Mary Lorson & The Soubrettes – BurnBabyBurn

Mary Lorson & The Soubrettes - BurnBabyBurn

Ever since being hooked in the head and tugged in the heartstrings by Mary Lorson’s presence on Madder Rose’s eponymous signature song (AKA the early version of “Swim”) way back around 1993, this writer’s continuous connection with her ongoing career – through Madder Rose, with Saint Low, as an instrumental score-maker with Billy Coté and as part of The Piano Creeps – has been unbroken in spite of music industry disruption and evolving personal tastes.  In fact, if Lorson had made a grime or heavy metal record, it would probably still have peeked this follower’s interest.

This isn’t to say that Lorson’s wares have been beyond creative fluctuations or can go unchecked in any critiquing.  Throughout the best part of two decades her chosen route has relied on balancing urges to be a serious mature songwriter and a giddy musical explorer, wrestling with both the weight of experience and wide-eyed innocence in the process; a balance that hasn’t always been easily or straightforwardly equalised.  With this latest solo and first self-released set, with her new ensemble The Soubrettes, Lorson seems like she’s learnt from her past, moulded its lessons into new shapes and refreshed her creative equilibrium, proving that her personal and artistic struggles are still worth supporting.

On paper, BurnBabyBurn certainly isn’t built on an easy or straightforward conceptual premise though.  Closely intertwined with a stage play that Lorson is developing based on the life and times of vaudeville diva Eva Tanguay (with whom her great-grandmother toured as a seamstress), this LP promises a song cycle that could have collapsed under the weight of wordiness and performance art baggage.  The fact that it mercifully doesn’t, makes BurnBabyBurn an even more remarkable rejuvenation for Lorson’s resilient and restless creativity.

Whether inspired by her theatre projects or from working with the fresher-faced two-girl backing duo of Leah Houghtaling (banjo/tenor guitar/vocals) and Amelia Sauter (standup-bass/vocals), Lorson has hit a more gliding and flowing seam of musicality here.  Intriguingly, this doesn’t seem to come from an overt or traditional rhythmic undertow – as regular drums only appear sparingly on two tracks courtesy of the guesting Matt Saccuccinmorano – but more from the intuitive lithe grooves cut via the interlocking of rippling pianos, purring organs, open guitar, pedal steel and banjo lines, balmy double-bass, lush tri-part harmonies and a myriad of tiny twinkling instrumental details.

The more you listen, the more it seems that Lorson has truly found the singular sound and identity that she’s been searching for since 2000’s Saint Low-backed solo debut.  Nevertheless, comparisons can be made without devaluing the distinctiveness on display.  Thus, there are identifable unpretentious and subtle shades of The Carpenters (“Busboy”), Yo La Tengo in a playful intimate mode (“Mancub”), vintage earthy soul (“Lately”), Gillian Welch’s rustic beauty (“River”) and Joni Mitchell in a sparse piano-stool setting (“The Only One #2”), that make up some of the broad yet meticulously mixed palette.  There are also light touches of pre-WWII ragtime (“Let ‘Em Eat Little Debbie Cakes”) and carnival-meets-theatre music (on the horn-infused “Bubble Of Pretend” and in a re-configuration of the antique Eva Tanguay standard “I Don’t Care”).  Inside these refreshed aesthetic arrangements the self-penned songs appear to be some of Lorson’s most uplifting and philosophical in some time, with a few of her darker edges softened but not over-sanitised by a dreamier and more contented mood.

Naturally, this is just one critic’s interpretation of this collection and the devil is in the detail for other different assessments. However, BurnBabyBurn is unquestionably a record where diligently joined details contribute to one satisfying whole.  Despite the apparent ardour involved in actually getting her work out into the ether these days, the music world certainly isn’t done with Mary Lorson yet.  Happily, neither are her re-blooming talents…