Blues veteran James Montgomery returns to Milly’s Tavern on April 25 and, continuing a tradition begun when the occasional series launched in 2012, the harmonica player and singer has invited a female guitar player to open the show, and sit in with his band at night’s end.
Danielle Miraglia should complement Montgomery nicely. Steeped in Delta blues, with a thumb-and-finger picking style owing plenty to her role model Mississippi John Hurt and a bit to the Piedmont school of guitar playing. She’s a musical dynamo who sings with gutsy passion, blows a mean harp and writes songs both tender and timely. Only the “g” in her name is silent.
A few inches north of five feet tall, Miraglia also proves the adage that great things come in small packages. She performs on a tall stool while toe-tapping rhythm on a custom-built percussion board she calls “Stompee.”
“I paid full price for red Frye boots, and I justify the expense by saying they’re a musical instrument,” Miraglia said after a recent set at Sunapee Coffee House. “I used to sit on a chair and I needed to be higher, so I came up with this thing shaped like a U … a friend of mine who can build anything made it for me.”
Miraglia found her blues muse as a teenager listening to Janis Joplin on a Walkman as she strolled along Revere Beach. Before then, she fancied herself a rocker.
“When I decided I wanted to play guitar, I loved heavy metal,” she said. “Guns ‘n Roses; then Hendrix and Zeppelin.”
Knocking around the mid-’90s Cambridge/Somerville open mike scene, she found the blues.
“I started hearing that sound and found that fingerpicking was more comfortable to me,” she said. “When I got a Gibson J-45, it changed everything. It taught me how to play; I never wanted to put it down.”
Her affection is evident; the six-string acoustic is scuffed from use, looking three times its age and imbued with soul. To hone her skills, Miraglia took lessons from local guitarist Jeff Bartley — “great fingerpicker with wonderful tone” — and studied archival footage of Hurt’s playing. She watched Happy Traum and John Sebastian instructional videos interpreting the blues master’s style.
Throughout, “I tried to find my own feel, not belabor every tiny note that happens,” she said. “Because that’s not my nature. By not copying it exactly, I found my own way.”
After graduating from Emerson College, she continued to play out in Boston area bars, honing her onstage patter and writing songs. In 2001, getting laid off from a day job became a sign to play music full time. Miraglia released her first CD that year.
Vocally, Miraglia echoes her idol Janis and white blues great Bonnie Bramlett and evinces stunning sensitivity as a songwriter. She held the coffeehouse crowd rapt on “You Don’t Know Nothin’.” From her 2005 album Nothing Romantic, the song about easy judgment closely reflects the current political divide. “Loud Talker” is a charmer, a sexy shuffle about a bar scene that’s drunken or bipolar — take your pick. “Hold me, don’t let me be lonely … get off of me,” she sings.
She tells charming stories, about her father’s lifelong frustration with Red Sox preceding “So Close” and getting sucked into her new mother in law’s enthusiasm for big weddings to introduce the love song “You Make Everything Better.”
Her Coffee House set closed with “Choir,” a sing-along perfect for the Sunapee church basement setting, and an apt reflection of the 1960s spirit and modern doubt at the heart of Miraglia’s music.
“When Dylan sang his words into the wind, it rumbled like a universal hymn … no one was listening but the choir.”
As seen in the April 24, 2014 issue of the Hippo.