Ordinary Elephant’s Pete Damore and Crystal Hariu-Damore. PHOTO PROVIDED/Kim Still
COTTAGE GROVE – An intimate crowd at the Cottage Events Venue was treated to an evening anything but ordinary last Thursday.
Looking like they just walked out of a Dorothea Lange photograph, a husband/wife duo stood out in the simple, cream-colored setting of the venue as their Americana band, ”Ordinary Elephant,” brought soulful songs to Cottage Grove in their first appearance.
Their newest album ”Honest,” released in May, has been acclaimed by the Associated Press, Popmatters, and has charted number one on the Folk Charts.
They played an unplugged show using just one area microphone that picked up their sound with clarity. Main vocalist Crystal Hariu-Damore strummed solid rhythm guitar, while Pete Damore alternated between clawhammer banjo, octave mandolin accompaniment and vocal harmonies.
Music was the Damores hobby, turned into a calling. They had both trained for other professions – Pete as a computer programer, Crystal as a veterinary cardiologist. They came to the realization that they were destined to become a ”nomadic roots folk duo” after Pete met Crystal at an open mic night in College Station. The two later moved to Houston, Texas, and embracing music as a livelihood, the couple and their four dogs later moved into a home on wheels, taking their show on the road.
There was none of that rock star egomania that sometimes accompanies performers. Between songs, they took turns revealing snippets of their lives and the origins of each song. Crystal also shared several of her poems that she has collected into a book, ”Words to Read.”
It is a rare treat to hear distinctly well-crafted lyrics. Their voices weave together intricately; with wistful harmonies, a sound is crafted which is both bittersweet and haunting.
The Damores said they have daily writing exercises in which they spend 10 minutes focused on a random object and record their flow of consciousness. Many of Crystal’s poems have come from these exercises, she said, noting that it is important to always have your songwriting radar on, because you never know when you will come across the seed of the next song that will sprout and grow.
Every song on ”Honest” is a piece of journeyman songwriting. The song ”If I Am Being Honest” talks about what parents should be teaching their children, as they are being raised in an uncertain world with so much division.
”The War” came out of a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. and serendipitously coming upon the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Crystal related that to hear the number of dead is one thing, but to see all the names was overwhelming. The song speaks to the living casualties whose names are missing from the memorial but carry the burden of war just the same.
Other songs came from family, such as ”Railroad Man,” about Crystal’s father and the grandmother who raised him, which is found on their second album, ”Before I Go.”
Their name is a reminder that there is no such thing as an ”ordinary” elephant, that we are surrounded by a world full of seemingly ordinary things that – under closer examination – have unique and magical qualities. You can’t lump them all into a generic form of grey.
Ordinary Elephant reached their last song too soon, even though the hour was getting late.