Marlee MacLeod is a singer/songwriter with a rocker's instincts, but the folky lurking within her seems to have been running the show when she cut her second album, 1995's Favorite Ball and Chain. Which is not to say the album is especially far off the mark for MacLeod, but the wiry electric undertow that made Vertigo and There We Go so exciting is for the most part on the back burner, with more subdued tempos and acoustic guitars taking a larger role in the proceedings. But the intelligent songwriting, mordant wit, and soberly realistic view of contemporary romance that are MacLeod's stock in trade are front and center on Favorite Ball and Chain, and one spin will find most listeners asking themselves, "How come a songwriter this good isn't famous yet?" Whether MacLeod is diving headfirst into a dysfunctional relationship ("You're not stupid, but you're crazy/I'm not bad, but I am lazy," she sings in "In Trouble Again"), spending an uncomfortably lost weekend in the desert ("Las Vegas"), or trying to salvage the last shards of a busted romance via pay phone ("Janesville Oasis"), MacLeod writes musical short stories with a concision and dark wit that Raymond Carver might admire, and the album's coda, a voice-and-piano elegy for Frances Farmer, says more about its subject than the biopic starring Jessica Lange could manage. Favorite Ball and Chain may not have been Marlee MacLeod's best foray in the studio, but it is a top-shelf collection of songs, and anyone who admires her superb songwriting will want to hear it.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming