Kate & Anna McGarrigle

Dancer with Bruised Knees

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After creating a nearly perfect debut album, Kate & Anna McGarrigle had the unenviable task of trying to make lighting strike in the same place a second time, and on 1977's Dancer with Bruised Knees, the sisters seemed to be making a very deliberate effort to try something that felt different while still reflecting their very distinct personality. And for the most part, they succeeded; Dancer with Bruised Knees is more willfully idiosyncratic than the McGarrigles first LP, with the same blend of lovely, folky melodies and all but flawless harmonies alongside a set of songs that build on the charming quirks of their first effort. The Quebec-born sisters had recorded one song in French on their first album, and they tripled that on Dancer, with two traditional Canadian folk numbers and one original, anticipating the beauty of their sublime 1980 effort The French Record; while the vocals and arrangements were inarguably lovely, they certainly made it a tougher album to embrace for the average American (or even Canadian) listener. And the McGarrigles' sly humor plays a larger role on this album, with the surreal tale of the title tune, the tongue-in-cheek celebration of "Southern Boys" ("Their breath in your ear is as soft as the cotton/Whether they're wooing or whispering the latest racist joke"), and the tart familial rivalry of "First Born." But if it takes longer for Dancer with Bruised Knees to sink in, it eventually reveals itself as smart, beautifully crafted, and delightful, like nearly everything in the McGarrigles' catalog, and the production by Joe Boyd and Greg Prestopino is subtle and sublime, as are the performances of the top-notch studio band. The McGarrigles were never afraid to let their eccentricities show, and they give them room to explore on Dancer with Bruised Knees, but the finished product is still beautiful, heartfelt, and satisfying.

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