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Mary Lou Lord | Live City Sounds (Rubric)
The one consistent in Mary Lou Lord's up and down career has been the subway busking that first brought her a taste of fame. From the indie beginnings on Kill Rock Stars to her major label debut album 'Got No Shadow', Lord has stepped in and out of the spotlight. A world away from the bidding war that took her to Columbia, it was the familiar sight of Lord set up on a street corner or in a subway station armed with her acoustic guitar (captured ironically on the cover of her all-too-diluted full-length) that seemed best suited to her covers-heavy set-lists. Crossing boundaries of cool with performances of songs by all from Dylan, Springsteen and Chilton via British folk legends Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny to modern counterparts Elliott Smith and Billy Bragg, Lord's mentors were, as acknowledged on 'Live City Sounds' sleeve, Shawn Colvin and Nick Saloman. From Colvin Lord seems to have taken her percussive guitar style and elements of vocal delivery (Colvin's songs are staples of the Lord repertoire), whilst Saloman (aka The Bevis Frond) acted as a collaborator on 'Got No Shadow' and a constant source of material. Recorded by Lord on a portable DAT recorder, this isn't the lo-fi bootleg you'd expect (the sleeve cries 'no budget'), but a crystal clear document with only occasional distortion and a probably avoidable sibilance to hint at its source. Just one original composition is featured, the Saloman co-write His Lamest Flame (sic), in a pretty ragged rendition. Other songs tackled include such classics as Big Star's Thirteen, Springsteen's Thunder Road, Dylan's You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, and Denny's By The Time It Gets Dark. For contemporary kudos Lord dips into the portfolios of Stephen Merrit (I Don't Want To Get Over You), Elliott Smith (the Heatmiser gem Half Right), and Shane MacGowan (Sayonara) whilst the obligatory Colvin inclusion is Ricochet In Time, plucked from her debut, 'Steady On'. It's an eclectic set, Lord's amiable delivery with its occasional bum note and gasp for breath, stylistically focusing the diverse source material. Hard to dislike and a worthy document to complement the studio-forged 'Got No Shadow', 'Live City Sounds' would have benefited from some crowd banter and not the fade out after every track, but it's good to have her back.

Matt Dornan
May-June 2002

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