Saturday, January 23, 2010

There's Something About Mary: Mary Catherine's Ash Wednesday Journal Entry

Christine Kane: Mary Catherine's Ash Wednesday Journal Entry


Mary Catherine's Ash Wednesday Journal Entry is a live bonus track from Christine's Right Outta Nowhere CD - her introduction speaks of how the song was channeled through a 14-year-old Catholic girl... and when there is silence from Christine and then laughter from the audience, what's happening is that Christine has begun to mess up her hair to mimic a rumpled adolescent 'do, as well as take on the face of ennui that teenagers have perfected. Her guitar strumming evokes emo minor chords and even her phrasing is wrought with sighs and thinly-veiled annoyance for her family and their religious belief system - "I have always tried real hard to keep on pretending my family's normal but it's not"...

Been there, done that, bought the rosary beads - I was raised Catholic, attended 12 years of parochial school and am constantly amazed that I can still stand the taste/smell of tuna. Like Mary Catherine's friend Brittney, I am a Unitarian now - that line gets the biggest reaction, since Christine used to play lots of UU coffeehouse series!

P.S. Mari content, copied and pasted from my own blog:

The family legend is that my parents tried to have more children after me but were unsuccessful, until my father converted to Catholicism, whereupon my mom became pregnant immediately - the name Mary Catherine (which she later shortened and changed to Mari) was conferred on the "miraculous conception"... :-)

Mari, it's been fun to celebrate your 42nd in such a fun and unique fashion - today's photo is courtesy of a 2007 Snapfish album, highlighting your 39th birthday (really... although you look about 14 in this photo!) with your dear girlfriends. Of course there have been tears (oh, how we miss Mom!) amidst the laughter, but you know you are cherished... by your immediate and extended family, your sweet and supportive friends and a kind circle of music-loving strangers invoking your name all week long - Happy Birthday... Happy Always, little sister!

P.P.S. I am beyond grateful to my Star Maker Machine compatriots for the quantity, quality and variety of Mary songs contributed for my specially-requested theme - I'll be compiling everything and putting together a mix CD to send Mari after the fact...

There's Something About Mary: Mary of the Wild Moor

Bill Fox: Mary of the Wild Moor


Bill Box is not so much a folkie as he is a rocker who turned down the amps and got in touch with his inner singer-songwriter in the late '90s. His second (and so far last) solo album, Transit Byzantium is full of gritty introspection delivered in the cracked voice of a former rocker. The lone cover on the album is the traditional English folk song "Mary of the Wild Moor".

It's an interesting song: A woman and her young child arrive at her father's house after an unspecified time roaming "without friends or a home". One can infer that the woman bore the child out of wedlock, and was driven away from home by shame (and/or her father). Her father doesn't hear her knock on the door, and she (and eventually the child) die from exposure. The father finds them the next morning and is wracked with grief. It's a typically morbid English folk ballad.

Like many such ballads, it crossed over the Atlantic to Appalachia, and into the county/folk tradition, with versions by Dolly Parton, the Louvin Brothers, and Johnny Cash, among others. Fox acquits himself admirably on his lo-fi version, accompanied by acoustic guitar, bass, harmonica, what sounds like handclaps.

There's Something About Mary: Mary

Patty Griffin: Mary


Hands down, my favorite song for this week's theme. Patty Griffin's smooth, atmospheric pop paean to her grandmother is utterly gorgeous, perfectly touching, eminently sad - a stunning tribute to the secretive, strong Catholic mother figures that haunted the fifties and sixties.

Its emergence on the otherwise terribly overproduced Flaming Red, perhaps the most flawed gem in Griffin's canon, saved the record from total obscurity in my own collection and others. But ultimately, this song is exceptionally well served by its echoey high-pop production. Indeed, despite the bombastic tone of so much of the rest of its album, the song's success aptly demonstrated Patty's adeptness in songcraft far beyond just stripped down folksinger mode - which is to say, though both takes share the same eminently recognizable harmony and slow heartbeat drums, the acoustic version off her live album just doesn't have the kick that this one does.

