Carolyn Mark – The Queen Of Vancouver Island
Damn the torpedos.
I have been sitting on this piece for almost two weeks. I have written and discarded several drafts. It’s been in my head since the CD arrived here. I have played the CD front to back many times. But I’ve realized that the only way to do this, since I am not a professional reviewer, is to go with my gut.
OH PURE HAPPINESS!
Our good friends over at Mint Records have sent us an advance copy of the brand new Carolyn Mark record, The Queen Of Vancouver Island!! We here at the KMA are SO appreciative. You have to understand. Around here, a new Carolyn record is An Event. We love Carolyn and all of her merry band of friends.
For the record (pun intended), I own and have memorized every other Carolyn Mark release, and this one immediately proves its worth as an addition to her excellent discography. It might even surpass some of her previous work. There, I said it. It pains me to say it, as I love all her records and one should never play favourites, like with your own children. But honestly. This is perfect chemistry of sound, lyrics, musicianship, voice… I am absolutely crazy for this album.
This is one for the ages. This is a True Classic.
* SPOILER ALERT: I am writing about an advance copy. There are still weeks before release. If you want to wait for the record and not have your first impression of it coloured by my ramblings, and I wouldn’t blame you for it, stop reading right here. Suffice it to say that I KNOW you will love it too, when you get to it.
Alright, who’s still with me? OK, now the songs:
Poor Farmers‘ intro sounds like it’s being shouted down a long tunnel which, having heard the entire record several times now, seems apt. I mean, here comes Carolyn from her previous level of excellence, now arriving at her truly earned, greater heights with this album. Perfect. The song resolves into a strummy and yummy acoustic tune. “There will be no apologies for this performance.” Oh really, Carolyn, you needn’t worry. Most importantly, the call for all drivers to return to their vehicles tells us this intro track is on the ferry (the now retired Queen Of Vancouver, perhaps?) to the island. It’s an arrival of every sort. It would go well in a mix next to the intercom-intro to Don’t Come Over, Baby off her (excellent) album Party Girl.
The title track is a happy, poppy song, complete with restless piano and a great shuffling beat. And harmonica! And awesome “sha-la-la-la, ooo!” singing! I love her take on the lyrical content of the verses. There’s so much going on in this great track. The stops have definitely been pulled and it totally works. This song is huge.
Baby Goats is all about a trip to a petting zoo. Or is it? Knowing Carolyn as we do, it’s something else entirely, a sad something else. She needs a hug! The song has a great propulsive beat that pulls you along and I totally feel like I want to help her find those broad shoulders. And a trumpet! The promo sheet from Mint hints that there may be a video for this song, at some point in the future. Watch for it.
Not Talk keeps the pace high. The lyrics here are fabulous. She has such a clear-eyed look at certain types of relationships, she really just nails it. How can you not just fall in love with her and her wonderful songs?
Best Friend clearly calls to mind another great Mint band, the incomparable (but sadly defunct) Immaculate Machine. It totally wouldn’t be out of place on Ones And Zeroes, by which is meant a huge compliment! And I know who she’s talking about with the Whiskey Rabbi! You should too. This is a very agile song.
Flaming Star is also a quick one! And yes, it’s a cover of the old Elvis song. The western film soundtrack feel is preserved, here – to my mind, it’s the song that would come right after the splashy, plot-setting prologue, just as the hero(ine) is being introduced. It’s the song that says “Hey! Here’s the character you’re supposed to love!” In this case, of course, it’s Carolyn. And love her, we do. So great. And trumpets again! And great guitar work. Damn. Have I mentioned yet how happy I am that Tolan McNeil is here? He’s awesome.
Nobody(‘s Perfect) finally gives Ms. Mark and the band a bit of a break with its solo acoustic, clearly-sung beauty. The lyrics are typically clever and witty, but once again it’s so sad! I mean, it kind of sounds happy, until you hear what she’s talking about. I just want to give her great big hugs all throughout this song.
Mellie’s Book brings the band back, mid-tempo this time… “Dangerously close to normal,” says Carolyn, in the press sheet… Hardly! Perfect, wonderful piano solo leading into guitar loveliness. Great!
Not Like The Movies builds into a rocker with big, fat and comfy guitar tones. It’s all so tightly played. Truly an excellent band with her on this record.
The Cereal Is The Prize is jazzy with a twang! The lyrics here had me laughing. There’s heart and soul running in this one’s veins, and genuine fun, too. It’s a keeper.
Old Whores is a slow burner, another sad song, this time about past glories. With characteristic Carolyn charm, though, she saves the whole thing from being maudlin by using her voice to make such musings incredibly warm, never losing the sound of the nudge and a wink we all know so well from her.
Album-closer You’re Not A Whore (If No One’s Paying) is a great cabaret track, hilarious to the core. It’s in the tradition of those old torch songs you see in the old movies, the sassy leading lady doing high kicks and strutting around. There’s even a muted trumpet and old-time whiskey joint piano. And I’m so glad she has immortalized her gargle-solo talent on record – she did this when we saw her live a few years ago. And for the breakdown… are those children shouting an alarmingly close approximation of the song’s lyrics? Yes, yes they are. Oh goodness and dearie-me. One day they’ll get a laugh, when they’re grown up.
And there we have it.
This record is born of brilliance, innovation, and tradition too. Here we find loving homages to the traditions of Wanda Jackson, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, and even Loretta Lynn (people often overlook her wry humour). Mix in Mae West’s sassy and brassy chutzpah, and Carolyn’s own inimitable charms and trademark sound, and you get this record. This is vintage western films, vaudeville and your Grandma’s old country records, all updated for the 21st century. I love it completely.
Finally, I have to put this out there: It’s only August, but this is fair notice to all other records I’ll hear between now and Christmas: I may have just heard my Album Of The Year for 2012. It’s THAT good.
Effusive enough for you? Well, I’ll wear that one proudly. A huge thank you to Carolyn and her cohorts for releasing this gem of a surely award-winning record into the wild on SEPTEMBER 18 – MARK YOUR CALENDAR! And thanks once again to our good friends at Mint, for giving us this advance glimpse of the genius that is The Queen Of Vancouver Island.
Watch for this record, folks. It’s going places. It’s gonna be a STAR!