You’ll doubtless recall that Green on Red’s Dan Stuart boldly sang “Time ain’t nothing / When you’re young at heart / And your soul still burns” with all the fervour of a young man. Add a few years to the tally and things, it seems, often take on more of the perspective embodied on Mary Lou Minor’s latest album. This offers a more mature view on the world, a world where a phrase from Dropped Stitches such as “in your own mind you’re feeling quite different / and in your own mind you’re still 39” makes sense.
The Mary Lou Minor Trio are a guitar based country-folk unit with – of course – songwriter Mary Lou Minor on rhythm guitar and vocals whilst Rob Sheels adds additional guitar and banjo and Tom Bruno plays lead guitar. There’s some fine weeping pedal steel on songs such as Old Cold Time contributed by Ted Bertin and Logan McNeil adds mandolin to the mix. The album that they’ve created has songs that are full of the disappointments of life – the loves that didn’t stick, the conflicted needs and wants, the tightrope balances of everyday living. Old Cold Time questions the motives of a philandering partner, and wonders how a hot love has turned to cold ashes with a plaintive “And I wonder what she’s giving you that you don’t get from me”. Two Years Gone could almost be the new girl a couple of years down the line “Now when we meet the rules are clear / You’ve got your way and I’ve got mine / We stand with backs against the mirror / Our intentions undefined”. And the title track (which may make you think a little of a slowed down Bottle of Wine) is lost love pure and simple, reflecting on opportunities that slipped away as another woman marries that man “There once was a time when our future was present / There wasn’t a past to forget”. Lost opportunities, love grown cold, time passing.
Which is not to say that this is an album of only heartbreak – there’s positive nostalgia as well. The Better Parts of Me is a fast tempo celebration of a sturdy and trustworthy male role model “He was a man of chosen words and mischief in his eye / He’d befriend the poorest stranger and he’d never question why / He wasn’t blessed with wealth; he was content with what he had / I learned the better parts of me from watching Dad”. With chirping and burbling guitar it’s a definite toe-tapper. Big Old House is a banjo enriched recollection of childhood, sure, tinged with sadness at how the world has changed, but with positive feelings too of growing up in a warm and loving family. It’s a Canadian take on a traditional country mix – mom and dad brought you up right, but it can be hard being an adult. It’s how well it handles these well worn verities that marks Once Was a Time as an album worth listening to.
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Life can be hard and confusing, love can slip away – but at least we’ve still got the music.