Mary Lou Lord
Got No Shadow

The Trouble With Mary Lou
Mary Lou Lord and her sweet, unaffected voice have been troubling my sleep. Not everyone's, though. A friend of mine, having recently entered his thirties, had this response to the prospect of seeing Mary Lou Lord play: "Yawn."

"But," he added, "maybe that's the old man talking." I understood--for people who have been there and done that, another girl with a guitar who doesn't even write most of her songs isn't a maddening thing. Given my predilection for girls with sweet, unaffected voices wielding guitars (see Shawn Colvin and Juliana Hatfield), I figured I'd fall in love with Lord, a singer who's landed a major label debut after years of strumming cover songs in Boston subways and making some records for Kill Rock Stars. Plus she wrote "His Indie World," that kiss-off song to all those boys who put the courage of their convictions in their record collections.

But it's precisely because Lord is just another girl with a guitar that I'm put off--even more precisely, a girl with a guitar who doesn't have much to say for herself. Here she is, though, on the cover of the album, having a kind of Nancy Sinatra (check out the near-bouffant and wicked eyeliner) meets Mary Richards (guitar and amp set up in the middle of a city street, obviously a girl with purpose) moment, making me think that what lies in store will be some sly, rocking pop. But from the opening strums of her new album Got No Shadow it's clear that we're in for warm, jangly folk-rock that doesn't quite live up to the hype afforded it.

The thirteen songs on the album are produced so that the guitars, chiming and lush, match Lord's voice, which is girlish but also a little rough and tumble. So you believe her when she sings lyrics such as "Felt a little uneasy on easy street" and "I was too freaked out to deal with it/And too fucked up to care/And I stood right there and watched it fall apart." These confessions of disillusionment are penned by Lord herself--a rare occurance here. For the most part, she's singing songs written by Nick Salomon of the English psychedelic group the Bevis Frond; two are covers and only two are credited to Lord.

There are some moments, though, in which the lyrics and the arrangements rise above the polished sounds of someone trying to puzzle together the fallout of late nights and misplaced affection. In these songs, Lord's performance turns glittering and brash, as with "She Had You," song that lopes around as she sets the scene--two girls from the old neigborhood, superstar and loser, but the loser got the guy--and then swells up at the chorus, where she laments: "But she had you--she had you." On "Supergun," the guitars surge, driven by drums, and she sets her sights on a moving target: "I'm burned up with jealousy/You're burned up with speed/You ditch your paramour/I got what you need". She rocks out some more on "Some Jingle Jangle Morning," full of delusionary optimism buyoed by fuzzy guitars: "Cause I love to watch you walk/And I love to hear you talk/But there's nothing I can say/To make you feel the same way." These numbers suggest that Lord really is that sly, rocking cover girl, the mistress of her own amp, even though she isn't credited with playing the guitar on the album--just singing. They come close to showing Lord off as an artist in her own right, but ultimately, whether by musical influence or knob-twirling, too many have left their prints all over it.

The prints of one Elliot Smith included, who plays guitar and sings backup for the Elizabeth Cotten song "Shake Sugaree". Smith, an indie rocker, is working in the same vein as Lord, but he manages to leave his mark wherever he's been. I'd say that if you're craving six strings and guarded sentiment, you'd be wise to pass Lord by and search out Smith's records, full of his shaggy guitar work and whispery tenor, and songs about hearts in pieces on the pavement, glittering broken glass under a street lamp, someone stumbling out of the umpteenth bar.

The glossy production and the layers of influences on her debut put Lord at a cool remove from the listener, and we're left wondering who is she, really, and what does she have to say? The album's called Got No Shadow for good reason. Until Lord comes up with a body of work truly, distinctively her own, she's got no shade to cast, only others' to reside in.

--Carlene Bauer
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