the mary janes

Irish Voice, New York, New York
October 6, 1999
Off The Record
Tom Dunphy

The Not-So-Plain Janes

The Mary Janes have nothing to do with Irish music. There, that's out of the way. Not being Irish doesn't preclude anyone from this page -- being boring or lousy does. And the Mary Janes are neither -- hell, they're one of the most intriguing band's this writer's heard all year. The Bloomington Indiana-based Mary Janes are swinging through the area this week, as are well worth investigating.

Born in the mid-90's when singer/guitarist/songwriter Janas Hoyt spun off from the eclectic Vulgar Boatmen to form a side project, the Mary Janes combine country-sounding instruments -- fiddles, mandolins, pedal steel guitar -- with a stripped-down punk esthetic that's melodic, tense and compelling.

"I have a real love of minimalism," says Janas Hoyt, the Mary Janes' singer and guitarist via phone from Bloomington. "My minimal roots probably stem from Lou Reed who's my absolute favorite guy," she says "I'm not interested in fancy stuff."

Take a listen to Record No. 1, the Mary Janes most recent release on Delmore Records, and you'll hear what Janas Hoyt means. These songs are tauter than Brandi Chastain's midsection. "Part of Me Now" starts out with a whisper, until a stiff snare backbeat and some contrary cellos drive the song to its catchy "if it takes all night / if it takes all morning" chorus. "Never Felt Better" with its loose swingy fiddle, evokes a cozy rainy day. And "Sigh to Signal" sparkles with bright sounding guitars.

But the album's defining moment is its opening track, "Shooting Star." It's a seven-plus minute song with just three chords, which might sound like after-school detention to most folks. But within those seven minutes and three chords, instruments and voices swell, climb, dart in and fade away, only to be replaced by new ones, and newer ones still. "I've always thought in loops, ever since I was a child," says Hoyt.

According to the Janes' songstress, such attention to detail comes from musical constraints. "I'm an incredibly limited guitarist," laughs Hoyt. "I don't have chops, so I prefer to have the strings take over the melodic lead. I've always been interested in arranging, (draws out her voice in long syllables) in long tones in drones. It's more important for me to simplify, to let the tones draw you in."

The Mary Janes also contribute a version of "I'm Not Ready Yet" to Real: The Tom T. Hall Project, a recently released tribute to the fabled country singer. "We recorded it in a bathroom at a friend's house," Hoyt recalls. Which led to a problem -- there were actually birds audible in the background, and the master tape had to be tweaked to get them out. There was also another problem. "I had no idea that George Jones had recorded the absolutely definitive version of it. It was almost blasphemous," she contends.

Hoyt relaxed when a George Jones-loving stranger heard the song on the car radio, got Hoyt's number from the information operator, and called her from the side of the road on his cell phone to rave about the track. "It was a very fine event in my life," she laughs.

The Mary Janes aim to grab you, like they did the overzealous George Jones fan, with their strong sense of melody. "It's all about letting tone and space make shape," says Janas Hoyt. "That's what worked best for me."

Works for me too.

The Mary Janes are playing at 8pm at Brownie's tonight, Wednesday, October 6th. They're also at Maxwell's, Hoboken, New Jersey at 9pm on Thursday, October 7, and at the Lakeside Lounge in Manhattan at 9pm on Sunday, October 10. More info from www.themaryjanes.com.



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