Carolyn Mark Nothing Is Free

[Mint; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles:  country/bluegrass/folk
Others: Neko Case, Evans & Doherty, Sarah Harmer, Nathan

Recorded on site at the oh-so-Canadian-named Beaver Point Hall on BC’s hippy hovering Salt Spring Island, Carolyn Mark’s sixth album for Mint captures all the loose-knit fun of a live stage show. The smoky, wood grain acoustics of that obscure hall reflects the sparkling character of this remarkable woman so warmly yet clearly as to make it feel like she’s sitting right there in front of you, which kinda goes against her own description of this being her “woody, introspective album.” Well, that and the cover art, which makes its own green statement about the encroachment of progress on the environment and its negative effects, both of which strike me as being more extroverted.

Conversely, the art also captures a special part of Mark’s spirit and integrity, seeing the fabulously appointed chanteuse armed only with a guitar and a commitment to classic folk music forms against forces of nature, plague, and, most importantly, technology. To succeed, she assembled a crack team of like-minded musicians, including Paul Pigat (Cousin Harley), Neko Case’s mandolin expert Paul Rigby, and various members of Po’ Girl, who craft a complimentary collection of sparse indie country to underscore her rustic bluegrass vocals, save Calvin Dick’s interesting minimal electronic closer “Destination: You.” That black sheep points to an unpredictable new direction, while also reinforcing the theme of technology infringing on quaint tradition. Playing into the style in which they were recorded, her lyrics tend to stick pretty close to classic folk and country themes of love gone awry and occasionally tragic but often inspirational female condition. As such, it’s a wonder America hasn’t embraced her as warmly as her former bandmate and kindred spirit Neko Case. C’mon, you know there’s room enough for both of them.

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