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After the fall: Beyond-country twang aces Sugar & The Plums plan on releasing their sex-and-booze-soaked first studio recording — a 10-song-er — in late March on local Manimal Records. No title has yet been determined.

Top open-mic addicts move on up

The first thing you notice about Matt Lambert is his smile. It’s not that hollow expression that doesn’t doesn’t quite reach the eyes, like you see with seasoned street musicians; no, this is a genuine, toothy grin.

Good thing, too. Nothing is worse than a disingenuous folk singer, and Asheville can claim more than its share of those.

Lambert, a college student by day, offers songs that ring as true as gospel to any believer in classic American folk. His tunes echo the familiar calls of Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Bob Dylan.

Street playing doesn’t always pay well, of course.

On a very good night — a holiday or a warm weekend evening — Lambert can pull in $50 in tips. Many evenings, however, the loose change in the bottom of his guitar case barely covers the cost of a decent meal and a cup of coffee.

But for Lambert, money isn’t really the point.

Mountain Xpress: “Tell me about the first time you ever played on a stage.”

Matt Lambert: “It was in Yellowstone, Wyo. I was working up there for the summer, at a pub where all the [Yellowstone Park] employees went. They did open-mics there. I played a song I wrote called ‘The Ballad of Sophia and the Seven Bells.’ It took two open-mics to play it, because there were too many words in the song, and I couldn’t remember all of them.”

MX: “What’s been one of your more memorable nights playing in Asheville?”

ML: “I thought this was pretty strange: I was playing on the street, and this guy comes up to me, [and he asks] me if I would sing him a song, even though he didn’t have any money to give me. I played him a Dylan song.

“So, I’m playing, and I’m not looking at the guy, but I start hearing him sniffle. I look up, and sure enough, he’s crying. I keep on playing the song, and he starts crying more intensely. Finally, I finish, and he looks up at me and tells me that he’s just gotten to town, he’s in bad shape and he’s got no place to go.

“Then … he asks me for money.”

MX: “And?”

ML: “I gave him four bucks and sent him to a coffee shop. He gave me a big man-hug. There’s a big thing about hugs here in Asheville.”

MX: “You, Aaron Gunn, Corey Parkhurst and George Glass [have] all sort of dominated the open-mic scene here in town, and yet now you’ve ‘moved on’ to being street musicians. You [four] also move in a group, and I’ve seen you play with one another frequently.

“The interesting part is that none of you have similar styles. You, for instance, have got a real folk-ballad style, while Corey is definitely influenced by old blues, Aaron’s music is more rock-oriented and George is exploring the darker side of the blues in the same vein as Tom Waits. You all play together, which seems like it would be disastrous … yet, for the most part, it works.”

ML: “It’s good to play with someone who can play something I can’t touch. I can learn from them. I mean, I’m not stuck on the whole folk thing — I like all sorts of music.

I remember the first night we met Aaron, and he was playing some British folk music. But when he took us back to his place, he had a really good collection of finger-pickin’ music — like Rev. Gary Davis-type stuff.

“I think we cross into each other’s categories with the music we listen to, but maybe not when it comes to playing. I’m sure I can’t play diminished chords like Aaron can. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

MX: “Corey Parkhurst told me he got arrested after a show [at Beanstreets] for wishing you a happy birthday. Tell me about that.”

ML: “It was my 21st birthday, so it was a big night, you know? After the show, I was standing outside, and Corey had just gotten into a van with some of his friends. … As he was leaving, he turned the curve and saw me standing outside. He leaned out of the van and yelled, ‘Happy birthday, motherf••ker!’

“After he turned the corner past us, he got pulled over by the cops. They thought he said, ‘F••k the Asheville police!’ or something. There was something like six cop cars out there by the time they finally arrested him.

“He had to go to court, and so I gave him a copy of my driver’s license, so he could prove it really was my birthday. He still got in trouble, though.”

MX: “He got 25 hours of community service — just for wishing you a happy birthday!”

ML: “Yeah, it’s a sad world.”

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