Carolyn Mark

The Pros and Cons of Collaboration

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Vancouver-based singer Carolyn Mark is from the old-time era of country music as defined on the sweeping "Overture," which moves from dirge-like arrangements to early honky-tonk to a traditional country lament. It sounds as if it's sampled, but is far too polished to be just that. The country overtones give way to more of a vaudeville-meets-ragtime aura on "2 Days Smug and Sober," with Mark's vocals more controlled. "I'm more in love with this cigarette than I'll ever be with you," she sings alongside a barroom piano and fiddle. More straightforward is the early Dylan-esque "Chantal and Leroy," which is knee-deep in Americana and brought to life thanks to keyboardist Ford Pier. The singer is especially stellar when she gets down to business on the melodic singer/songwriter pop polish oozing from "Not a Doll," which brings to mind a cross between Natalie Merchant and Mary Chapin Carpenter. The momentum continues on the narrative "Vincent Gallo," a song Mark takes to the next level by describing what happened in a gorgeous alt-country arrangement. The dichotomy between the stronger tunes and the honky-tonk hokum of "The Wine Song" is quite drastic, but she's able to pull both off without much problem. It's a bit like the good and bad sides of Squirrel Nut Zippers. She nails "Jody and Sue," an old-time country ballad that uses Mark's vocals alongside Kelly Hogan's harmonies to great effect. The rollicking folk-pop used on "Bigger Bed" has a bit in common with an early and acoustic Barenaked Ladies. Fans of Blue Rodeo would take comfort in the outstanding country-tinged "Slept All Afternoon," with its steel guitar and fiddle accents. "Yanksgiving" also takes a while to get going, but moves into a bombastic rock rave-up that throws barbs at Sheryl Crow and especially Toby Keith. Although the first few songs don't quite meet their potential, Mark might have made her finest album to date.

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