[16 May 2006]
In 2002, a little-known singer named Mary Lee Kortes became a hipster sensation when she released a live, song-for-song version of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (which even received four stars in Rolling Stone). This was a ballsy move for a woman whose career began writing songs for the likes of Amy Grant, and she became known to many as an interesting artist to watch. Kortes’ new album, Love, Loss, and Lunacy (under her band name, Mary Lee’s Corvette), however, has no gimmicks. It is a simple, straight-up classic rock record with a few country leanings.
No gimmicks should be a good thing, right? Simplicity is good, but here it borders on generic, and I can’t help but wish for some of the guts and creativity it took Mary Lee’s Corvette to remake a classic album and actually do it well. At its best, Love, Loss, and Lunacy can be a catchy, crackling, sunny rock album; at its worst, it can be as grating and tired as a Sheryl Crow album. An example of the latter is the album’s opener, “All That Glitters”, a perky rock number with too much swagger and by-the-numbers guitar solos. Kortes’ voice is pretty with bite, and she sings with personality. Sometimes though, as in “All That Glitters”, she can come off as a bit phony. She’s painting herself a tough-girl persona, but the songs are more fun when she ignores the poses and chooses honesty.
While “Wasting the Sun” and “Learn From What I Dream” are similar up-tempo rock retreads, the haunting “Verla” and sweeping country “Thunderstruck” make the album more interesting. “Verla” is a good example of what Mary Lee’s Corvette should be. It’s a Tom Petty-esque bluesy rambler with an ominous climax. The evocative lyrics warn of a vague trouble: “The biscuit’s baked, / The sun is low, / The honey’s sweet, / And pouring slow.” Here is where Kortes’ delivery is right on, and it makes me wonder why she felt the need to fill Love, Loss, and Lunacy with peppy, Sheryl Crow-style sun ballads. She’s at her best when she’s being creepy, which is something a lot of musicians refuse to admit about themselves. “Thunderstruck” and “Nothing Left To Say”, though not creepy, are almost as good, the reason being that they lack the mechanical guitar solos and bombast; rather, they’re content to be pretty country tunes. Kortes allows the songs to breathe without suffocating them in rock-chick swagger. These songs may not be edgy, but they’re also not contrived, a trait Mary Lee’s Corvette sometimes picks up in the quest for edge.
A glaring oddity on Love, Loss, and Lunacy is “Where Did I Go Wrong, Elton John?” a cute idea that just doesn’t fit. Kortes serenades her hero with a mandolin-heavy ditty meant to echo an early Elton John ballad. Unfortunately, it comes off more like one of his later, Taupin-less works (perhaps she can plug in different names, as he did with “Candle In the Wind”?), and frankly, it’s just a little silly: “Every question had an answer, / I could fly, this tiny dancer.”
All in all, Love, Loss, and Lunacy is a relatively enjoyable album. There are some good songs here, but you have to have the patience to let it grow on you, and not just let the filler dominate. When she’s at her most creative, Mary Lee Kortes adds an interesting twist to the typical country-rock album, but a lot of the time it sounds as though she’s simply churning out the songs too quickly without giving them time to take shape.