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Aztec Two-Step celebrates 45 years with two Maine concerts

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Rex Fowler (left) and Neal Shuman have spent the literal meaning of a lifetime making music together. Rex Fowler (left) and Neal Shuman have spent the literal meaning of a lifetime making music together. (Photo courtesy of ATS/Roy Gumpel)

PORTLAND/BANGOR - Legendary folk-rock duo Aztec Two-Step is set to return to Maine for two completely different back to back concerts on Nov. 18 and 19.

On Friday, Nov. 18, Aztec Two-Step will perform their award-winning 1986 album 'Living in America' in its entirety at Portland's One Longfellow Square. Added to the set will be a selection of fan favorites and classic cuts drawn from the group's rich catalog of songs.

The very next night, Aztec-Two Step will celebrate their 45th anniversary in Bangor at Gracie Theatre at Husson University. The concert will feature the group's greatest hits intertwined with songs from other classic duos who inspired and influenced Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman during their formative years. Fans can expect to hear Aztec Two-Step perform songs from such artists as Simon and Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers and other classic pop duos.

Forty-five years is virtually an eternity in the music business. In a recent phone interview from his home in Manhattan, I asked Neal Shulman if he and Rex Fowler consider the significance of such an anniversary.

'What would be the appropriate gift for the 45th?' Shulman asked with a laugh. 'Probably granite. We don't walk around feeling all of those 45 years all the time. We feel more into the present and recent past. Recognizing the date definitely has a lot to do with the fans.'

Those fans now have an opportunity to assist Fowler and Shulman in the completion of 'Naked,' the first album of freshly-recorded Aztec Two-Step material since 2011. A Kickstarter campaign was recently launched, offering fans a variety of levels and bonuses to choose from. For details, see the duo's Facebook page and visit www.AztecTwoStep.com .

I was afforded a preview of the album's title song, a melodic acoustic-based tune with a chorus that sounds tailor-made for an audience sing-along. The song's lyrics are a lament for our present time and suggest 'With a little push and shove and a lot of peace and love, maybe we'll break through.'

'Naked is about the world we live in,' Shulman said. 'It's a song about how we will maybe hopefully rise above all of these things that are troubling to society at large.'

Shulman says that the recording of the new album has been a very interesting process. 'We've started cutting some stuff and doing what we need to do in these days of getting the money to make an album. It's a whole other ballgame from when we started.'

Fowler and Shulman met by chance at an open mic night in a Boston folk club 45 years ago. They immediately started writing songs and performing them in New York City's Central Park. Before long, the duo was signed to Elektra Records and Aztec Two-Step started recording their classic self-titled debut album released in 1972.

'It was kind of a dream come true to be signed to a label, especially one whose records I grew up listening to,' Shulman told me. 'Elektra Records were one of the cream of the crop in that era. I grew up listening to Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, The Doors and others. They were a major label but they had kind of a boutique feel, so it was great for us.'

In the decades to follow, the duo recorded for RCA, Rounder, Planet Noise and other labels, all while continuing to perform an average of 100 concerts per year. In 1986, 'Living in America' received the New York Music Award for Best Folk Album and it appeared in the 'Best of the Year' column in Billboard's coveted critics poll.

The upcoming Aztec Two-Step concerts in Maine will be a homecoming of sorts for Rex Fowler, a native of Pittsfield.

'I love to get back to Maine when I can,' Fowler told me during a 2014 radio interview. 'I just love Maine. It's the most beautiful state in America without a doubt. In baseball, you have the five-tool player analogy and Maine has all of those - the rock-bound coast, the lakes, the mountains, the fields and streams. It's just an amazing place.'

'Being from Maine and going to Maine are both very important to Rex,' Shulman said. 'If the audiences in Bangor and Portland feel a connection with him because he's from the area, all the better.'

During my conversation with Neal Shulman, I told him about a local couple for whom their children threw an anniversary party just over ago. For this party, I was asked to play the music that was important to the family. Included in the playlist were many classic early Aztec Two-Step songs.

'I think that couple is probably a good representation of this audience that connected with us at a certain time in their lives and have stayed with us all the way through. We wouldn't be able to do this all these years later without them.'

(Tickets for Aztec Two-Step's 'Living in America' concert on Friday November 18 at One Longfellow Square in Portland are available at www.OneLongfellowSquare.com. Tickets for the duo's 45th anniversary show of classic hits and classic duos songs are available through a link at www.GracieTheatre.com and in person at Mark's Music in Brewer.)

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