Two Americana Albums Reviewed

Two Americana Albums: CDs from Joey Errigo and Mean Mary

We are going to review two albums here, both by artists who have ties to Florida. Joey Errigo is a native of upstate New York, transplanted to the Sunshine State; ‘Mean’ Mary James is a Floridian who now resides in Nashville.

JOEY ERRIGO – TIP YOUR WAITRESS

This album, Joey Errigo’s second, has been out for over a year, but it took me a while to get around to obtaining a copy. I have long been a fan of Ms. Errigo’s wry humor. This album tends toward an older country music sound, a bit of Western Swing sound occasionally, a bit of the approach we might associate with such artists as Emmylou Harris. There is definitely something of a unifying theme to many of the songs.

1] Under Clear Blue Skies ~ A slightly world-weary view of the state of things, with Joey’s typical melodic approach, a certain hopefulness — the world keeps spinning but ‘with any luck, tomorrow I’ll spin back.’

2] The Almighty Dollar ~ A wry and tongue-in-cheek look at the haves and have-nots. Errigo fits into the latter category, apparently, but takes that turn of events philosophically and with plenty of wit.

3] Long Way to Heaven ~ In a sense, revisits the concepts of the first song here, but much more seriously and with a great deal of longing. World-weary, indeed, this time and a bit low-key. It grows on one with repeated listening.

4] Tip Your Waitress ~ The title song, and certainly one of the high points of this offering. A warning to treat those who serve well…or they might serve you something you weren’t expecting. A fun, somewhat jazzy tune, as well as a cautionary tale we all should heed!

5] Champion All Around Cowgirl ~ As I understand it, this song is based on folks Joey knew during her career working with horses, so I would assume there is some truth to it (I do know how artists can take an idea from real life and run with it). The story is somewhat interesting; as a song, however, perhaps not one of the better efforts here. To be honest, it seems a bit forced, trying to fit all the ‘facts’ into this cowboy-style song.

6] The Beautiful Garden ~ Many of the songs here express a sense of longing. This one does so in a rather light-hearted manner (yet with serious undertones) — it’s all been downhill since Adam and Eve. Indeed, there ain’t nothing natural about human nature.

7] The Living ~ Sort of the flip side of the previous cut, celebrating humanity’s will to, well, do things. Not entirely approving it, to be sure, but not exactly condemning either — the living are the living, who have more but want even more. A rather Gaelic feel to this one, and well done. This has to be one of my favorite songs here (though it is hard to choose).

8] Mobile Home Song ~ Long a staple of Joey’s live performances, it was nice to see that she had finally recorded the song. Mobile homes — and a kazoo solo. ‘Nuff said.

9] All My Trails Are Gone ~ Back to a bit of a Western feel on this one. And more longing, to be certain. This is a song that might bring a tear to some eyes (mine included). A last horse ride is the metaphor for all sorts of losses. Fine music here, too.

10] That Place They Call the Sunny Side ~ Very much in the vein of ‘old time’ country, and a bit of a gospel feel, as well, this is not really one of my favorites here. Maybe a tad forgettable compared to many of the other songs.

11] Four Square Home Place ~ Definitely Gospel this time, a real estate advertisement for a place ‘on the other side.’ Good Western Swing sort of feel to it, and nicely written lyrics. But I don’t think I want to ‘move in today.’ 🙂

12] Almost Halfway Home ~ Somewhat in the vein of the other songs here, longing, going home, etc. This one is relatively upbeat and hopeful. Life as ‘driving home.’

13] Sing Me Across the River ~ Okay, this is THE song on here and Ms Errigo obviously realized that, putting it at the end to sum things up. A very powerful song about searching and ‘crossing rivers.’

One thing Joey Errigo always has going for her is her well-crafted lyrics — all her own compositions on this album (the tunes are quite serviceable, as well, and some excellent). There is nothing leaden or clumsy there; they often sparkle, they are uniformly thoughtful. There are not any ‘bad’ tracks here, no filler.

Errigo sings well and expressively, but without frills. Which is all to the good. The instrumentation and playing is good, if not very adventurous. I can recommend “Tip Your Waitress” with no reservations to any fan of good Americana and/or Folk music. For more info, visit Joey’s website at: http://joeyerrigo.wix.com/tipyourwaitress

MEAN MARY – SWEET

Mean Mary James’s “Sweet” at least borders on being a ‘concept album’ (with ‘sweet’ being the common element). Unlike some of the artist’s previous releases, which were pretty straightforward ‘old time’ Americana showcasing Mary’s prodigious instrumental talent (especially her blazing speed on the banjo), “Sweet” veers into more of a pop direction (and often exhibits a Caribbean feel).

