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If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry

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iTunes Review

From its chaotically scribbled lyric sheet to the explosive sounds on the album itself, Marah’s fifth studio release is the band’s most deliberate attempt yet at fully capturing their rag-tag Bruce Springsteen-gets-jumped-by-the-Replacements aesthetic. Brothers David and Serge Bielanko write songs that flip between serious to senile, wringing pathos from finger-picked ballads (“City of Dreams,” “So What If We’re Outta Tune (w/ The Rest Of The World)”) and setting the bar on fire with the backroom blitz of “The Closer” or the Faces’ jug-band groove of “Sooner Or Later.” Recorded live over the course of nine studio days and two weeks in their bass player’s apartment, the album feels more like a document of a time and place — that being drunken nights in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the band’s home of Philly — than a concentrated artistic statement. Their mastery of this artless art makes them loveable underdogs: blue collar intellectuals with humane songs to carry them through.

Customer Reviews

Laugh, Cry and Dream

Dylan went back down Highway 61, Marah walked back to an alley in Point Breeze, Philadelphia. It is an apt analogy for their entire fifth album If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry. Two white boys still searching for what the hell their beloved city means to them, and vice versa. Trying to find that invisible intersection where Mummers banjos meet Philly soul. Feeling along the Wall of Sound that Spector built, looking for any slight crevice or crack wide enough to let in all those hill songs just across the Mason Dixon line. And of course, there’s that echo that started somewheres up in Asbury Park, comin’ down the Jersey Shore to tie it all together. If their quintessential second album, Kids in Philly, is an album so steeped in place that it almost drowns in the river it so frequently references, then IYDLYC is a stone skipped from bank to bank. It stays ever near the source of its material, Philadelphia, and everything that city connotes, but it also leaps up and down pointing towards the other locales that have been instrumental in shaping Marah, both the music and the band. In “The Closer”, they make it clear right away they are not remaking KIP, nor are they shedding tears for halcyon days gone by as the narrator does in “East”, the opener to 20,000 Streets Under the Sky (Album #4). No, in this song the singer is rambling down a Brooklyn street, drunk on beers, comraderie, and the possibility of seeing, “That girl.” This is a song so un-self-conscious, that only a band perfectly comfortable in their own skin could make. This sentiment can honestly be applied to most of the record. From the “no more than three takes” approach to recording this album, to Serge Bielanko’s threadbare, precarious vocals being placed front and center on three songs, daring the listener not to frigging love it. This album gambles and wins. That said, the songs on the new album are not all new territory, but they are most certainly NOT comfortable retreads of old favorites. Every track on the album hangs in the balance. They are steadied and loosely bound by the steel piano of “Sooner or Later” which wends its way in and out of our ears in interludes throughout the record, as does the organ on Walt Whitman Bridge. In counterpoint to Serge’s blind man on a high-wire vocal act, David Bielanko, the band’s regular vocalist, gives a vocal performance that ranges from the angelic purity of “Out of Tune” to a school-boy spoiling for a tussle on “Fatboy”. On “The Hustle”, like its ancestor “Point Breeze”, the vocal does a dance-like struggle with the syncopated rhythm, but whereas on latter, the singer seems nearly breathless by the end from trying to keep up, at the end of “The Hustle”, the singer has clearly won the battle for the song and his senses. “Demon of White Sadness” has elements of the psychedelic lyrics found on Let’s Cut the Crap, but a lucidity overtakes it and refuses to, “Dream about going back.” Indeed dreams are perilous on this album. See “Dishwasher’s Dream,” a Dylan-esque riff on scrubbing pots in a restaurant dish tank, which ends with the title character rousting his lover from “The same awful dream,” they’ve been sharing. And the ending refrain of “Demon”, “Falling out of favor was my favorite thing,” is one of the most confident, anti-nostalgia statements they make on this album. Perhaps the two most impressive cuts could have easily verged into the too cozy territory of past successes. “City of Dreams” could have been drawn out and overly lyricized to make it sound like “Barstool Boys”, from KIP, but instead it conjures up Simon and Garfunkel overtones, without the preciousness. “Walt Whitman Bridge” might be the most accessible, but authentic song on the album. It almost sounds like a million other songs. It almost sounds like four other Marah songs. It almost sounds like it’s just too damn good. Because there is nothing wrong with this heartbreakingly beautiful song. It’s not perfect, but that’s the point. There is a flawless Platonic version of this song hovering somewhere in the ether, and if you catch the band on the right night you might just hear it. There is a command of the personal narrative displayed on this redord that is impressive. Marah has always been spectacular at empathizing with the various characters they portray in their songs. But rarely has the narrator/character been as close to the actual persona of the singer-songwriters as on this album. They may be dishwashers, truck drivers, or workaday Philly schlubs in the songs, but they all seem perfect analogs for the folk-rockers performing the songs. And yet we never feel encumbered or embarrassed by the singer’s confession. We never feel sorry for anyone, we only feel like we’ve been there before. If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry has its trouble spots. “Poor People” needs more punch to its lyric to carry it through. “Fatboy” is relatively unintelligible in places and “The Closer” could have benefited from a cleaner mix. And the bedrock banjo jangle that is a motif on their earlier works seems starkly absent at a few points. But perfection was not the point, in fact it would have been anathema to the energy and urgency of this record. If they had spent weeks and months in the studio, this might have turned into Kids in Philly 2, or simply not gotten made at all. This is a new album, a band that’s fresh and feisty, but fully aware of the things they are not so good at and the things they are altogether great at. If you stopped listening to Marah, this record says, “Come on back, have a drink.” Sooner or later, this record, with its odd familiarity and rich new layers, will compel you to return to an old taproom in South Philly, and Marah will be waiting for you. Eric Reiberg Sep 2005

Nick Hornby's Favorite Band

They're back! For everyone out there that was worried the boys sold out and tried to go mainstream last album, don't worry. This is the old Marah made new. Raw Roots Rock that will knock you out. If you haven't heard of these guys, just buy this and be satisfied.


This album is awesome...they just don't get any better than this one. My current favorites are Walt Whitman's Bridge and The Dishwasher's Dream but they change from day to day because the whole album is just that good! I got to see Marah live in Oxford a couple of weeks ago and must say that of all the shows I've seen they are hands down the best live. The energy and heart these guys pour into their music and live shows is AMAZING. Anyone who likes this band needs to find a way to go see a show. Buy the's a rarity to find a band with this much talent.


Formed: 1993

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Philadelphia's eclectic, rootsy rock quartet Marah consists of singer/songwriter/guitarist/banjoist David Bielanko, guitarist/vocalist/harmonica player Serge Bielanko, bassist Danny Metz, and drummer Ronnie Vance. Dave Bielanko, Metz, and Vance formed the group in 1993; brother Serge was so impressed with their sound that he wanted to join Marah, which he did in 1995. The band found an unofficial fifth member in producer/engineer Paul Smith, who was similarly taken with Marah's Replacements-meets-Springsteen...
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If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry, Marah
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