Mary Lou Lord: Baby Blue

Jason MacNeil

Mary Lou Lord

Baby Blue

Label: Rubric
US Release Date: 2004-03-09
UK Release Date: 2004-04-05

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!

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.