august 2009

Mary Flower
Yellow Dog Records

Veteran roots singer/songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Mary Flower gets some high-powered assistance on her delightful new album, Bridges, what with folks on the order of Tim O’Brien, Tony Furtado, New Orleans sax man Reggie Houston, the scintillating pianists Mac Potts and Janice Scroggins, vocalists Rebecca Kilgore and Duffy Bishop, even her own bassist son, Jesse Wither (from the band Jackstraw) among those lending their voices and/or instruments to 14 superbly executed inquiries into a few new songs and a bunch of gems from way back in the day. Flower has a sturdy, expressive voice, clear and smooth in the style of an early 20th Century pop singer, and it’s a good fit for the material. Its bright quality and her subtly nuanced phrasing express the inherent joy in E.C. Ball’s bouncy gospel number, “When I Get Home I’m Gonna Be Satisfied”; by contrast, the way she skips lightly over the lyrics of the 1928 Paul Whiteman Orchestra hit (most recently covered by Martha Wainwright), “There Ain’t No Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears” gets the sarcastic message across, and is enhanced by the cascading harmonies of Kilgore and Duffy, plus some frisky piano work by Janice Scroggins. In fact, the twin poles of blues and gospel are the styles Flower bridges here, if you will. On a toe-tapping medley of Andy Razaf’s “On Revival Day” and “There’s Going To Be the Devil to Pay,” from the Fats Waller oeuvre, she puts both genres together seamlessly, in fact, with Scroggins’s ebullient piano and Flower’s own expressive acoustic fingerpicking goosing along a hearty vocal articulating both the exultation of salvation and the dark warnings of damnation ahead for heathen souls. Elsewhere, she offers a lowdown, downhome saunter through Big Bill Broonzy’s “Big Bill Blues,” again with a fine assist from Scroggins adding a languorous blues piano to the mix and Matt Johnson underpinning it with some solid, brush drumming. Tim O’Brien makes his lone appearance on Bridges a memorable one, adding moaning fiddle counterpoint and plaintive solos to Flowers’s fingerpicked explorations of the melody in a laid-back reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Up a Lazy River.” Sometimes, though, it’s all about Mary herself, and that’s quite enough—her own “Columbia River Rag” is a showcase for an energetic, solo ragtime guitar workout that spotlights her unerring command of both melody and rhythm in a joy-filled instrumental; another original instrumental, “Daughter of Contortion,” works at a slower tempo but is equally rich in the shifting textures of top and bottom strings maneuvers and sly, top strings rhythmic punctuations along the way. In one of the album’s most ambitious numbers, she resurrects a tune from the pen of the underrated (or willfully ignored) blackface titan, Emmett Miller, whose “The Ghost of the St. Louis Blues” gets a New Orleans treatment courtesy a band comprised of Doug Bundy wailing on clarinet, Reggie Houston whining away on soprano sax, Mark Vehrencamp’s steadily burping tuba and Mac Potts’s vamping piano in service to a swaggering Flower vocal on a treatment that is equal shades of dark and light in spirit, pretty much like the whole of Bridges, to be sure, and seemingly a juncture where Mary Flower happens to blossom. –David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024