Mary Ann Farley: My Life of Crime

Mary Ann Farley
My Life of Crime
Powder Burn

After her 1997 debut disc, Daddy’s Little Girl, Mary Ann Farley was a critical success among peers and her influences. Sharing the stage with Squeeze, Roger McGuinn, and Dan Burn, Farley it seemed could do little wrong. But the follow-up to her debut was a long time coming. Five years in fact, enough time for many careers to come and go and be revived again. But her style of witty lyrics blended with Beatles pop capabilities isn’t far from the surface on her latest disc. And it’s something the Hoboken, New Jersey native should take pride in.

Having written all of the songs except a cover of the Beatles “Run for Your Life”, Farley starts with a highbrow pop song that proves that doing less with one’s voice often results in so much more. With a style that is a bit of Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, and Chrissie Hynde melded together, “About You” is a melodic pop track that finishes rather quickly and could perhaps use another verse or repeated chorus. “Might” is just about right, refusing to break out into a loud bombastic arena rock track by using an intoxicating sitar sample throughout. It’s a bit of a trippy psychedelic track, but with a roots structure anchoring the song. The slight annoyance though is Farley’s “na na na na” during the chorus. “Buried” is an early high point, with Farley’s vocals extreme fragile sounding like a youthful Marianne Faithful. “On Any Other Day” falls into a similar category, with an underlying tension that never comes to the fore.

Lisa Germano is another name that comes to mind during this album, especially the subtle acoustic country-like ballad “Strange & Wonderful”. It’s an eclectic mix of mandolin and an orchestral, lush string arrangement. Farley here has a certain snarl or sneer in her vocals as she sings, “You don’t dress right / You don’t sit right / You don’t laugh right / You don’t look right”. It seems a subtle tap to the surprisingly Cajun rockabilly-meets-Elvis Costello “Crush”. Whether it’s the accordion sound sample that is being heard or a brief homage to Steve Nieve, the track flies off the disc with a definite verve. Farley also plays with some words also, especially uttering “‘Cause you’re velvety sweet / Velvety velvable / I’m feeling swellable”.

One of the bright spots on the record is Farley’s constant ability to create a simple yet infectious hook time after time. The ’60s pop nugget of “For You to Do That” sounds like it’s something Dusty Springfield missed along the way. It’s also quite short but sweet, like many songs Ron Sexsmith can churn out. What doesn’t seem to work as well, if at all, is the acoustic folk of “Ruse”. Although it could evolve into something grander, it’s the first sign of possible filler material. Farley doesn’t do a lot here either, leaving it to wallow in its own sonic self-pity. “I’m Your Girl” has a certain Flamenco flare to it, perhaps due to Rich Feridun and his bouzouki playing. Farley has the most amount of leeway here, ending the tune with some playful scat and improvisation.

The Beatles cover of “Run for Your Life” is a sparse piano and vocal led track, leaving the singer to draw obvious comparisons to like-minded singer/songwriter, notably Tori Amos and even Polly Jean Harvey circa “Dance Hall at Louse Point”. “Bliss” offers up a bit more of the same, but has a certain lullaby slant to it before opening up to include electric guitars and a slow-tempo rhythm section. Closing with the album’s title track, it’s the perfect ending not so much for the album, but for the final part of this three-song somber trilogy the caps the record. It has a subtle similarity to the Pretenders’ “Hymn to Her” in its style and tone, but is more string-oriented. Regardless though, it’s a very solid album. Hopefully it’s follow-up will be prior to 2007.