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Mayer, Arizona, United States | INDIE

Mayer, Arizona, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Harps and Chords"

by Tom Irwin

I attended a folk-music conference in the last week of September in the Chicago area....The weekend event attracted around 100 musicians and several DJs, booking agents, promoters, presenters, and others...........
.......Of all the performers, though, one act stood out above the rest. Calling themselves D-Squared and hailing from Mayer, Ariz., a little village about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff, the players seemed to care more about their music than about promoting their shtick, which is rare at a conference designed for shameless self-promotion.
One of the husband/wife teams, D-Squared is Don Charles and Deb Gessner, both songwriters of distinction and originality and gifted and talented instrumentalists. Charles mostly plays a capoed guitar in particular tunings but strums a mandola and banjo as well. Gessner plucks a full-size harp and plays the concertina and accordion, too. His voice is a well-worn baritone, with a hint of Iowa folk singer Greg Brown’s phrasing but not his persistent overearnestness. Her voice is angelic and reaching, matching the soft and fluttering tone of the harp with ease. Their voices blend but balance each other, creating a unique sound from song to song, both in harmony and apart.
Not only do they write incredibly deep and provocative lyrical songs with familiar yet distinct melodies, but they also include instrumental pieces with striking tonal interplay, interpreting folk melodies and old songs with fresh originality.
Did I mention that I really like these guys? I haven’t even gotten to the part about spending hours in conversation with the couple at the FARM Gathering, discussing philosophy, ranching, farming, water rights, and land management in the American West; dry heat vs. Midwestern humidity; and even some musical ideas. Later that week they came and spent the night at our house while traveling between gigs in Iowa and Indiana.
That’s another fascinating aspect of the couple’s existence: They live on the road a good part of the year. Deb books tours — such as a recent run up through Wyoming and Montana, then over and down through the Northwest and California and back to Arizona — and stay at campgrounds when convenient, sleeping in their van. With Yippy the dog as their lone companion, these modern-day troubadours live as musical nomads, combining contemporary methods with age-old style.
Suffice it to say, they are the real thing — out playing music because they love to, want to and need to and because they can. Honor them with a listen as they stop in Springfield for a show while passing back through this way from Ohio, heading to Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado before returning home to Arizona. - Illinois Times

"Folk on the Fringe"

Remember the feeling when Christmas morning finally arrives and you pick up your present from under the tree, hoping with all your heart for a box of chocolates, but expecting to find more handerchiefs? You gently remove the ribbon and set the card aside not wishing to rush into the expected let down, only to find not one, but two, boxes of chocolates. Wrapping your lips around the rich dark coating you find centres of delight. Tastes beyond your hopes explode on your tongue as you bite into one after another.

This was my experience when I opened a parcel with a US stamp on it that arrived yesterday. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the chocolates hidden within matter of life & death and Big Sky Full O’ Dumb Stars. I will savour them even more as I share them with my listeners over the coming weeks, months and years.

PS: They’ve recently announced that dark chocolate is good for your heart. Surely your music must be the proof. - Phil Young, Presenter, Folk On The Fringe 3MDR, Melbourne, Australia

"Folk Harp Journal Review"

I am always on the lookout for people who are doing something different and innovative on the harp, and I think D Squared has discovered a whole new breadth of expression for the instrument. Deb Gessner’s harp interweaves gracefully with Don Charles’ guitar and vocals to create a new sound on the face of the singer-songwriter scene. The result is a stark and hypnotic landscape of sound, deftly drawing the picture of the great Southwest, their home. In their music, this duo from Arizona has chosen to tackle tough issues and the meaning of it all. The result is well worth checking out.

Their first release, matter of life & death, has an earthy feel, as if freshly dug from the parched soil. The CD opens with a highly-percussive, almost a capella song titled “Rain” which paints a picture of a rainstorm through the sounds of the congas, the harp and the vocals themselves. From this start, we proceed through a series of songs about such diverse subjects as the lottery, use of public lands (the great outdoors), baking bread and relationships. There’s a nice song about how we are tied to the earth, “The Wind in the Willow,” which features a delightful trade-off of lines between the guitar and the harp. Besides all these original songs, there is also a traditional Appalachian track, “Tater Patch/Little Red Rockin’ Chair,” which gives the impression of a gentle lullaby by the way the tunes are slowed down and backed by the harp in this arrangement.

