Mark Rogers / Mary Byrne

I Line My Days Along Your Weight

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On first hearing Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne's I Line My Days Along Your Weight, it can be difficult to discern just where to place one's primary focus: Is it on her melodic yet plaintive, full-throated singing that leaves all stylistic affectation out? On the gorgeous poetry in the lyrics? His exceptional fingerstyle guitar playing? The crystalline, intimate sound? The answer is all of the above, since they work as one. The album was recorded live to analog tape; the married couple stood a few inches apart, a microphone in front of them with their guitars and/or mandolins as accompaniment. Later, skeletal traces of piano, lap steel, and E-Bow were added. Despite the seeming sparsity of instrumentation, it is more than compensated for in the bountiful, empathic tenderness and understated passion in these songs. The presence of Gothic Americana haunts the shadows cast in the margins. The staggered fingerpicked and strummed chord voicings in "First Fall Nights" offer frame the foundation for the longing in Byrne's voice. She expresses gratitude for a love that keeps the protagonist rooted to the earth. Its lyrics are urgent yet complex; they ask as many questions as they answer. The guitar playing on "Hospital" recalls Pentangle's rumbling folk emanations; the lyrics are quizzical and troubling in their suggestions. Wrapped in Byrne's alto, they become a delicious if unanswerable equation. The acappella intro to "A Racing Heart" is simple, raw, open. When Rogers eventually enters with the bass strings of his resonator guitar, it becomes the vehicle for her to dig into the desire revealed in the words. "A Gracious Host" juxtaposes eros with the all too resonant memory of being ground to emotional dust. In "Walk with Me," a tension is created by twinning minor-key mandolin and guitars, both colored by tinkling piano. This effect becomes otherworldly in Byrne's deliberately restrained vocal. But the jaunty, even celebratory erush of new love "Cold Spring" balances its predecessor beautifully with electric, lap steel, and acoustic guitars, bouncing off one another. When she sings "I want to take a train with you/Along the river through bare trees...," you know exactly what she means. The gorgeous meld of stringed instruments and vocal lyricism in closer "Sing a Fare Thee Well" portrays an intention to live with no regrets because mortality is ever present and demands notice and respect. I Line My Days Along Your Weight is also striking for its economy. There aren't any extra overdubs, words, or songs: if anything had been left off, the album's resonant emotional power may have been diminished. Combined with this couple's poetic engagement with earlier American and British Isles folk forms this set is anything but standard; in fact, it's a hell of a debut.

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