Mary Fahl Brings Her Individualistic Art-Rock Update on British Folk to Chelsea
Songwriter Mary Fahl made a mark as the leader of one of the first wave of chamber pop bands, the October Project, back in the 90s. She has the resonant, rich voice of a chorister, a pensive, direct mezzo-soprano that reminds of Amanda Thorpe. In keeping with her roots in the British folk tradition, she has a thing for medieval archetypes and imagery: her songs can be very vivid. Her most recent studio album, Love & Gravity blends Britfolk, chamber pop and art-rock – and it’s hard to find online. Fahl’s youtube channel has a handful of tracks, and her webpage has a player that streams various material from throughout her career (including her imaginative, electrifying version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon), although a full album stream for this one is sadly AWOL. She’s got a New York show coming up at 7 PM at the Rubin Museum of Art; adv tix are $25.
The album opens dramatically with Exiles (The Ghosts of Midwinter), a big ornate escape anthem, part 70s Britfolk, part art-rock with a nod in the direction of mystics like Carol Lipnik. The second track, How Much Love follows a slow, stately, resonant tangent, Fahl’s narrator longing to find some sort of clarity. Gravity (Move Mountains, Turn Rivers) is a Celtic love song to a wounded warrior whose Herculean powers have taken a beating.
Everyting’s Gonna Be All Right is a hard-driving folk-rock anthem, told from an stronomer’s point of view., the calm of space in contrast to turmoil on the earthly front. Fahl’s take of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now falls between the sparseness of the original and the blithe chamber pop of the Judy Collins hit.
Fahl builds Siren into a vast, echoey Lipnik-style panorama, complete with grim nautical imagery. Like Johnny Loved June is a dead ringer for early Richard & Linda Thompson, while Cottonwood, a slow guitar-and-harmonium waltz, draws on older folk traditions. Fahl goes back to echoey atmospherics with her version of the traditional Celtic ballad Dawning of the Day and then closes the album with the slow, spare. gentle Meant to Be. The pristine sonics in the museum’s basement auditorium are ideally suited to a singer of Fahl’s nuance and power.