I don’t know what folk clubs are like these days, I haven’t dared to enter one since the jazz wars. But if they’re like I remember, then Mean Mary would always be playing in the great celestial folk club in the sky.

This album’s almost too nice for these days, though. It’s gorgeous in a Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Julie Felix, Sandy Denny, Annie Briggs, sort of way.

Mean Mary is Mary James. She made her first album when she was six. I don’t know what you were doing when you were six, but I’ll bet it wasn’t making an album. She’s made over 16 since.

She plays banjo. Big time. Think Jimi. And fiddle. And guitar and about six other things as well. She produced and arranged this album. And it’s one of the brightest cleanest, clearest things I’ve heard for a while. Like when the voodoo man first brought the shiny cd into the camp. And we all marvelled.

Her words remind you how words used to be written. Back in the old days. When songcraft meant something, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, you get the picture.

The songs themselves could easily sit in one of those Lucinda Williams or Emmy Lou Harris contemporary-type albums.

My own personal favourite, so I’ll go on about it, is A Kiss Can Hide Two Faces. It starts all Marlene Dietrich with a banjo, then goes into something that reminded me of David Byrne for some reason or another. And I think she sings a line that includes “only a two-faced rattlesnake would fake an embrace … “to a tango rhythm. Yeah, sing it out, sister.

There’s the battlefield song, Only Time To Pray, that we’ve all probably faced in our own small ways at one time or another. And Big Tour Bus is a canyon song. Or it should be. Or it should have been, I suppose, which is sad in a way.

Bette, Come Back sounds like a variation on some traditional Yiddish melody, which it probably is. I’m not all that up on them, so I’ve no idea.

And Cranberry Gown tells an eternal story as well as it’s ever been told.

You have to watch out for track two, though. Bridge Out. I found it slightly unnerving. It sounds like something from a children’s tv show. From the 1970s. By Rod Jane And Freddy or someone. One of those cheery songs with A REALLY SERIOUS MESSAGE buried away in the chuckled lyrics.

It’s far too late in the day for that sort of thing. They should have stuck that sucker at the end.

Look out as well for the debut EP, Hell & Heroes Vol.1 by Mary’s more electric side project, Mean Mary And The Contrarys. It should be out now.

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