The Listening Room
Courting My Muse
by Mary Crowell
Review by Rob Wynne
The first thing someone is
likely to say upon first hearing Mary Crowell play her idiosyncratic
approach to filk music is "Wow, she's good!" This
will usually be followed by the hopeful plea "Does she have an album
out?" Fortunately for fans of sultry jazz about mythology,
cartoon sex symbols, and music theory, her first CD,
Courting My Muse has just been
Courting My Muse showcases the wide
range of Crowell's piano-driven jazz.
Most of her songs have a playful, sultry vibe that draws you
into the stories she's telling. "Galatea (and Pygmalion)"
is a love song that retells the classic story from the
statue's point of view, capturing the essence of that characters
frustration of waiting. "Magnus Retail", (featured in this
months Poetry section) is a bouncy advertisement for a magic shop
offering a wide range of services for those with the right coin.
The boastful refrain can't help but draw a smile.
Meanwhile, "Summertime Beagle" reflects on much more mundane
concerns, a paean to the simple joys of lying around in the late summer
sun with a loved one, soaking up the last of the warmth of a season
fading into autumn.
There really isn't any filler on this album, but certain tracks do
stand out. The bewitching, Gershwin-tinged "Change of the
Season" reflects on the Persephone myth with a slow, drifting melody
that surrounds you like wisps of smoke. "The
Doctrine of Ethos" explores the quasi-magical, mood-altering power that
music has over people, suggesting that even reducing this ancient art to its
basic mathematical formulas does not rob it of its mystical ability to
saw the minds of those who hear it. And just in case you
think there should be more humour, "When I Grow Up" gives us
a delightful tribute to that sexy star of the screen, the indomitable
Perhaps the most standout track on the CD is the infectiously creepy
"Get Down Mama", a blood-moon ode to the shadows of October.
The witches' chorus of "Ah ha-ha" startles you at the same
time as it pulls you in. Crowell wrote the song with her young
son, and the energy and imagination it projects linger long after the
track is finished. (It occurs to me belatedly that this album has 3/4
of a season cycle, with "Summertime Beagle", "Change of the Season",
and "Get Down Mama" covering summer, winter, and autumn, respectively.
It lacks only a spring song for the full quartet.)
Behind Crowell on the piano is an assortment of Atlanta area musicians,
drawn mostly from her two bands, "Three Weird Sisters" and "Play It
With Moxie". If I had a complaint about the record, it's that
the tracks featuring the other musicians tend to bury them in the mix.
I'd really have liked the drums and bass especially to be
brought forward a little more on some of the tracks, to really give it
that smoky jazz club feel. Overall, though, this is a minor
If you're familiar with filk music, this is an album pretty much unlike
any you've heard in the genre. While there have been other
piano-oriented filkers before, none of them quite brought the blend of
jazz and torch song that Crowell specializes in.
This, along with her willingness to do pretty much anything
that involves playing with other musicians, has made her a rising star
in the community in just a few short years. It was announced
in March that she will be the Toastmaster at Consonance, the northern
California filkcon, in 2008.
If you like jazz, or mythology, or honestly just think there aren't
enough songs dedicated to expressing a young girls fancy for a
movie-star elf, Courting My Muse is
an album you should have in your collection.
(You can hear samples from (and purchase) Courting My Muse at CD Baby. The lyrics to the song Magnus Retail appear in this month's poetry section.)
© 2007 Rob Wynne
Rob Wynne is a systems
administrator, writer, and musician who lives in Alpharetta,
Georgia. He has been the webmaven for Aphelion since 1997.
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