Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne‘s haunting, plaintively lyrical debut album I Line My Days Along Your Weight is a masterpiece of folk noir, one of the best releases of 2014. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 14 at 6 (six) PM at the small room at the Rockwood and one of the reasons why they’re doing it that so soon after work is that you’ll probably be hungry by 7. So they’ll have pizza at the little bar next door, just to the north, where reduced drink specials are also promised. But don’t go for dinner, go for the music. Their recent impromptu show uptown at the American Folk Art Museum turned out to be one of the most enjoyably intense sets witnessed by this blog in recent months.
The two make a good and rather striking pair. Byrne is wiry and determined, with a thousand-yard stare. Rogers is big, rugged and fixated on taking his formidable guitar chops to a new level. Neither are newcomers. She cut her teeth in hypnotic, lo-fi Atlanta band Hot Young Priest, while he was part of the core of brilliant southwestern gothic band Myssouri. Their new album – recorded more-or-less live to analog tape and streaming at Athens music blog Flagpole Magazine – opens pensively with the evocatively brooding First Fall Nights. Byrne’s voice has a distinctive, unselfconsciously down-to-earth quality reminiscent of Paula Carino and this is a prime example.
Hospital keeps the grey-sky atmosphere going, a lush intertwine of fingerpicked guitars underpinning the menace implicit in Byrne’s narrative, Rogers adding one of his signature terse, rustically blues-infused resonator guitar solos. And he plays biting, catchy hooks on a hundred-year-old mandolin on When Your Elders Are Tall, something of a more hypnotic take on the Handsome Family.
With its moodily vamping minimalist ambience, A Racing Heart brings to mind Randi Russo, Rogers capping it off with a glimmering Middle Eastern-tinged solo. The even more hypnotic Green Gold Violet paints a wounded late-afternoon tableau, Rogers’ luminous dobro paired against Byrne’s tensely fingerpicked stroll. “Put a sticky there – honey,” Byrne reminds as the absolutely chilling, metaphorically searing A Gracious Host gets going: this remembrance has serious baggage.
Walk With Me pairs mandolin with more of that hypnotic, circular acoustic guitar. Cold Spring has a briskly scampering bluegrass shuffle groove: “I wanna go more north with you , where it’s more serious…where children run from dangers, only then when the wolves howl,” Byrne suggests. And then Rogers channels George Harrison.
With its torrents of doomed imagery, Sirens Call paints a haunting, indelible outer-borough New York nocturnal scenario: with Byrne’s nimble fingerpicking, it wouldn’t be out of place in the Linda Draper songbook. Rogers and Byrne revisit that milieu with the album’s closing cut, Sing a Fare Thee Well, the mandolin adding a surreal Macedonian edge. Play this with the lights out, late at night and discover two people who share your precarious world.