Wednesday, January 18, 2006

miss america

Another dispatch from the "love-it-or-loathe-it" corner, I was reminded of this by Martha Wainwright's debut album, especially tracks like "These Flowers". So I decided to go back to it to see if it still had the same power I remember it having back when I first bought it. After about two seconds of "To Cry About", the first track, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up and I was having to remind myself to breathe. Conclusion? Once you let this album into your life, it's a keeper.

A cursory listen tells you that Mary Margaret is a unique talent. How you respond to "unique" is pretty much up to you. One American reviewer described her as "Annie Hall with a lobotomy". I personally think she is an incredibly powerful performer, and the insinuation that she is simply "kooky" does her a great disservice - there is so much skill and control in both of these vocals, part-sung, part-spoken, part-scat. It's not just her "being a bit mad", it's a brave and emotional representation of a mind in a state of flux.

Mary Margaret O'Hara - Body's In Trouble

In the late 80s on British TV, TV-AM used to show a "pop video" at 5 to 8 every day - I'll never forget the look on Mike Morris' face after the video for "Body's In Trouble" was aired.

The song is about something universal - when your body lets you down, either through something physical or just because... "you just want to move somebody / a body won't let you" - there's some kind of barrier that stops you connecting - either physically or just through some kind of social conditioning. As the ageing process begins to take hold, I find more and more in this song!

Mary Margaret O'Hara signed to Virgin Records in 1984. She went into the studio with Andy Partridge of XTC, who left after only a day. Virgin only accepted 4 of the tracks she recorded and there followed 3 years of artistic stale-mate, which only ended when Michael Brook saw her live and offered to help mix and produce. "Miss America" is an album with a broad artistic palette, taking in jazz, country, torch-song, art-rock, shot through with Mary Margaret's unorthodox arrangements.

Mary Margaret O'Hara - When You Know Why You're Happy

UK reviews for the album were great, but it failed to chart. US reviewers, as mentioned above, were harsh. Unsurprisingly, Mary Margaret has kept her distance from the record industry ever since, apart from a few guest appearances and a 1991 Christmas EP (please get in touch if you have a copy!).

She seems to be concentrating on acting and stage work, recently appearing in The Black Rider by Robert Wilson, Tom Waits and William S Burroughs, which would have been amazing!

She recently released a soundtrack album to "Appartment Hunting", which the faithful see as the follow-up to "Miss America" (I haven't got a copy...yet!)

fun fact! - Mary Margaret O'Hara's sister is Catherine O'Hara, star of Home Alone, recently seen as "Mickey" (as in 'Mitch and Mickey') in A Mighty Wind.

Visit - unofficial m2oh site
Buy - Miss America by Mary Margaret O'Hara

from the original post's comments :

marc-o - "Partridge reckons his atheism didn't sit well with her devout Catholicism and that is what got him the sack.....mind you I've read many reports that he is 'difficult' to work with...mainly from his bandmates. When XTC worked with Todd Rundgren the situation was described as 'Two Hitlers/One Bunker'....I look forward to hearing these "

dickvandyke - "I see what ya saying steve... I suspect it sounds even better after being given the elbow by a woman, a subsequent hip flask of Jameson's and a big fat Woodbine.

I like marc-o's line about Partridge & Rundgren's head to head megalomania, but Swindon's Mr P can do little wrong in my book. Even as a jolly nice Catholic, I have a lot of time for his 'Dear God'.

Keep up the good work."

oxbow  - "I don't actually hate this. Yes. I actually quite like it.

However, I am still of the opinion that her 'mental chick you met at college in the late 80's' style vocal inflections would drive me crazy over a whole album.

My thanks go out to you dear brother."

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