Friday, January 22, 2010

There's Something About Mary: The Ballad of Mary Magdalen

Richard Shindell: The Ballad of Mary Magdalen


Cry Cry Cry: The Ballad of Mary Magdalen


This tale of Jesus' girlfriend's inner life after the ascension is one of my favorite songs from Richard Shindells' canon, and it's not hard to see why: the song offers a perfect set of all the things the ex-seminarian does best, from the fully humanized religious setting to the heartbreaking first-person portrayal of broken dreams framed in wistful imagery.

Shindell clearly likes it, too, as he has recorded this song three times: once on his sophomore release Sparrow's Point, again with folk supergroup Cry Cry Cry, with fellow coffeehouse circuit artist Dar Williams singing lead, and finally on his live album Courier in 2001. I actually posted the live version back in June for our Gender Benders theme, but since it's so apropos, here's his other two takes as a continued study in song evolution.

There's Something About Mary: Mary

The V-Roys: Mary


Regular readers of my site know that I am a vocal supporter of Knoxville singer/songwriter Scott Miller. That's why I got extra excited when I saw this week's theme and realized that it would allow me to post what is possibly my favorite Scott Miller song.

This song comes from Scott's early days with legendary (around here anyway) Knoxville outfit, The V-Roys. Even though it comes from early in his career, it showcases some of my favorite elements of his songwriting. It's the nifty turns of a phrase and the weight of the emotion conveyed by the elderly protagonist looking back on the mistakes of his life that give this song its charm.

There's Something About Mary: Mary, Mary

The Monkees: Mary, Mary


Run DMC: Mary, Mary


Yes, The Monkees were definitely on the musical radar of my formative years - I was 12 when they appeared on the scene... and I bought the albums, watched the TV show and read the magazines (remember Tiger Beat?). Micky was my favorite - I still remember his favorite color (invisible... :-)

The Monkees (a.k.a. The PreFab Four) were an amalgamation of Beatles/Kinks/Hollies/Animals/Byrds sounds, writing very little of their own music but savvy enough to cover the compositions of Carole King/Gerry Goffin, Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart and Neil Diamond - I only just found out that Michael Nesmith wrote Mary, Mary before he joined The Monkees. The tune was actually first recorded by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band a year before The Monkees released it, with Micky singing the vocals... and Nesmith always knew this jingle-jangle pop-rocker would be a hit - is it really about a stalker? (you decide...).

My sister Mari, on the other hand, was a product of the 80's - what comes to mind immediately: U2, Bow Wow Wow, The Motels... and any of the John Hughes movie soundtracks. I don't think she was a fan of Run DMC... but they were popular in her time period - how interesting to find they covered/sampled Mary, Mary 21 years later... changing quite a few lyrics in the process!

P.S. I discovered this photo in the Snapfish album of Mari's January 2007 Colorado trip she sent me upon her return - "Mari, Mari... you look cute muggin', it's so cold you could use a huggin' "(with apologies to Michael Nesmith, Run and DMC... :-)

There’s Something About Mary: Mary Hamilton

Joan Baez: Mary Hamilton


Mary Hamilton is one of those folk songs from the British Isles that I enjoy so much. This one comes from Scotland. In the song, Mary Hamilton was a lady-in waiting to a queen, until she had an affair with a high-ranking courtier, (the king in some versions), and had a child by him. She decides to get rid of the child, and is then executed for infanticide.

There are two historical incidents which the tale echoes. One occurred in the court of Mary, Queen of Scots, the other in the Russian court of Peter the Great. In each case, there were four woman named Mary who waited on the queen. Mary also appears to be a title that was given to royal ladies in waiting. In any case, neither of the historical incidents precisely matches the details of the song, so they may have become combined via the folk process. The song is also known as The Four Marys.

