Mean Mary “Portrait of a Woman, Part 1”

Woodstock Records 2022

An eclectic mixture of folk songs and tunes.

Mean Mary real name Mary James 42 & was born in Geneva Alabama. She was a child prodigy who could read music before she could read words, writing ‘Mean Mary from Alabam’ with the help of her mother Jean James before she went to kindergarten, and she has been called that ever since.

Many songs on the album have been co-written with her mother. As both are award-winning novelists it’s not surprising the songs are little acts in themselves. Covering such themes world-weariness, loss, the joys of being on the road also religion and being only ‘one mile away from the unemployment line’ The opening song ‘Cranberry Gown’ starts looking backward on life to different times and how a simple dress made her feel vibrant and admired as she danced across the floor: ‘walking on earth like dancing on air’. It’s a song of loss and hope which sets the tone of the whole album

Throughout, her vocal range is quite extraordinary all the more amazing given she was told she would never sing again following a car accident. Thankfully after much hard work, her voice was fully restored. It seems as a result she does have this remarkable range.  ‘Bette, Come back’ and ‘No Man’s Land’ could easily be June Tabor songs in sound and feel while others are reminiscent of Joni Mitchel and Joan Armatrading. ‘A Kiss Can Hide Two Faces’ has an almost flamenco feel about it, with its heady mixture of violin and Spanish guitar, a song about possible infidelity – an unusual style but very welcome.

‘Tour Bus’ sets out the ups &and downs of being constantly on the road. Selling sold-out shows to a crowd of ten, being a million miles from where she is bound and missing the big tour bus—leaving gigs on her own armed with pepper spray.

The final track ‘Clouds Roll By’ sums up the feel of the album very nicely. She has ‘a notion to lie in the ocean hold hands touch the sky and watch the clouds go by’. Her music and prose would be the perfect accompaniment to doing that.


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[…] is nothing if not prolific. If you think you’ve just read a review of her latest release, you have: that was ‘Portrait of a Woman’. Barely a month later Mean Mary launches another four part […]