It seems that in the past few years, alt-country (“whatever that is,” to borrow from the genre’s foremost chronicler, No Depression) has stretched its reach to embrace demographics that were perhaps once unlikely receptive to anything that sounded the least bit “hickified.” It has crept beyond our border to the north and engendered a burgeoning Canadian scene. As her sophomore effort Terrible Hostess avers, Carolyn Mark is one of the most talented musicians to emerge from this scene. Her’s is a style that is predicated on straight up traditional country occasionally blended with pop affectations. Her lyrics, vacillating between honest and hilarious, are animated by a voice that is confident, adroit and at times hauntingly reminiscent of Patsy Cline. Mark is backed by a band who doesn’t just play along with her singing, but instead the Roommates (Tolan McNeil and Garth Johnson) bring greater depth to each song by anticipating and understanding each bend and even the most subtle intonation of her voice.
Terrible Hostess opens with “Fuzzy Slippers,” a whimsically titled number that ruminates on the good fortune to be had if one just gets out of bed: a solitary twenty-dollar bill blowing by, victory at Tuesday night bingo and the telephone call of a record executive promising to make you a big star. Yet, Mark is cognizant of the ephemeral nature of these events and with utter candor croons: “But the money never goes to those who’ve earned it / And fame eludes the ones who deserve it / So don’t forget the way hard work improves the taste of ice cold beer.” Each morning she would just as well put on some old work boots and by night have a drink to celebrate falling down. “Chumpville” offers a further glimpse into Mark and her Roommates’ ability to transcend genre confines. Departing from the more traditional country styling of “Fuzzy Slippers,” it is suggestive of a sultry, finger snapping lounge performance, buttressed by piano, trumpet and her Man Chorus. The mood again shifts with the album’s best track, “Gopherville,” a somber two-step of sorts augmented by raspy vocals (perhaps on the verge of tears) the lugubrious moan of a pedal steel and melancholy e-bow solo. It is a tripartite drama, with Mark pointing out the start of each new scene, telling of some impossible dream.
The reminder of the album is more or less upbeat, elucidating the virtues of drunken debauchery. The foot-thumping “After Bar Party at Our House” conveys the riotous merriment expected from a song with such a title: sucking whiskey from a carpet in the hall and puking wine on the floor. Despite claiming to be a terrible hostess, Mark has not shed the “Party Girl” persona of her debut album. This notion is intimated without even listening to Terrible Hostess, but by simply glimpsing at the mirth captured in the cover art. Throughout, Mark is intelligent and often ironic while at the same time hosting a damn good party. An admirable feat for someone who contends that for the duration of the recording session, “I didn’t drink or smoke for about two weeks and got hooked on mint tea and scratch and wins and was a total uptight bitch the whole time.”
Mint Records: http://www.mintrecs.com