I’ve always been afraid this blog might be taken for a fansite, since (early on, at least) my reporting has largely been of praise for some of the same people. Having said that, I’m writing this piece the morning after the Mary-Elaine Jenkins record release show at Rockwood Music Hall while listening to her debut album Hold Still, &, muh dudes, I am sporting a Mary-Elaine Jenkins t-shirt (I really wasn’t planning on writing anything today & laundry is overdue). I’ve only my pleas to you all to not take me as a fanboy though I’ve currently no evidence to the contrary—which might make Mary-Elaine wary of me had we never met. The point is I don’t critique art & culture here. My aim is to support it.
So, let us breathe deep & take for granted that what I’m about to say I would have said anyway, regardless of current playlist & band tee. Mary-Elaine’s show was pretty fucking great!
I’ve seen MEJ play quite a few times since this blog’s early days. The more I’ve watched her, the more I’ve seen something grow in her. Not from an unblossomed bud or tiny spark. It doesn’t feel like it originated in her at all. Whatever it is it wandered in & not as some pretty, wispy unhurt thing. I can hear it in her smokey voice. You can see it in her steely eyes. Whatever it is it’s older than she.
Her music has evolved since I first spotted the singer/songwriter four years ago. It’s not just her & an acoustic guitar anymore. This gives that ineffable monster inside her room to bang around as it does in the album’s opening track “Rooster.” Mary-Elaine’s patience & diligence in finding the right producer has paid off. The songs on her album are robust without bloat. She’s picked up an electric guitar, as well, turning her song “Iggy” into a juke joint classic. The title track “Hold Still” would be just a sweet & pretty song as it’s slowed down with pining strings & tinkling mandolin, but there’s too much of an ache, & it’s here I feel that the monster has found solid shelter in Mary-Elaine Jenkins. The muse is not a beautiful pixie that comes to bless us with divine inspiration, that’s your stupid ego. The muse is the unquelled beast inside, tired, broke down, & fightin’ mad. But neither monster or gal linger in anger or ache as they pick themselves up to clown around a bit with “Six Skinny Toes,” an ode to her guitar.
It is due to this symbiotic relationship of beast & singer that I recommend MEJ’s record. The first thing I wrote about MEJ was in part an apology for near dismissing her. I could have written about her during different iterations of her musical life, as she’s acquired more experience & upped the number of members in her band as required by a growing monster. But I was worried about being mistaken for a fansite. Hold Still is a fantastic & rewarding reason for you to get up, check out some new music, & for me to begin again this blog that aims to support the impressive southern talents in this most yankiest of cities.
You can still see Mary-Elaine Jenkins live AF, & you should, the first Sunday of every month during her Pete’s Candy Store residency!
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