Kate & Anna McGarrigle

Pronto Monto

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Making its first appearance in the digital age is Kate & Anna McGarrigle's long out-of-print 1978 LP Pronto Monto. After debuting with two critically lauded, but commercially middling folk-rock classics -- 1976's Kate & Anna McGarrigle and 1977's Dancer with Bruised Knees -- Warner Bros. label boss Lenny Waronker handed the keys to the relatively untested producer David Nichtern with the hope of shoehorning the McGarrigles' winsome eclecticism into something a bit more mainstream. Nichtern's soft rock pedigree relied largely on his having produced a track for Maria Muldaur and written her Top Ten hit "Midnight at the Oasis" a few years prior. The name Pronto Monto is a wry bastardization of the French term "prends ton manteau," which translates to "take your coat," and although it was the glossiest effort of the McGarrigles' three Warner records, it fortunately wasn't enough of a makeover to effectively dim their offbeat charms. Nor was it enough to cross them over onto the pop charts, resulting in a curious release that pits Kate & Anna's wondrous sweet and salty songwriting efforts against late-'70s production values that waver between too-sterile and just right. The breezy, Randy Newman-esque shuffle of Kate's clever ode to chemical attraction, "Na Cl," is spot-on and the melding of Queb├ęcois folk and pop on the wonderful French-language title cut makes for a sublime mix. Other well-written tracks, like Anna's lovely "Oh My Heart" and Kate's "Come Back Baby," do suffer a bit under the honeyed glaze of Nichtern's production. Still, two of Pronto Monto's biggest highlights actually benefit from some sweetening. The lush strings and wily clarinet on Kate's "Stella by Artois" and the detailed pop ensemble supporting Anna's "Bundle of Sorrow, Bundle of Joy" bring to life these two wonderful autobiographical songs, framing each of the sisters' personalities in turn. For the most part, Pronto Monto holds up quite well within the McGarrigles' catalog and its return from the abyss of Warner's vaults is a welcome event.

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