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MaryLeigh Roohan – Skin and Bone (Fake Chapter)

MaryLeigh Roohan - Skin & Bone
19 June 2014

It’s rare to encounter a New York singer/songwriter these days who lives north of Albany, but Roohan’s rural residence means little – she’s plenty seasoned. She honed her skills at her Saratoga Springs hometown haunt Caffe Lena (the U.S.’s oldest continually running coffeehouse, opened in 1960) and further sharpened them during a year-long stint in college playing Scottish pubs, before releasing 2011’s The Docks with her band The Fauves. On this solo-billed second LP, the sweet coo that graced her debut has gained a more full-bodied presence and punch, and is enhanced with a sharp, rousing vibrato that seems like it could wake the dead. Throughout the album, her powderkeg pipes alternately reminded me of Neko Case, Tanya Donelly, Laura Cantrell, Carolyn Mark, and Haley Bonar. Like each of those artists, she adorns her songs with rustic country and Americana accents, as on the twangy, upbeat opener “Coward” (its video might make you think twice before asking her out on that date!) and the more rocking, honky-tonk “Get Me Home” (which is punctuated with rowdy bar chatter/noises, replicating an increasingly bleary-eyed, booze-addled night out).

But more often, she turns down the volume and tempos, adopting a Sharon Van Etten-esque ethereal delivery. Her voice sounds spine-tingling yet vulnerable on the melancholy, reflective “My Surrender” and the ghostly, torch-like “To Ashes” — on the latter, her frequent fixations on former flames and futile flings comes to a head, apparent on bitter, biting lines like “I tried to destroy the rest of you/but I can’t wash out the stench of you.” Her ill-fated luck in the relationship department eventually gives way to a greater desire for meaning and freedom in her life, eloquently expressed on the bluesy “Hearts & Clocks” and the pretty “Birth of a Cynic.” And on the spiritual, country-folk acoustic romantic ode “Baby You Should Know,” she longs for a frugal, simple life with her lover, as Nick Drake-evoking strings summarily drift by. On Skin and Bone, Roohan has a knack for turning forlorn feelings into stark and striking music. (