CAROLINE DOCTOROW-- I Carry All I Own: The Songs of Mary McCaslin
I Carry All I Own: The Songs of Mary McCaslin
Narrow Lane Records
Back in the 1970s, I was part of an extended circle of friends that spent a lot of time hanging around a barn in North Ferrisburg, Vermont – about a two-hour drive from Montreal – that had been converted into a recording studio and was home to Philo Records, one of the most interesting, and, for about 10 years, one of the most vital, of the folk-rooted record labels of the time.
Among the artists I became friends with was Mary McCaslin, an influential singer and songwriter and a guitarist known for her innovative use of open tunings. Several of Mary’s Philo recordings, in particular Way Out West and Prairie in the Sky, remain contemporary folk classics whose songs have turned up on recordings by such artists as Tom Russell, Gretchen Peters, Stan Rogers, Sneezy Waters, David Bromberg, Kate Wolf, and Bill Staines. Many of Mary’s songs featured imagery from the old and new west and her Prairie in the Sky LP inspired Ian Tyson to return to songwriting, thus precipitating the renaissance of cowboy culture.
Three years ago, contemporary singer-songwriter Caroline Doctorow released Another Country, an album of Richard and Mimi Fariña songs, the first in a series of planned tributes to artists who influenced her. I Carry All I Own: The Songs of Mary McCaslin is the second in the series and, like the Fariña tribute, it was produced by multi-instrumentalist Pete Kennedy. All of the back-up complementing Caroline’s voice and guitar on this CD is by Pete.
It’s a lovely tribute encompassing 10 songs drawn from three of Mary’s Philo albums from the ‘70s (one of which, Sunny California, was initially licensed to Mercury Records) and one from A Life and Time, a 1981 recording on Flying Fish (interestingly, both the Philo and Flying Fish catalogs were eventually absorbed by Rounder Records). Caroline’s singing and the arrangements remain faithful to Mary’s originals that they are instantly recognizable to those of us who knew this music back in the day and yet are just different enough that they have a contemporary freshness all their own.
While I really enjoyed the whole album, among my favourite tracks are “Circle of Friends,” which always reminds me of sitting up late at night with Mary and other friends from the era; “Young Westley,” a fictionalized outlaw-ballad-cum-love-song at least partially inspired by Mary’s early relationship with singer-songwriter Jim Ringer, to whom she was later married; and a beautifully dreamy, atmospheric rendition of “Prairie in the Sky.”
I’ve no doubt Mary will feel justifiably honoured by Caroline’s fine tribute.