Mary Bue – Holy Bones
Holy Bones, the latest release from singer/songwriter Mary Bue, brings her six albums deep into a career that, until recently, has achieved recognition as part of a songwriting wave cresting in the early 21st century. The influence of artists as diverse as Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos has been a hallmark of Bue’s recordings for many years, but Holy Bones represents a reinvigorating reinvention. Guitar has supplanted piano as the primary instrumental vehicle and the widened sound incorporates a number of genre nods that her former work could scarcely accommodate. The album’s eight songs are a stirring realization of new aims and blossoming courage. Though her artistic debts are clear, it’s equally clear that only Mary Bue could have written and performed this memorable album.
Such individualism is immediately apparent. “Candy” opens the album with a disarming looseness that will win over abundant listeners. Bue’s cawing, physically charged vocals have an innate allure that transcends conscious performance. She often conveys herself with raw, unvarnished emotion that practically sounds like she’s guided by spirits. “Cheribum” is a minor miracle of sorts, an abbreviated punk pastiche crackling with energy, tackling the slightly odd narrative of an angel searching for love letters at a dump site. “Holy Bones” is a memorable title track that adopts a studied, deliberate tempo to accentuate its bluesy strains. Bue’s vocals remain a consistent highlight through the album’s opening trio of tracks.
“Heart’s Desire”, the album’s midway point, is marked by a variety of musical moods. It bursts into existence with a jagged flourish before settling into another jangling, riff-oriented rocker with a generous supply of melody. Bue proves her further comfort with surprising the audience on “Put Up”, another memorable excursion that fuses the album’s punk rock sensibilities with a surprising flash of surf rock. The songwriting on Holy Bones is, at every turn, highlighted by a restless inventiveness capable of making any subject its own. There are few songs where this is more apparent than “Archaeology”. This imaginative turn shows off Bue’s lyrical talents with extended metaphor by charting the course of a relationship excavating the couple’s trash. However, as inventive as “Archaeology” might be, the following track “Veal” pushes the envelope further with its unflinching depiction of a young calf awaiting certain death. The finale, “A Million Moths”, is sequenced perfectly – no other song could serve as the album’s closer. The songwriting takes a few unexpected elegiac turns, but Bue and her musical cohorts never neglect to raise the intensity and deliver a memorable last blow.
Holy Bones is unique fare. Bue has co-opted a well-worn musical vocabulary and twisted it with her individualism and idiosyncratic voice. Her top shelf songwriting and evocative musical accompaniment are informed with considerable chops, but every performer involved has the taste and good sense to orchestrate these songs for maximum effect. Holy Bones is one of the year’s best understated mood records, but its achievements extend beyond easy categorization. Bravo to her for this daring and suggestive musical reinvention.
9 out of 10 stars.