Mary Prankster has left behind, at least for now, most of her punk trappings and recorded an album of acoustic country music. And that’s not even the biggest change in her life or career in the past year.
In early 2003, her cow-punk band broke up, leaving her a bare few weeks to throw together an act before starting a scheduled tour. Which she did, recruiting a cast of session players that includes a pianist, acoustic bass player and drummer, with some friends adding accordion and backing vocals. By the time they recorded this set at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club in May ’03, they sounded like they’d always been together.
In the meantime, Mary has moved herself and her self-run record label, Palace Coup, to New York from the Baltimore/D.C. area with its rich alt-country scene. She’s taking a break from working on her next studio album to tour the East and Midwest at this writing.
Mary Prankster, now in her “late 20s,” has an impish grin, a foul mouth and an ear for a catchy tune. She puts it all to work on Lemonade, laying down swinging, unplugged versions of tunes from her previous four recordings, plus three new numbers. She comes out of the gate flying with “Whistlestop,” a country shuffle aimed at an ex-boyfriend, and “New Tricks,” a bouncy two-step about the hard lessons learned by a young woman in the music biz. In the first, she seems to be chanelling June Carter’s evil twin, a corny sense of humor leavened by a healthy dose of the spirit of the unreconstructed Johnny Cash. On the second, with its peppy tune and bitterly funny wordplay, she’s the bastard love child of political satirist Mark Russell and potty-mouth rocker Liz Phair. Lines like this one: “Pressing Sunday-comic art on/to my Silly Putty heart, it/doesn’t break just bends a little now,” demonstrate her fine balance between romantic and cynic, as well as keen poetic sense.
“Arm’s Length” and “Irresponsible Woman” are reprised from her most recent studio effort, Tell Your Friends, the former a lament about a relationship lacking in emotional intimacy, the latter a jazzy update of 1970s feminism a la Helen Reddy. “Spill” offers a calypso-like beat and literate lyrics, like some sort of bizarre cross between Jimmy Buffett and They Might Be Giants. “National Bohemian” is a weird but effective jumble of mixed metaphors and odd rhymes, with “Miss Val Yumm” (say it fast) on harmonies. One of the new numbers, the bluesy “Stars,” is a bleak look at modern life where everything’s for sale, but in the title track, she enlists the crowd for a singalong on the rave-up chorus, “I’ve seen the future and it looks like lemonade …”
Before that, though, there’s the chilling “Darlin’,” which seems like a slow, bitter Patsy Cline-like love song in waltz-time (“I thought that the worst was behind me, but the loneliness knew where to find me”), until the final verse, where she tells her darlin’ to say his final prayers. And then she lightens the mood with her signature song, the hilariously raunchy “Mercyfuck.”
So, just because she’s gone country, don’t think Mary Prankster has settled down. She still employs plenty of punk-based vocal histrionics, still cusses a blue streak and still salts her lyrics with feminist attitude. But instead of fuzzed-out electric guitars, her strummed acoustic is backed by the Nashville-sound ivories of Cliff Retallick and the versatile bass of Andy Mabe, and Corn Mo‘s occasional accordion. And the CD is packaged in eye-catching yellow. A little tart, a little sweet and bracingly refreshing – that’s Mary Prankster.
Lyrics, discography, tour dates and more at Mary Prankster’s Web site (https://maryprankster.com/home)
(Palace Coup, 2004)