Mary Lou Lord, Baby Blue (2004)
Mary Lou Lord is painfully non-prolific, releasing only three full-length studio LPs about a decade apart, with some interspersed EPs and live work. 1998's major label debut Got No Shadow was chock full of great songs (and her more recent self-produced Backstreet Angels confirmed she's aged remarkably well), but I'm a little partial to her 2004 album, which tones down some of the slicker production of the debut (though it's still very polished) and has a nice blend of folkier acoustic numbers and mid-tempo rockers, with some well-selected covers.
A little light on originals, Baby Blue is largely a showcase for Lord's interpretations of songs written by Nick Salomon, who also produced. Salomon has recorded about a billion albums of lo-fi psychedelia under the moniker Bevis Frond, and while I find his own work can be a little rough around the edges, he's a perfect match for Mary Lou, who brings out the amazing pop hooks in the tunes. As a vocalist, Mary Lou is wispy and restrained, occasionally slipping into a whisper or cracking on some notes, but I find that part of her distinctive charm, and like Got No Shadow, Baby Blue has a judicious use of double-tracking or harmonies to give her singing a little more oomph on the choruses, while letting her vulnerability and authenticity show through. Overall, it's a nice blend of her roots as a street busker carrying an acoustic guitar around Seattle and her facility with indie guitar rock.
So many nice tunes here, it's hard to pick a favorite. I'm a sucker for the stripped down, earnest "43," the sweet, folky "Farming It Out," and the swooning pop of "The Wind Blew All Around Me" and "Someone Always Talks." Lord joins countless others in offering her own take on Badfinger's timeless title track here, and is certainly up to the task; even better is her cover of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," a personal favorite which is well-served by Salomon's jangly production. The album closes out with another wonderful Salomon ditty, "Old Tin Tray," Lord's playing and singing unfussy and entrancing.
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