Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mary Flower Beautifully Bridges Folk and Blues

Here is a review that I wrote earlier this calendar year by a wonderful singer and guitarist, Mary Flower, one of the most accomplished fingerstyle guitarists alive today. It was originally written for Jazz & Blues Report and appeared in the April 2009 issue which can be downloaded at, and go to download issues. Dr. John is on the issue's cover

Mary Flower is one of the unsung heroines of traditionally oriented blues and roots music. She is one of the finest fingerstyle guitarists alive and Yellow Dog records has followed up her acclaimed CD “Bywater Dance” with a new release, “Bridges,” sure to please her fans and introduce her to many others. She has recently relocated to Portland, Oregon after spending decades around Denver, and on this new disc collaborates with a variety of Portland artists including transplanted New Orleans saxophonist Reggie Houston,guitarist and banjoist, Tony Furtado, keyboard players Janice Scroggins and Matt Potts, her sons Jesse Withers on bass and bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien on mandolin and fiddle. The program for this CD includes obscure gems from the songbooks of 1920s and ’30s America to complement her own rootsy compositions, enabling Flower to explore and illuminate the complex relationships between Piedmont blues, ragtime, jazz, and old-time gospel music. With varying instrumentation, the tenor of the songs range from traditional Piedmont style blues to more contemporary folk-blues oriented roots.

The opening “Rhythm of the Road,” has a folky air as she delivers a world weary vocal about her travels down the road as Furtado complementing her fingerstyle lead with his banjo and slide guitar fills. It is followed by ”There Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears,” a delightful number new to these ears with a jaunty backing and nice piano solo from Janice Scroggins. A reflective treatment of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” follows with Scroggins spare piano supporting Flower’s melancholy vocal. “When I Get Home I’m Gonna Be Satisfied,” is a gospel number handled at an easy tempo and featuring some adept lap slide guitar from Ms. Flower. The original instrumental, “Columbia River Rag,” is one example of her marvelous fingerstyle work in the Piedmont tradition. A highpoint during her rendition of Emmett Miller’s “The Ghost of the St. Louis Blues” is the interplay of the laughing clarinet from Doug Bundy and Reggie Houston’s soprano sax. “A medley of “On Revival Day” with “There’s Gonna To be the Devil to Pay,” is a delightful performance with Scroggins buoyant piano complementing Flower’s spirited playing and vocal. “Portland Town” evokes some classic Piedmont blues, but this fresh original Flower co-wrote has a nice lilting rhythm with an interesting accordion accompaniment. Another stunning fingerstyle instrumental, “Daughter of Contortion,” is followed by a strong rendition of“Big Bill Blues,” a Big Bill Broonzy recording. Next is a fine small group rendition of Thomas Henry Lodge’s 1909 composition,“Temptation Rag,” that has lovely interplay by Flower with Robin Kessinger on flatpicked guitar before Spud Siegel kicks in on mandolin and takes the tempo up a notch. Tim O’Brien adds his fiddle to “Up a Lazy River,” which comes off as a nod to Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti before Flower adds a nice vocal. With O’Brien on mandolin and Courtney Von Drehle on accordion, she concludes this delightful recording with a lovely original “Blue Waltz.” “bridges” is yet another enchanting recording by a marvelous acoustic blues artist. This should be available at, itunes or better stores. You can also order this from Mary’s website,

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