Mary Karlzen: Dim the Watershed


By David Fufkin

Ms. Karlzen is a major label casualty of the pre-Seagrams-dominated record company era. You could rewrite what Lennon wrote and say that women are the niggers of the music business, with Mary as the poster girl. (And before you get crazy, to those of you who are unfamiliar with this reference, Lennon meant “nigger” as a metaphor for a wrongfully disrespected and dishonored person, not the pejorative noun referring to African-Americans.)

A woman with beauty, energy, great songs, a kick ass band, supportive, knowledgable management and a great local Miami, Florida following (me included) should be a guaranteed success, right? Well, wrong. This release continues the promise that she showed a few years ago, but I want to rant a little bit more about “What Happened to Mary”.

Her first major label release was called Yelling at Mary. It should have been called “Yelling by Mary That Her Label Is Trying To Ruin Her”. I saw Karlzen many times live prior to her first major album, and her sound was a perfect combination of pop, rock and country. She could play, write and sing, and, although she is a very pretty girl, her appeal was her limitless musical abilities.

What the label did was fire her band, bringing in session guys to neuter her sound. They packaged her like a waif-like little girl to appeal to God Knows Who, instead of letting her be herself, a woman plainly beautiful in a T-shirt and jeans sans makeup. Her sound predated and surpassed the smash success of Sheryl Crow and Shawn Colvin. At her unadulterated best, she was/is a poppier Kelly Willis, a huge compliment indeed.

That sound comes through on Dim the Watershed. From the first song, “When You Go”, her trademark vibrato-tinged voice uniquely sets up the rousing chorus. At times, Karlzen has a Cyndi Lauper sound, except it’s more rock and less quirky. She has definitely taken a more rock turn since her last release, with huge guitars on most songs. She uses different instrumentations to great effect, including piano and acoustic guitars. “She” and “Harbor Lights” are pretty and understated, probably a lot like Mary herself. “Time” opens with the signature, hard-strumming acoustic guitar that characterizes her best stuff. Karlzen’s work bursts with the determined passion of a unique woman.

Dim the Watershed is a quality recording by a unique artist with ability to cross over genres. She makes music. Not pop, not country, not middle of the road ballads, not any one thing. She is a master of all of these genres in her own way. Maybe that was/is the problem. Categories are a bitch. It is a shame. She deserves another shot at stardom. And to those of you involved with her former label, I know you did your best. But if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

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