Live Review: Mary Fahl at Club Passim

Mary Fahl

Club Passim, Cambridge, MA

May 20, 2017

A few months ago, you saw my review of Mary’s latest studio album, Love & Gravity. As impressed as I was by that record, it was a real treat for me to get to hear her perform in concert. Originally known for her work as a member of the chamber pop group October Project, Mary’s solo work relies on the same powerful, soaring vocal abilities that brought her such early notoriety, but her solo style has perhaps a slightly stronger folk element. I can’t help being reminded of a folk-Americana CD I’m currently spinning in my car, the new one from Amilia K Spicer that I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks, as they both share the same ethereal vocal element and some folk influence, while from there the two take their music in different directions with extraordinarily different voices.

Mary Fahl

photo by Geoff Wilbur

On this night at Club Passim, Mary performed with cellist Monique Citro, whose contribution added warmth and depth to the songs in support of Mary’s singing and guitar-playing. Many in the crowd had seen Mary perform multiple times over the years, and during many songs there were several concert-goers mouthing along to the words. They were also aware of Mary’s penchant for between-song storytelling, typically related to the songs she was about to sing, and the combination of stories and songs rather quickly turned the concert ambiance into that of a roomful of friends… one of whom, of course, wielded her amazing voice.

Mary opened the evening with a couple October Project songs. First, “Take Me Down,” showcasing her powerful voice that cut through the warmth of the cello accompaniment, both blending well with her strumming guitar. But, of course, the focus of the evening was always on Mary’s amazing voice.

Next came an emotionally powerful rendition of “Return to Me.” And she followed that with a great rendition of “Wild is the Wind” – as she noted before the song, the Bowie version of the Nina Simone song.

Then she performed “Gravity (Move Mountains, Turn Rivers Around)” from her latest album, Love & Gravity, a song she penned for her husband. There’s a serious Irish folk song vibe to “Gravity,” and Mary, as expected, sang the heck out of it.

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Almost every song stood out in its own way, though I’ll not touch upon all of them. “Song for the Sirens” featured some acoustic picking as an added dimension, while the strong vocals and warbles were genuinely spine-tinglingly beautiful. Mary’s rendition of “Both Sides Now” is both a truly original version, as it appears on Love & Gravity, while also feeling ever-faithful to the original; as exceptionally good as this song was on the recording, its live performance carries so much more emotion! And her performance of October Project’s big hit, “Bury My Lovely,” was both booming and catchy; it’s obvious why it was a hit.

Mary closed her set with a song she recorded for her album re-imagining of The Dark Side of the Moon, a rendition of “Brain Damage” that seemed as if Mary had blended her voice with Roger Waters’ – maybe proportionally 70/30 in favor of her voice. Such versatility. Such variety. And what a way to end a set!

The two-song encore opened with Mary’s “Going Home,” from the Gods and Generals soundtrack, a tune with a sweet melody, in many ways like a folk-song lullaby. And Mary closed the night with an opera aria from her folk-classical EP. Because she can. Or, rather, for those who speak “hashtag,” simply #BecauseMaryFahl.

In all, it was a tremendous, intimate night of soul-touching music and stories-among-friends from Mary Fahl, featuring her amazingly rich, powerful voice. I can see why so many in the audience return to see her again and again… and again. I look forward to her next visit to the area.

Looking Ahead

If you can possibly make it, you should get out to hear Mary perform in person. Per the tour date page on her website, Mary’s next performances will be Friday, July 14th in Northampton, MA and Saturday, July 15th in Saratoga Springs, NY. The other dates currently listed are Sellersville, PA on July 29th; Ann Arbor, MI on August 11th; Pittsburgh, PA on August 13th; Denver, CO on August 26th; New York on October 5th; Wilkes-Barre, PA on October 6th; Geneseo, NY on October 14th; Wilmington, DE on November 4th; and Old Saybrook, CT on January 27th, 2018. Again, check Mary’s website for additional information on those shows and for other dates as they’re added.

 

 

 

Album Review: Mary Fahl – Love & Gravity

Mary Fahl

photo by Lisa Hancock; photo courtesy of MelFarina Media

Mary Fahl – Love & Gravity

Album Review of Mary Fahl: Love & Gravity

Mary Fahl‘s powerful, emotional voice stands out, powering this disc that’s probably best categorized as folk, but there’s a power that suggests a concert hall might more nearly contain Mary’s voice than a coffeeshop. It’s as if her voice is echoing through a lush, green, hilly region of the Irish countryside, an image I’ve selected because there’s a bit of almost-operatic Irish folk sound powering Mary’s often-booming yet sensitive vocals. As a result, Love & Gravity occasionally courts the intersection between folk and classical; that’s interesting because I was previously scarcely aware there was such an intersection.

Mary Fahl - Love and Gravity

image courtesy of MelFarina Media

Love & Gravity, a 2014 release, is Mary’s fourth studio album since 2001. She also recorded two albums as a member of chamber pop group October Project in the 1990s.

The album opens with “Exiles (The Wolves of Midwinter),” its haunting power and orchestration providing a striking introduction to Love & Gravity. It’s followed immediately by soaring, echoing “How Much Love,” currently my personal favorite in the collection.

Perhaps the immediately easiest-to-absorb track on the disc is Mary’s exceptionally soaring, emotionally rising and falling cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” though that’s partially due to its instant familiarity. But also partially due to Mary’s exceptional arrangement and delivery, since this song, as performed, is clearly a Mary Fahl song, performed in her own style. Though I’ve heard this song covered a number of times, this is far and away my favorite version ever. You can hear the vocal power soar… and drop. Boom. Wow!

Mary Fahl

photo by Lisa Hancock; photo courtesy of MelFarina Media

“Gravity (Move Mountains, Turn Rivers Around)” is one of those folky songs of power and understanding, a song that takes a thoughtful journey through its own lyrics. And, of course, because of Mary’s amazing voice, the song soars, booms, and roars, quietly and with lush orchestration.

The most ethereal track on the disc is probably “Siren,” a soft, gentle, otherworldly number. Another quickly enjoyable track because of the familiarity with those referenced in the song, is the emphatically, powerfully romantic “Like Johnny Loved June.” (That’d be Johnny Cash and June Carter, of course.)

Mary lends that Irish folky, soaring power to “Dawning of the Day,” her tribute to the 9/11 rescue workers, before closing the disc with an almost lullaby of a tune, though clearly embellished with the vocal power and emotion of a Mary Fahl song, “Meant to Be.”

I know it was released a couple years ago, and so I’m a bit late to the party, but it should be clear I have a particular soft spot for amazing vocalists, and in that respect, Mary Fahl’s Love & Gravity is a gem that seems to capture the spirit and quality of her vocal prowess.

Mary Fahl

photo by Lisa Hancock; photo courtesy of MelFarina Media

Looking Ahead

Mary has several dates already booked for 2017, beginning with Saturday, January 21st in Auburn, NY; Saturday, February 11th in Beacon, NY; and Saturday, February 18th in New Hartford, CT. To find out more information about these dates and see future bookings, currently including scheduled shows from Maine to Georgia to Texas, see the performance dates page of Mary’s website. There’s a May 20th date at Club Passim in Boston; I’ll have that one circled, watching my calendar as it takes shape this spring, hoping my schedule will allow me to get to it.