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The Pros and Cons of Collaboration

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Album Review

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.

Biography

Born: Sicamous, British Columbia, Canad

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Canadian alt-country singer/songwriter Carolyn Mark was born and raised in Sicamous, British Columbia, growing up on her family's dairy farm. Taught piano by her father, himself an accomplished violinist, in 1991 she surfaced as a member of the Victoria, B.C.-based all-girl rock combo the Vinaigrettes, touring Canada and the western U.S. relentlessly over the next seven years. After the group's 1998 dissolution, Mark formed the Corn Sisters, a duo with fellow insurgent country diva Neko Case —...
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The Pros and Cons of Collaboration, Carolyn Mark
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