1] Sunshine ~ The opening song/introduction is a pleasant pop piece with ‘Island’ inflections, and banjo accompaniment. And synths. Right off, we must recognize that Mary does not have the lyric depth of a Joey Errigo, but the words are well-crafted and the tune is catchy. And, of course, the playing and arranging of Mean Mary James is always impeccable. That need not be mentioned again (but probably will be). This is music I might be inclined to play while cruising along the beach.

2] Born to Be That Woman ~ Wow. Power ballad meets folk rock, with strong, bluesy vocals. This is simply a great song. You might actually believe that she was ‘that woman that ain’t no good for you.’ Sort of turns around a common theme in male rock and does it well. But I don’t believe that Mary wasn’t born ‘sweet.’

03] Trumbull County ~ This song about the Trumbull County Tractor Show (a real event) is perhaps a bit of a throwaway and the weakest cut here. It primarily serves to show off the artist’s banjo chops as it bounces along. But she does have considerable banjo chops. Fiddle too. Also, we get to hear Norton Miller play the spoons.

4] Sweet ~ Okay, this is just too good. More Caribbean-inflected pop. Music of this sort is something of a departure for a woman known for her old time instrumental skills. We should all be very glad she has grown and made that departure, for this is just a killer track and ‘sweeter than a sugar rush.’

5] Voice from a Dream ~ And so we turn completely around to a gorgeous instrumental, fiddle and guitar, in a Gaelic style. Great playing, great composition (everything on here is written or co-written by Mary James). This is the sort of song that can choke one up even without any lyrics.

6] Me Thinks I See Thee Jane ~ This song is from the video trailer of the novel by the same name, written by Mary in collaboration with Jean James (her mother). It is nicely enough done, well-played, of course, but not at quite the high level of some of the other pieces (but the book is pretty good — we reviewed a little while back). This is more in the vein of Mary’s typical Americana music and if there weren’t so many really great cuts on this album I might talk it up more!

7] I Walk with Amazing Grace ~ A Christian soft-rock song — and surprisingly good. I don’t normally go for this sort of thing, but the strong melody pulled me in. It is really another power ballad, and a pretty decent one.

8] Rainbow Reef ~ I think this might be my favorite on ‘Sweet.’ One of them, anyway. We’re back to the Reggae-esque here. Great pop song, fabulous arrangement, without any reliance on Mary’s playing chops to keep it going. More beach-cruisin’ music!

9] Bad Ol John ~ This song has been in Mary’s repertoire for some time, finally recorded. It is fairly straightforward Americana, banjo-based, and good enough but it almost feels out of place with these other songs, i.e. it sounds more like her last album than this one.

10] Lift Your Head ~ Okay, this is a bit different. Sort of Irish and maybe just a bit Punk. Very catchy, whatever it is! “Drop your cares and lift your head.” Will do. And maybe dance while I am at it.

11] Sweet Pickin Balm ~ A short and funny piece advertising an actual product, available at Mean Mary’s website, and featuring her brother Frank. I think they are trying to sound Slavic, maybe…I recommend looking up the video they have at YouTube. Shoot, you should look at all Mary’s videos.

12] My Own Sweet Time ~ Blues rock. Mary unleashes that powerful voice of hers and lets it howl at the moon. A bit spooky and definitely fun. One might almost overlook the Mean One’s understated but impeccable lead guitar work here. But one shouldn’t.

13] Brand New Day ~ A beautiful ballad, a love song, a riddle song, of sorts. The perfect followup to the bravado of the previous cut.

14] Sunshine Reprise ~ The name says it all — we revisit the opening cut, except faster! Excellent close to an excellent album.

Yes, this is an excellent album. It is also a rather polished album, well-produced (by Mary), well-recorded, in a decidedly professional-looking package. All that, of course, is meaningless if the music doesn’t measure up. The music does measure up. This is Mean Mary’s best to date and highly recommended.

Members of Mean Mary’s sometime band, The Contrarys, including her brother Frank James and drummer Mindy Wright, play on some of the tracks. But, frequently, this is one-man (okay, one-woman) band stuff. She has the chops to pull that off.

Mary’s website is: http://meanmary.com

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About Far League Ranger

Author, artist, musician. Writer, illustrator, and designer of novels, poetry, children's books, nonfiction.
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