Review: Mary Flower – Bridges

Posted on: Sunday, May 10, 2009

MARY FLOWER

“Bridges”

(Yellow Dog Records: YDR 1642)

The marvellous Portland, Oregon-based Mary Flower first came to my attention with a session on the Paul Jones blues show on BBC Radio 2 – and now here is her third release for the Memphis-based Yellow Dog Records – a most appealing rootsy mix of blues, ragtime, folk and jazz, recorded with many of her home city’s finest musicians. “Bridges” being so titled due to the many bridges that cross the Williamette River, and the ‘bridges’ between the diverse set of musicians that accompany her.

Mary Flower is a quite wonderful fingerpicker and slide guitarist, with a rich voice and this mix of original material and songs going back to the 20s’ and 30s’ is all beautifully performed and produced – a generous 14 tracks, that as previously mentioned, cross many musicial genres.

The opening “Rhythm Of The Road” tells of her 35 years as a musician, with its easy rolling feel, driven by Tony Furtado’s banjo and bottleneck slide guitar; the jazzy “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt Of My Tears” was first recorded by jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, with Janice Scroggins piano prominent, and harmony vocals from Duffy Bishop and Rebecca Kilgore.

The legendary Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues” is given a lovely sparse arrangement – just Mary Flower’s plaintive, aching vocal and guitar with more impressive piano from Janice Scroggins; her superb acoustic picking is highlighted on the original “Columbia River Rag”; the 1929 song “The Ghost Of St. Louis Blues” has a nice Dixieland jazz feel, with Doug Bundy’s clarinet prominent.

Mary Flower shows of her lap steel playing on the blues of “Slow Lane To Glory”, with the ragtimeand gospel-flavoured “On Revival Day There’s Going To Be The Devil To Pay” being one of the album highlights – just Mary and Janice Scoggins again on this track. The instrumental “Daughter Of Contortion” sees another sparkling solo guitar performance, and indeed, another demonstration of her stunning fingerpicking.

Big Bill Broonzy’s “Big Bill Blues” has one of the album’s best vocals, while Hoagy Carmichael’s “Up A Lazy River” features bluegrass star Tim O’Brien on fiddle, with him switching to mandolin on the closing “Blue Waltz”, with Courtney Von Drehle contributing some very nice accordion.

To sum up, a lovely release from a very fine artist and well worth checking out – 51 minutes of sheer quality – all beautifully performed by all the musicians concerned!

GRAHAME RHODES

www.maryflower.com

www.yellowdogrecords.com

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