, the cat of the bulldog,. He of man and man of himself.
--Benny Green in Face Magazine , February 1-14, 1989.
Tenants in Common :
If they ever elect a poet laureate for the Granite State , I'm voting for John Perrault I know he's a singer. But he sings poems ".
Last Week when Fishtraks Records released Tenants in Common , the latest collection of Perrault's musical poems, I finally got up the guts to call. "Are you free for lunch?" the singer said. I'm a writer; we're free all the time.
I wanted really badly to tell John that the love song "A Second Time Around" is his most beautiful melody. This new cassette is the richest Perrault production to date. I love the way Charlie Jennison's flute, Ellie May Shufro's violin, and Mike Rogers' harmonica intertwine like a fine braid. There's a moving ballad called "Sonny's Back" about a man returning from Vietnam who finds his family life shot to hell. The clipped dialogue between Sonny Field and his wife Lucina plays against Perrault's soft painting of their world. The story-song lasts seven and a half minutes. Perrault is in no hurry.
--J. Dennis Robinson in the Rockingham Gazette , January 9, 1985
New Hampshire :
The best song on John Perrault's New Hampshire album is "The Ballad of Louis Wagner," a nine minute epic of greed, betrayal, and murder that ranges from a Portsmouth fishermen's bar across wintry seas to the Isles of Shoals. "Ballad" suggests that Louis--hanged in 1875--still haunts the Portsmouth waterfront, the silver chain he killed for turned to a noose around his neck.
Perrault first heard the story from Rosamond Thaxter, a grandniece of Shoals poetess Celia Thaxter, who was on the Isle when the deed was done. It is a classic tale, but its power comes from Perrault's impassioned singing and guitar playing. And his lyric is perfect, leaping into madness at the moment of murder: "The axe! The blood! The sky! The moon! The pounding of the sea!"
Poetry is at the heart of Perrault's music . "Cog rail Ride" is just another railroad song until you go back and listen to the lyric. It takes 2 or 3 listenings to realize that Corinna in the intricate and affecting " Mad River Road " is as much symbol as flesh. Like all good poetry, the album reveals new and deeper meanings and dimension with each play.
--Joel Brown in Sweet Potato , March 17, 1982
Thief in the Night :
Thief in the Night was released two weeks ago by the Vermont-based recording company (Philo/Fretless) oriented toward folk and traditional music. Perrault also produced the record.
From the easy rolling country music of "Rolling into Burlington " to the hard-to-keep still, foot tapping sound of "Rock and Root" and "Automobile Blues," the musician comes alive. Then he slows down the tempo to a haunting blues in "Change of Mind" and the quiet stillness in "Minnesota Morning." The song "Rosalie," gives him credit for its pure folk ballad format and the title song, "Thief in the Night," speaks with the poetic richness of Perrault the poet.
--Katrina Richardson in the Concord Monitor , November 18, 1977
Excerpts from Performance Reviews :
Perrault releases 'Ballads' like memories into city air
There's something thrilling about seeing someone alone on stage, holding an audience. Portsmouth Poet Laureate John Perrault celebrated the publishing of his first book, The Ballad of Louis Wagner , at the Press Room last week in just such a fashion. He started out the event by sitting alone on the stage, guitar cradled in his arms, and telling a story.
This was as it should be. Perrault looks like a New England poet: tall and straight and lean as the top rail of a country fence, a little worn, too, but that's from experience, from being useful and sturdy.
I was, just for the moment, watching John up on the stage. A true performer doesn't have to trick the experience up with dancers and lighting and sound effects and visual blasts of light. You look at an old tape of Sinatra and what's he got up on stage with him? A microphone.
Now such confidence is unheard of--at least in the national arena. But it seems to me around here there are plenty of people who know what they're doing.
Perrault was introducing a story about Henry David Thoreau, called "Ballad of Henry D."
"You know he was from a family of pencil makers," said Perrault. And he told a story about Ralph Waldo Emerson showing up at Thoreau's jail cell to inquire about the young man. "People say they're not sure if the story is true, but I like it and that's why I threw it in," said Perrault.
Perrault's book comes with a CD of all the ballads, so you can not only read them, but hear the spare, lovely tunes he's written. Some of these tunes sound to me like they've been dug up out of the rocky New England soil; they've organic to the place. They are both familiar and mysterious at the same time. Have I heard the story of Louis Wagner before? Sure, but I've seen thousands of New England farms, too, and that doesn't mean I don't stop when one looks particularly beautiful.
Perrault sings in a voice slightly rough, without great range, but with great expression and fun and clarity&.
I was thinking of Gerry McLees, an old sailor who was aboard the Squalus when it sank and then, having survived, signed up for a hitch of submarine duty during World War II.
Tough old bird, I thought. I was happy to see him there, happy he looked well, and how he links us still to this very important piece of Portsmouth history:
McLees he sipped his coffee, stared out at the rain,
"I don't get out so much today," he said. "You know this town has really changed.
I guess I just lost track of time, it's about that time to go.
Why twenty-six men and not fifty-nine? Well that I'll never know."
The "Ballad of the Squalus" ends with the refrain: "It was down at Portsmouth Yard"--where the Squalus was built--and Perrault mentions that the Abenaki word "Piscataqua" means "the dividing place of waters." Perrault also joked, given the long-running border dispute between the two states, that the "Abenakis knew that Maine was on that side and New Hampshire on this side."
--Lars Trodson in Portsmouth Times , April 22, 2004
"John Perrault is a folk balladeer. He takes the music of our hearts&and tells our collective stories&.He may set you to thinking and he may get your toes a tapping, but you won't be bored and you bon't be lonesome."
--Connie Bowblis, Folk Music Director, WKNH, Keene , NH
"I particularly want to thank you for visiting my literature classes. Both groups of students have expressed their gratitude and delight at having met you. They deeply enjoyed your energy and enthusiasm, your obvious love and mastery of poetry, and your willlingness to spend time with them.. They were delighted to hear a practicing poet talk about writers that they had heard of, using the poetic vocabulary that they have been studying. They also greatly enjoyed learning about the natural connections between poetry and music...."
--David Susman, Liberal Studies Faculty, York County Community College
"John's Ballad Program proved both educational and entertaining. He's wonderfully talented and an excellent communicator."
--Nancy Viehmann, Edlerhostel Director, University of New England
"John Perrault's performance of traditional ballads was excellent, but when he sang his own 'Ballad of Louis Wagner,' he electrified the audience."
--Bonnie Gardner, Library Director, Weeks Public Library, Greenland , NH
Folk-singers John Perrault and Mike Rogers performed Civil War Songs for &(the) 8 th Grade American History classes. The students were entertained by songs ranging from Abe Lincoln's campaign song to a stirring ballad about the battle of Shiloh . Perrault and Rogers interspersed their songs with historical facts about this time period&.Following the timeline of history from slave songs to the stirring song of freedom chanted during the civil rights movement&Perrault and Rogers brought history alive for York Middle School historians."
--Eve Corey, York Middle School Teacher
"Mr. Perrault's manner of singing and chatting captivated and thoroughly entertained his audience. He was able to give backgrounds of many of the songs, especially one he wrote regarding the Smuttynose killings of long ago on the Isles of shoals."
--Gene Artis, Library Director, Goodwin Library, Farmington , NH