Charles de Lint,
Old Blue Truck
(Tamson House, 2011)

MaryAnn Harris,
Crow Girls
(Tamson House, 2011)

This has been a long time coming.

Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris, one of the most creative, prolific and intricately melded couples I've had the pleasure to meet, pondered careers in music in their earlier days. But they went in different directions -- he became an author and she focused on art, all the while thriving in the rich artistic environment of Canada's capital city, Ottawa, and whiling away their extra time on a lakeside in Quebec and in an Arizona desert. Together and separately, they created worlds and populations to live in them ... but they never lost touch with the music that first inspired them.

I've seen them perform. Heck, I've been honored to bring my fiddle and bodhran to their stage a time or two. And I've added my voice to the clamor for Charles and MaryAnn to haul themselves into a studio and capture just a bit of that magic on disc.

Finally. This year sees the release of de Lint's 10-song CD Old Blue Truck and Harris's companion EP, the four-track Crow Girls. All 14 tracks (13 songs, one instrumental) are originals.

The songs, like the couple's other artistic endeavors, are thoughtful and introspective. They tell stories, at times touching on the mystic and at others focusing on the mundane. They reflect on a life-changing moment, the pleasure of a familiar journey, a destined meeting, a painful parting, black wings and an ongoing fondness for train songs.

Both singers have strong voices. His is a bit growly, with a pleasing folky grit and a driving intensity that seems almost at odds with his more relaxed mien. Hers is lighter, airier, with a hint of whimsy in her tone. De Lint also plays guitar and harmonica. He is joined on his CD by Harris (vocals, mandolin, percussion), Brock Zeman (guitar, bass, percussion, vocals), Blair Hogan (electric and acoustic guitars, organ, mandolin), Greg T. Brown (fiddle), Alistair Dennett and Steve Foley (percussion), John Law (slide guitar, mandolin) and Charlie Sohmer (banjo). Harris, on her disc, plays mandolin. She is joined by de Lint (guitar), Zeman (guitar, bass), Hogan (electric and acoustic guitars, organ), Brown (fiddle) and Dylan Roberts (drums).

In her title track, Harris provides a spirited take on her husband's immensely popular Crow Girl characters. "In a Heartbeat" is a cheerful, countrified examination of love, while "Sideways 'Turned Round" explores the unpredictable nature of living. "John McPhee's Homestead" is a delicate waltz, driven by mandolin and dedicated to a pair of good friends.

De Lint kicks his disc off with "Bobby & Me," the desperate tale of a bad choice in the wrong place at the wrong time. His Arizona state of mind comes through strong on "Cherokee Girl," a powerful song penned down Terri Windling way. My two favorites on the disc are the title track, which brings new life to an abandoned truck full of miles and memories, and "Highway 105," which describes the route (and the feeling) of the drive from Ottawa to Quebec. I swear, I can feel the road under my wheels when this one plays. You'll also feel the road passing by on "The Lost Highway," which is a dark and stormy trip up the mountain with devastating results.

The closer, "Save a Dance for Me," is a tearjerker about letting go at the end of a lifelong romance.

Neither disc is widely distributed, but you can order them through de Lint's website or download the MP3s through iTunes or Amazon.

Word is, Charles and MaryAnn might consider recording again -- maybe even a selection of Irish traditional music from their session days -- if these discs sell well. Let's hope!

[ visit Charles de Lint's website ]

[ visit MaryAnn Harris's website ]

music review by
Tom Knapp

16 April 2011

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