may 2012

mary flower
Mary Flower: invigorating standard issue blues with the simplest of new wrinkles

The Company She Keeps

By David McGee

Mary Flower
Yellow Dog Records

When last heard on 2009’s Bridges, the exceptional roots singer-songwriter-guitarist Mary Flower was flourishing with the support of Tim O’Brien, Tony Furtado, New Orleans sax man Reggie Houston, pianists Mac Potts and Janice Scoggins, with her own son Jesse Wither on bass and some vocal assistance from Rebecca Kilgore and Duffy Bishop. On Misery Loves Company she’s returned to more austere settings, sometimes featuring only her expressive fingerpicked or slide acoustic guitar, at other times a lone partner adds interesting textures to a collection of vintage and original blues of a certain downcast nature--the album title is more literal than ironic or self-referential.

Mary Flower, ‘Death Letter Blues,’ from Misery Loves Company

Her collaborators this time out are the likes of Curtis Salgado, who helps Ms. Flower set the tone for what’s to come with his honking harmonica flourishes in support of her weary reading of Muddy Waters’ “Hard Day Blues.” Misery takes a powder on the delightful rag bearing an au courant title, “Recession Rag,” an instrumental romp on which Brian Oberlin adds some sprightly Yank Ratchell-style blues mandolin to the festivities. Flower does get intensely self-referential and rather merciless on her own “I’m Dreaming of Your Demise,” an unforgiving missive to a lowdown significant other (“you are my diabolical baby/your sordid ways are making me crazy/you call me your sweetie pie/you’re the rotten apple of my eye/when you spout those nasty lies/I’m dreaming of your demise”), to which David Frishberg adds some suspiciously gleeful blues piano and Ms. Flower’s vocal--in contrast to the many others here of a deadpan, despairing tone--has a bounce in it, the liberated exultation, if you will, of a woman freed from the chains of love. Son House’s harrowing “Death Letter Blues” provides the demise Ms. Flower seeks, and her vocal, abetted by Alan Hager’s deep, moaning slide guitar, expresses equal measures of shock and desolation (the little cry in her voice when she sings “I didn’t have no soul to throw my arms around” will get under your skin); Son’s version is so monumental in seeming like a personal nightmare revisited, it’s unlikely anyone will cue up Ms. Flower’s version over the original, but props are due the lady for a credible job with a song Son simply owns. On a fanciful note, she brings in Mark Vehrencamp to add some tuba burps to her bright, ragtimey original instrumental, “Jitters”; another original instrumental, “Devil’s Punchbowl,” moody and dark-hued but with a certain determined rhythmic pulse and shifting textures, becomes a haunting dialogue when Gideon Freudmann’s eerie cello counterpoint engages Ms. Flower’s florid fingerpicking in a battle of light and dark voices. Just goes to show how standard issue blues can be invigorated by the simplest of new wrinkles, as Mary Flower does time and again on Misery Loves Company, the latest in a career’s worth of albums that are more than the sum of their parts.

Mary Flower’s Misery Loves Company is available at

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