My favorite things on this recording are the instrumentals. Almost tone poems, they delicately paint a picture of the subject matter through music. “When the Monsoons Finally Came” gives the textures and sounds of rain arriving in the parched Southwest. In “Whirlybird” we get the image of maple seeds spinning down from the trees, over and over again. My very favorite is titled “Aaron Dreams of Bees,” a musical story of a small boy busy gathering pollen with the bees. This waltz has just the right timbre, with the harp taking the lead with a slightly Slavic sound, backed by concertina, mandola and clarinet. It’s a merry-go-round of the joy of investigation.

Big Sky Full o’ Dumb Stars continues where the first recording left off. Featuring original songs that explore the sometimes bizarre, sometimes intense environment of what we call life, D Squared manages to capture the humor as well as the joy and the pain. Their love of music shines through on this recording.

There is a wider diversity of sounds on this second recording, although the harp still features prominently on many of the tunes. When it is not a featured instrument, it is deftly used to provide variety to music. Small harp riffs keep the music interesting, without overpowering the subtleties created by the varying sounds. Along with the harp, guitar and well-blended vocals are occasional uses of tenor banjo, mandolin, psaltery, accordion, concertina, harmonica and percussion.

D Squared advertises itself as being “Chamberfolk with a twist.” This description seems adequate, but incomplete. There is a certain chamber quality to the instrumentation — a delicate balance of strings and things carefully blended to create the atmosphere of the music. The vocals add a completely different dimension, however, bringing in a bit of an Simon and Garfunkel feel. Unusual, unclassifiable tunes such as “Sparrows Falling,” a prayer of a mother as her only son departs from home, keep the music haunting — familiar and avant garde all at the same time. It is this untenable mystique that makes this music worth investigating. - Jo Morrison


"matter of life & death", 1993
"Big Sky Full O' Dumb Stars", 1997
"Accidentally Live", 2006



“Running the whitewater on a raft, the fall of rain on a parched landscape, a child playing at being a bee ... Don Charles and Deb Gessner craft some memorable images by drawing on their Southwestern experiences.” (Dirty Linen)

Arizona harp and guitar duo, D-Squared, weaves a tonal fabric of poignant lyrics, earth-rooted melodies and stark, hypnotic rhythms. Combining guitar, mandola, banjo and a low, resonant voice with folk harp, concertina, accordion and beguiling vocals, Charles and Gessner lead listeners through an animated universe that is at once arid and lush, pristine and desecrated, innocent and arrogant.

Attending a show is like joining a gathering of friends around the kitchen table. Natural storytellers with a sly wit, D-Squared enchants audiences with tales of their beloved Southwest, and the rocks, stars, plants and critters that inhabit it.

Deb Gessner’s “faux reverent aura framed by her folk harp will trick you if you don’t pay close attention - her wondrous playing emits a gleam of humor and hope” (Acoustic Scene) and Don Charles has been called “one of the best folk songwriters in a long time.” (Victory Review)

“Unusual, unclassifiable tunes keep the music haunting - familiar and avant-garde at the same time.” (Folk Harp Journal) “They play and sing like Richard and Linda Thompson used to.” (Phoenix New Times)

Honed on a backcountry ranch where they met, married and developed their music, D-Squared’s spacious sound reflects a life lived outdoors under hot western skies. Their music is like a drink of cool water after a long walk through the desert.

They released their first CD, "matter of life & death", in 1993 as Don Charles & Deb Gessner, and became known as D-Squared in 1997 upon release of their second CD, "Big Sky Full O’ Dumb Stars". A third album, "Accidentally Live", came out in 2006.

Charles’ song “Row” was included on Songs and Stories from Grand Canyon, produced by Smithsonian Folkways, while many other songs and tunes by
D-Squared have been featured in films, PBS documentaries, theater, compilation CDs, and other audio projects. Their song and video Little Iraq, produced by filmmaker Cheryl Colan, recently found a spot on Neil Young’s Living With War Today website (www.neilyoung.com/lwwtoday).

Charles acknowledges debts to many songwriters and bands that have influenced him, among them Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Pentangle, Trapezoid, Metamora, and Public Domain. Gessner’s influences include Eric Satie, French dance music, Irish airs and traditional Jewish melodies.

D-Squared regularly tours the country playing concerts, coffee houses, festivals and private venues. Over the years they have shared the stage with Greg Brown, Robin and Linda Williams, Bryan Bowers, Bill Morrissey, Peter Yarrow, John Denver, Chuck Pyle and Don Edwards.. They have performed for thousands of K-12 students through school assembly and artist residency programs as well as conducted classes on songwriting, arranging and performance.