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For those who like music in a vintage manner pumped full of nostalgia, authenticity & that which delivers no sediment at the bottom of its full-bodied performance – Mary Flower is authentic.
The instrumental intro on this new collection – her 13th — “Crooked Rag” – sets the stage. The Indiana-born Flower is a proficient blues/ragtime player. Her guitar combines an intricate syncopated Piedmont style fingerpick with a lap-slide guitar. On this LP Mary plays a Fraulini model Angelina guitar & a ’49 Gibson HG2 square neck for slide.
By track 2 Mary adds wonderful vocalizing with backcountry originality & soulfulness. “Baby Where You Been,” has that scent of attic antiques that’s dusty sincere. There’s no showboating here though this type of guitar playing certainly lends a wide berth for just that — if it were necessary. It isn’t.
The songs are uplifting, old fashioned (not retro), church-inspired in places, folky, & though the blues could be bluesier Ms. Flower’s stellar instrumentation more than makes up for it. Mary Flower reaches back into the past to solidly get a grip on a handful of tradition & she succeeds with that.
Guitar-wise Mary will recollect the late, legendary John Fahey’s miraculous & excellent fingerpicking. However, John didn’t sing. A little Leo Kottke guitar-style sneaks in but Mary sings better than Leo. The aged sound is Carter Family inspired. That’s never a bad thing. Mary pokes at your musical brain with her guitar playing — reminiscent at times of the legendary Elizabeth Cotton. Ms. Flower has Ms. Cotton’s vocal vinegar while she displays a deft touch, clarity & spirit that runs through her fingers down into the strings. Ms. Cotton would’ve loved Mary.
Several tunes are Mary Flower originals. Others are traditional, even a Jerome Kern. The small band on this LP include: Suzy Thompson — nice fiery fiddle & harmony vocal; Lisa Leuschner harmony vocals; Dwayne, James & Walter Morgan (The Son of the Soul Revivers) – harmony vocals; Aki Kumar – wild harmonica (“Meet Me in the Bottom”); Jim Pugh’s piano, & Kid Andersen’s string bass.
“Livin’ With the Blues Again,” recalls the music of Hot Tuna & legendary Jorma Kaukonen (who Mary has played with), Geoff Muldaur, & Jack Cassady.
One surprise: a cover of the classic “See See Rider,” that is miles from the blues original or Elvis Presley’s rocking version. It’s slower, more traditional — closer to the earth and well sung. It has a generous helping of Bonnie Raitt, but Mary Flower dominates (with great harmonica by Aki). The song is sung with a tint of Bonnie blues, but Mary’s country-folk-traditional tone surrounds the vocal brilliantly & economically.
A more mature vocal on the gospel-piano driven spiritual “There’s a Bright Side Somewhere.” It’s a rousing upbeat tune Tracy Nelson could do as well in a bluesier manner. Tracy would be an ideal vocalist to duet with a Mary Flower.