Thursday, June 24, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1484: Carolyn Mark

This marks the second album I’ve reviewed where someone has self-identified as royalty. Tami T takes on the mantle with her song “Princess” and Carolyn Mark takes things up a notch, going with Queen.

Disc 1484 is…. The Queen of Vancouver Island

Artist: Carolyn Mark

Year of Release: 2012

What’s up with the Cover? Maybe a camping trip? That would account for the forest, and a guitar for playing campfire ditties in the evening. It doesn’t explain the dress. I guess that plus the Crown is how you can tell she’s the Queen. Also that third way, for any Monty Python fans out there.

How I Came To Know It: It was my friend Casey who initially got me interested in Carolyn Mark’s music, but this album was just me buying her latest when it came out.

How It Stacks Up: Out of my five Carolyn Mark solo albums, “The Queen of Vancouver Island” comes in at #3, so right in the middle.

Ratings: 3 stars

Every Carolyn Mark album sounds like the best party you’ve ever attended. On “The Queen of Vancouver Island” she delivers yet another celebratory selection of songs, where even the sad subjects are sugarcoated by her quick wit and ready laugh.

The music is a mix of folk, old school country and even a bit of old-time vaudeville. Whatever the style, each song is buoyed by Mark’s bright and brassy voice. She sings with a playful lilt, tinted around the edges with grit. Think a bottle of sparkling wine where the cork broke and fell into the bottle. It is mostly sweet, but you’ve got to pay attention for those bits of regret floating in the glass.

The best example (and the album’s best song) is “Not Talk,” which has a lighthearted tune which belies the nasty breakup it depicts. Here (and later on “Nobody(‘s Perfect)” Mark uses imagery like a film negative, giving you a fresh perspective on well-worn topics of loneliness and heartbreak.

That said, “Not Talk” isn’t a heartbreak song so much as it’s a “get the hell out” song, as it demonstrates that some arguments are so pointless there’s no need to have them at all. My favourite lines are:

“Now you might say I have ‘issues with trust’
I mean, you might if we were still talking
But I don’t think that’s it
It’s just hard to trust someone so full of shit
But we can not talk about that later.”

Ouch! “Nobody(‘s Perfect”) is similarly situated in negative space, where Mark personifies her loneliness, turning the experience into a positive experience of realizing that your best company is sometimes yourself.

The record is downright ribald in places (Carolyn Mark feels like the kind of old soul that might appreciate being called ‘ribald’). There are two songs about whores, and both are sex positive. “Old Whores” is a sad song, but it is also a reminder that when you see someone down on their luck, that isn’t how they started. Everyone starts out with dreams of a great life. “You’re Not a Whore (If No One’s Paying)” is back to Mark’s playful but biting humour, as she opines,

“You’re not a whore if no one’s paying
You’re not a whore, it’s just an exchange
So strap on high heels
Don’t sell yourself short
If you’re enthusiastic, babies, nothing’s a chore”

The musicianship on the album is solid throughout, and every player, from lead guitar, to horn flourishes, to the backup singers is fully committed. There are even impromptu laughs and lascivious gargling. OK, technically the gargling is Mark herself, but whatever the role, every player is clearly having a blast. It made me wish I could’ve just hung out in the studio while they recorded it. Every unsung band member, backup singer, or studio musician should have at least one record where this much fun is had.

Mark is a local gal, and the record is replete with BC coast imagery – notably a lot of talk of the ferry (as it happens, I too live on Her Majesty’s Island). She used to do a lot of shows at a local pub called Logan’s and listening to “The Queen of Vancouver Island” made me more regretful than ever I never went and saw her there. Logan’s Pub has since closed due permanently, an economic victim of the pandemic.

Fortunately, Mark shows that music can always infuse a little light and humour into a sad situation, and this record gave me plenty of smiles over the past few days.

Best tracks: The Queen of Vancouver Island, Not Talk, Nobody(‘s Perfect), Old Whores, You’re Not a Whore (If No One’s Paying)

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