Mean Mary “Alone” (Woodrock Records, 2020)

The title of the new Mean Mary album says it all – ‘Alone’. It is Mary and her banjo. Or Mary and her guitar. OK, sometimes she combines the two into one instrument banjitar. Plain and simple. One big BUT here. There is an essential problem with simple things. They turn out to be the most complicated thing to do. Why? As one lyric goes, ‘nowhere to hide, nowhere to go”… You either come up with some excellent songs, have impeccable vocals, and really know your way about those ‘simple’ instruments you are using. This is particularly risky if you have already made a name for yourself coming up with music under full instrumentation (Mary has over 15 million views on her YouTube channel).

Luckily, both for Mean Mary and for her listeners, she comes through this ‘bare bones’ project almost completely unscathed. In these ‘bare bones’ times when you are usually isolated somewhere by yourself and you are the only person you can hear, that is when your inner voices really have to shine.

The first thing you notice is that Mary has an excellent singing voice and knows how to use it and adapt it to her songs. Secondly, her instrumental skills are on a par with any seasoned Nashville session cat. And lastly, and most importantly, she can craft her tunes with very rare slip-ups, and on ‘Alone’ it all becomes crystal clear.

Her instrumental prowess comes through on banjo (banjitar?) – driven tracks like ‘Nine Pound Banjo’ or ‘Sparrow Alone’. Still, it is the acoustic guitar -backed songs like ‘Another Barefoot Day’ and ‘Big Tour Bus’ where her songwriting shines the best.

Finally, one more thing becomes apparent on ‘Alone’. Mean Mary knows how to measure ‘simple’ things perfectly, as she doesn’t give simplicity a chance to overstay its welcome.

A good case in point of how to make 'simple' music work

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