Marlee MacLeod

Born: 1966 Fort Payne, AL

Folk Vocals, Guitar, Piano

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

 

Country's Happy Alternative

by Buzz McClain

Special to The Washington Post The alternative country music genre is nothing if not gender blind. Tish Hinojosa, Stacey Earle, Christy McWilson, Allison Moorer, Donna the Buffalo (fronted by Tara Nevins), Valerie Smith and Kimmie Rhodes were all riding the Top 40 Americana album chart at one point this month, which means the dozens of radio stations across the country that report to the chart were playing songs from their discs in regular rotation.Add to that list others who are between new records--Lucinda Williams, Rhonda Vincent, Heather Myles, Anna Fermin, Kelly Willis, Sara Evans, Gillian Welch, Rosie Flores, D.C.'s own Ruthie and the Wranglers, and countless other established artists--and you've just discovered where many of the creative female singer-songwriters have gone. But far from being marginalized, these women proudly play their guitars and sing their songs among the alt-country men, making the genre ceaselessly vibrant and constantly surprising.

Marlee MacLeod

Case in point: Marlee MacLeod is an Alabama native living in Minneapolis who follows in the footsteps of the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde as a rock critic turned singer-songwriter. She now writes about true crime when not penning lyrics about reluctant romance and breaking men's hearts.MacLeod's fourth album, There We Are (Hayden's Ferry Records), kicks off with "Cautionary Tale," which opens with a furious country-rock lick reminiscent of Jason and the Scorchers--and at this point it's important to know MacLeod is playing that thrilling electric guitar. An organ joins the bass and drums, and after letting the ringing tone of the song settle in for a bit, she begins singing, rising higher, "She swung at his heart like it was a pinata, until she got what she wanted/ And the blindfold made her aim that much truer."Not only does this line set the poetic tone for the lyrical imagery to come, but it's sung with a voice for which it is impossible to find a suitable comparison. Confident, honest and wonderfully sonorous, MacLeod's distinctive mature tenor is all the more memorable thanks to an Alabama accent that can successfully rhyme "heart" with "repertoire," as she does on the acoustic ballad "Better Than."Very little is predictable here, not in the lyrical content, not in the melodies and certainly not in the pop hooks, of which there are many. One of the catchiest tunes is "Such a Hammer," a crunchy power-chord number accented with a couple of Flying Burrito Brothers-like pedal steel breaks by Eric Lewis; but the hook of the song is the ominous darkening of the vocals on the words "such a hammer gotta fall" at the end of the repeated chorus. Chilling, and galvanizing.

 

Marlee MacLeod, Drive Too Fast and

Favorite Ball and Chain, Medium Cool Records

by Tom Hallett, Squealer

Great songsmiths and great authors have more than a few things in common. They've usually had enough of a life behind them to come off with some degree of authenticity, they have the natural ability to talk to (not at) their audience, and, most importantly, they draw you into a tale until it's no longer a story but rather an experience you carry with you like one of your own memories. Twin Cities transplant (via Alabama and Georgia) Marlee MacLeod's Peter Jesperson -produced debut release, Drive Too Fast, reads like a collection of all-American novellas you grimly accepted as required reading in college and then read and reread until the cover fell off and its smudged and stained pages were rubbed as soft and fuzzy as a sheet of dryer lint.While I hesitate to analyze this record by its title and cover art (a 50s pink Dodge with sleek tail fins and a license plate that reads MED COOL) or the picture on the cd (a speedometer clocked in at a smooth 115 mph), it doesn't take much imagination to feel the telephone poles swishing by as the first track, "Lie To Me" glides in on a twang and a prayer. The title track is obvious, but belies its own message at a slow, crafty pace. "Waltz Across Texas" (featuring ex-Mat Slim Dunlap) is a brittle pick-fest with a shit-kicker beat and "Que Sera Sera" attitude, and "Hurricane Man" sends down-South braggadocio ripping through Midwestern sentimentality like a special effect from Twister. The should-be radio single "Maybe If I" would fit snugly on any alterna-playlist between Jennifer Trynin and Ani DiFranco, and if the suits in Trashville, Tennessee had any brains at all, "Under the Sun" would be all over the yokel airwaves. It's a good thing this is a cd because I have a feeling if it was on vinyl, it wouldn't be long before the grooves wore down and the jacket became as disheveled and dog-eared as my copy of Greil Marcus' Mystery Train.Ms. MacLeod's second and latest release, Favorite Ball and Chain (produced by John "Strawberry" Fields), proves to be a logical progression on her perpetual road trip of the heart, albeit after a few detours through some places not quite as wholesome as the rural routes and backroads of Drive Too Fast. The self-confidence and honest bitterness running through this record are no less of a sensation than a hard slug in the gut and serve to cement Marlee's sometimes (seemingly) reluctant foray into the glutted 90s pop arena as an admirable and respected contender for any of her overplayed peers. A dependable and almost warm bottom end provided by bassist Rob Veal and drummer John Crist (of the highly underrated Dashboard Saviors) adds chunky life to these sweetly crooned pearls of wisdom and heartache and a smattering of assorted instruments like mandolin, viola, dulcimer, and Wurlitzer tops them off with just a hint of spice."Las Vegas," the opener, is a bouncy jangler dripping with black humor, combining an absolutely unforgettable guitar riff with the resignation of lyrics like, "Of all the god-forsaken places, why'd you have to end up in Las Vegas?" made all the more poignant by the realization that the singer is actually griping at a friend who wanted to be buried in Las Vegas. ("You could spend eternity on your ex-husband's mantelpiece / you could go the desert route with all the other nuclear fallout...") "Nothing Up My Sleeve" is a hypnotic piece of pop-folklore, the kind sung outta the side of your mouth with yer tongue in cheek, and "Nobody To Me"--besides being the most oft-played song on my stereo last month--is one of the smartest, most spiteful and deserved slap in the face to an indie sellout since Mary Lou Lord's "His Indie World," and a far better tune. It should be played on headphones to every bloated, Alanis Morrisette's-ass-kissing radio programmer in America while they sleep, dreaming smugly of the thousands of teen spirits buying the latest flavor at Wal-Mart with dad's Visa Gold. ("A sweetheart to your lawyer, baby to the Rolling Stone, you're nobody to me...")As cliched as it may sound, there's no place for Marlee MacLeod to go but up, and as for me, well...if music is my prison of choice, then I guess I've found my Favorite Ball and Chain.

Source: marlee macleod press text

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Listen: Marlee Macleod - Download Marlee Macleod Music on iTunes

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