Joan Baez does something with Mary Hamilton that I have not seen in other versions. Baez sings the following verse:

“I put him in a tiny boat
And cast him out to sea
That he might sink or he might swim
But he'd never come back to me”

Typically, Mary Hamilton casts the baby into the sea with no boat. I don’t know Baez’s source for this verse, but it raises the unlikely possibility that the child might have survived. In this, it recalls the story of Moses in the bible, as well as the tale of Taliesen in Celtic mythology.

This version of Mary Hamilton is special to me, because it comes from the first folk album I ever owned. I had a vinyl copy with the original cover, shown above. I’m glad the album has been remastered and reissued for others to enjoy, but why did the new cover have to be so ugly? Follow the purchase link, and you’ll see what I mean.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

There's Something About Mary : Maryan

Robert Wyatt : Maryan


I'm cheating a little -Maryan is not exactly Mary- but that song is so beautiful... I just love how it flows, and the aquatic lyrics match perfectly the music. Special mention to the violin solo by Chikako Sato and the wonderful guitar part by Belgian jazzman Philippe Catherine.

If you love that song, you'll love the album, probably Wyatt's best since his masterpiece Rock Bottom. Wyatt has this gift of gathering great musicians and guests, and you'll hear Paul Weller, Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, and a few great European jazz musicians as well.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

There's Something About Mary: Polly Put The Kettle On

Sonny Boy Williamson: Polly Put The Kettle On


With this, we'll cover Polly.

There were two Sonny Boy Williamsons. John Lee Curtis Williamson was the first. The second was Aleck "Rice" Miller. They both were singers, songwriters and they both played the harmonica. Polly Put The Kettle On, the poem, dates from the latter part of the 18th century,which was written by a father of five children, three girls and two boys, who were constantly fighting over what games they wanted to play.The girls wanted to play house and the boys preferred to be soldiers. So when the girls wanted to ditch their brothers, they would start playing a game of tea party by saying, "Polly put the kettle on", Polly being one of the three girls. Then when the brothers left, sister Sukey, the name being a varient of Susan, would take off the kettle. Their father wrote a poem and set it to music out of his amusement. Except for the title, this song bears very little resemblance to that.

There´s Something About Mary: Molly´s Lips

That Molly is a short form of Mary was news to me actually, but I guess one is never to old to learn. And hey, it gives us the chance to put the spotlight on late eighties indie legends the Vaselines.

This shambling brainchild of Scottish duo Eugene ´Eugenius´ Kelly and Frances McKee fell apart after recording only one album and a handful of sharp singles, but one Kurt Cobain made sure their sweet sounds weren´t forgotten anytime soon. Nirvana covered three of their songs - Molly´s Lips, Son Of A Gun and Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam - in fine style, probably providing Kelly and McKee with some nice royalties in the process.

And to end with a trivia fact: the 1 minute and 44 seconds of naive pop bliss that is Molly´s Lips was apparently inspired by Molly Wier, a famous Scottish TV personality whose Tea-Time Tales show was avidly watched by the budding Vaselines.

There’s Something About Mary: For the Sake of Mary

Richard Thompson: For the Sake of Mary


Richard Thompson presents a portrait of a man who has hit bottom. Awash in drugs and alcohol, he has lost everything. But now, a woman named Mary has come into his life, and he picks himself up. He dreams of providing for her, both emotionally and financially. However, this is a Richard Thompson song, so there can be know happy ending in matters of love. Mary seems to be drawn to wounded birds, but she has been burned before. So this is as close as Thompson ever gets to that happy ending: matters are left unsettled, but there is hope. The song, then, is not a story, but simply an expression of devotion from an unlikely source.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

There's Something About Mary: Along Comes Mary

The Association: Along Comes Mary


I know nothing about The Association, other than the fact their "hit" tunes were part of my life soundtrack in the mid-sixties... as I was growing into young-womanhood and anticipating/fearing everything it entailed - Cherish was the first song I ever slow-danced to... in my eighth grade year at my first boy-girl party in a semi-darkened basement of my friend's parents' home. I remember looking around at a few other couples making out on the lone sofa in the room - I knew every note/nuance of that song, and ached with the angst that only a 13-year-old could, in hope/terror someone would one day feel that way about me...

