The voice of a ragged Angel combined with the banjo playing of the Devil
This album was recommended by a friend who knows I have reservations about Traditional Folk AND banjos; but after playing it many times now I am rapidly becoming a convert.
Mary James’ stage name, Mean Mary comes from the manner in which she plays the banjo rather than her fiscal attitude and boy; can she get a tune out of this much maligned instrument.
The title of opening track Wherefore Art Thou, Jane? Filled me with dread; but Mary soon had me in the palm of her hand with her beautiful voice and intricate finger plucking; plus the song itself is damn good.
Sierra Leone intrigued me as soon as I heard the sea lapping on the beach and the gentle squawk of a seagull which preceded the singers delightful love song; and I wasn’t disappointed.
The epic Death and the Maiden (9 mins. and 45 seconds) would have had me diving for the FF button in the hands of most other Folk singers, but here I have listened intently on several listens and each time the song unravels another secret; which is quite an achievement.
Everyone who knows me will be astounded by next statement; but the instrumental track The Sparrow and the Hawk, which features banjo, violin and 12 string guitar is genuinely beautiful; there I said it, it is one of the loveliest pieces of music I’ve heard this year.
Memphis Moon has a Country Blues feel to it and (my favourite track) Sweet Jezebel, which closes the record had me comparing Mary to both Nanci Griffith AND Joni Mitchell which may sound odd; but is the perfect description.
If you do like stories, harmonies, good guitar playing and actual mastery of the banjo you’ll fall in love with Mean Mary James; but if you don’t like Traditional American Folk music, read Mean Mary’s bio on her website and you will want to run away with her.