Review: Mary Flower – Misery Loves Company

Posted on: Friday, Nov 18, 2011

“Misery Loves Company”
(Yellow Dog Records: YDR 1842)

Based in Portland, Oregon since 2004, the excellent and most talented Mary Flower brings us “Misery Loves Company” . . . pairing her sublime guitar playing and vocals with a varied collection of roots and blues musicians from her home city for a series of duets, on a mix of covers and original songs . . . a most entertaining follow-up to the equally fine “Bridges” album, also on Yellow Dog Records.

Flower’s playing, in which she shows off her majestic finger picking and slide work,  merges touches of blues, ragtime, folk and more, and with her skilled guests on board, she has created a modern, yet simple and thoroughly convincing essential roots album that is pure class from start to finish – evidence of her 35 year career in music.

She channels some Muddy Waters into her own style with the opening “Hard Day Blues”, with a driving, rhythmic guitar intro, aided and abetted by the tasteful harmonica of Curtis Salgado, whose playing is delightful; her own “Recession Rag” is a good-time instrumental with her glorious picking joined by the mandolin of Brian Oberlin. Son House’s classic “Death Letter Blues” is a joy . . . with her own lap slide and Alan Hager’s electric slide weaving in and out of each other.

Brass makes an entrance on another Flower original, “Jitters”, with the tuba of Mark Vehrencamp featuring on this finger picked ragtime tune.  The releases only ‘outsider’, Toronto-born, Nashville-based guitarist and producer Colin Linden comes on board for the dark and brooding “Way Down In The Bottom”, with his electric dobro shadowing more fine guitar and vocals from Mary Flower on this, another of her own songs.

The only non-instrumentalist guest, singer LaRhonda Steele, features on the gospel Rev. Gary Davis song, “Goin’ To Sit  Down On The Banks Of The River” . . . the two voices creating a joyous sound indeed. Her own son, Jesse Withers, plays bass on Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie Dance”, with his mother laying down some slashing slide guitar here. Things turn a little jazzy on “I’m Dreaming Of Your Demise”, with composer and pianist Dave Frishberg contributing some bebop fills and solo.

Violin player James Mason shines on the instrumental “Miss Delta”, on top of Mary Flowers acoustic guitar chords; the Delta blues of “Devil’s Punchbowl” is another treat, where Flower has cello player Gideon Freudmann for company on another impressive and convincing instrumental. The beautiful Elizabeth Cotten song, “Shake Sugaree” is quite enchanting with Johnny B. Connolly on button accordion. This fine release ends with the only solo performance – a take on Scrapper Blackwell’s “Scrapper’s Blues” – just Mary Flower and her picked acoustic guitar, and is a fitting end to proceedings.


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