Mary Lou Lord
I’m not sure if Mary Lou Lord is a guilty pleasure for me or not. Traditional indie snobbery seems to indicate that, at the very least, I should be ashamed to own her major label effort Got No Shadow. But in reality, naw, man. When I first heard that album, I knew every other disc would fade into momentary irrelevance. I was hooked for a good three or four months, long enough for it to become ingrained on my brain for life. I’ve since picked up a couple of her other solo albums, including 2001’s Live City Sounds, but they lacked the full band dynamic of Got No Shadow and failed to capture my interest. Baby Blue is the return to the fleshed-out sound for which I’ve been waiting.
“The Wind Blew All Around Me” kicks things off right where Lord’s major label album left off: with quietly punchy acoustic pop. In many ways, Baby Blue doesn’t stray far from the template established by its predecessor, toeing a thin line between back roads country and power pop. Chalk this up to the Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick-esque collaboration between Lord and Nick Saloman of the Bevis Frond. Saloman has an endless array of songs perfect for Lord’s breathless and broken vocal delivery. A couple of songs come up as underwritten duds (“Farming it Out” and “The Inhibition Twist”), but the lonely road march of “Turn Me Round,” the unstoppable fuzz of “Stars Turn Out” and the exquisite violin/mandolin interplay on “Old Tin Tray” more than make up for them.
Aside from Saloman originals, Lord has always had a deep and eclectic catalog of cover songs from which to draw. On Baby Blue she includes only two: Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” and Pink Floyd’s “Fearless.” The former isn’t anything remarkable; Lord does an adequate job, but the song isn’t noteworthy to begin with. The latter, though, is as adventurous as Lord has ever gotten. Lord and Saloman retain the spacey, floating air of the original, but the land it hovers over is distinctly American mid-west. Slow and majestic violins lace through the melody, dragging dusty acoustic guitars and stunted barroom pianos behind them. Overtop of this, Lord’s monotone voice becomes lost and found among the shifting sounds, becoming just another instrument. I’ll be very happy if she pursues this direction — and keeps the backing band — on her future releases. If she does, she’ll be nearly unstoppable and able to crush all indie snobs in her wake.
Rubric Records: http://www.rubricrecords.com/