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CD REVIEW: Mary Lane
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MARY LANE

Travelin’ Woman

Women of the Blues Records

Mary Lane CD

By Chris Edwards

There is a dictionary definition for Journeyman: one who is qualified, experienced and reliable at their job. In many cases, the definition also contains the qualifier that those who are considered a Journeyman are good at their job, but not “great.” I take some exception to that qualifier, especially when it comes to musicians.

Often, greatness is conferred upon artists with very short bodies of work. Jimi Hendrix’s entire studio catalog was recorded over 17 months. Robert Johnson’s recorded history is even shorter; 5 days stretched out over 7 months.  So maybe this Journeyman thing deserves closer scrutiny.


          Here comes the latest release from Mary Lane called Travelin’ Woman.  I say latest because Lane’s last project, Appointment with the Blues, dropped in 1997.  In the interim, my kids have grown up and we’ve gone through three presidents. Mary likes to take her time.

Not that she hasn’t been busy. Mary Lane has been a staple of the Chicago blues scene all along. Teresa’s, Rosa’s, Buddy Guy’s Legends, B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and Kingston Mines have all been home to Mary and her band.  But two events changed everything.

          First, Lane was introduced to super producer, Jim Tullio in 2016. The pair set about writing nine of the ten songs on the CD including the title track. Tullio is known for having a great studio and the expertise to produce very clean mixes. He’s outdone himself here. Every TW track is a sonic buffet. Each instrument has its space, but together there’s balance and harmony. Jim also gets out his stock in trade and contributes some tasty rhythm guitar and bass.

          Second, Mary Lane’s a movie star! A quintet of Northwestern University filmmakers, under the direction of Jesseca Ynez Simmons, has made a documentary about Mary, appropriately titled I Can Only Be Mary Lane. Much of the footage was shot during the making of Travelin’ Woman. The doc details the process of making the CD, Mary’s awesome history and the modern tribulations of financing the project.

          The CD itself gets right down to business.  Chris Cameron’s B-3 snarls from the jump followed by Mary’s smoky alto, up front and strong. Make no mistake who she is. Mary’s voice doesn’t do gymnastics. She doesn’t possess a four octave range. She doesn’t scream and shatter glass.  She’s the voice of experience; the voice of one who’s been there and done or seen that.  It’s the voice of confidence. It’s the voice of an elder blues women who, as a child growing up in Arkansas, sang the blues to the cotton field workers to keep them entertained while they toiled.

When Mary sings and orders you to leave that wine alone, you’d better drop that liquor in the trash right now!  “That’s your last drink” says Mary and then Phil Miller’s slide kicks in for the punch line. The rhythm section of Travis Bernard (drums), Cameron on keyboards and Tullio, for the most part, handling bass and guitar, are right there with Lane. The grooves are pulsating when they need to be and smooth and slinky when the mood is right. The foundation is tight, but the arrangements allow ample room for guests and there are plenty of them.

          “Tools (Tullio) is a brilliant artist. Love working with him in performance and production,” said Corky Siegel, just one of the featured harp players.  “Always have a beautiful time.  (It’s) an honor to meet Mary and lay down a track right in front of her. She sings just the right notes in just the right way. Takes me back to the South Side blues clubs of the early ‘60s. She gets my Grammy award for best performance.”

          Fiery harp performances threaten to take over many of the songs on TW. Billy Branch turns up on, “Ain’t Nobody Else.” Late legendary sax player Eddie Shaw contributes his burning harmonica licks on, “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More.” Maybe the best of them all is Brazil’s young blues starlet, Indiara Sfair, who takes an amazing turn on the funky “Blues Give Me A Feeling.”

          The CD closes with a down home track called, “Make Up Your Mind.” It’s just voice and slide dobro featuring Colin Linden (who’s worked with Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Allison Krause and more). The tune’s quiet, pensive mood is the proper cap on a brilliant set of compositions that may contain a future classic or two.  Time will tell and Mary likes to take her time.

          If you haven’t seen the film, there’s a screening in Skokie at the Skokie Theater on March 24. A live performance by Mary is scheduled after the film. Another screening will be held at The Quarry Entertainment Center in Chicago on March 25. Check: www.icanonlybemarylane.com for future screenings.

For more info, visit: https://www.ormanmusicmedia.com/women-of-the-bluesrecords

To buy the CD, visit cdbaby

About the Author: Chris Edwards is a drummer and percussionist who’s been a part of the Chicago music community for over 30 years.  His articles, reviews and photographs have been published in Modern Drummer magazine, Bassplayer magazine and various blogs and websites on the net. Edwards is a long time member of the Chicago Blues Society, The Jazz Institute of Chicago and The Percussive Arts Society.

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