In the three years since her last album, Mary Lou Lord has had a little Lord. The new album, which once again features Lord’s unique take on some eclectic covers and with most of the record centered on her knack for infectious pop roots rock, also has a full band. This only means that her songs should sound fuller, meatier, and greater as a result. And that’s what you get for most of the 14 songs here, virtually void of the folkish coffeehouse crud out there today. The album begins with a simple guitar riff under Lord’s earthy-yet-child-like delivery. “Look at me stand at the top of your hill / My voice rang out like a dentist drill”, she sings, before the jangle-heavy rocker settles into a very appealing groove. It’s as if she’s been listening to Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open for months prior to going into the studio. You might expect the guitars to offer a deeper, Southern sound, but they never venture down that road until the obligatory bridge. “Long Way from Tupelo”, one of the few Lord had a hand in writing, brings to mind Julie Miller, or Sheryl Crow if The Globe Sessions were a tad more cheerful. Laced with harmonica and a wide Americana style to it, Lord seems right at home in this quasi-country style.
The performer gets better with each performance, including the softer and mellow ’70s-sounding “43”. Backed by tambourine and acoustic guitar, her hushed vocals and the gorgeous but fragile vocals are its selling point. It also ends at just the right time, not losing any steam or offering any filler or padding. Lord goes back another decade with the delectable title track, which comes off as having a certain ’60s “girl group” flavor to it courtesy of drummer Jules Fenton. A cover of the Badfinger song, the guitars are also jagged enough to pull it off without that slick studio riff destroying what’s already there. The tone of the album slows down for the whispery “Cold Kilburn Rain”, a track that recalls Juliana Hatfield and the Blake Babies. It could be the softest track, but it also contains her best vocals on the album.
The first “folk” moment arrives in “Farming It Out”, a singer/songwriter ditty that doesn’t fall immediately flat but adds little to the momentum built thus far. Lord probably has a couple dozen tunes identical to this one, but thankfully it’s over in less than 90 seconds. What returns though is more of a bombastic, snarling punk rocker in “The Inhibition Twist”, taking no prisoners as Lord gets the most out of her fine backing band here. However, this leads back into the somber, melancholy Lucinda-lite number “Because He’s Leaving”. Producer Nick Salomen (The Beavis Frond), who is also the guitarist and lead collaborator for Lord on the album, shows his skills on this tune, getting Lord to trust her instincts while painting a clear sonic backdrop behind her.
Another pretty nugget is the catchy and extremely melodic “Someone Always Talks”, with Lord never sugar-coating the lines with a very light delivery. It evolves into a tight, power pop / roots tune that flows from top to bottom. “Hey, yeah, let them call you Mr. Paranoid”, she sings, the mix putting her front and center before a quasi-rockabilly guitar enters the fray. From there, yet more twists. An extremely poignant, spine-tingling, and dream-like ballad “Turn Me Round” has a lot in common with Celtic darlings such as Cara Dillon or Kate Rusby minus the lilt. The Dylan-esque “Ron” isn’t bad either, but far from outstanding.
Lord usually covers some tunes off the cover radar, and her selection of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” is such a pick. Taken from the album Meddle, Lord gives more of a twangy, country tone to the track and it works tremendously well. Not reworking it completely but doing enough to give her control over the tune, the fiddle is used sparingly for great effect. Opening up into a lush finale, Lord does no wrong with this eclectic rendition. By the time she comes up with “Old Tin Tray”, you are aware of two things. One is that this is a year-end top 10 album, and two, that she is getting better with age. And little Lords to boot!