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Mary Lee Kortes (from the album Will Anybody Know That I Was Here - The Songs of Beulah Rowley available on ) (by Lee Zimmerman)
Mary Lee Kortes may not have a household name — possibly because she double bills herself as Mary Lee’s Corvette — but regardless, those who are familiar with her work can attest to her dedication and devotion to pursuing her muse, where it might lead.
Her new album, released under her own name, reflects Mary Lee’s keen interest in the artists that established the template for much of the modern music we know today. Her third album, an exceptional song by song replay of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, was an early example, but more than a decade later Kortes digs even deeper into the archival underbelly of genuine Americana music, sharing the songs of a supposed Dustbowl-era singer named Beulah Rowley. The concept is largely fictional, but the tale is still stirring, given both the music and the storyline that accompanies it. According to the information supplied with the set list, Beulah Rowley died in a house fire with her husband and infant daughter at the age of 21, but her songs survived and would be passed down through the generations until Mary Lee Kortes discovered them at an early age. How much is made up is uncertain, and yet it really doesn’t matter. Kortes faithfully reproduces the sound of early twentieth century Jazz and traditional music with faithfulness and finesse, the telling lyrics complemented by melodies that resonate and reflect its subject through a decided care and compassion.
There’s added significance underscoring this effort as well. It was produced by the late and legendary Hal Willner — the producer/composer who sat behind the boards for classic albums by Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams and Allen Ginsberg, among the many — for what would be his final collaboration with an individual artist.
The results are, quite simply, spectacular — a series of songs that effectively convey Beulah Rowley’s particular persona with an occasional dialogue interspersed throughout for added insight. And while the melodies are reverent to a degree, the music is also perky and playful as well, with songs such as “Born a Happy Girl”, “Fingernail Moon”, “Greater Good”, and “The Old Pains Bench” ensuring a certain solitary charm and decided distinction with each of these entries. The loping melodies that enliven songs such as “A Rain’s Gonna Come”, “The Young Float Freely By”, and “Well By the Water” mute any sense of foreboding, although there’s clear conviction, even in the delicate drive and delivery. On the other hand, the deep desire, sultry vocals and supple sway imbued in equally illuminating offerings like “The Music Got Me Here” and “Someplace We Can’t See” create their own indelible impression.
Needless to say, Mary Lee Kortes answers the question posed by the title quite handily. The personification of her assumed alter-ego is wholly assured and emphatic. (By Lee Zimmerman)
Listen and buy the music of Mary Lee Kortes from BANDCAMP
For more information, please visit the Mary Lee Kortes website
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