On the flip side... somehow the words to Along Comes Mary went completely over my head - in typical American Bandstand style, all I knew was that it had a good beat and I could dance to it. Imagine my surprise to find out decades later (15 minutes ago!) that one of the interpretations suggests it is about marijuana... a.k.a. Mary Jane ("and then along comes Mary, and does she want to set them free and let them see reality from where she got her name" - hmmmm...) - I'm also quite impressed at the dense and literate lyrics, not the modus operandi of songs of that era (Sweet Pea, Red Rubber Ball and Hang On, Sloopy as but three examples)...

P.S. Mari content below, copied and pasted from my own blog - the photo above shows Mari and a friend (bottom left-hand corner) from *her* early high school days:

We have a variety of running jokes, one of which comes from the long-since-retired TV show thirtysomething, in which the character Melissa is speaking to her younger sister about the differences in their family roles according to birth order - Melissa says, "as the older child, it's my job to fulfill all of mom and dad's deepest hopes, dreams and desires. All you have to do is stay out of prison." So true, so true - I got in major trouble in high school (I plead the fifth on details) and was told I had dragged our family name through the mud but, when Mari did the same thing 13 years later, I recall the party line was "kids will be kids" (no fair!).

Monday, January 18, 2010

There's Something About Mary: Disappointing Mary

Valentine Smith: Disappointing Mary


The band Valentine Smith (presumably named after the main character in Robert Heinlein's classic Stranger in a Strange Land), released three CDs in the '90s before fading away. "Disappointing Mary" comes from their first, 1994's Back on Earth. The band's catchy, folk-rock sound was enhanced on this track by the cello of "The Ubiquitous" Jane Scarpentoni, who seemingly played on everything recorded in New York City and New Jersey in the '90s.

The song is full of religious references. The narrator seems to be having a crisis of faith: "I looked for answers but was forced to guess". We may all be disappointing Mary, but Mari, I hope we're not disappointing you this week. Happy Birthday!

There's Something About Mary: Red Haired Mary

Foster and Allen: Red Haired Mary


First I'd like to wish Mari a very Happy Birthday!

In Ireland the politically correct term for the patronizing, derogatory term 'Tinker' is Traveller. Travellers refer to themselves as Pavees. Though the actual orgin of the Travellers is unknown, it is believed that they are remnants of an ancient class of wandering poets. The term 'Tinker' is believed to have been derived from tinsmith,which used to be their main occupation.The language spoken by the Travellers, called Shelta, tends to support the theory.The language is also called Cammon or Cant, which is a mishmash of ancient languages, including old Greek and Hebrew and Ogham, set in an English style grammar with a Gaelic vocabulary. Often the target of discrimination and harassment there are some 30,000 Travelers living in the margins of Irish society. Preconceptions by employers has resulted in high unemployment among the Travellers so many of them have taken up private enterprise including the music industry.

Written by Sean McCarthy, Red Haired Mary tells us a tale of a fight, a courtship, a donkey's contribution to said fight, and the happy ending. The song tends to add to the notion that Tinkers, or Travellers are hooligans, but as we see in the end, love prevails

There´s Something About Mary: Oh Mary, Don´t You Weep

When the Soul Stirrers sing gospel, even atheists perk up their ears...
I said that.

At the time they recorded Oh Mary, Don´t You Weep in 1964, the legendary Sam Cooke was no longer a member of the Soul Stirrers. Cooke had left that famous gospel group in ´57 to try his luck stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular song. And as the pop hits kept coming, Cooke found himself a wealthy man. The first black artist to do so, he started his own label, helping gospel orientated artists as the Womack Brothers, R.H. Harris & His Gospel Paraders and the group he had just left, the Soul Stirrers.

Oh Mary, Don´t You Weep features Jimmie Outler on lead vocals, a fine singer who´s on record proclaiming that "there ain´t but one person in gospel that could beat me singing, but he´s not in gospel - and that´s Sam".

