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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
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+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
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+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
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Mary Lou Lord

I moved from a small town largely because I wanted to take advantage of a Big Town Music Scene, like the one Boston could provide. Imagine my delight at seeing live performances by Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Sonic Youth within the space of six weeks.

The subway was wall-to-wall on the way home from the Sonic Youth show, and I had to switch trains at the big hub of the system, Park Street, where you'll often find a busker who's staked out a prime spot.

I'd never even seen a picture of Mary Lou Lord, but I'd read about her ragged past in Olympia, Wash., and environs, and I think maybe I'd heard one or two songs, well-chosen covers on some compilation tape.

When I stepped off the train at Park St., movement was hindered by a crowd of maybe 50 people, half of whom sat on the filthy brick floor, entranced by a simple, pretty, sweet-voiced girl with an acoustic guitar and a Maxi Mouse portable amp. Somehow I knew that it was Mary Lou Lord, in the flesh, busking queen of the indie universe. So I sat down and listened for a solid hour.

Since then, I've gotten a hold of most of Mary Lou Lord's recordings, and seen her perform on many occasions. I've marveled at her many talents: her way with an audience of drunks and/or commuters as she plays, generously attributing the fine songs she picks to their rightful owners; an uncanny knack for choosing sometimes obscure material that both deserves a voice and seems to have been written especially for hers — an innocent, sweet musical gift that cracks with the memory of a cigarette at just the right moment.

Many of Boston's buskers are students at Berklee College of Music or some of the other prestigious music schools in the city. They showcase their technique and proficiency but rarely much soul or originality. Mary Lou Lord is not the best guitarist of the bunch; in fact, far from it. And she'll never be mistaken for an opera trainee. But the essence of a truly great song like "Thunder Road," laid bare by her unique voice and a few strummed chords makes me all but forget Bruce Springsteen completely. While she's singing it, the song belongs to Mary Lou, period. That is her gift.

Mary Lou Lord has released many records, from indie compilation tracks, 7-inches and EPs to a major-label CD. Many of her recordings have shown her talents well, even her gift for writing the occasional catchy pop song herself. A major label offering on Sony called Got No Shadow gave her an opportunity to play with instrumentation beyond simple accompaniment, and to collaborate with some of her fave fellow musicians.

I have generally approved of her output, but with certain misgivings. Got No Shadow featured an eclectic, well-chosen group of songs, but Ms. Lord's voice seemed swallowed up by all the added production. To me, it was always about spontaneously running into Mary Lou, singing away at the Red Line T stop or in Harvard Square during warm weather.

Which is the whole point of her new CD, Mary Lou Lord LIVE: City Sounds, a collection of covers that have become requested favorites amongst her fans, along with "His Lamest Flame," a song she co-wrote with Nick Saloman (her long-time collaborator and friend) and a studio interpretation of Daniel Johnston's "Speeding Motorcycle," which I understand appeared in a Gap ad, of all places.

The ingenious thing about "City Sounds" is in its production; Mary Lou bought a portable DAT recorder, set it up when she played the subway and Harvard Square, recorded herself, and then returned the DAT recorder to the store for a refund. Simple. Vocals and guitar with a smattering of crowd noise that makes a listen even more real, even more of a document of what I believe Mary Lou Lord does better than just about anybody.

I've considered comparisons to Joan Baez (whose voice I can only take in tiny doses), because of her knack for interpreting classic songs. If you doubt me, listen to Lord's well-worn rendition of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," or Alex Chilton's Big Star teen ballad "Thirteen," or a beautiful and completely unique take on Springsteen's "Thunder Road." Other songwriters represented on this collection include the Magnetic Fields, Shawn Colvin, The Pogues, Bob Dylan and Sandy Denny.

City Sounds was a self-release that sold for ten bucks on the subway, but it got picked up by Rubric Records, who plan to continue to release her music, including a planned studio album.

There's a quote in the liner notes by Eliza Carthy, a young British folk singer, that sums Mary Lou's work up nicely: "Traditional music is a blank page. You can never imagine what the person who sang an old song originally sounded like, but interpreting it is not that academic a process. Once the song is in your mouth, its just going to come out the way you are."

There are those who wave off musicians who don't write original tunes. Mary Lou Lord is a shining example of the talent that is required to delve into the vaults of rarely heard and welcome gems and make them something all her own. In the folk tradition, her method is nothing new. In the world of "indie rock," it's a brash statement, and not one that many could make effectively.

The thing is, every time I see her at Park Street, I always end up getting home late.

by Bob Toevs

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