MaryAnn Harris: Crow Girls

Having heard MaryAnn Harris’ backup vocals on husband Charles de Lint’s Old Blue Truck, I still wasn’t prepared for her singing on her own EP, Crow Girls. The element of surprise seems to be something the two have in common.

The title track, of course, derives from the Crow Girls from de Lint’s Newford stories. It’s a short, bouncy piece, full of the attitude one finds in the characters themselves, insouciant, matter-of-fact (although their realm of fact is sometimes quite different than ours), and energetic. What stopped me briefly was Harris’ voice: I was prepared for something smoother, more overtly melodious. What I got was something just a wee bit raucous, a little guttural, and perfectly in keeping with the characters narrating the song.

“In a Heartbeat” is a love song with a definite country cast, from twanging guitars to smooth, artless delivery. This is not, by the way, a song about the passions of new love — it’s a song about the sureties of a long-running love that has kept romance and its magic alive.

In “Sideways Turned Around,” we have another up-tempo, bouncy song, and I can’t begin to tell you what it’s about.

The EP ends with an instrumental, “John McPhee’s Homestead,” with a definite Old Country cast. The “Old Country” in this case is probably Ireland — could be Scotland, given the title, but it sounds more Irish to me. And it’s wonderful — Harris’ mandolin is the perfect counterpoint to the guitar and fiddle support, which is flawless.

This is pretty much a feel-good collection, light bouncy songs with good energy. The musicianship is superb throughout, and I couldn’t detect a misstep anywhere. I wonder, though, if a selection this brief is really giving us a good picture of Harris’ range — I kept waiting for her to move a little offside, to bring in more of that smokiness, that clarity that she displayed on Old Blue Truck. As it stands, I’ll sit here and hope there’s another release in store, and then maybe I’ll get my wish.

This modestly packaged disc (and I heartily approve of modest packaging) does not include lyrics, but they are available, with a sample track, here.

(SOCAN/Tamson House Records, 2011) MaryAnn Harris: vocals, mandolin; Charles de Lint: guitar; Brock Zeman: guitar, bass; Blair Hogan: electric & acoustic guitars, organ; Greg T. Brown: fiddle; Dylan Roberts: drums.

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