As a bonus, here´s some priceless studio chatter with Sam Cooke in the producer´s seat for his own SAR Records, instructing the Soul Stirrers before takes.

There’s Something About Mary: The Mary Ellen Carter

Stan Rogers: The Mary Ellen Carter


Mary, for your birthday, I offer you a song of hope that once saved a life.

The Mary Ellen Carter tells of five sailors who were aboard her when she sank. The owners of the ship declare her a loss, and refuse to consider a salvage operation, preferring to pocket the insurance money. But the five survivors vow to bring the ship back to the surface, and back into service. Stan Rogers could have given his tale a fairy tale ending, and told of the sailors’ moment of triumph. But the song is all the more powerful because it ends not with success, but with the hope of it.

On the twelfth of February, 1983, Bob Cusick was a sailor on the Marine Electric when she was caught in a fierce storm and went down. Cusick swam until he was at the point of exhaustion, and found a damaged lifeboat that was barely afloat. At that point, Cusick had two choices: he could climb onto the boat, and face the certainty that he would freeze to death with the air temperature in the 20s; or he could stay immersed in the 39 degree water, and hold on for dear life as the waves tried to separate him from the lifeboat. In his exhaustion, it would have been all to easy to let go and let the sea claim him. But suddenly, Cusick remembered the song The Mary Ellen Carter. He sang it for hours until rescue arrived. Cusick’s full account of the incident can be found here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

There's Something About Mary: Mari-Mac

Great Big Sea: Mari-Mac


Great Big Sea hails from Newfoundland, where the cliffs are steep and the summers short; over their fifteen year run, they've grown famous for their unique mastery of the traditional folktunes of their region, as filtered through a raucous pub-crawl sensibility. The result lies somewhere between celtic punk and the heavily harmonized folksongs of the sea and spray, more akin to a salty privateer's interpretation of The Clash and The Pogues than that singer-songwritery stuff that many of us like to think is the true core of folk.

Which is to say, old fogies, beware: this is one of the only forms of folk music that you can genuinely form a mosh pit to - and sure enough, despite its Scottish tradfolk origins [as "Mary Mack", natch], in the hands of Great Big Sea, Mari-Mac is a glorious, gleeful, drunken romp that starts off fast and accelerates into breakneck speed, drums beating like the devil himself, fiddles howling like a North-of-the-border Charlie Daniels.

There's Something About Mary: Crazy Mary

Pearl Jam: Crazy Mary


I first became aware of this song on Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams, released in July 1993 - truthfully, I had never heard of Victoria... nor heard the original, but I was intrigued by the story of her illness, as well as impressed by the line-up of artists who donated their time and energy for this worthy cause...

I still haven't been privy to Victoria's version of Crazy Mary... but I actually don't think I want to... as Eddie Vedder's growling vocals provide just the right balance of haunted and tragic - "that what you fear the most could meet you halfway" (whew)...

I don't know how Victoria is faring health-wise these days... but I continue to think of her and wish for the best - benefits like this give one hope that we are never alone...

P.S. Tomorrow (January 18) is my little sister Mari's 42nd birthday - since our theme was John songs way back in mid-September 2008, I asked if we could have a week of Mary songs, in honor of my younger female sibling...

You can read the full account, written almost two years ago, on my own blog here - long story short: Mary Catherine (which she shortened and then changed the spelling) was born when I was 13 years old, and I thought she was mine... I have loved watching her grow up to the beautiful and wise young woman she is today... she turned me on to The B-52's more than a few decades ago... we like to give presents that make each other cry... :-)

Boo f*cking hoo, baby sis - I love you!

P.P.S. The above photo is of my daughter Sarah (bottom left), sister Mari (bottom right) and Mari's daughter Julia (on top), taken on a memorable (for so many reasons) family vacation in August 2008 - if you look closely, you'll notice that all the sand castle turrets are topped with Corona bottles (crazy, eh?... :-)