December 31, 1999
J. J. Perry
Mary Janes' Record No. 1 a standout '99 CD
Record No. 1 is a fitting title for the Mary Janes' 1999 release. Not only is it the band's first full-length album, but it also stands as the best local record of the year. Putting a pop music sheen on country music is nothing new, but in the talented hands of the Mary Janes (and, specifically, Janas Hoyt, songwriter and the Mary Janes' musical mother), the music is at once rootsy and accessible, naked and real and still well-crafted.
The Mary Janes began working on what would become Record No. 1 in 1996, taking over two years to complete, with numerous personnel and studio switches before it was finally released on the Nashville, Tenn., Delmore label. Record No. 1 is as much photo album as record album; the different lineups and older material, coupled with more recent songs, provide interesting snapshots in the evolution of the band (though the group was musically evolved from the start).
From the slow build of the seven-minute-plus "Shooting Star" to the pure pop melody of "Wish I Could Fly," Record No. 1 is truly music for all occasions. While the former is meditative, the latter is almost joyously frivolous in it's hooks. Who would've figured they'd work so well back-to-back?
The different influences intersect perfectly in the song "Sigh to Signal." Hoyt's sweet vocals over an insistent, driving drum, bolstered on top by violin and harmonica. Is it country? Is it pop? Alt-country? Labels aside, it is as good a three minutes as anything on the radio now.
The album does have its dark moments. "Part of Me Now" builds on a rubbery bassline and snare drum for a mysterious creep. The stark, pedal-steel gospel interlude "What A Friend," with Hoyt's disembodied voice sounding like a 1930s radio broadcast just now coming through the airwaves, is a fitting prelude to the album's desperate closer, "Final Days."
Since the release of this record in July, the Mary Janes have been hard at work on the road and in the studio (with much of the new material available at themaryjanes.com and mp3.com). Will we have to wait another 2 1/2 years for the next MJ? At least we'll have Record No. 1 to keep us company.
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