the mary janes

Indianapolis, Indiana
March 18, 1999
Steve Hammer

The Mary Janes, Record No. 1

Bloomington's the Mary Janes evolved from the legendary Hoosier pop band The Vulgar Boatmen in the same way that Athena leapt, fully clothed and girded for battle from the loins of Zeus. They are not so much a side project as a supernatural force of humanity, compassion and good old pop sensibility in the Michael Stipe sense of the term.

Make no mistake about it: This is a band that matters.

The Mary Janes are led by ex-Boatwomen Janas Hoyt and Caroline Balfe. Hoyt plays guitar and piano and Balfe plays the violin. With their bandmates, they've fashioned a sound that's as irresistible as it is substantial. Maybe "chewy" is a better word, because there's quite a bit to take in on Record No. 1.

Take the most noticeable thing. It's that sound, evolved from dozens of simultaneous and competing influences, that first arrests your ear. The Mary Janes on disc are a virtual encyclopedia of all that is noble in so-called rock music.

Within the span of 20 minutes, the band can evoke the Velvet Underground, the Go-Go's, R.E.M., the Mysteries of Life and 10,000 Maniacs by capturing the thoughtfulness, energy and spirit those artists used on their greatest recordings. But by no means is the group derivative; it's just that they can channel the same verve as the greats.

Their music is deceptively simple in form but its quiet complexity reveals itself in the small touches. These people know something about the organization of a song.

Hoyt's voice is a lace doily made out of steel, a beautiful instrument that is as easily comfortable in any musical context. In certain songs, the guitars can take on a Peter Buck sound; in others, you'd swear that you'd never heard a band that sounded like this.

Special mention must be made of the behind-the-scenes help of the band's talented friends, including John Strohm, whose album is a beautiful companion piece to the Mary Janes' disc.

It was recorded in beautiful Bloomington, Ind., at Echo Park Studios, a facility which always seems to produce recordings of exceptional taste.

Every song is well-written and tastefully performed by these masters of their craft. There's no reason not to check out this group on disc or live, if you have even the slightest affinity for intelligent, modern rootsy music.

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